The historic 12.12.12 Concert For Sandy Relief, staged to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy, brought together some of the best and brightest of the live event industry for one memorable night. Taking the stage on December 12, 2012, at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, were Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Chris Martin, Eddie Vedder, Eric Clapton, Roger Waters, Dave Grohl, Alicia Keys, Kanye West, Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and Long Beach, Long Island native, comedian/actor Billy Crystal, who emceed the event.
Mirroring this perfect storm of star power was a virtual Who’s Who of production companies, including All Access Staging and Productions, All Mobile Video, Atomic Design, Atomic Lighting, Azzurro HD, BML Blackbird Theatrical Services, Cat Entertainment Services, Control Freak Systems, Drape Kings, Firehouse Production, Metrovision Production Group, PRG Nocturne, Performance Environment Design Group LLC (PEDG), Production Staffing Group, Stage Matters, Tait Towers, Theatrical Resources, Vitac and VER. These crew members worked long hours behind the scenes over a two-day span on behalf of this memorable show.
The concert was presented by Chase and produced by James Dolan, executive chairman of MSG Co., John Sykes, president of Clear Channel, and Harvey Weinstein of The Weinstein Co. It raised more than $50 million of the $67 million collected by the Robin Hood Relief Fund for its recovery efforts in the NYC area; Red Cross raised an additional $188 million for disaster relief.
In the spirit of the event, most of the production companies PLSN spoke with in connection to the 12.12.12 concert heavily discounted their services and equipment or donated their time and services outright.
“I got a call from Dan Parise of DPS [Diversified Production Services], who helped to organize the event, and he asked if we could donate the video,” says Bob Brigham, president of PRG Nocturne video production services company. “I said absolutely. He asked if we wanted time to think about it and I said, ‘No. We’re in.’”
“Most of the vendors worked for cost,” says Chris Rickson of Atomic Design’s scenic division. “It was the cost of labor and materials. There was no profit to speak of.”
While you’d think a company taking this selfless approach for such an obviously good cause couldn’t help but boost its image in the production world, there are hidden challenges and dangers to taking this approach. “If you don’t have the proper time or funding, there’s a high probability that you will not succeed and you’ll end up volunteering your time and doing a poor job,” says Doug “Spike” Brant, principal of Performance Environment Design Group LLC (PEDG), production designers for the 12.12.12 concert. “So, you’ll be donating your time to give yourself a bad reputation. It’s a risky thing.”
To help keep costs down and maximize efficiency, some of the same production companies that had worked on Z100’s Jingle Ball, the New York City-area radio station holiday event held at the Garden on December 10, 2012, were tapped for the 12.12.12 concert. “There really wasn’t enough time and money to bring in everything from scratch,” says Brant. “The idea was to use the lighting [from the Z100 Jingle Ball concert] and save on as much rigging as possible.”
“I think the whole point of an event like this is to make it as low-cost as possible, so that all the money raised could be put to good use,” says Joe McMonagle of Atomic Design’s scenic division. “We used existing pieces and technologies to solve the design. I think we were able to go in and offer design solutions without having to reinvent the wheel.”
“We tried to save money every chance we could with trucking,” adds Rickson. “A lot of the rigging stayed in the air. The Garden allowed us to keep a lot of the motors and truss cable runs up as tight to the ceiling as we could. This one was fairly quick. We had about 12 hours to get things up and running. That was a little bit out of the ordinary, because there were so many bands and high-profile acts, and we needed to be on the ball earlier than normal.”
“I think it all came together,” says Brant. “I think our team did a fantastic job. Nathan Wilson, who was also on the Jingle Ball event, was our project manager/designer and did a great job of helping me interface with all the acts … Gaffer Dave Hunkins made the two systems work for both shows in the most efficient manner, and Carsten Weiss was the rigger. They were critical in making it happen.”
Video Wall and Stage Build
Make it happen they did. All Access provided the decking (via Versa Stage, the manufacturing arm of its business) and built the stage, measuring approximately 60 by 68 feet, in half a day. “The stage breaks down into pieces,” says Jennifer Davies, vice president of East Coast operations for All Access. “Since everything breaks down into components it’s easily loaded onto a truck. Most of our decks are in 4-by-8-foot sections. It’s like building blocks: you build frames and then put the decks on top. That’s what we started with at 2:30 a.m. [on December 11, 2012]. We had to work fast: McCartney’s soundcheck was at 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 11.”
Of vital importance was the nearly-indispensable 56-foot turntable, a rotating feature that kept the event running smoothly. “The turntable was something we use for other events with multiple acts,” says Rickson. “There’s no way we could do as quick a turnaround without the turntable. You have 15 to 20 minutes between acts, which is not suitable for live TV. You couldn’t have done it without the turntable. I mean, you could have, but it would have been a 10-hour show as opposed to a six-hour show.”
Next, the video components were added, including a 60-by-24-foot video wall for content and a 60-by-8.5-foot guillotine wall that “split” the turntable, separating the backstage and the downstage performance areas. “Most of the time we build a wall on the turntable that spins with it,” says Rickson. “For 12.12.12, we built that video wall and flew it out on Vario motors, which were supplied by Tait Towers. They’re fast motors. So we raised the video wall 30 feet, spun the turntable and landed the video wall again. The wall went high enough to get all the gear to spin under it. You could have a changeover in less than five minutes.”
According to design plans generated by Brant’s PEDG production company, the video wall “dividing” the turntable was composed of nearly 140 V9 video tiles, more than 30 mirror tiles and nearly 70 MAC 101s, which were secured to custom bracing and recessed inside the wall, where sections had been removed.
“There were also two left-and-right-of-the-stage I-Mag screens that were hung portrait — 24 feet tall by 18 feet wide,” says Brigham, “ and we double-registered Barco 20Ks on them. Above all of this was a ticker screen, about 67 feet wide and 4.5 feet tall, for tweets and texts. That was done super high-res so you could read people’s live tweets. In addition, we also brought in an HD camera system. We had switchers, playback capabilities and, in the case of Springsteen, he had Chris Hilson, his own video director, to cut the I-Mag screens for him. Paul Becher cut the McCartney show. For all of the other bands, the I-Mag screens were cut from the video truck.”
“The show was full television production for broadcast,” adds Kevin Lawson, one of two lighting programmers working with PEDG for the event. “I-Mag for the in-house screens was pulled from the camera pool.”
Atomic’s scenic crew added some other special visual elements. “Atomic Rental had a bunch of gear that was left over from the Jingle Ball concert that was repurposed for the Sandy benefit at no charge,” says McMonagle. “After noticing that we needed one, we ended up building a background for the phone bank area. Through good communication and coordination on site, I think we made a better-looking show.”
The night wasn’t without its artistic lighting touches. Between the silhouette cut by Kayne West in his video-less performance, Roger Waters’ vibrant video walls, and The Boss’ use of house lighting, the design team delivered a certain diversity and artistic panache to the show.
PEDG’s Brant estimates that there were thousands of lighting cues programmed for the six-hour event. Programmers Lawson and Felix Peralta worked from available set lists and cuing info provided by the acts in attendance. “It was a six-hour show with at least 60 songs, so there was a lot of cues,” says Lawson. “Some numbers were cued out, some more punted. We tried to keep the programming as simple as possible due to the impossible schedule and lack of rehearsal time. Felix and I split the lighting rig. Matthew Piercy also helped program lighting, getting us started with a pre-viz system and helping throughout the process, allowing us to ‘tag-team’ during the 48 hours from build to broadcast.
“The only act that was almost fully autonomous was Paul McCartney,” continues Lawson. “They brought a separate console and did pre-viz work on their own. That was Roy Bennett [lighting designer] and Wally Lees [lighting director]. We had control of the audience lighting package, but the stage lighting was controlled by them. Many of the other acts brought LDs, who offered guidance and notes, but there wasn’t time for them to individually ‘design’ their sets. PEDG are LDs for Bon Jovi, so their guys were already there. Clapton, Alicia Keys, and Chris Martin didn’t bring anyone at all to consult.”
“It was all done with a grandMA2, except McCartney, who brought in a grandMA1 run by Wally Lees,” says Brant.
The Control Freak System, programmed by Kevin Cauley, was the media server of choice for video content for the 12.12.12 event. The main component of the Control Freak System (CFS) was “a software bridge, which allows us to control video-specific components from lighting consoles via Art-Net,” says Cauley. (In the case of 12.12.12, that console was a grandMA version 2.) “Using the lighting desk made my job easy and intuitive,” says Cauley. “The key was keeping flexibility. You need the ability to go to anywhere, from anywhere, at a moments notice, without any glitches.”
The Control Freak System used for the 12.12.12 concert consisted of three Encore modules, “one for each surface,” says Cauley. “The surfaces were a main LED wall that was wide aspect, a turntable LED wall that was scenic in nature, and left and right portrait I-Mag screens. The system provided six scalable layers per surface. Signal routing was accomplished with a HDSDI router component, also controlled by the software bridge. The CFS system allowed us to manage, scale, and distribute signals from media servers, guest touring rigs, and the broadcast truck.”
The Control Freak System played an essential role in video integration for the 12.12.12 event, according to Cauley. “We looked to find what specific creative was planned for each performance and helped coordinate the screen content,” he says. “We controlled onsite servers to play artist or 12.12.12-provided content, and interfaced with artist systems. Throughout rehearsals we spent time with the video representative from each performer to customize their screen looks. We provided interface for Roger Waters’ and The Who’s touring rigs. The Stones and Bon Jovi provided content for the onsite servers, whereas Billy Joel and Eric Clapton leveraged the media servers and I-Mag. We also managed the feeds from the broadcast truck. Additionally, with side screens in portrait view and a program feed intended for broadcast in landscape, we were able to nudge the side screen raster left or right in real time to keep the images centered within the narrow portrait layout.”
All of that energy (and some might even say confusion) managed to produce some startling moments nonetheless. In the end, the production companies and the artists all seemed to approach the show with a great attitude. “It was a couple of stress-filled days,” says Cauley. “We had little time, big acts, and millions of people watching, live. Everyone involved should be proud of what was accomplished that night.”
“The entire event highlights selflessness, as far as the artists who showed up and those who were willing to get on the phones to take donations,” says Brigham. “It was sincerely people giving back. What I observed was that there were zero egos from the artist standpoint and production. It was like a united effort getting a show up. It was a team atmosphere, and it was very nice to be involved with it.”
To make a donation, please go to https://
donate.121212concert.org/, http://www.redcross.org/hurricane-sandy, or https://donate.salvation armyusa.org/disaster.
PEDG: Spike Brant, environment designer; Nathan Wilson, project manager; Abby Burnette-Peake, design coordinator; David Hunkins, gaffer; Carsten Weiss, rigger; David Beaman, assistant rigger; Sara Musselman, décor director; Kevin Lawson and Felix Peralta, lighting programmers.
PRG: Dave Lemmink, engineer; Leon Roll, crew chief; Carson Austin and Mark Woody, LED techs; Adam Cline, projectionist
On-Site Techs: David George, Adrian Bassett, Paul “P2” Dreher, George Gountas
Main Lighting Provider: BML Blackbird
26 Vari*Lite VL3500 Spots
70 Martin MAC 101s
42 Coemar Infinity fixtures
21 Par 64 lamp bars
8 Vari*Lite VL3000 spots
14 Martin MAC III Profile Spots
6 Martin Atomic Strobes
5 Lycian 1290 Spots
2 90’ Tyler GT along with a 40’
spot bridge truss
1 PRG V9 Main Screen (58’9” x 23’)
1 PRG V9 Lite Turntable Screen (58’9” x 8’10”)
1 PRG V9 Tweet Screen (67’6” x 4’4”)
2 Rear projection screens (18’ x 24”)
1 Grass Valley Karrera 2-ME switcher w/64x64 router
2 Vista Spyders
4 Barco HD20K projectors (L-R, double stacked)