Texas Troubadour Opens Cowboys Stadium

in Features
For 10 long years, the Dallas Cowboys football organization worked to open their new stadium in Arlington, Texas. On June 6, the $1.15B stadium was launched in grand style with a George Strait concert before a crowd of over 60,000 people. Longtime Strait production manager Paul Rogers and lighting designer Stacey La Barbera of Onstage Systems were in command at the FOH overseeing the production of the Texas-sized event.

Rogers, who doubles as the FOH audio engineer, has been working with George Strait for 28 years.

“It says ‘Sound Man’ on my W-2 form,” Rogers laughs. “And it makes me laugh every year when I get it because now I’m in charge of anything that has to do with the live show.”

La Barbera, David Hare, and Rogers all contributed to the design of the massive show, but Rogers downplays his part.

“I’m not going to take much of the credit for (the lighting design); Stacey and Dave are the ones who did the hardest work on it. They’re the ones who came up with the looks we have going on. But it came from ideas that me and Stacey and Dave kicked around for years when we were in the round because we couldn’t do anything except hang some lights over the damned stage.”

The three relished the idea of being able to take more creative freedom with the look of the show.

“We brought out everything we had to get a hold of, that’s for sure,” Rogers added. “I didn’t start with any budget constraints at all; I was given the job to do, and I only found out about five months out that I was going to be in charge of the whole damn thing.”

Rogers said that they pretty much has free reign on the project. Hare drew the lighting plot using Vectorworks, starting by importing an AutoCAD drawing of the stadium and eventually producing renderings and a one-minute flyby animation using Vectorworks and Photoshop.

“I’m pushing the envelope with Vectorworks,” Hare said about creating the animation. “I just stick with one program and it saves a lot of time.”

La Barbera and Hare worked together to create the final result in a back-and-forth exchange over a three-day period.

“I would say, ‘This is what I visualize,’” La Barbera said, “and he would do some drawings based on what I said and on what he visualized. And I’d say, ‘Well that’s cool; how about if we do this… And we just kept going using the various pieces.”

The “various pieces” included several low-res LED displays like Martin Stage bars and Elation X-Curtains, which are 10mm pitch pixel tubes.

“We used those last year in our in-the-round show, so I wanted to take something which we’d already put money into and use it again for a second year,” La Barbera added. “So I hung them vertically instead of horizontally.”

The rig that was put together for the opening of Cowboys Stadium was essentially a bigger version of their shed touring rig that was designed for Strait’s current tour. For the stadium show they brought in two Barco iLite video displays located upstage left and right and added more lighting behind the stage for more depth. They also added trussing and lights over the audience in front of the stage and brought over a hundred more automated lights including Syncrolite 7Ks, 5Ks, and 3Ks for use around the stadium. The Syncrolites in the upper concourse and the ones in the four carts in the east end zone were networked wirelessly using City Theatrical SHoW DMX.

The beefed up rig added considerable expense, but it hardly slowed them down.

“We added quite a bit of stuff,” La Barbera said, “but the Syncrolites were a large portion of it. That definitely escalated things. I added eight to 10 Syncrolite crew and contract people as well who assisted us with the show.”

“George is pretty good about letting me do what I do,” Rogers said. “Now, once it came down to it and I gave them the final dollars, they balked at it at first in the lower levels of management. But once I took it straight to George and said this is what we need, he had no problem with it and we were off to the races.”

Well, sort of. There was at least one false start at the beginning of the race when they showed up at the starting line.

“We were kind of time crunched when we got there because we entered into the ‘first time blues’ of ever doing a show in the stadium,” La Barbera said. “It took a while to get everything rigged. We didn’t get everything trimmed until Thursday evening, and the show was Saturday.”

Mike Anderson is the tour rigger and stage manager, and Buddy Berry of Stage Right in Louisiana was brought in to help out.

“We really went through hell in that first show in Cowboys Stadium finding out what you could do and couldn’t do,” Rogers confided.

“There is a 200,000 pound maximum hanging capacity in the building and we came very close to that,” La Barbera said. “By the time they put in the rigging grid to rig everything from over the stage, we came very close to it. Truss weighs a lot; you’d be surprised. I think the grid weighed about 70,000 pounds. They had 5,000 pound (capacity) chain motors at every point. By the time you start adding up all the chain weight along with the trusses and everything, it gets heavy quick.”

“If it wasn’t for (Buddy Berry) we’d have been in a lot of trouble.” Rogers said.

Luckily they saved some time by using the same console show file as they use on the tour, so the majority of the show was already programmed.

“Everything was already set up in the cue list, so all we had to do was to add in new fixtures. It made things a lot easier,” La Barbera said.

Programmer David Hare also spent two and a half days pre-programming the new fixtures in the show using ESP Vision.

“I’ve been with (La Barbera) a long time and I kind of know what he likes,” Hare said. “So he just usually leaves me alone and then we’ll get to the venue and run through some stuff and that’s when he’ll make his notes on what he’d like to see.”

Hare programmed the show using a Martin Maxxyz Compact over 30 universes of DMX512. La Barbera, in addition to designing the lighting, also calls followspots and directs the lighting while playing back the cues on the console. Meanwhile, Hare directed video during the show, calling cameras and sending content to the four high-res video walls and the stadium video displays.

Much of the low-res LED displays, including the X-Curtains and the Stagebars were also triggered from La Barbera’s console using a Martin Maxedia Broadcast media server, one of the two media servers that lived backstage in video world. The other media server was a Maxedia Pro.

“We had one media server sending stuff to the big screens and LED walls, and then we had another one that was driving all of my LED content on stage,” La Barbera said. “It was all run through video world and triggered through my console. I triggered one, and Dave triggered the other one that went to the big screens, but they both stayed in his world.”

Most of the content is I-mag but a few of the songs are reinforced with B-roll. Hare developed the video content using a Sony HD camera and Final Cut Pro.

“A couple of years ago, (George) put out a song about Texas,” Hare said. “We got home one weekend and I just took off driving through Texas shooting different stuff that was in the song. I put it together and showed it to him but George isn’t into the whole glam, flash, and trash kind of stuff. But Paul loved it and he said, ‘Well, I guess we’ll try it and if nobody says anything…’”

So they played it and the crowd went wild over it. From then on they kept adding more B-roll content for a few more songs.

“We pixel map all of our movers on some songs,” Hare said. “It all looked like one big seamless picture.”

“Dave knows the show better than anybody,” La Barbera said, “and he’s got a great creative mind. He worked with a guy at the stadium and we used the dual 3D video ring around the stadium in conjunction with our screens and the big (stadium) screens.”

The video ring La Barbera is referring to is a Mitsubishi 360 LED Ribbon that is 27,488 pixels wide and 48 pixels high. During the course of the show, graphics including fire, clouds, and stars were used to enhance the visual aspect of the songs. Hare called the graphics cues while directing the show.

“On the encore,” La Barbera said, “we had all 57 of (George’s) number one hits fading in and out, getting faster and faster, flying at you. We did a lot of different creative stuff.”

“(Dave) has been with us for a while,” Rogers added. “First he came on as a lighting tech and then he started showing us his skills as far as design and computer skills. He started helping us design and then we realized that he has an eye for video, so he actually directed the video for the show and he programmed the lighting for the show. He’s the monkey of the board.” [Laughs]

There was some talk about shooting the show for later release as a DVD. The idea was visited a couple of times only to be scrapped in the end.

“When they said (they wanted to shoot a DVD),” La Barbera said, “originally we had put in audience trusses that were trimmed about 130’ in the air to do color washes in the upper balcony, not knowing if the big screen in the stadium was going to be working by then. So when we first started the project we didn’t know what to expect. Once the video shoot was cut, we cut those trusses. We actually ended up being better off because the screen worked and it is a beautiful screen. It goes from the 20 yard-line to the 20 yard-line.”

With such a large LED display, the amount of light it produced played into the show as well.

“I had close to 30 Moles as well,” La Barbera continued, “and with all the 7K Syncrolites, and the 3Ks and the 5Ks, plus the ambient light from the screen, it was very bright in there.”

For haze they used Reel EFX DF-50 haze machines on and around the stage plus some Martin Roadie Compact Hazers in each corner in the back of the stadium.

With all the ambient light, La Barbera felt like the elements of the show had “great separation.”

“Everything was well defined, especially when they opened the retractable roof about a third of the way into the show,” he said. “You could see everything on its own. The video wall stuck out because it’s a black video wall hanging in the middle of the place with the white ceiling above it. It sits over the 50 yard-line and the downstage edge was at about the 5 yard-line, and we worked back 60 feet deep. It gave a separate definition to everything; it separated the stage from the video screen, from the Syncrolites out front, you saw everything. It was a brand new stadium, a white ceiling…What more could you ask for?”

Rogers started in the live event production industry by renting out his own sound system with Charles Belcher, who provided the backline. Belcher grew the company called OnStage Systems, which was originally called Dallas Backup. Eventually the company morphed into a full service production company run by Belcher’s daughter Hyacinth (President/GM/Sales) and his son Chris (CFO/Staging). OnStage provided most of the lighting and trussing for the Cowboys Stadium event and supplies audio, video, and lighting equipment and personnel for the George Strait tour.

Rogers staffed the show with personnel that he’s come to know over the years, including the entire video crew. The video gear was supplied through OnStage by Video Equipment Rentals (VER).

FOH audio tech George Olsen has been working with Rogers on both George Strait and Lee Ann Womack for a long time. Eric Goers, the monitor mixer has been with Rogers for five years. Onstage supplied the V-Dosc system and Upstage Center (Mike Eggers) provided the contract labor and the lighting grid. Steve Lawler was the Live Nation rep.

“I’d like to give credit to Scott Sugden with V-Dosc who did the sound scan for the building, and really helped out a lot with what we needed to do sound-wise in the building,” Rogers added. “It was a nightmare.”

George Strait used to do only stadium shows, but after 9/11 he went back to playing arenas. For the current tour they are playing sheds and on August 8 they will play one last stadium show in 2009 at Reliant Stadium.

“Don’t tell (Hare) I said (he was the board monkey),” Rogers said.

Not to worry; it’ll stay between all of us.



Touring Personnel:

Paul Rogers - Production Manager/FOH Engineer

Stacey La Barbera, Onstage Systems - Lighting Designer/Director

Mike Anderson - Stage Manager/Rigger

George Olsen - Sound FOH/V-Dosc Tech

Eric Goers – Monitor Engineer

Dave Hare - Lighting FOH Tech/Programmer/Video Director

Willard Kendall, Onstage Systems - Head Electrician

Mark Chancellor, Onstage Systems - 2nd Electrician/Video Camera Operator

David Thornton - Video Engineer

Mark Gonzaba - Video Projectionist/Camera Operator

Valentino Hernandez - Video Tech/Camera Operator

Jake Chamley, Onstage Systems – Sound Tech

Jason Chamley, Onstage Systems – Sound Tech

John Stephens, Onstage Systems – Lighting Tech

Pioneer Coaches - Busses

Xtreme Transportation - Trucking

Add-On techs for Stadium Show:

John Stephens - Lighting Tech

Mike Mehmert - Lighting Tech

Ryan Mellenkamp (Gemini Stage Lighting) - Lighting Tech

Doug Alexander (Gemini Stage Lighting) - Lighting Tech

Nick Deel (Gemini Stage Lighting) - Lighting Tech

Eric Braudaway - Syncrolite Tech

Bobby Dominguez - Syncrolite Tech

Scott Sugden - Head V-Dosc Fly Engineer

Mathew Fox (PRG) - Fly Tech

Jason Chamlee - Sound Tech

Josh Kaylor - Sound Tech

Jake Chamley - Sound Tech

Jeremiah Peterson (VER) - Video LED Tech

Tom Phillips - Video LED Tech

Nick Bush - Video Jib Operator


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