Eric Church 'Holdin’ My Own' Tour 2017

by Steve Jennings (Photo and Text)
in Wide Focus
Eric Church 'Holdin’ My Own' Tour 2017 photos by Steve Jennings
Eric Church 'Holdin’ My Own' Tour 2017 photos by Steve Jennings

Eric Church is out packing arenas on his “Holdin’ My Own Tour” with Butch Allen back as production and lighting designer and Rob Koenig and Scott Chmielewski as programmers. With close to three hours on stage, Church covers the bases and doesn’t disappoint the fans with his 360 end stage show, where he can get close and personal. We spoke with lighting director Gavin Lake about Allen’s production design. Lake took over LD duties back in February of 2015, as he explains.

Big looks were kept simple per the artist's wishes. Eric Church 2017 tour photo by Steve Jennings.

Gavin Lake
Lighting Director

“I really didn’t have a lot of time behind a desk as a touring LD, which didn’t seem to worry Butch, since Rob Koenig, who was the co-designer and programmer would have ample time to hand it off to me. That was the Outsiders tour, which was bombastic and exploratory in a lot of ways, and pushed the envelope. The current design is minimalistic and nuanced — Eric (Church) didn’t want reviewers talking about the production elements, he wanted people talking about the music, the band, and the energy. I asked Butch early on if I could be involved in the design process, just so I could get a peek inside that crazy head. I can’t even tell you how many versions I saw before he landed on this one. Sometimes simple isn’t as easy as it seems!

“As far as the design of the stage, which is TAIT staging, Butch could speak better to the thought process behind it, but I do know Eric, and he likes to sing to everyone in the audience; he lives for the fans, and his interactions with them. I think Eric will always be on a stage that lets people get close, and lets him interact with the people in the room. But because of that, Eric is always a moving target, so key light becomes a challenge, physically and technically. We talked about using PRG GroundControl or Cast BlackTrax ad nauseam, but the ultimate decision was to advance 10 house spotlights for every show, which presents its own set of challenges, as many of us know.”

GLP XBar 20's and Martin Mac Axioms in action. Eric Church 2017 tour photo by Steve Jennings.

Screenworks out of Nashville provides all the LED and video elements for the show, with video director Chris Jones, better known as “Jonesy” at the helm.

“Jonesy knows the show well, he directed a good part of The Outsiders tour as well. Going into the design process, we didn’t plan on having any content, but during rehearsals Eric’s management added some content for our 20-minute intermission that segued into the second set nicely. There’s also a piece of content in a song that we made by accident, more or less, and now it’s in the show every night. It’s not something anyone would recognize as being content though, so I don’t think I’m gonna spoil the mystery.

“Ninety-nine percent of the show is I-Mag though, normally in grayscale with a few songs in sepia or a distressed amber, just to give it some more grittiness. As you look at people in the audience, you’ll notice that most of them aren’t sitting with their heads cocked back, looking at the screen the whole time. The I-Mag isn’t meant to be a distraction from Eric, it’s meant to supplement the live show, and I think it does that well.”

Tait provided the stage allowing the artist to get closer to his audience. Eric Church 2017 tour photo by Steve Jennings.

The show was programmed from the grandMA2 control surface, which is what Lake naturally operates the show from.

“The MA2 is an extremely powerful platform — it’s scalable, it’s compatible with many other disciplines, and it has the flexibility to be used in just about any production environment imaginable. It’s also ubiquitous, I can count on an MA2 being on any continent we may perform on, and I can count on one being no more than a eight-hour drive from just about any city in the US. So for a lot of reasons, it’s often times the only reasonable choice.”

The needs of this design were fairly stringent, says Lake.

“Butch and I both agreed early on that we’d need a hybrid fixture, an almost ‘Swiss army knife’ workhorse that could do it all. While we found pros and cons to every hybrid out there, Butch demoed the Martin MAC Axiom and suggested I do the same. Brad Schiller over at Martin sent me one to play with for a week, I was very impressed. It’s not the most beautiful, even field, spot you’ve ever seen, and it’s not God’s gift to key light, but for a hybrid fixture, it’s really good. Many of the looks we achieved would be impossible without the linear zoom and other features of the light. Butch chose Chauvet Strike 1’s and Showline Nitro 510C’s to supplement the air package, and Claypaky Sharpy Washes flanked by GLP X4 Bar 20’s for the floor.

Eric Church 2017 tour photo by Steve Jennings.

“The only element that could be considered “FX” on our show is the atmosphere, which is provided by two MDG Max 3000 hazers. Eric really wanted a minimalist design that made the audience feel included.”

Lake says that, for the design for this tour, “we really started from scratch.”

“We had three programming/rehearsal sessions that equated to a little less than 20 days of programming time that was often shared with band rehearsal.

“Our original intent was to program 60 songs, but we landed somewhere in the 38 range. Some songs we spent days on, others just hours. We knew Eric could do anything, and going into programming, we started with the ones we knew for sure he was going to do. Even now, more than half way through the tour, the set list changes every night and Eric could drop into a medley or rendition of anything that strikes his fancy at any time. I find myself punting anywhere between two and eight songs a night.”

“I’d be remiss to talk about this show and not talk about the contributions of Rob Koenig and Scott Chmielewski, who officially filled the role of programmers, but in reality, acted more as co-designers in many respects. Each of them are world class, yet bring two completely different styles to the table. I consider both great friends, and every night running the show I see cues that are quintessentially ‘theirs’ and it reminds me of their artistic input and how much fun we all had making this thing happen. It’s been an honor to be surrounded by people who are more talented than me and to be able to learn from some of the best!”

Crew

  • Production & Lighting Designer: Butch Allen
  • Lighting Director: Gavin Lake
  • Lighting Programmer: Rob Koenig & Scott Chmielewski
  • Lighting Co: Christie Lites/Robert Roth
  • Lighting Crew Chief: Charlie Phan
  • Lighting Techs: Kyle Lovan, Chastity O’Bradovich, Rob Harrison, Jamy Donnelly, Loyd Hurt
  • Fill in Lighting Techs: Jeremy Van Delft, Jarret Borodenko
  • Video Director: Chris Jones
  • Video Co: Screenworks/Danny O’Bryan
  • Tour Manager: Todd Bunch
  • Production Manager: Marc Earp
  • Staging: Tait/Aaron Siebert
  • Stage Manager: Sambo Coats
  • Automation: Mike Rock, Clate Stewart
  • Riggers: Lance P. Stoner, Danny “DMFH” Hayes, Dave Russ
  • Trucking: Stage Call
  • Bus: All Access

Gear

Lighting:

  • 2               grandMA2 consoles
  • 115         Martin MAC Axioms
  • 63            Chauvet Strike 1s
  • 52            Showline Nitro 510C Strobes
  • 49            GLP impression X4 Bar 20s
  • 24            Claypaky Sharpy Washes
  • 1               20K Fresnels
  • 2               MDG Max 3000 Hazers

Video:

  • 432         panels of ROE X7WN (400 square meters)
  • 1               14-camera fly pack
  • 1               Ross Carbonite switcher

More Eric Church 2017 photos by Steve Jennings: