Alan Jackson 'Honky Tonk Highway' Tour

by Thomas S. Friedman
in Wide Focus
Photos courtesy Blueshift Design
Photos courtesy Blueshift Design

With 16 studio albums and nearly 60 million records sold worldwide, the multi-platinum recording artist Alan Jackson has solidified himself as one of country music’s most iconic talents. In a career that spans three decades, Jackson is still hard at work touring the nation for his dedicated fans. Needing a new production design to support the current “Honky Tonk Highway Tour,” the management team once again enlisted the creativity of Craig Rutherford of Blueshift Design who, in turn, called upon Nashville-based tour provider Elite Multimedia.

Rutherford incorporated negative space into the design

‡‡         Lighting

“Since we have had such a long relationship with Alan, he is sort of ‘hands off’ when it comes to the designing of the production for his tours,” says Rutherford. “I typically start the process by reviewing the designs from previous tours, and then sketching a rough idea while trying to figure out how to keep the look fresh and interesting. Afterwards, I speak with Elite Multimedia to select the gear I want within the specified budget, and I submit the plan to the production manager for final approval. This team has been together for a while now, and Alan really trusts everyone to provide him with the best designs possible for his tours, which is really what we all try to do.”

Starting the design process for the new tour looks, Rutherford wanted to do a complete reconfiguration of the lighting rig. By moving certain fixture types into different locations from previous tours, he could now create a deeper visual experience.

Alan Jackson   Honky Tonk Highway 3   Photo Credit Thomas Newton

“I am always looking for ways to make the show look bigger and more visually interesting,” says Rutherford. “For the last couple of years, we’ve used several of our wash fixtures on the downstage truss, and we had a lot of top light in the air above the band. This year, I moved all those fixtures upstage and added layers of horizontal Tyler GT truss rigged via a steel sling arrangement to create a wall of light that worked in conjunction with the upstage LED video wall, giving us a beautiful canvas behind the band to bring additional energy and emotion.”

Now needing to select the fixtures to fill the redesigned rig, Rutherford got to work with Elite Multimedia to finalize the lighting production design. Once finished, the new lighting design for the “Honky Tonk Highway Tour” included Philips Vari-Lite VL3015LT Spots, Martin MAC 700 and 301 Washes, Chauvet COLORdash Par Hex 7s, Chauvet Ovation E-190 WW Profiles for front light on the band, ProCan 4 Lite blinders and Elation CUEPIX Blinder WW4 fixtures with a grandMA2 Light console for control.

“I’ve actually reduced the total fixture type count this year by one — I eliminated all our beam fixtures — but I took out a lot more hard-edged spots,” says Rutherford. “Since I now had the wall of light behind the band, I wanted to have a diverse, multiplicity of gobos and aerial looks. Peter Streiff, our account manager at Elite, had Vari-Lite VL3015 LTs available, and I ended up taking 16 of them. They’re shockingly bright, have a great gobo set, and Vari-Lite’s always-amazing color system. I’ve been very happy with them. The LED PARs go on short lighting trees behind the band and provide backlighting and color effects on the performers. I’ve tried to be bold about making the front lighting a more dynamic part of the show, eliminating it for some songs, and experimenting with strong back washes.”

The trusses were reconfigured to form a wall of light.

‡‡         Video

Moving his attention now to the LED video design, Rutherford wanted to continue to freshen the tour’s production design. But with an artist whose fans will always be dedicated to the iconic hits, finding ways to change up the content can be tricky.

“One of the video challenges is that Alan has a tremendous catalog of classic hits, and the music video content for those will never change,” says Rutherford. “Nonetheless, I still have to find ways to keep the video elements of the design fresh. Last year we started experimenting with a video capture card where I could grab shots from our brilliant video director Robby Luttrell, so this year we decided to implement even more live I-Mag into the video design. With the performance capabilities of the FLEXCurtain HD 12.5mm LED video screen, we have a lot more flexibility to frame the live shots creatively and the high-resolution playback shows it all in great detail. I also ended up experimenting with altering the I-Mag this year, for instance, changing the output to a monochromatic sepia-tone for ‘Bluesman’, which worked out really well.”

VL 3015LT fixtures were incorporated into the design

As the “Honky Tonk Highway Tour” now continues to cross North America with tour dates scheduled through October, Rutherford is excited for fans to experience the new design. Through the reconfiguration of the lighting and video, Rutherford now has the new design elements he originally envisioned through the support of Elite Multimedia. Lighting director Kurtis Wheat handles the day to day button pushing on the light board for the summer.

“As lighting designers, we deal in looks, and the more options you have fixture-wise, the more dynamic and interesting you can make the individual scenes within the show,” Rutherford concludes. “Ultimately, we always want to give an exciting and fresh look to the production, and Elite Multimedia consistently has the exact gear I need to create the new and dynamic elements for each design.”

Lighting director Kurtis Wheat handles the day to day button pushing

Alan Jackson “Honky Tonk Highway” Tour

Crew

  • Lighting Designer: Craig Rutherford/Blueshift Design
  • Lighting Director: Kurtis Wheat
  • Lighting Co: Elite Multimedia
  • Lighting Tech: Thomas “Hammer” Foster
  • Video/LED Co: Elite Multimedia
  • Video Director: Robbie Luttrell
  • LED Tech / FOH Camera Op: Brandon Crittenden
  • Projection Tech / Roving Camera Op: Dylan Sanuita

Gear

Lighting:

  • 1               grandMA2 Light console w/1 NPU
  • 22            Martin MAC 301 Wash fixtures
  • 14            Martin MAC 700 Wash fixtures
  • 16            Vari-Lite VL3015 LT Spots
  • 12            Chauvet COLORdash Par-Hex 7 fixtures
  • 8               Chauvet Ovation E-190WW profile fixtures
  • 4               TMB ProCan 4-Lite blinders
  • 4               Elation CUEPIX Blinder WW4
  • ChainMaster motors: 1, ½, ¼-ton

Video:

  • 2               PixelFLEX SU401 Sending Controllers
  • 42            12.5mm FLEXCurtain HD
  • 2               Barco FLM-HD20 20k Projectors
  • 2               Da-Lite 10 x 17 screens
  • 3               Toshiba IK-HR1s 1080 POV Cameras
  • 2               Sony HXC-100 Cameras
  • 1               Canon j55X FOH Camera Package
  • Panasonic AV-HS410 Directors Rack
  • Dual Sonnet xMac mini servers

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