SweetWater 420 Festival

by Nick Radar
in Festival Spotlight
Widespread Panic at SweetWater 420 Festival. Photo courtesy Dave Vann
Widespread Panic at SweetWater 420 Festival. Photo courtesy Dave Vann

Premier Global Production Sets the Stage for Another Successful Show

The SweetWater 420 Festival is celebrating its 13th year as an Earth Day environmental celebration. The eco-friendly showcase focuses on music, SweetWater Brewing’s craft beers, food and art. The weeklong event, held in Atlanta’s Centennial Park for the last three years, hosts more than 50 national and local musical performers. Statistics from last year’s performance indicate attendees traveled from 46 different states in the U.S. and seven different countries.

Central to the festival theme is an Eco-Village, which focuses on educating attendees on eco- friendly practices. To date, the Fest has donated more than $120,000 to various neighborhood organizations, including park improvement initiatives at its former site, Candler Park.

Numerous after party shows take place at Terminal West, Hard Rock Café, The Loft at Center Stage and Aisle 5. A 5K run, which qualifies runners for the famous Peachtree Road Race, spreads the festival message to the Atlanta community at large. Headliners this year included the Trey Anastasio Band and Widespread Panic.

PGP has been providing the stage for this event since the beginning.

‡‡         Growing with the Event

Premier Global Production (PGP) became involved with the 420 Festival at the very first concert in 2005. Says Scotty Chamryk, PGP’s staging and festival lead coordinator, “We pulled our smallest stage, an SL-100, using my pickup truck, up to the brewery and planted it.” As the festival attracted more attention, PGP provided greater support at the various outdoor venues staging the event.

The PGP company, a family-owned business, first opened its doors in Regina, Saskatchewan in Canada. Chamryk, the first fulltime employee hired by PGP, has now been with PGP for 30 years. “I don’t really have a title, but I do all the festivals, special projects and oversee anything that has to do with staging,” Chamryk says. “We work hand-in-hand with lighting, but ‘Geddy’ [PGP design manager Anthony “Geddy” Kordyjaka] does all the heavy lifting, putting the gear and drawings together.”

The full production rental house has maintained offices in Nashville for the past 20 years. “The festival season starts in the south,” says Chamryk, “so Nashville is the best location to keep our gear.”

This year, PGP supplied a main stage and lighting package. The second stage they supplied for Planet 420 is one of the company’s hydraulic stages from Stageline, called the SL320. Four other areas round out the entertainment stages. These are named the 420 Disco Tent, Lyrics & Laughter Stage and the SweetWater 420 Experience Tent.

Along with Chamryk, lighting crew members included Brian Hatten, Nick Shields and Kenny Lansden. The gear list for the event included Vari-Lite fixtures (14 VL3000 Spot, 12 VL3500 Wash), 16 Claypaky Sharpys and 16 Martin MAC 700 Washes plus 10 TourPro Storm 1000 strobes, seven Elements Krypton LED fixtures, 16 4-lite moles and 8 2-lite moles.

‡‡         The Headliner Looks

Paul Hoffman, owner of Pulse Lighting, who serves as LD for Widespread Panic, worked with Geddy’s initial lighting design for the festival for his band’s headliner set look. He credits PGP as being “definitely easy to work with. Normally, we take whatever hand we are dealt in a festival situation. This year, we are taking our festival package a step further to mold into something that looks like a Widespread Panic Show. Because we are not touring, there was a bit more emphasis on trying to make some of these events look a little more like our own show and at least give the band a consistent look.

“In the past we have carried a small floor package, our consoles, and whatever odds and ends we feel we need to make it come off right,” Hoffman continues. He is carrying a Chauvet 5mm pitch video wall along with a small floor package and a pair of grandMA2 consoles. Positioned upstage center, “the wall is the biggest we have ever carried,” Hoffman says.

“In places where we are a big enough deal to headline or pull a little weight, I’ve been at least able to contribute to the design,” Hoffman adds. “With the help of PGP, I was able to echo my design more fully at 420. Geddy has been great about going back and forth facilitating our plot, though we do try not to do too much insisting,” he says, with a laugh.

Geddy also included some lighting elements for the Friday night headliner, the Trey Anastasio Band, creating a bit of a hybrid design.

‡‡         Keeping it Safe and Organized

Jennifer Bensch, the producer and co-owner of the festival, hired Kenny Cresswell as production manager for the event. Cresswell is the owner of Avatar Events Group, an Atlanta-based backline provider. Cresswell and Chamryk have worked together on multiple projects over the years, both with and for each other.

“Typically, we get a bit of wet weather during 420,” Cresswell says. “Jen and Happy Ending Productions are very conscious of keeping the park, the crew and the audience safe due to that.”

Atlanta has established an environment warning code, dictating that all work on site ceases if lightning strikes within a 10-mile radius of any outdoor site construction. PGP carries anemometers in their truss to measure wind speed, which augments the weather prediction services Happy Ending provides, in compliance with the Event Safety Alliance’s best practices recommendations.

Leaving the park in the same, if not better, condition is a priority for the festival producers as well. For that reason, before load-in begins, 38,166 square feet of DuraDeck flooring, is deployed. The flooring remains down during the show and load-out. Vinyl tarp, such as that used to protect Major League Baseball grounds, covers any other exposed grassy areas during load-in.

Once this protection is established, PGP can bring their staging, cranes and lighting into the park. Trucks are marshaled at the near Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) less than a mile away, where empties are stored as well.

Cresswell points out that, “despite a tight fit for a venue and a few weather delays, PGP ran ahead of schedule all week.”

PGP’s five-man crew supervises riggers and stagehands provided by the produces from Production Arts Workshop (PAW). Though PGP does have generator capabilities, the festival producers hired local dealer Sunbelt.

Chamryk, with his bird’s eye view of the numerous festivals PGP provides gear for, is keenly aware of the shift he’s seen in production. “Bands are getting smarter and hitting more festivals, bringing minimal lighting and just their consoles. It saves them a bunch of money and gives them more exposure to a wider audience than they might get with a touring package performing on their own. The flip side of that works for PGP as well. Word of mouth and knocking on doors have grown the company, but out on site is where many of the new jobs come from. Bands and promoters see our gear, staging, and business begets more business!”

The numbers don’t lie. This year, close to 55,000 music lovers showed up over the three-day weekend.

For more information, visit www.sweetwater420fest.com  and www.premierglobalproduction.com.