Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

by Kevin M. Mitchell
in Production Profile
The symmetric fans of light look great from the side. Photo by Steve Jennings
The symmetric fans of light look great from the side. Photo by Steve Jennings

The “40th Anniversary Tour” Kicks It Up a Notch

For Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 40th Anniversary Tour, lighting designer/director and set designer Stanley A. Green is at front of house, enjoying how the audience is reacting to tour visuals that have grown in size, shape and overall visual impact from previous tours. One index of the growth in production can be seen in the parking lots outside the arenas, stadiums and sheds on the tour’s itinerary: Yep, that’s 12 semi-trucks of gear.

The hats are many and the lines are blurred, but officially Green and Kevin Cassidy share production design duties — Green is the lighting and set designer, and also the lighting director and programmer, not just for the lighting and video components, but for those spectacular “balls” that move and change color during the course of the show. Cassidy, meanwhile, is the technical director.

Those balls (a.k.a. winch balls/orbs) are fun — all 160 of them, and they can have an immersive effect for those on the stage or in the audience. “Tom [Petty] likes to say he feels like he’s standing inside a lava lamp,” Cassidy says, with a laugh. He adds that, like all the other set elements, Petty’s directive was to use these tastefully and sparingly. Indeed, the show is equal parts tasteful and impressive.

Crew photo by Kevin M. Mitchell. From left, The crew, from left: Matt Howe, Oscar Canales, Blake 'Flash' Rogers, Kevin Cassidy, Gary Boldenwick, Stanley A Green, Armando 'Mondo' Figueroa, Pierce 'Ballboy' Scott, Austin Tower.

‡‡         Less is More

Green hails from Seattle, and currently calls Henderson, NV (adjacent to Las Vegas) home. He started in the biz at 17. In 1981, he was the production manager/lighting designer for live music acts in the Seattle area. He worked his way up to crew chief, lighting designer and programmer for Seattle-area lighting companies while also serving as a master electrician and resident designer at venues around town.

His first big touring break came in 1992, when he became responsible for all visual aspects of the Robert Cray Band show and toured the world, doing 150 shows a year. Other bands that Green has worked with in various capacities include The Black Crowes, Third Eye Blind, Sarah McLachlan and Fiona Apple.

The Glow Motion balls emulate grapes hanging. Photo by Steve Jennings

Cassidy is a Kansas City kid, and likes to tell you that he was working with regional band Shooting Star when one Robert Scovill was the drum tech. (Today, Scovill is a Parnelli-award winning sound engineer for Petty). “I’m here to remind him of that to keep him grounded,” he winks. Cassidy worked his way up through a lighting company and got a crew job with TP&HB in 1990. “This is my 27th year [with Petty],” he says. “I was originally tour projectionist and worked under Jim Lenahan for decades. He taught me a lot, and when he left, he handed it all off to me and Stanley, to which we’re both grateful.”

Green has been with TP&HB since 2001. “I started out as a programmer for all lights and video, including robotic cameras, lasers, media servers, etc., for Jim, learning a lot along the way,” Green says. Except for one missed tour, he’s been on the road with every Petty project, including last year’s Mudcrutch tour, which was a “back to the clubs” stripped-down affair. Petty is, and always has been, deeply involved in all aspects of his shows, and over the past few tours, he’s taken a simple approach to the look of his shows, including the one in 2013, where Petty opted against all video except for I-Mag, with a minimalistic set that was basically just curtains, a few backdrops and truss.

Petty dictated the flow of the video content. Photo by Steve Jennings

This being the band’s 40th anniversary tour, Petty opted to go bigger. As part of the planning, Green drew up six separate production designs SANS video for this tour before Petty had that change of heart. “I then retrofitted them all with video, and from there, Kevin made additional changes. Petty then asked for some more changes, and that became the final design,” Green explains.

At that point, the attention turned to what would be filling those video screens besides I-Mag. “We had some great content from Planet Ten, and they were on site for a lot of the hours I programmed,” Green says, “making bits and pieces and whole new songs, right there on site. It was a great experience working with them. At 3 a.m., I’d look back from my console to their desk and say, ‘Can you please make me a black and white curtain at this scale and this contrast,’ and they’d be like, ‘Coming right up!’ They even made me bitmap movies for the grandMA, which helped in programming ‘the balls.’ It was a great team feeling.”

Ayrton MagicPanell FX fixtures light the audience. Photo by Steve Jennings

The video content was supplied by two houses, with additional work coming from Treatment Visual Productions in London. “It’s worked out, with the two companies merging and doing a great job collaborating,” Cassidy says. “And the video content plays a big part in the show, with Tom weighing in on the media.”

Thrown in are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them Easter eggs — fun titles in the newspaper clippings from the Gainesville Times (where the band is from), and a “Do Not Disturb” sign on a hotel that reads “Heartbreaker’s Hotel,” among others. Another subtle insider moment happens while the set from the opening act (typically Joe Walsh) is being changed over — the video image that fills the screens is of the band’s longtime rehearsal space in Southern California they call The Clubhouse, displayed to the exact dimensions.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 2017 tour photo by Steve Jennings

All the video content — the most TP&HB has had on a tour — is programmed by Green. Some is manipulated content supplied by Gary Radakovich, who supplied the MA Lighting VPU media servers. What ended up on tour was a work in progress in preproduction. “Not having a core set list until the last couple days of preproduction forced us to create 47-ish songs worth of video, lights and balls to cover our butts,” he laughs. “There are several songs I will use a still graphic of a drape at a scale that looks just like our drape, so the [nearly 60-foot-wide] LED screen almost disappears. We have the content on the back layer of the [Christie] Spyder so our video director, Matt Howe, can cover parts of the content with I-Mag here and there.”

Stage Kinetik winches lower Glow Motion Technologies’ RGB 40cm orbs into a canopy formation over the band. Photo by Steve Jennings

‡‡         “Slick and Simple”

VER is supplying all the lighting and video gear for the tour. Green has worked with them on several occasions and was well aware of their huge inventory and what was available for his touring production.

“When I started the design, the four rectangles were going to be light boxes with a 40th anniversary logo shining, when lit from within,” Green says, adding that there would be projection surfaces from the outside. “When Kevin and I discovered the automated winch balls, we both said, ‘We gotta have these!’” Petty happily approved, though in general his directive was to keep it “slick and simple.” This included having silver borders up and downstage and a matching silver 60-by-40-foot backdrop, which was lined with Chroma-Q Color Force fixtures. “The four large silver Tyler truss rectangles hang at a rake in front of that, so they are very much part of the set,” Green adds.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 2017 tour photo by Steve Jennings

The truss is filled with fun stuff, starting with 160 of Glow Motion Technologies’ RGB 40cm orbs, each of which moves vertically on its own Stage Kinetik high-speed winch. These spheres moved at variable speeds into various formations and colorful arrangements, normally occupying a preset position. But the designers did include some impressive choreographed movements, especially during “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” where they matched the colorful looks on stage while the glowing spheres constantly moved, flowing into new formations.

“The winch balls were a complete unknown going into pre-production,” Green says. “Once I learned how to control them, I needed to spend time seeing what was possible.” He used them as a moldable set piece for the first several days, allowing him to bring a lit roof to just over the bands head for intimate low moments. Then he also figured out how to bring a handful down, appearing like a few lanterns randomly hanging around a fire — a prefect look for the deep, slow songs. Otherwise, Petty continued to insist on subtle looks, so he nixed a 40th Anniversary logo that would show up on the balls. “He doesn’t like things in your face, and he stays away from things that are too ‘on the nose,’” Green says.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 2017 tour photo by Kevin M. Mitchell

Then there are a variety of brand new Ayrton products along with Claypaky Mythos and 30 High End Systems SolaSpot Pro 1500s, which Green deploys as the workhorse hard edge fixture on this tour. “I made a conscious choice to lower our carbon footprint and incorporate LED fixtures into the rig where I could,” he notes. The MagicPanel™ FX, MagicBurst™ and MagicBlade™ FX fixtures are highlights of the rig. “Each Ayrton fixture is being used in many different ways – from beautiful washes to great beam looks.”

Indeed, each of these fixtures were perfect for audience lights. “Tom likes to see his crowd. I have several focuses with these lights so I can just light the top bowl and adjust the zoom if I wish with the MagicBlade-FX, or wash the folks directly in front of him with a subtle color with the larger Panels,” explains Green, adding that the Ayrton MagicBurst strobe has been “a pleasant surprise – I use them in a multitude of different ways that I hadn’t originally intended. Once you start playing around with them, you see some incredible possibilities.

Guitarist Mike Campbell takes the lead. Photo by Steve Jennings

“I liked the look of High End’s SolaSpots from the get-go and wanted to tour with them,” Green continues. “They all have the same brightness and color temperature, and of course you never lose a bulb during the show. I had originally spec’d the brighter 2000 models, but VER had me take a look at these 1500’s and they have been cutting through everything just fine.”

Green also credited A.C.T Lighting for its support with the grandMA2 V3.2.2.16 console he is using for the tour, noting how A.C.T.’s Kat Covell “came out to rehearsals and taught me some cool new things on the consoles and figured out some problems — she’s been on top of it. As for the console, there’s no end to learning on it,” he laughs. “I feel like I can do so much, and yet I’m probably just scratching the surface.”

VER supplied the lighting and video. Photo by Steve Jennings

One additional improvement on this tour, Green says, is the ErgoLab StealthPro Touring chair he’s using, which goes “from office chair height to bar stool height,” instantly solving the “age old problem” of not being able to see over the heads of the people in the audience at times during the show.

Scovill was the one who introduced Green Jerry Engerof of ErgoLab, the chair’s manufacturer. But his gratitude to Scovill extends past his new perch affording a better view of the show. “Having the best sound man [Scovill] in the entire world makes my job so much better, a real pleasure,” Green says. “You can’t overstate how much sound affects us as LDs. If you can’t hear a moment, you can’t really light it.”

Kevin Cassidy and and Stanley Green. Photo by Kevin M. Mitchell

 

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 40th Anniversary Tour

Martin MAC Auras line the torms. Photo by Steve Jennings

Crew

  • LD, Lighting Director, Set Designer: Stanley Green
  • Tech Director, Visual Designer: Kevin Cassidy
  • Video Director: Matt Howe
  • Production Manager: Chris Adamson
  • Tour Manager: Richard Fernandez
  • Lighting/Video Co: VER
  • Lighting/Power Tech: Armando “Mondo the Mocker” Figueroa
  • Lighting/Lead Automated Tech: Oscar Canales
  • Lighting Techs: Blake “Flash” Rodgers, Austin Towers, Gary Radakovich
  • HVAC Tech/Carpenter: Gary Boldenwick
  • Ball Technican: Pierce Scott
  • Video Engineer: Waldo Alfaro
  • LED Tech: Josh Rahalski, Mike Tengdin
  • Video Content: Planet Ten, Treatment Visual Productions

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 2017 tour photo by Kevin M. Mitchell

 

Gear

  • 2               grandMA2 consoles
  • 2               grandMA2 VPU Pro Plus units
  • 2               grandMA2 NPUs
  • 160         Glow Motion Technologies RGM 40mm orbs
  • 160         Stage Kinetik high-speed winches
  • 30            High End Systems SolaSpot 1500s
  • 28            Claypaky Mythos
  • 32            Claypaky B-Eye K20s
  • 12            Ayrton MagicPanel™ FX
  • 14            Ayrton MagicBlade™ FX
  • 14            Ayrton MagicDot™ R
  • 14            Ayrton MagicBurst™
  • 18            Chroma-Q Color Force 72’s
  • 2               Hazebase Base Hazers
  • 1               VER Video Package including Galaxia WinVision Air 9mm panels in RS touring frames, Galaxia MCU 2012 HD processor, VER X frame workstation fly pack, Vista Systems Spyder X20 video processors.

More 2017 Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers tour photos by Steve Jennings:

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