Sam Hunt's '15 in a 30' Tour

by Nook Schoenfeld
in Production Profile
Travis Shirley is behind the wheel on this tour's production design, which includes a mosaic ceiling over the artist's head. Photos by Todd Kaplan
Travis Shirley is behind the wheel on this tour's production design, which includes a mosaic ceiling over the artist's head. Photos by Todd Kaplan

Sam Hunt arrived onto the country music scene a couple of years ago like a breath of fresh air. It’s now been three years since the debut of his only full length album, Montevallo, which has spawned six hit singles, countless videos and a sold-out U.S. tour. Hunt’s music covers all genres and demographics, not just country, because he’s as comfortable listening to Alan Jackson one minute and Kanye West the next.


Fast forward to mid-2016, when production designer Travis Shirley received a phone call from his friend and colleague Brad Belanger, who has been managing Sam’s career. Hunt had been gaining in popularity with his appearances on many high-profile television shows such as The Voice. Brad wanted a creative mind to guide his artist through production ideas that could be incorporated into these shows.

Martin MAC Sceptrons lined the set and were also seen on the video panels. Sam Hunt tour photo by Todd Kaplan

    The Artist and the Designer
Travis tells us a bit about the artist. “Sam is such a bond between generations and eras. The thing about his music is while he sticks to his roots, it’s kind of a combination of all the things he likes. Our objective for this tour was to create a dynamic show that everyone would enjoy regardless of your musical tastes. Music is the one thing that brings us together regardless of race, religion or whatever divides us.”

When talking about the show’s flow, Travis adds, “Sam’s message to the fans is clear, and he actually tells them every night, ‘This generation is gonna bring down walls. You guys hang out with people you like, not with people who look like you.’ As much as he is the country star that he is, it’s hard to categorize him, as his music truly does span many genres. He’s truly an artist,” Travis continues.

“As this was Sam’s first headlining shed/arena tour, he was concerned as to what type of production and show he envisioned for himself. We referenced a broad cross section of shows to get an idea of what style of production was best suited for him. It was important that he saw and understood what styles of lighting, video and set automation were available to him so that we could come up with the initial template/concept for his tour. In the end, we opted for a set that could cover all the bases, whether it need to look industrial at times, modernistic at others, or Plain Jane/Guy and a barstool type of feel.”

All Access built the upstage pyramid wall. Sam Hunt tour photo by Todd Kaplan



Travis Shirley was born in the San Francisco Bay area, residing there until his family moved to Houston, when he was ten years old, a city that he still calls home. He knew at a very young age what his mission in life would be. “I used to re-read old issues of Lighting Dimensions studying the work of Larry Boster, Joe Paradise and Steve Cohen — people that were my heroes back then.” Eventually he hooked up with Bandit Lites at age 17, as a young tech. “I was hanging truss, but acutely aware of what I was doing. It made me know how the gear went together and how to facilitate how I designed stuff in the future. It was a skill I’m glad I learned early.”

His diversified taste in music is exemplified by the artists that he has been fortunate to get to work with, ranging from Country to Metal to Latin to EDM. In 2006, Travis caught a break designing his first tour for Disturbed, followed by a stint with a newly reformed Smashing Pumpkins. Soon afterwards, he found himself designing a mega-sized show for Enrique Iglesias, an artist he’s still working with ten years later. Recently he designed a production for Zedd’s Echo tour.

A stark and sexy look that's edgy and appealing. Sam Hunt tour photo by Todd Kaplan



    The Tour
“Sam’s ‘15 in a 30’ tour is very close to me, as I had been contemplating a design for several months before it came to fruition. Being the overall creative designer is a thrill and an honor for me…I was instructed to transfer Sam’s message to a bigger platform. I had to assemble a team of people to help me get the show together,” says Shirley.

This included hiring a choreographer (Jason Young) to work with Sam on how to build his concert into a proper production. Media content creators along with their assistants were brought in as well. Longtime collaborator Trevor Ahlstrand was brought in to help program the lighting. “I give tremendous kudos to Trevor as he’s been an integral part of my productions for the last ten years. He does so much more than just program, he’s my associate designer on this tour. I share my creative ideas, color palettes and general notes, and Trevor executes the scenes, time and time again, flawlessly.”

Martin MAC Axioms are mounted within the apex of each of the square-sided pyramids. Sam Hunt tour photo by Todd Kaplan



The same may be said about working with the content creation. “I turned to [Cincinnati-based] Lightborne for help. I knew what I was looking for, and the Lightborne team was able to deliver spot-on content based on notes that I had given them. They were a low maintenance, no drama company who actually delivered the goods at the time they had promised.”

Travis laughs as he admits that there were six or eight people working out at the FOH area during the entire ten days of production rehearsals, which took place in late May at the Bridgestone Arena complex in Nashville. “One of the smartest things I have done in a while is, I hired a content manager for the show. Orrin Zucker, from Ozone, was constantly working and filing away all my content notes and turning the show programming into a streamlined process. I would see something and say out loud, ‘Ooh I think that would be great here in this song,’ then walk away. Later on, that clip would show up in the servers, ready for Trevor to program it into a scene.”

The media playback was all done on a trusty Catalyst server, which Travis likes because “several times throughout the show, we like to run cameras through an I-Mag manipulation program called Video Dust, and at the time, the program was only available with this particular media server. Plus, who doesn’t know how to program this basic server? For this project, I didn’t need a lot of bells and whistles on the server.”

The video elements in their high ceiling configuration. Sam Hunt tour photo by Todd Kaplan

    Lights/Set/Video as One
Travis had a few general ideas in his mind of things he was looking for. One of which was a video surface that would be flexible in how it could be used. The idea of having a roof made of video intrigued him, as did having a transparent wall upstage that he could blow lights through at times. He knew he wanted animation with these elements, which led him to Tait Towers in Lititz, PA.

“It was great to just walk through their complex and look at stuff to give me ideas,” Travis says. “I had a vision of four video surfaces, (which ended up being eight feet high by 48 feet wide each), and having them move seamlessly together into different formations. But I also wanted to make sure I could put rows of lights between each of these panels that ran across the stage. They showed me their Navigator system and the logistics to turn my vision into the real world.”

Between each of the video surfaces, Shirley mounted a dozen Martin MAC Viper AirFX fixtures and a row of GLP impression X4 Bar 20 moving strip lights. “I’ve always been a fan of the Vipers, but I really thought the X Bar 20’s were imperative to include in this design. If you look around, you will see that I have strips of light all around the set, from pipes on the side of the stage that have MAC Sceptrons mounted to them, to more Sceptrons that run vertically up the pyramid wall, to the LED tape that is built into the risers that All Access manufactured for us.”

PRG provided the video elements. Sam Hunt tour photo by Todd Kaplan

    Designing the Set
Travis was then tasked with designing a set that would match the guidelines he and the artist had established — Industrial, yet modern. He flew some low side trusses and mounted Martin MAC Axioms and some LED wash fixtures under them. Under these side trusses sat seven floor stands per side, with Sceptrons transforming the stage into a modernistic cage at times. He continued the theme by lining an upstage structure with matching vertical strips of Sceptrons.

Travis felt he needed a cool structure upstage behind the band as well. “I came across this idea for a pyramid with a light sticking out of it. But I wanted it to look metallic and dark. All Access built me a bunch of six-foot [per side] square pyramids out of black mirrored panels.” The structure stood upright, with seven pyramids across and four high. The apex of each pyramid housed another MAC Axiom — lights that had to be hung in the correct spot daily.

An industrial look fueled by Axioms shining through the Win Vision 9 mm product. Sam Hunt tour photo by Todd Kaplan



“We don’t really reveal the wall until halfway through the show. We have the video placed in several positions, including a scene where it is lowered down just over the band. It’s pretty dramatic when we lift it all up into what we refer to as the ‘high ceiling’ look, and the audience gets to see it.” Shirley dealt with Robert Achlimbari as his account rep at All Access and was very happy with how the custom manufactured products turned out.

Travis specifically designed the piece not to take light well. “I wasn’t looking for a backdrop I could illuminate, as I had plenty of surfaces to play with already. What I was looking for was a liquid essence that I could throw up there to complement a scene. “He uses the Axioms on the side to bounce light off the structure and swirl patterns to build eerie liquid textures. The crowd only sees this wall for about three songs. Then it becomes backlight to shoot through the video screens.

John Wiseman and Nick Jackson at PRG were the next addition to the team. “I told them I wanted to shine light through the screens, but I also needed them to look like a nice high-res product. They provided me with WinVision 9mm tiles in frames. They removed some backing plates to enable more light to shine through the product.”

We asked Travis about the risers he came up with. “The band likes to run around a lot, so I felt I wanted to give them a playground of sorts to knock around on. So I built more risers based on the pyramid idea upstage.” They are about three feet tall with grated deck on the side so the musicians can run up the side of each one and stay in place.

The video silhouettes the band in a box look. Sam Hunt tour photo by Todd Kaplan

    Relationships
“I like to go with people that I know as far as vendors and staff. This year I sat with management regarding a production manager that could handle a show of this size. I suggested we hire Nick Jeen, who had handled production duties for the Eagles and Blue Man Group, among many others. We all got together over a meal and it went well. The management hired Nick, and it’s been a love relationship since.”

When it came to finding the lighting gear, Travis turned to Creech (Steven Anderson) a well-known account rep from Madison, TN-based Premier Global Production, in the Nashville area. “They had all the gear I requested and did a great job. One thing I wanted to do was be able to use some automated spots from the front. I wanted some light that was almost top light on the players. I still had house spots in use, but I wanted to try these. Creech set me up with one of those [Spotrack] Follow-Me systems they own. I have a downstage truss perched high above my roof with four Robe BMFL spots on it. I control the lights while four operators sit backstage with four mouse pads following the musicians around.” There are more of the Storm RGBW Strobe fixtures on the front truss for illuminating the crowd.

From left, lighting director Eric Hardin and production designer Travis Shirley. Sam Hunt tour photo by Todd Kaplan



PLSN asked Creech to expand on Premier Global Production’s role in this tour. “We were fortunate to meet Travis several years ago when he was designing the production for Pentatonix. He’s got a lot of great ideas and knows what he wants. He’s also clever enough to get Nick Jeen in the mix as the production manager. Travis allows Nick, myself and rigger Sonny Oyler to figure out the exact rigging placement to allow his design to work safely with the amount of automation he had.”

Creech adds, “We finally got a chance to work with Travis and Nick on a long-term project. PGP ended up purchasing a lot of GLP X4 Bar 20s and Martin Sceptrons, which all mounted to the All Access set. We sent fixtures out to the account rep, Robert Achlimbari to get everything designed to the millimeter so just the yokes of the Axioms poked through the upstage wall. In the end, Sam Hunt has a very tight, polished show.”

Joe Priester is the video director out cutting cameras. While I-Mag is sparsely used on the LED walls, there are side screens featuring a live cut from a couple of Barco 30K projectors. Eric Hardin is behind the grandMA2, driving the light show each night. “This is my first time working with Eric, and he’s doing a great job on the road keeping it all intact,” states Travis.

PLSN also got a few words from John Wiseman of PRG about that company’s relationship with Travis. “Nick Jackson, Rusty Wingfield and myself all look after Travis and his various projects, each of us bringing a different skill that completes the team. We all enjoy the ideas Travis brings, he pushes each of us to look hard at and for solutions to fulfill the vision he has sold to the artist. Our directive is one in which we take pride in — supporting him quietly behind the scenes.”

A simple but effectibe black and white look works with the upright piano. Sam Hunt tour photo by Todd Kaplan



Wiseman adds, “Sam Hunt, in particular, doing his first headline tour, was especially challenging, as it had to be big, and the screens needed movement that was unusual. We got artistic direction from Travis and worked closely with Nick Jeen to make this work. The resources PRG could bring to the table made this work for Travis, Nick Jeen and Sam Hunt’s people. Very fulfilling to stand back at the first gig and see all those minds and hard work appear onstage and be executed, right out of the box.”

While not normally a fan of timecode, Travis felt it was a good call to sync all the video and lighting together for this project. “It really allowed my train of thought to keep in line. Especially when I was building a cue that’s using maximum control of the visual elements, and its execution absolutely has to sync with the automation.”

In closing, Travis expressed gratitude for the efforts from all involved. “What a great artist, what a great band, what a great management team, what a great production/vendor team. Everyone came together to make this a great fun, successful tour. Thank you all!”

Sam Hunt. 2017 tour photo by Todd Kaplan

Sam Hunt 2017 “15 in a 30” Tour

Crew

  • Production/Show Designer: Travis Shirley
  • Associate Lighting Designer: Trevor Ahlstrand
  • Lighting Director: Eric Hardin
  • Lighting Co: Premier Global Production
  • PGP Account Rep: Steven “Creech” Anderson
  • Lighting Crew Chief: Mark Donahue
  • Lighting Techs: Brandt Gentry (Spotrack tech), Jason Wakefield, Tyler Scott
  • Video Director: Joe Priester
  • Video Co: PRG/John Wiseman
  • Video Crew Chief/Catalyst Operator: Joe Bradley
  • Cameras/Utility: Chris Campbell
  • LED Engineer: Dave Bergfeld
  • Video Content: Lightborne Communications
  • Video Content Manager: Orrin Zucker/Ozone
  • Production Manager: Nick Jeen
  • Tour Manager: John Worthington
  • Assistant Tour Manager: Nate Smith
  • Stage Manager: Kenny Leath
  • Rigger: Sonny Oyler
  • Choreographer: Jason Young
  • Automation: Tait Towers
  • Sets: All Access/Robert Achlimbari


Gear

  • 2          grandMA2 consoles w/NPUs
  • 36       Martin MAC Viper AirFX
  • 44       Martin MAC Axioms
  • 20       Storm RGBW Strobes
  • 10       Claypaky Sharpy Washes
  • 48       GLP impression X4 Bar 20s
  • 100     Martin Sceptron 10 1m strips
  • 4          Robe BMFL spots
  • 4          Spotrack Follow-Me followspot systems
  • 1          12 way Clear com system
  • 4          45’ GT truss sections (black)
  • 2          16’ GT truss sections
  • 1          48’ GT truss sections
  • 4          48’ 20.5” A-Type box truss section
  • 30       1 ton hoists
  • 1          PRG-supplied video system including video “roof,” semi-transparent upstage video wall made from WinVision 9mm tiles in frames, Barco 30K projectors for side-screen I-Mag and a Catalyst media server control setup with Video Dust for I-Mag manipulation.

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