Production Profile: Jason Aldean's 'They Don't Know' Tour

by Nook Schoenfeld
in Features
A uniquely shaped thrust allowed the fans to surround Aldean. All photos by Todd Kaplan
A uniquely shaped thrust allowed the fans to surround Aldean. All photos by Todd Kaplan

Chris Lisle Designs the Looks for Three Clients on One Tour

Chris Lisle, owner of Nashville-based Chris Lisle Lighting Design (CLLD) along with partners Erik Parker and Mark Anderson, craft looks and support a variety of tours, festivals and mega-events including Nashville’s Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve celebrations, leaving enough time to give back to Nashville’s behind-the-scenes community with their annual Touring Career Workshops.

(For more on Chris, check out “Designer Profile,” page 44).

Aldean's silhouette show opening gag

Quite often, CLLD will also be called upon to design something special for one of their acts that will go out opening for a headliner. This is what led to Lisle’s latest accomplishment — designing looks for three CLLD clients (Jason Aldean, Chris Young and Kane Brown), who are all out on the road on the same touring show, which is carrying some separate production elements to differentiate between their respective performances.

Lisle has been looking after country star Chris Young on his rise to stardom. “Chris has been out on his own headline tours for a while playing the gamut of Country festivals, clubs and smaller arenas,” Lisle explains. He tours with his own video elements behind the band as well as a video wall that helps hide Aldean’s set behind him while he plays. A floor package full of Ayrton MagicPanels and Robe Pointes accent his show. Mike Stanley has been at the helm of that tour as PM/LD for several years now and does a phenomenal job, Lisle adds.

Before Young’s set, a new up-and-comer named Kane Brown took the stage. His stage set was masked with a lot of Chauvet Professional’s Nexus Aw 7x7 panels and some lighting of his own. All three bands are clients of Bandit Lites who, Lisle says, has “been a preferred vendor of mine for many years…I do like to spread the wealth, so to say,” Lisle adds. “I use several different lighting companies for various projects. The location of the event often dictates where to find gear, but I like Bandit a lot. They offer me a wide assortment of fixtures to use and they are always helpful when working with a budget. They just continuously come through for me.

“I was super excited to get a call from Maverick (Jason’s management) for this tour,” Lisle continues. “I’ve known Keith Hoagland, the lighting director who’s been looking after Jason on a few of his tours. He’s a Nashville friend of mine. To be able to work with him really made my job easier.”

Aldean has used a few different designers over the years. The steady part was the direction of Keith. Hoagland explains a little about this act to start us off. “There’s only one name on the marquee. But the biggest misconception most designers have is that they think Jason needs to be the centerpiece of the band at all times. We have a five-piece band and make no bones about the fact that they work together as a whole. Guitar solos and the lot take center stage when they happen. Some designers may come in with a storybook and try and tell Jason where to stand or act for a certain song. They want to direct the set list order and choreograph the show. But that’s just not us. He’ll croon you like crazy, but make no mistake about it — it’s a rock show, and we light it as such. I let Jason get comfortable wherever he wants to be on that stage and light him accordingly.”

“At the end of the day, this is Keith’s show,” says Lisle. “We brought in Scott Chmielewski in to help set up the console and get us started. Then Keith pretty much banged in all the cues. I programmed three songs, simply because I still love to get my hands on the console, it’s fun. But Keith knows every little hit, every nuance in the music, he hits them all.”

Chauvet Rogue spots provide the beams

‡‡         The Hexagonal Design

“For some reason, I like to think about geometrical shapes when I design a plot. I looked at some old shows and designs the artist had used. I saw some circles and curved truss one year, some diamonds on another one. I needed something different, and for some reason, the shape of a hexagon appealed to me. So, I sat down with my computer and WYSIWYG, a program I always use to draw my ideas, and placed a hexagonal shaped LED wall smack in the center of the upstage area. In my initial concept, the hexagon was a good representative of an industrial style look — bolt heads, fabrication, hard work. Then I started working off that,” explains the designer.

Lisle continued experimenting around by adding truss shapes and video panel layouts that would accent the center wall. He came up with a series of chevron shapes that would exist offstage of the center. He had six chevron-shaped 20-inch sections of truss hanging vertically and three identical sized custom truss shapes of video tiles, on either side of the wall. The video chevrons themselves would track on and off stage (via an SGPS trolley system). When closed, the side video chevrons butted up against the center screen and formed a large landscape orientated shaped wall. The imagery often was mapped to the one solid screen, but other maps were necessary as the screen shifted into several configurations. When stretched offstage, the upstage lighting chevrons seemingly fit in the empty spaces. The lighting chevrons were packed with Chauvet Professional Rogue RH1 hybrid fixtures and Philips SL Nitro 510 LED strobes.

Elation ACL 360 Bars line the ego risers

Once the back wall of video and lights was established, Lisle needed to complement that structure with the stage below it and the light rig above it. Starting out, he placed five pods of lights that could move into different configurations through a motion control system. Each pod had an Ayrton MagicRing-R9, a large format LED wash fixture, in the center. Flanking them were a pair of Robe BMFL Spots and a half dozen more Rogues.

Downstage of the pods was a straight truss laced with BMFL Spots. These formed a row of bright lights which often served as rear keys for the performers. The BMFL fixtures were often used in conjunction with the Follow-Me spotlight system. Hoagland programmed the show in such a way that, for certain songs, dedicated fixtures would serve as rear spots for following performers around stage. They had a camera mounted above that truss, and the lighting crew chief operated the mouse backstage that allowed the lights to follow wherever he pointed them.

Additional short straight trusses were strategically angled downstage of that, keeping up with the hex theme. They were chock full of more Rogues. These fixtures really turned out to be the workhorses of this show. Across the front and sides were Vari-Lite VL3500 wash fixtures.

Jason duets with Kelly Clarkson via a 30k projector and a rolldrop

‡‡         Staging and Effects

If you look at the plot (this page, top right), you can see the shape of the set. On the downstage corners sits a hexagonal shaped ego platform that is raised and allows the singer to serenade each side of the arena. In addition, a unique thrust design extends from the center in a hexagonal shape, minus the one side that faces the audience. This allows fans to get up close and personal from each side of the thrust while maintaining an audience directly downstage center. Corner platforms and front apron is lined with Elation ACL 360 Bars. The thrust is all metal grating. Lisle placed Elation Colour Chorus strip lights under him to uplight the artist and glow the grill deck.

Upstage, there’s a five-piece band with the drums and pedal steel players tucked into corners between the four ramps. A wide ego platform above the band stretches across stage, allowing Jason to make a grand entrance and perform from up top before working his way downstage.

Automation plays a big part in Aldean’s shows, and this one is no exception. The stellar opening gag to reveal the artist was clever, and I’m not going to reveal it. But I will say that the creative folks at SGPS placed this hexagonal shaped video wall on a trolley that allows the wall to separate in two and move apart for the singer to come downstage. The wall closes behind him and is sealed tight with the use of some magnets installed between the video frames.

Moo TV provided the Video elements

A Navigator system is used to spread the video wall as well as the video chevrons. It also moves the hexagonal lighting pods into configurations and operates mic stands that pop up out of the stage in strategic places when the artist needs them. Across the set and the front truss, SGPS built some custom fascias that have hexagonal shaped cutouts every couple feet. In each cutout, the designer placed an Elation CuePix WW4 Blinder (4-lite all-white LED mole).

“I had never used SGPS before, and we had to bring everything from their Vegas shop to Nashville to prep,” Lisle says. “We were extremely fortunate to have the Steel Mill at our disposal. That’s Moo TV’s rehearsal studio located at their new home in Nashville (See related story, PLSN, May 2017, page 76). They are the video vendor for Jason, and it just worked out great that we could use their massive space for tech rehearsals. We brought in the Bandit Lites gear as well as all the truss and motors needed for everything and started working on things. Getting all the automation to function flawlessly as I had designed it took some time, but we ironed out all the bugs, and it’s been smooth sailing since we got out here,” Lisle adds.

When it comes to effects, Aldean has often indulged in many of them. But the production designers kept it basic this time around. Strictly FX had a couple of concussion mortars go boom, and some Salamander liquid flame units that spewed thin lines of flame in fanned directions.

ROE Visual's hybrid screens were used for thr video ribbons

‡‡         The Video Design

There are a lot of video tiles as well as projection out here. In fact, there’s evidence of video augmenting the arena everywhere. Moo TV has been working with Aldean for years and looks forward to any structural challenges that need to be overcome using their gear. The rear hex wall is made from Gtek 5mm products, in a custom masked frame that SGPS built. The chevrons contain the same video cabinets that are square in shape. These were all mounted for the tour at the Steel Mill as well.

Right above the hexagonal lighting pods sat a video ribbon up high that stretched across the stage. This complemented another one that sat on top of the upstage ego platform, traversing the set. These ribbons were composed of Roe Creative Display’s 15mm hybrid product. “I really have wanted to give these a try for a while,” states Lisle. “I think we get some pretty cool stuff out of them at times. I use the Catalyst media servers to feed the imagery onto the large “nodes” on a couple of songs, and they look great.”

The upstage video is mix of content and I-Mag, with Milojko “Miko” Dobrijevich directing the camera shots. Unique to this production are side screens that are custom made (and also, of course, hexagonally shaped). I-Mag of the performers appears on these via some 15K projectors. Moo TV also provides a couple of 30K Barco projectors for a special gag in which Jason sings a duet with Kelly Clarkson. The bi-parting center video wall separates which allows a projector to show Kelly’s image on a 30-foot-high roll drop. The production utilizes five cameramen as well as lipstick and PTZ cameras for a wide variety of images.

Content-wise, Aldean looks to his longtime music video director Shaun Silva for material. He oversaw the content creation for the show, subbing some of the work to Scott Chmielewski at Digital Media Designs (DMDS7UDIOS) as well as Filament Productions and Lightborne.

The Follow Me spotlight system rear lights the artist with BMFL's

‡‡         Playing it Back Live

“I’m pretty much anti-timecode, although I acknowledge the usefulness of it in certain applications. There’s several reasons for this, but the main one is probably because they have a guy out here that nails every cue.” Lisle explains.

Lighting director Keith Hoagland expands on this. “It goes along well with the fact that, in country, we play a lot of shows where I do not have my dedicated light rig, just a strong floor package. I am at the mercy of the promoter, but I have a plan that’s been working out well for me for years. I take the plot for the festival ahead of time and clone my fixtures, updating my show file before I arrive on site. Festival organizers are always asking me if I need to come in the night before. ‘Oh, hell no.’ I walk in that morning and, within a couple hours, I’ve checked my focuses, made sure the fixtures are in the correct mode. Orientate my pans and tilts, and I’m set.”

Keith is not afraid to punt at times as well with some shows. “Having the video team control the playback of media is really helpful on country tours. I am not dependent on a particular cue list every song, just because I need to keep the video elements playing in order. I can grab lights when I want, hit accents, go off and punt if I need to, without worrying about the media content being sequential.”

Lisle closes by adding, “I have known Keith for almost 20 years and feel fortunate to work with him on this project. The guys in charge of the automation have just been killing it. The guys at Moo have their act down cold, and what can I say about Bandit and their team that hasn’t been said already? They are a great crew who bust their butts for us every day, and I appreciate all the attention to detail that everyone did for this tour.”

The Hexagonal theme is evident everywhere

Jason Aldean’s They Don’t Know Tour

Crew

  • Production Designer: Chris Lisle
  • Lighting Director: Keith Hoagland
  • Lighting Programmers: Keith Hoagland, Scott Chmielewski, Erik Parker, Chris Lisle
  • Lighting Co: Bandit Lites
  • Lighting Crew Chief: Jonathan “Neppy” Houle
  • Lighting Crew: Sarah Eucker, Patrick Cowden, Scott Wesson, Savannah Harden
  • Video Director: Milojko “Miko” Dobrijevich
  • Video Creative Director: Shaun Silva
  • Video Engineer: Kevin Fisher
  • Video Co: Moo TV
  • Video Crew: Jeff Horr, Jonathan Paine, Chris Muldoon, Peter Wells, Bruce Heard Jr.
  • Production Manager: Drew Brown
  • Tour Manager: Jake LaGrone
  • Management Mavericks: Clarence Spalding, Chris Parr
  • Stage Manager: Joshua “Dude” Marcus
  • Tour Coordinator: Rachel Harbour
  • Hospitality Director: Morgan Messick
  • Tour Security: Ryan “Rhino” Fleming
  • Road Manager: Dale Jump
  • Set Fabrication Company: SGPS/ShowRig
  • Set Carpenters: Shaun Alderman, David Hamilton III
  • Soft Goods: Sew What, Rent What?, Rose Brand
  • Marley:  Gallagher Staging Inc.
  • Special Effects/Pyro Company: Strictly FX
  • Pyro Crew: Richard Brisson, Anthony Magro
  • Automation/Rigging Co: SGPS/ShowRig
  • Head Rigger: Robert Dale Long, Sr.
  • Automation Crew Chief: David “Bones” Lowman
  • Automation Programming Ops: Jeremy Wetter, Corwin Scites
  • Rigging/Automation Crew: James Haney, Derek Phillips, Luther Hicks III
  • Trucking / Logistics: Xtreme Transportation
  • Lead Driver: Donny Menard
  • Tour Bus/Coaches: All Access Coach Leasing
  • Lead Driver: Jason “Bumps” Humphrey

 

The set, video and lights took on a Hex shape

Gear

Lighting:

  • 2               grandMA2 consoles w/5 NPUs
  • 130         Chauvet Rogue RH1 Hybrids
  • 26            Vari-Lite VL3500 Washes
  • 24            Robe BMFL Spots
  • 6               Martin MAC Viper Profiles
  • 5               Ayrton MagicRing-R9
  • 50            Philips SL Nitro 510C
  • 44            Elation Elar Par RGBW
  • 38            Elation Cuepix Blinder WW4
  • 8               Elation Colour Chorus 72
  • 20            Elation ACL 360 Bars
  • 30            Chauvet ColorDash Accent RGBW
  • 4               Touring Pro Base Hazers
  • Tyler GT Truss

 

The set allowed the artist plenty of space to work

Video:

  • 132        G-Tek 5mm LED panels
  • 40            Roe Hybrid 15 LED panels
  • 2               Custom Hexagon Side Screens
  • 2               Christie Roadster S+20K projectors
  • 2               30K Projectors
  • 2               15K Side Screen Projectors
  • 5               Hitachi HDZ5000 production cameras
  • 4               HD POV cameras
  • 2               HD robotic cameras
  • 1               HD Switcher/Router System

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