- by PLSN and FOH Staff
LAS VEGAS — The Parnelli Board of Advisors announced that Danny O’Bryen, a concert touring video pioneer who co-founded Screenworks, will receive this year’s Visionary award at the annual ceremony, which is set for Oct. 22, 2016. Note: PLSN inadvertently ran "November 22" instead of "October 22" in the current May issue, page 60. The correct date is Saturday, Oct. 22. PLSN regrets the error -ed.)
“Danny has been at the forefront of bringing the concert industry into the visual age,” said Parnelli Awards executive producer and PLSN publisher Terry Lowe. “This is the first video professional such honored, and the Board was unanimous in wanting to honor Danny’s contribution to our industry, which continue to this day.”
O’Bryen was born on Long Island, near New York, as the third of 10 kids. In high school, the self-described hippie sang in some garage bands, but his fate would not involve being on that side of the mic. He moved to Boston and got a gig hanging posters for a Hot Tuna concert earning $50, and thus his live event career began inauspiciously.
O’Bryen parlayed that into being a stagehand, crossing paths for the first time with key people at See Factor, Tait Towers, and TFA, among others. He next worked for promoter Don Laws doing whatever needed to be done to put on concerts at area venues, including Schaefer Stadium (renamed Foxboro before it was replaced by the new Gillette/Patriot Place complex). In 1976, O’Bryen went out on the road with Foghat, and after that, toured with Rush.
“Then and now, Danny has a tremendous work ethic, and always delivers above and beyond,” said longtime Rush LD (and a Parnelli Visionary honoree himself) Howard Ungerleider, who would work with Screenworks on many big tours later on. “It blew me away how he followed and understood the progress of the technology. Danny has always been on the front end of the research and development, and is always looking for a better LED.”
Charlie Hernandez, another Parnelli Honoree, hired O’Bryen to run the lights for a Dan Fogelberg tour. O’Bryen also designed the lighting looks for Joe Walsh and Stevie Nicks, among others. O’Bryen next worked as a promoter at Avalon Attractions, where he began dabbling with the primitive video equipment of the time.
In 1989, O’Bryen got a call from George Travis (another Parnelli Lifetime Honoree) to put a video package together for Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour. He did it with Tom McCracken under a company that would become Screenworks.
These early days were far from smooth, however. Things took a dip in 1992 when a pyro accident at a Guns N’ Roses/Metallica show in Montreal led to a riot, and O’Bryen found himself standing in front of his screen to protect it. They improved in 1993, when he did video production for a Metallica tour and was able to quit his day job at Avalon, devoting himself to the big screens.
O’Bryen reached another early pinnacle in 1994, when he got the call to erect the largest video screen at the time for the Rolling Stones’ Voodoo Lounge tour. Then, days before the show, it came crashing down due to faulty rigging. But he learned from that debacle, and the show (and company) went on.
“Danny is so precise in his ability to pull things together and get the pieces in place, especially when it comes to rigging these screens,” Hernandez said. “He had to change the rigging and basically recreate in three days what many worked on for a year. And he did it all being cooler than a penguin’s balls!”
O’Bryen was a visionary from the beginning, always finding better ways to package the equipment for the road. He was also an early adopter of LEDs. “It changed the whole world, and I felt like I happened to be at the right place at the right time. We started using them as set pieces, creating content and not just using them for I-Mag during this time.”
In 2013, O’Bryen started an R&D department that led to the development of products like Screenworks’ X7-HD LED. O’Bryen is also credited with innovations that protect delicate technologies from the rigors of the road, including modular frames for LED displays and uniform cases to protect video gear in transport.
“Honestly I felt I was at the right place at the right time,” he says of his career so far. “I put in what the experts say is that 10,000 hours and worked from the bottom up. I did see when video was breaking and took that opportunity, and I’ve been able to make it work in large part because of the relationships I built.”
“I never saw him panic, and I never saw him crack,” Hernandez says. “He has grace when everyone else is going ‘WTF!’ He never looks back, always forward. I know he inspires everyone he works with.”
O’Bryen will receive the Parnelli Visionary Award on Oct. 22, when the annual gala returns to the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Other 2016 honorees include Richard Fernandez, winner of the Parnelli Lifetime Achievement Award, and Parnelli Audio Innovator Greg Mackie.
For more information, go to www.parnelliawards.com. Be sure to also follow the Parnelli Awards on Facebook.