- by Frank Hammel;
LAS VEGAS — Adrian Belew, whose skills as an emcee and comedian, it turns out, rivals his artistry on the guitar, dropped a hint midway through the 2016 Parnelli Awards gala that something special was about to be added to an already extraordinary evening Oct. 22 at the Rio in Las Vegas. The surprise: an appearance by Tom Petty to present the 2016 award for Lifetime Achievement to his longtime tour manager Richard Fernandez.
“I never knew anyone who didn’t admire him to the bottom of their soul,” said Petty of Fernandez, noting how the East L.A. native was lucky to have “really good parents who raised a really good man.”
Petty was impressed by Fernandez after first meeting him because he “talked about music the way cats who know music talk about music.” And that love of good music played out in the course of Fernandez’s career, which included gigs with Faces, the New Barbarians and Eagles, among others.
“There were no sh**ty bands on the whole gig,” Petty said, noting how Fernandez’s musical tastes shaped his career choices — a fact underscored by the young tour manager’s willingness to cut a deal with manager Tony Dimitriades to join the Petty camp as Tom and the Heartbreakers were first making their mark.
From the Parnelli stage, Petty noted how, when everything comes together, there can be a co-mingling of artistic expression and audience appreciation that borders on the sacred. “God is in that,” Petty said, capping an evening of appreciation for what makes the live events industry so unique.
Along with other poignant moments, including the live vocals of Kiki Ebsen singing Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" during the In Memoriam reel, the evening had its raucous moments and unexpected twists, including the merciless roasting of Parnelli visionary Danny O’Bryen by former Parnelli Lifetime achievers Charlie Hernandez (2012) and Jake Berry (2009) and when the Parnelli emblem on the lectern plopped to the stage during one of the evening’s marathon speeches.
After a funny bit that had him crestfallen upon discovery that the Parnelli Awards stage wasn’t, in fact, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Belew blew apart any pretense of decorum with his story of meeting Frank Zappa’s long-haired five year old son, who promptly flipped him the bird and gave him a loud “F*** You” after Adrian mistakenly referred to the trike-riding tyke as Zappa’s daughter.
Parnelli Awards board chairman Marshall Bissett had a topical tie-in between the fairness of the Parnelli voting process in this “rigged” election year as the video screens showed him lounging on a pile of cash. And before Audio Innovator Greg Mackie came out on stage to hint at yet another audio innovation that will be appearing on the market soon, fellow Audio Innovator award winner Stanley Miller (2009) poked fun at himself by coming out to the stage masked as a dinosaur.
Preceded by the Parnelli Cocktail Party and followed by an After Party that included a silent auction and trampoline aerialists, the ceremony concluded with a quick word of thanks from Parnelli Awards executive producer Terry Lowe, who had also made sure that everyone knew that the 30-plus sponsors of the event made the whole thing possible.
Amid plaudits for a “humbled and joyous” Richard Fernandez, who was draped in ceremonial ti leaves from Hawaii, Tom Petty also voiced his appreciation for the ceremony itself. “I’m glad this forum for the appreciation of people on the road exists,” he said. "I have, many nights, thought, 'God, there should be an award for that monitor mixer who saved the whole show,' and nobody knows it but me."
And although Petty, at 66, may be contemplating retirement, he’s not quite done with touring. “I’m not quitting until Richard does,” he said.
And the Winners Are:
2016 Parnelli Lifetime Achievement Award
2016 Parnelli Visionary Award
2016 Parnelli Audio Innovator
Lighting Company of the Year
- Bandit Lites | Garth Brooks at Yankee Stadium
Hometown Hero Lighting Company of the Year
- TLS Productions (Ann Arbor, MI)
Lighting Designer of the Year
- Phil Ealy | Guns N' Roses
- Lighting Director of the Year
- Michael Keller | Black Sabbath
- Set/Scenic Designer of the Year
- Es Devlin | Adele
- Sound Company of the Year
- Sound Image | Brad Paisley
- Hometown Hero Sound Company of the Year
- Rainbow Production Services (Atkinson, NH)
- FOH Mixer of the Year
- Richard Sharratt/Howard Page | Peter Gabriel/Sting
- Monitor Mixer of the Year
- Stuart Delk | Rascal Flatts
- Audio System Tech of the Year
- Jeremy Overall | Rascal Flatts
- Video Production Company of the Year
- Screenworks | Guns N' Roses
- Video Director of the Year
- Matt Askem | Adele
- Staging Company of the Year
- Mountain Productions | CMA Music Festival
- Rigging Company of the Year
- Stage Rigging | Neil Diamond
- Set Construction Company of the Year
- Tait Towers | Beyoncé
- Pyro Company of the Year
- Strictly FX | Justin Bieber
- Patrick Stansfield Tour Manager of the Year
- Angie Warner | Imagine Dragons
- Patrick Stansfield Production Manager of the Year
- Sara Full | The Lumineers
- Coach Company of the Year
- Hemphill Brothers
- Trucking Company of the Year
- Freight Forwarding Company of the Year
- Rock-It Cargo
- Indispensable Technology - Audio
- Eastern Acoustic Works | Anna Line Array
- Indispensable Technology - Video
- ROE Creative Display | Vanish 25 LED tiles
- Indispensable Technology - Lighting
- Robe | BMFL WashBeam
- Indispensable Technology - Staging
- Stageline | Followspot and Delay Tower
Photos by Ric Crews and Jacob Coakley