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Chicago 2021 Tour

Nook Schoenfeld • Designer InsightsSeptember 2021 • September 10, 2021

Backdrops have been replaced by LED panels. All photos by Todd Kaplan

LD Mike Gott Steers the Band Back into the Sheds

When Live Nation first started booking shows into their sheds this summer, one of the first acts agreeing to tour their venues was Chicago, the longtime rock band known for their many hits as well as their horn section. Now in their 54th year, the 10-piece band was quite happy to shake the dust off, as were all the locals excited to see live music return. Says Mike Gott, the act’s lighting designer for the last 16 years, “Just about every place we played, the stagehands were saying it was their first show back. I think there were a lot of smiles behind the masked faces.”

Quantum Profiles key light the band. Photo by Todd Kaplan

Gott isn’t reinventing the wheel as much as polishing the rust off, using a design he came up with in 2019 before Covid closed down the touring industry. It was at that time that he finally took the plunge and went to an all-moving-light rig.

The LD expands, “To say we play every type of venue is an understatement. One tour, we may be sharing a large rig with a co-headliner, such as we did with Earth Wind and Fire. Other times I’m augmenting a local rig at a fair or casino with what we carry. But because there are so many players in the band, I always required a lot of specials for key lights. Ellipsoidals are great, until you’re in a place where it takes a couple of hours to get them focused. Or you can’t find a local guy to climb the truss…it happens.” With that in mind, the LD added a downstage truss of nine Martin MAC Quantum Profiles and another four of those fixtures on the midstage truss. “These are all designated just for white fill, nothing else. The tough part is picking up all the players wherever they move during the set. The three horn players may stand side by side, and I required key lights with zoom capabilities, depending on their focus position.”

The media split among four separate elements. Photo by Todd Kaplan

As far as vendors for Chicago’s tours, “I’m just told by management who we are using as vendors. But we certainly stepped it up with this recent package. Christie Lites took over our account in 2017, and with that, our production has been smooth. Account rep Robert Roth talked to management and landed the account on their behalf. Great gear, great guys, ever since.”

The band has been split up on two stage levels forever — a system that has worked well with the three vocalists as well as the bass and guitar players residing downstage. The drums/percussion and two keyboard setups and ever-moving horn section occupy the three-foot-tall riser that runs the width of the stage, with small step units that allow musicians to wander back and forth. There are still three original members of the band that tour with this entourage.

Screenworks provided the video. Photo by Todd Kaplan

Three straight trusses filled with Martin and Claypaky moving lights are pretty straightforward as a lighting rig, with the trim height determined by the 22-foot scrim that separates the riser from the rest of the stage. “Because of the variety of places we play, I’m fortunate to have this scrim, which the band is adamant about using. It allows my trim height to be the same almost daily. We like to hide our riser full of gear as well as the video wall during the opening act.”

A row of additional floor movers are located behind the upstage riser on six-foot truss tower/bases, adding definition to the empty space before the video wall kicks in.

A monochromatic look on the stage. Photo by Todd Kaplan

Technology-wise, the band has moved at their own speed over time while keeping a keen eye on budgets. “I’ve always had to adhere to what the band wants to see. For years it was frowned on if I lit the audience at any time other than when they were waving their arms and singing along. Over the last few years, I’ve worked in a few timely sweeps to the crowd and typical flyouts and finally can utilize all my lights to the best of their ability.”

Backdrops have long been a key part of Chicago’s shows. They avoided video and the added expense it brings to the tour for years, opting for this old school approach to scenic elements. But that mindset was altered when the band joined forces with Earth Wind and Fire on a co-headline tour a couple years back. It’s since become a staple on the tour, with Screenworks providing the ROE Visual MC7 LED tiles and Mbox media server.

The horns take over the stage. Photo by Todd Kaplan

“The band itself had always used an assortment of backdrops over the years. But co-headlining with another act in arenas opened some eyes. It was deemed that video was a welcomed addition to the show. Now it’s a staple of the show,” the LD explains.

But with Gott already wearing two hats by acting as the tour’s rigging supervisor as well as the LD, he drew the line at looking after the video elements. “We have a dedicated guy, Phil Evans, who can source media for the band, update files and play it all back on an Mbox server. Video is their own separate entity, and I appreciate that it doesn’t fall into my job description.”

One of the three singers takes the mic. Photo by Todd Kaplan

The upstage wall is divided into three sections, with a 26-by-16-foot (WxH) center screen, flanked by two smaller side panels. Across the front of the riser is another ribbon of LED (measuring one meter high and 30 feet long) that adds dimension to the stage. All the tiles are the same ROE Visual MC7mm. They may use house cameras for I-Mag on side screens on occasion, but they do not carry a camera package or operators on this tour.

“We have a small, tight-knit crew. Besides the lighting direction, I am tasked with taking care of the soft goods. Our mid-stage scrim reveal is something the band is adamant about using. It hides our set during the opening act and it makes for a great reveal during our show. I keep it tight as I light it for a couple of songs.”

Attaching traveler tracks perfectly to a truss and keeping the bits working flawlessly with the same gear over many years is not a simple task — mistakes hanging it can happen easily. “That’s why nobody touches this traveler but me,” Gott adds.

Photo by Todd Kaplan

While the band has utilized Christie Lites “F-type” truss with all the lamps riding in this pre-rig model, things are about to change.

“The first two legs of the tour had us playing all the A-market sheds where we can easily roll in and out. There was only one questionable gig where I had to adapt my rig. But next up, we start hitting fairs, casinos and B-market venues where we need to adapt our lights to existing structures, so we’re gonna loose hang everything and carry 16-inch box truss. We need to be flexible as some venues have house pipes but no rigging points.” Two lighting techs deal with the system as Gott is busy marking points, setting up safety equipment and answering questions pertaining to each day’s unique obstacles.

Band members constantly change positions on stage. Photo by Todd Kaplan

Lots of Hats

Gott abandoned his early dreams of going to dental technician school when, fresh out of high school, a friend asked him if he wanted to light some bar bands. A Minneapolis native, he latched on to the gig and never looked back. By 1988, he had grown enough to look for a regular touring job. Following a suggestion by Dale “Opie “Skjerseth (noted Production Manager to the stars), who he had met on a Ratt tour, he packed his car and drove to the Showlites shop in L.A., looking for a touring gig. While work with that company did not pan out, Mike did end up meeting Nick Jackson from LSD and ended up working there for many years, tech’ing, crew chiefing, then operating shows. He’s risen through the ranks, including being a young tech from Minneapolis out on a Prince tour.

“It was Mike Keeling who gave me the Chicago gig, actually” Gott expands. “I was his crew chief, and he needed to leave the tour; he just asked me if I thought I could run the show.” Sixteen years later, Gott’s still behind the console.

Photo by Todd Kaplan

“Cosmo Wilson taught me the importance of running lights for the opening acts and getting your foot in the door. He pushed me to be a better lighting designer, regardless of the act.” Mike also points out that it’s discouraging these days, trying to get a tech to run lights for the support act. “They just don’t want to be bothered. It seems bus time is more important than earning some extra cash or developing operator skills. It’s kind of sad to see.”

Photo by Todd Kaplan

Gott has gotten his share of breaks in learning his craft. He was out with the Scorpions years ago when LD Ollie Olma was leaving the tour to light some German TV productions. “I had been his FOH tech, running the Colormag system. He took me aside and asked me what song I wanted to run that evening. I was taken back, like I was being tested. I chose one of the fast ones, with lots of audience hits, etc. I figured if I could nail that one song, I could probably do ‘em all.” His theory proved correct as Ollie put him in the driver’s seat for the rest of the tour.

Chicago has shows booked into December this year, making up for all the cancelled shows from 2020. “Everyone is vaccinated and follows safety protocol,” Gott says. “We are very diligent about keeping our tour bus extra clean these days. We are the fortunate ones. We have a great schedule, and we want to keep it!”

Photo by Todd Kaplan

 

Chicago 2021 Tour

Crew

  • LD/Rigging: Mike Gott
  • Production Manager: Anthony Aquilato
  • Tour Manager: Steve Brumbach
  • Assist TM: Bill Hester
  • Stage Manager: Mike Lafferty
  • Lighting Co: Christie Lites
  • Lighting Crew Chief: Ian Tucker
  • Lighting Tech: Pete Nieto
  • Video Co: Screenworks NEP
  • Video Chief/Operator: Phil Evans
  • Video Tech: Marc Crifasi
  • Video Content Design: Dave Hare, Premiere Illuminations
  • FOH Engineer: Tim Lawrence
  • System Tech: Jim Ward
  • Stage Tech: Ryan Fitzpatrick
  • Monitor Engineer: Scott Koopman
  • Guitar Tech: Paul Pence
  • Drum Tech: John Blom
  • Keyboard Tech: Freddy Pinero
  • Merchandise: Mike “MOO” Pranitis
  • VIP Fan Club: Beau Loendorf
  • Travel Agent: Janet Crowley

Gear

Lighting:

  • 1       grandMA2 full console w/ ON PC backup
  • 3       48’ F-Type pre rigged trusses
  • 6       Truss towers (6’ x 16”x16”)
  • 20     Claypaky Sharpy Washes
  • 10     Martin MAC Viper Profiles
  • 13     MAC Quantum Profiles
  • 16     MAC Auras
  • 4       S4 FL Pars
  • 4       LED FL Pars
  • 3       Le Maitre Hazers
  • 14     Lighting motors

 

Video:*

  • 1       Center wall (24’ x 14’)
  • 2       Outer walls (6’ x 14’)
  • 1       Set ribbon (1m x 30’)
  • 5       Video motors

*All LED video displays comprised of ROE Visual MC7mm panels

 

 

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