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KAABOO Cayman Makes its Debut

Mike Wharton • April 2019Festival Spotlight • April 8, 2019

Dusk at KAABOO Cayman. Photo by Jim Dorrah

Festival Organizers Support Island Festival with Meticulous Planning; Kaaboo Texas is Next as Quality-Focused Franchise Expands

Pyrotecnico provided Pyro. Photo by Steve Wojda

Legend has it that the KAABOO Festival was named after the Mayan God of art and travel. At least that was the story being passed around back in 2015 when lighting designer Chris Lisle was contracted to light the first festival in Del Mar, CA. That appears to be a myth too hidden for even Google to extract. The more likely alternative speculation is that a couple of guys were standing around a bonfire on the beach one night, gettin’ crazy, and came up with a term as nondescript as possible to name a music, art and food festival. Kaaboo is a feeling, a vibe, something that can only be experienced, “where all your senses align under the sun,” as the website states.

Working at the Coral Reef Stage. Photo by Ryan Breneisen

The general rule of thumb for a new festival, concert series or venue is that it takes at least three years to break even, as well as to smooth out the bumps and overcome the logistical hurdles that are often inevitable in staging any ambitious, multi-day event. Simply throwing money at it, as has been seen in the past, does not guarantee success. No, the key ingredient is the people with the skill set and attitude to see it through.

And though the names of that cast of characters around that fire may never be learned, here are just a few of the key people behind the Kaaboo success story that Forbes magazine says is “Breaking the Mold of Music Festivals.”

CLLD Crew unwind after load-out

‡‡         Cast and Crew

Jim Dorroh, production director for Kaaboo, has been working with the festival since, “if not day one, then certainly day two.” Dorroh had been working with Nate Prenger, founder of the Wakarusa Music and Camping festival, for several years as a production manager. When Prenger joined forces with Kaaboo founder Bryan Gordon as part of the management team, he brought Dorroh on board as well to handle production management duties. “We have been here through every step of the way since,” says Dorroh.

Even during that first festival build in Del Mar, discussions were going ‘round that Kaaboo would expand to several sites around the U.S. Jason Felts, chief brand officer and fellow visionary at Kaaboo with Gordon, really has the vision of the festival’s brand/lifestyle. Having been involved with Del Mar, he considered the Cayman Islands to be a natural fit for Kaaboo, molding what Gordon had originally conceived into a vision for the Cayman Islands. Well established on the island already with business ties and relationships, Felts is also CEO of entertainment for Virgin, Sir Richard Branson’s brand. Virgin is one of Kaaboo’s corporate sponsors.

Local artists created murals on the stacked sea container sound barriers. Photo by Ryan Breneisen

The permanent site in the Cayman Islands was specifically built for, and designed by, Kaaboo from the ground up. Felts enlisted Dart, the largest commercial and residential real estate developer on the island, to joint venture, donating a patch of land that was just essential wetlands and a swamp of trees when the design team first visited the island in 2017. Dart has plans for smaller guest events on the grounds during other times of the year.

“An incredible amount of work went into the site before production cracked the first sea container,” says Dorroh. Joe Styles, who heads up Kaaboo design team, worked with all the different department heads and leads to design the festival grounds. The VIP cabana grounds were elevated, shore power was dropped wherever needed, and the entire grounds were graded per the team’s specs. Sewage lines were installed as well.

CLLD designed a versatile and easy to clone lighting rig. Photo by Steve Wojda

Dorroh adds, “That is a directive that Bryan Gordon [the festival’s founder, chairman and CEO] has been very specific about since day one. Gordon’s philosophy about Kaaboo is, ‘Our guests are coming here to escape, have fun, and enjoy themselves. We are going to deliver that experience on all fronts. Going into a Porta Potty does not fit our brand promise or business model.’”

As production director, Dorroh oversees all three Kaaboo Festivals. “A lot of what I do is strategy, working with different vendors and our budget team in trying to cut deals across all three platforms. I connect all the dots to make sure we’re staying on budget, meeting our timeline, and properly staffed.”

Pyro was supplied by Pyrotecnico, the pyro provider for the Kaaboo festival since it launched in 2015. “A tried-and-true partner since the first festival, they had the relationship with the Chainsmokers and Zedd,” Dorroh says, “So they really hit a home run on this.”

GoVision Screens provided I-MAG and info. Photo by Ryan Breneisen

Two LED screens were provided by Go Vision. One, upstage center on the Shoreline stage, handles artist content and another in the middle of the grounds, is for I-Mag and information.

All signal routing and camera switching came from Filament, who has been a part of Kaaboo Festivals since the beginning. “Our role has been to provide HD Video Systems,” says Taylor Coggin, video production manager for Filament, which includes a mixture of fly packs and video trucks, as well as quality video crews ranging from technical directors to jib operators.

Daytime Lighting looked great. Photo by Steve Wojda

“We are thrilled to be a part of the 2019 expansion into Grand Cayman and Texas,” adds Coggin, of the events making their debut Feb. 15-16 and May 10-12. (The Texas event will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, home to the Dallas Cowboys.) “The Kaaboo Production Team is one of the best we’ve worked with: organized, professional and fun. We’ll never have trouble staffing this festival, that’s for certain.”

To ensure every event is a successful one, Filament advances everything possible from parking spots to what artists are bringing in media servers. “We all know a good advance doesn’t guard against the occasional on-site fire,” she adds, “but when you know the majority of the details are handled before setting foot on-site, it makes those last-minute requests much less stressful. It’s a lot easier to engage yourself in a productive, professional way when you’ve got your wits about you!”

Chauvet LED light the way. Photo by Ryan Breneisen

There are no stagehand companies on the island. Dorroh wound up sending a dozen JTPro crew from the States as the main stagehands. He then hired 20 guys from a local construction company to work under their direction. “The locals blew us away,” says Erik. “These guys had never worked with this type of equipment before, but they were eager to learn. They put up hundreds of fixtures. That just blew my mind … all of the islanders. Everyone we encountered was super-receptive, not just to what we were doing, but also just super kind people.”

“I gotta tell you, Jim and Blake really made this a seamless process, “says Rocco Vitale, VP Director of Live Events for Pyrotecnico. “The show came together quickly. Within weeks of talking to them right after the New Year, we were dropping gear in Miami to be shipped in sea containers the end of January. The Kaaboo organization did an amazing job putting this together.”

He adds, “When you start moving stuff to the islands you really have only one chance to get it right. We had to get permitting down there to bring Pyro onto the island, as well as execute the logistics of an organization in a remote area. We sent CO2 jets, eight flame systems, and shot pyrotechnics from not only the stage but from two scissor lifts behind the stage as well. We sent six techs down there; my niece Mia and RJ Pacella were in charge on site.”

Dorroh also has his personal team of stage managers, production managers, and production assistants that are Kaaboo employees. Blake Harris is the production manager for Kaaboo Cayman. “Blake does a lot of the heavy day-to-day lifting,” points out Dorroh. “He and I tag team a lot of the production advance, just because it was so arduous and extreme.”

Building the site from the ground up. Photo by Jim Dorrah

‡‡         Lighting the Environment

Chris Lisle and his design company CLLD LLC play a huge part in the production advance as well. “We work on the Kaaboo festivals year-round,” he says, noting that as part of the design team he was on his first site survey of the festival site in January of 2018.

The Kaaboo partners developed an oasis where a swamp had once been, which included leveling and planting around 80 palm trees. The entire staff took ownership of this and everyone was very sensitive to the environment and very protective of the trees and all the grounds.

“Design Oasis, out of Miami, did all our site lighting,” says Lisle. “It was our first time working with them, and it was a fantastic experience. Because they are based out of Miami and do so much site lighting for their business model, they have developed environmentally friendly ways to attach fixtures to the trees using burlap, banding and unistrut.”

Erik Parker, production designer and Lisle’s partner in the CLLD team, adds that artwork plays a key role at Kaaboo. “We do a lot of environmental, architectural, mural, and grounds lighting peripheral to the five stages. Jim is the guy connecting the dots for all of us. Not only does he point out where and what he needs lit, he makes sure we meet with the staff artists and all the local or outside artists presenting at Kaaboo.”

Roughly 500 Chauvet Professional COLORado fixtures were positioned throughout the festival’s sprawling grounds and were used to bathe trees, outdoor art and other scenic elements in colors evocative of the Caribbean. “We try to make lighting these a fully immersive experience,” says Parker. “Even on roadways, instead of a construction crank tower light that merely illuminates, Design Oasis banded fixtures to the trees with color and texture to capture that vibe.”

Included in this group were COLORado 1-Tri IP fixtures, which were used primarily with scenic elements; COLORado 2 Zoom IP units, deployed as down lighting throughout the grounds; and COLORado 1 Tours for uplighting palm trees. “Everything from Chauvet is IP rated,” says Erik. “The festival is two days, but the gear is out there a couple days before it opens. We used LED pars, LED Battens, and Source Four pars for safety and bathroom areas. All the LED products were Chauvet. We just love their stuff.” The design team also had over 3,000 feet of festoons strung about the grounds.” Yeah,” smiles Lisle, “We used a lot of festoons; it’s the Caribbean!”

The two main stages, supplied and shipped by Stageline, were the portable SL320 and the SAM 575, respectively named Ironshore and Coral Reef. Upstaging supplied fixtures and control for these.

When an 11th hour call came in to add some needed fixtures for Duran Duran, Steve Wojda, the Upstaging Account Rep, told Dorroh, “Look, you need 10 fixtures; I’m putting them on the container and not charging you. Let’s just get on with this show.” That type of attitude, Dorrah says, “was also reflected by all our vendors and crew, from top to bottom. Whatever it took to make this succeed, everyone was willing to go the extra mile.”

Lighting designer Lisle notes that he was “charged with taking the two headliners light plots (Duran Duran and The Chainsmokers)and coming up with a plot that accommodated both their needs. We tried to merge these two looks so the artist and the festival are leaving happy, we’re not blowing anybody’s budget and we’re not being unreasonable.”

For festivals, the main deciding factor behind fixture selection is to design a rig that the artists LD’s can come in, clone from easily and have a great show. Key to that, they say, are five essential types of fixture — a good wash light, a good spot fixture, beam fixture, blinders and an LED strobe. “We want that 3 p.m. LD who still has to flash and trash something to be able to throw his show file in, clone it and knock it out,” says Lisle.

Another essential, one they don’t mention often, but always make sure they have, is what Lisle calls “our S.W.A.T. package. The sea containers are in route in a month before we load-in, so that is pretty much our one shot at getting it right. It’s a small list of 24 fixtures we know we have in our back pocket. It’s not a budget breaker, and we don’ always tell management it is available, but Erik and I both know that, just before opening night, we will get that call, ‘Oh, by the way, we added an art piece over here.’ For us it’s like, ‘No problem, grab a couple of pars and a pipe and base and we’re all set.’”

Dorroh credits that type of forward thinking as another reason for success at Kaaboo Festivals. “Chris and Erik take a holistic approach when approaching their designs, by paying attention to the mechanics and technical needs of the visiting LD’s; headliner or no. In the same way, the artist feels their needs are getting paid attention as well.”

“Our audio department is equally aware of this,” he adds. One thing Kaaboo is hypersensitive to is audio bleed between stages. To overcome that, they bring in an audio designer, Aaron Davis, who is the audio designer for all Kaaboo festivals. He works to overlay dB prediction “heat maps” to show what the acoustical bleed from the different areas will be and then builds a system to prevent audio bleed.

Stacked sea containers blocked audio bleed between stages. Photo by Ryan Breneisen

“This year we were looking at all our sea containers,” recalls Dorroh, “wondering what we could do with them, when the light bulb went off. We built a series of sound dampening dividers by stacking the containers. Our Kaaboo artists then painted these fantastic murals on them. Chris and Erik added light to complete the picture.”

Dorroh was able to source some gear locally. AI Rentals and Hopscotch basically provided racks and stages for all the stages, as well as small lighting systems for the Humor Me comedy stage, The Palate cooking stage, and Bask, the afterhours EDM bar.

“I can’t say enough about our staff who were the driving wheel behind the success of this festival,” says Dorroh. “Blake Harris just did a phenomenal job, as did Kaylee Richardson, our production coordinator. They had to go through a lot of hurdles between shipping logistics from vendors through the Port at Miami, getting it through customs, on ships and to Cayman, then off the ships onto site. Top that off with only two trucking companies on the island for local transport. Kaylee and Blake kept them streaming!”

Creature comforts at Indulgences.

‡‡         Let ‘em In

“Honestly, once we are up and running, we’re just executing the plan we’ve been talking about since day one,” says Dorroh. “Ninety-nine percent of our job happens before we open doors, because we have crossed every ‘t’ and dotted every ‘i’ multiple times in the year it took to get to this point. We’re just keeping the bands on time and our eyes on the weather. Fortunately, the Cayman Islands are a wonderful place to do a show. We had minimal amounts of weather issues, and we knew we were prepared for any emergency.”

Dorroh had sent Stageline full rigging plots, which they went through to give the Kaaboo site their key demarcation points regarding wind velocity and gusts. “We also brought in Andrew Savage,” continues Dorroh, “a structural engineer from Clark Reeder’s team. He worked with us and the island structural engineers to inspect all the different systems, making sure we had everything installed properly with proper safety procedures in place. Those guys were invaluable to us.”

Kaaboo employs a festival security director who has the final say in monitoring weather and safety in all conditions, and there is always a weather action plan that goes out.” Radios used for communications have an “all call system”, so one person can call out across all channels.

“In our mind, Kaaboo is successful because of our advanced annual long planning and meticulous strategy that goes into putting on a world-class event,” says Jason Felts. “Our goal has always been to combine a passion for live music with hospitality, and this mission is still at the forefront of our business. The elements of quality and comfort encourage our guests to return year after year. Kaaboo has a year-round team focused exclusively on this event, reviewing each detail that goes into the preparation. We don’t hire our team seasonally but instead work all year long to make Kaaboo a great weekend. Every year, we look at the previous year to determine what we could improve upon for the following year to continue to make the guest experience one of the best.”

Kaaboo Cayman


  • Lighting Design: Chris Lisle/Erik Parker CLLD LLC; Abbas Ritscher (for Design Oasis)
  • Lighting Co: Upstaging
  • Upstaging Lighting Crew: Steve Wojda (Crew Chief, Upstaging Account Rep); Ethan Weber (Programmer); Matt Rodewald, Aaron Wimbush, Ryan Breneisen (Lighting Techs)
  • Video Co: Filament Productions
  • Video Crew: Taylor Coggin (Video Production Manager), Robbie Lawrence (Video Director), Timothy Dinsmore (Video Director), Wayneroy Randal (Camera Op), Stephen Thomas (Video Engineer)
  • Pyro: Pyrotecnico
  • Pyrotecnico Crew: Rocco Vitale (Account Rep), RJ Pacella (Lead), Mia Vitale (Shooter)
  • Production Director: Jim Dorroh
  • Production Manager: Blake Harris
  • Production Overnight Manager: Richard Randall
  • Stage Manager 1/Iron Shore: Justin Wilcox
  • Stage Manager 2/Coral Reef: Jeff Goodin
  • Stage Manager, Palate Stage & Barricade Tech: John Ficklen
  • Production Administrator: Kaylie Richardson
  • Production Office Administrator: Debi Marks
  • Head Rigger: Brian “Tuffy” Knight
  • Festival GM:  Carl Monzo
  • Festival AGM’s: Brett Arendt, Ariel Gordon
  • Co-Production Coordinator: Alison Ray
  • Crew from A1 Rentals: Main Stage: Shem Tibbetts (Stage Tech), Roy Wimpenny (Stage Tech/System Tech); Humor Me/Comedy Stage: Joseph Luis (FOH Engineer), Nicolas Campbell (Lighting Engineer); Palate Stage/Food (Hughan Archer (FOH Engineer); Muniram Dilchand (Lighting Engineer)



Lighting from Upstaging/Iron Shore Stage:

  • 2       grandMA2 Full consoles
  • 2       grandMA2 NPUs
  • 2       MA Lighting 4-port nodes
  • 2       HES Whole Hog 4 consoles
  • 3       HES DMX 8000 Processors
  • 12     Vari-Lite VL3500 Wash FX
  • 32     Claypaky Sharpys
  • 26     Claypaky Mythos 2 fixtures
  • 26     Claypaky B-Eye K20’s
  • 10     GLP impression X4 Bar 20’s
  • 12     Chauvet Strike 4 four-light LED blinders
  • 20     TMB Solaris LED Flare strobes
  • 10     ETC Source Four 10°, 750W
  • 2       Lycian M2 Modular 2500 Followspots
  • 4       DF50 Hazer w/ DMX
  • 4       FQ100 Foggers w/DMX
  • 5       Tomcat 20.5” x 20.5” truss
  • 20     Tomcat Stacking Truss 8” Black
  • 16     1-ton chain hoists (75’ lift)
  • 4       DMX Data Lynx units
  • 2       DMX Data Splits
  • 2       DMX Data Splits
  • 2       Luminex DMX Data Splits
  • 3       Luminex GigaCore 16Xt units

Lighting from Upstaging/Coral Reef Stage:

  • 2       grandMA2 Full consoles
  • 2       grandMA2 NPUs
  • 1       MA Lighting 8 Port Nodes
  • 36     Martin MAC Viper Profiles
  • 36     Martin MAC Aura LED Washes
  • 24     Martin Atomic 3000 LED Strobes
  • 18     Chauvet Strike 4 four-light LED blinders
  • 10     ETC Source Four 10°, 750W
  • 2       MDG Atmosphere HO Touring Hazer
  • 4       Tomcat 12” x 12” Light Duty: 8’ Black
  • 16     Tomcat 12” x 12” Light Duty: 10’ Black
  • 20     CM P14 ½-ton chain hoists (75’ lift)
  • 3       DMX Data Lynx units
  • 2       DMX Data Splits
  • 2       Luminex DMX Data Splits

Video Gear/Filament:

  • HD Fly Pack
  • Ross Carbonite 2M/E 24 Input Switcher
  • Engineering bridge with CCUs, HD-SDI Router
  • HD Multi Viewer Monitor
  • Clear-Com Terminal Gear
  • (3) HD Cameras: Sony HSCU 100s


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