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Hometown Hero Regional Finalists

Kevin M. Mitchell • Hometown HeroesNovember 2019 • November 10, 2019

Six Regional Lighting Companies Honored as Hometown Hero Finalists; top companies now vying for coveted Parnelli Award for Hometown Hero Lighting Company of the Year

Once again, readers of PLSN have nominated and voted on top regional lighting companies across five regions of the U.S. and all of Canada. And this year, nominations — and competition — reached a new high. “Competition is fierce as over 80 companies vied for the opportunity to compete in their regional finals this year,” says PLSN editor Nook Schoenfeld. “Fans and subscribers whittled that list down to the six presented here, all of who achieved over 100 nods, fueling the drive for the most coveted prize a regional rental company can claim.” Hometown Hero watchers will notice there are some new faces and some returns to the winner circle (including one that hasn’t been here for more than a dozen years). Here are the winners!

Levitate Music Festival

NORTHEAST

President and Owner Bob Morrissey

East Coast Lighting & Production Services, Warwick RI

It’s been an exceptionally great year for East Coast Lighting & Production Services. “From the last week of March until now, we’ve been busy with a mixture of concerts, corporate and special events,” says Nathan Almeida, resident LD/PM. The company continues to work with clients and are happy to grow with them: Case in point, the Audrain Automobile Museum Summer Gala in Newport, RI with host Jay Leno. “That annual event grew from a one night gala to a week.” This year’s event included multiple tents and events with the company taking care of everything from a VIP welcome dinner to a party in a mansion to a performance by John Legend. Another event that has grown since its humble beginnings in 2013 is the Levitate Music and Arts Festival, now a three-day affair.

Boston’s Berklee College of Music is another long-time client, and when a new team took over their commencement ceremony, ECLPS answered the call for something different. At graduation, honorary degrees are handed out, and the night before, seniors perform the music of those honorees — traditionally jazz and classical musicians. “They really mixed it up this year as they honored Missy Elliott, Justin Timberlake and Alex Lacamoire [of Broadway hit musical fame, including In the Heights, Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen]. It was especially fun.”

The company was founded in the mid 1970s. President and Owner Bob Morrissey was lighting local bands when he happened onto a new group called Boston. He built up a steady clientele over the years looking after touring acts such as Sammy Hagar, The Ramones, Ted Nugent and a decade with Gov’t Mule. ECLPS has grown and expanded through the years, and to highlight their success, this is their third time representing their region (they took home the top Parnelli Hometown Hero honor in 2010). This year, ECLPS has added more HUD truss and grandMA3 control consoles to its inventory and plan to make more purchases after seeing what new products get unveiled at LDI this month.

“I am proud that my team has taken ECLPS to a win in the Northeast Region,” Morrissey says. “There are other highly successful companies that have always made this region very competitive for this award. I have been fortunate to be surrounded by a group of people that have such a passion for the lighting and video production industry. All the credit for this win goes to them and also to all of our customers, families and friends that took the time to place a vote for us. ECLPS is well into its fourth decade in the industry and still thriving.”

 

A DVD video shoot in progress

SOUTHEAST

Music Matters Productions, Norcross, GA

Aaron Soriero

“This is our second time winning best in the Southeast,” says Music Matters Productions owner/Production Designer Aaron Soriero. “And it’s a testament to the dedication of our staff and it shows our love of the production of live concerts. We always try to execute our stages with a sense of style and artistry that sets us apart.” The company, which grew out of a music instrument store, was founded in 2003. Growth has happened ever since and today they have 25 full time employees.

The company does a lot of festivals including Atlanta’s back-to-back Shaky Knees/Shaky Beats festivals; Afropunk Atlanta; Afropunk NY in Brooklyn; and Sea.Hear.Now in Asbury Park, NJ. “Each festival has a unique set of challenges,” Soriero says. “Each event must be assessed on an individual basis with respect to how the size and shape of the venue influences the audio and lighting designs, logistics for load in/out, [etc.]. Some of these issues are not discovered until we get onsite, so it takes some quick and efficient on the fly problem solving to make each of them successful.”

Installations are also part of the equation. “We have systems installed in Atlanta venues including The Tabernacle, Buckhead Theatre, Believe Music Hall and Smith’s Olde Bar, as well as The Ritz in Raleigh, NC. These installs form a strong relationship with the local venue that then leads to continued work there and the artists performing in them. We have a handful of venues in the pipeline for 2020 and are looking at this to be a growth market for us.”

This year also brought a lot of new gear that they invested in. “We are really in love with the Robe and GLP gear,” Soriero says. “We have purchased GLP’s X4 Bars and JDC1s and Robe’s Mega Pointes. We also purchased some of the Elation Proteus Beams to service our cruise ship gigs.” He is a bit stunned by it all. “For a long time, I just had my head down and did the work, and then when I finally looked up, I was like, ‘Wow, we’ve really grown a lot.’ What I’m really proud of is that I get a lot of compliments on my team, and to then get this award is, for me, a recognition of that.”

 

3

 

Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse

MIDWEST

Tom Siko and Bill Groener

Vincent Lighting Systems, Solon, OH

Vincent Lighting Systems has been around a long time — it was founded by Paul Vincent in 1978. When Vincent was looking to retire, the long-respected company took on a new team of leaders: Bill Groener, president; and Tom Siko, general manager. Groener has been involved in lighting since 1982 when he originally worked as a Disney lighting designer, and his career included stints at multiple lighting manufacturers, dealers and design companies. Siko has been in the entertainment business since 1995 and had been a VP of Sales & Marketing at ILC and Lex Products. Both joined in 2018.

“I’ve known Paul since the mid-80s, and when he was looking for an exit strategy, I became interested in becoming involved,” Groener says. “Vincent was a great company when I joined. Frankly, there was no need to make massive changes and shake things up when you already have a strong company and a good team.” That team consists of 65 full timers at locations in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, plus a new sales office in Raleigh.

“My focus was wanting to learn about the company before we did anything, and then harness the team’s considerable talent to grow the business smartly,” Siko adds. They have made a substantial investment in gear: “At the end of last year we invested heavily in new Vari-Lites,” including new VL2600s, Groener says. Siko adds they picked up grandMA and Hog 4s, plus Chauvet, Claypaky and multiple Astera AF5 lights.

The company has two sides: System integration and rental production. Recent projects of note include the installation of the lighting system for the exterior of Cleveland’s new Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse and Toledo’s Anthony Wayne Bridge. Not surprisingly, they also do a lot of work with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH. As far as their win of the regional competition, “It is a tremendous opportunity to be able to get this kind of recognition,” says Groener, crediting the entire staff along with the company’s history and ongoing commitment to new technologies. “The company has been around for many years, and receiving this is a testament to the idea that now we’re slightly more modern, more forward looking.”

 

Hunchback of Notre Dame

The crew

NORTHWEST

Northern Lights, Livermore CA

This is a big win for a small company. How small? Meet the company’s employee: Mike Rinaldi. “I have three on-call people who are my meat-and-potatoes go-to guys, plus another four or five good people if more are needed after that.” Rinaldi started out as a union stagehand in Oakland, and while going to school, he “started the lighting company to supplement my needs, basically working with bands.” Since 1992 he has been full time at it. Of course, it started in his parent’s garage before moving to a storage unit, and today he makes it all work in a 4,000 square foot building. He’s not interested in being all things to all people or working with people who don’t “like being around entertainment and wanting to have fun.” Private events (engagement parties, weddings) are his core business, but festivals and music acts coming through are also part of his business. In that mix are also eight theater groups, a circus group, and … synchronized swimming.

“We are heavy on Chauvet, including battery operated products which are increasingly popular,” he says. There are also Robe 575s and 700s, some Martin, but ADJ/Elation products account for the largest portion of Northern Lights’ inventory. “Our clients are lower-end, so it’s hard to invest $7,000-$8,000 on a piece a gear that will take three years to recoup. But we’ve been happy designing shows with what we have.” It is an exciting time for Northern Lights. “We are competing against the bigger fish in the region, and there were events we just couldn’t touch,” he says. “But the past five or six years we’ve been able to take them on. So, it’s nice to be recognized for our work, and we’ve been ecstatic since we got the word on this win. I do go back to the same thing as what I started with: we care about our clients in the area. We care about the outcome. We get Christmas cards from many we’ve done work for who have become our friends, as in we socialize when we’re not working together. That’s what it’s all about.”

 

Illuminating a plane for Hawaiian Airlines

SOUTHWEST

Bob Harmon

Eggshell Lighting, Honolulu, HI

It was already a big year for J. Robert “Bob” Harmon as he is celebrating his 45th year of serving the lighting needs of the unique live event market in Hawaii. It’s a market with its challenges, but Harmon has certainly figured it out and, deservedly so, his company wins the regional honor one more time. (Eggshell went on to win the Parnelli for Hometown Hero Lighting Company of the Year in 2014). He’s done it serving a variety of gigs including, recently, The Illusionists: Live from Broadway. Eggshell also recently supported Hillsong United, the worship band that hails from Australia, and the Backstreet Boys, whose 2019 DNA tour included four nights in Honolulu’s Blaisdell Arena in early November.

For acts like the latter, it’s always a challenge that Harmon and his team relish. It’s rare a tour like that brings their original 10- to 18-trucks worth of gear to the islands, but at the same time, they do want the original production as much as possible. “We want to recreate their show to the scale they want,” Harmon says, noting that his company has more than 500 moving lights and a couple of hundred LEDs. “We try to interpret the rigging and basically do it all the best we can, as expeditiously as possible.”

Corporate gigs include the simple to the fancy — the latter included a large event for champagne company Dom Perignon recently. The local stars shine larger there, especially with Eggshell’s help. Henry Kapono is a multi-Grammy nominated singer/songwriter, and Eggshell was called on for some special shows in August that involved projection on a surface 150 feet across and nine stories high. “I get interesting requests,” he states. “There was a high-end Hollywood wedding in the lower range of mostly undiscovered country — the area where they filmed Jurassic Park and Lost. Well, it’s just pitch dark there. They had people waiting at various spots for trams and trolleys and asked if I could do something. I said ‘Sure’ and lit a mountain range.” Multiple generators and a lot of aircraft landing lights were involved.

Eggshell was founded in 1974 when Harmon was only 16, and from the beginning, he turned the state’s disadvantage to an advantage for him. “Because we’re so remote, people can’t bring trucks full of their own gear here, so we grew because we were able to offer a lot of equipment, which appealed to the top-name artistc and clients.”

 

Calgary Stampede’s “Nashville North” venue

 

CANADA

Pierre Marleau

Orange Frog Productions, Calgary, Alberta

Orange Frog Productions continues to thrive, both growing with their long-time clients and gaining new ones. They are up to nine full-time employees with another 30 freelancers. Part of their success includes the inevitable investment of gear, always associated with growing companies. They added a lot of tools this year including: 50 Ayrton MiniPanels, 24 Robe MMXs, 50 Robe LED 100s, 100 Chauvet EPIX bars; 24 Chauvet Rogue 2X washes; 24 Chauvet Rogue R2X beams; a ChamSys console; 64 Astera AX1 PixelTubes, 24 ETC ColorSource lekos, an ETC ColorSource console and 18 ¼-ton double reeve tour rig motors. CEO and creative director Pierre Marleau reports, “It’s all part of staying on top of supporting our clients with the quality shows and events they demand.”

They were particularly busy the week we were trying to interview them for this article — they were serving the regional Canadian Conservative Party’s HQ on a close, hair-raising election night. They also do a lot of corporate and festivals gigs, and for 20 years they have taken care of the Calgary Stampede, an annual 10-day rodeo, exhibition and festival. “It celebrates western heritage, culture and community spirit,” Marleau says. “Each year, more than one million guests from around the world come to experience this exhibition.”

Marleau’s path to all of this started when he was accepted into the National Theater School of Canada where he studied lighting. From there he went to Broadway, where he worked touring shows until he wanted to get off the road and return to his home country. Then he noticed a need for a production house serving corporate needs in Alberta. Friends in the business had jokingly called him “Frog,” so he knew that the amphibian would be part of his title. “Then they were saying ‘green frog,’ and I said, ‘No, I’m going to be the Orange Frog.’”

This is Orange Frog’s second Hometown Hero win for all of Canada. “We are so honored and blessed to be awarded best lighting company in Canada,” Marleau says. “We could not do it without the support of our amazing client and also the best employees in the world. Orange Frog Productions would be nothing if it was not for the dedication and hard work of every member of the Orange Frog family.”

Time to Vote!

The six companies featured here have all been included on the Parnelli Awards ballot at parnelliawards.com/vote. Voting will continue until early December. After that, the votes will be tallied and awards announced during the 19th annual Parnelli Awards ceremony on Jan. 17, 2020 at the Anaheim Hilton in Anaheim, CA.

For more information, go to www.parnelliawards.com.

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