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Creative BackStage Returns to Light Arizona Bike Week

Hector Skowron • November 2020Online Exclusive • November 4, 2020

The Oct. 7-11 series of shows included Night Ranger (pictured here), Blackberry Smoke, Jackyl and others.

Arizona Bike Week, a four-day event featuring a diverse mix of acts, had been postponed from spring to fall this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Crowd size was limited to 3,800 a day, instead of the normal 20,000, but after many months of wheel-spinning, John Garberson from Creative BackStage and the rest of the crew were happy to be back in the saddle.

View from the FOHRecord temperatures in Phoenix had boiled past 100-degrees in early October, not an ideal condition for wearing a face mask while working under a tight schedule with a skeleton crew to set up video and lighting on a 40’ x 40’ StageLine 320 stage, all while maintaining social distancing. But John Garberson and the seven other members of the team from Creative BackStage weren’t complaining.

It had been 208 days since they last run a festival rig when went to work on setting up Arizona Bike Week, a four-day event featuring a diverse mix of acts. Some of the crew had found other jobs outside the lighting industry. Others were living off UI. The extreme heat and tough conditions notwithstanding, all were glad to be doing what they love again. The festival went off without a hitch, spanning Oct 7-11 at the WestWorld of Scottsdale, AZ.

“There were a lot of emotions after about eight months of not working a festival,” said Garberson. “We were just 30 minutes away the start of last festival on March 13, when we were told to shut things down. Then, just about ten days before Arizona Bike Week began, we were given this job. All of us were happy to be back at work. We were also anxious not knowing if we would get infected and grateful for the great support we received from our client Pro Production Services and our families.”

The organizers of Arizona Bike Week followed strict safety protocols. Crowd size was limited to 3,800 a day, instead of the normal 20,000. Fans were restricted to private pod sections and the stage was throughly sanitized between acts. Garberson himself wrote safety protocols for the Creative BackStage team and visiting crews.

Along with the smaller crowds came a smaller budget and smaller crew size, which led to everyone multi-tasking. Garberson himself ran the boards for opening acts, something he hadn’t done for some time, while his L1, Ellie Knight and visiting LDs took care of these duties for headliners.

Brad Gillis strikes a pose

“Story time, I have not run a lighting console in about six years due to managing this company,” said Garberson. “In the past seven months I turned my home office into a viz suite and re-taught myself programming. So, I ran the open bands, while Ellie ran the nationals that had no LDs. I have to say, I caught the lighting bug again! It all started to flood back to me. I kind of stuck to the roots of 120K rig look and programming with modern day flair. For me, it works with Bike Week and the opener bands. But I think keeping some of the old school alive is a good thing. I’ll continue to grow into the more modern day looks.”

Garberson worked on an Avolites Pearl with an extra wing, while Knight used a Avolites Quartz with a wing. Both busked frequently during the four-night festival, which featured a diverse range of music from metal to country rock to ‘80s pop, with headliners Jackyl, Texas Hippie Collection, Blackberry Smoke and Night Ranger. Each night also featured one opening act.

“Unlike in previous Biker Week festivals, we moved our FOH in front of our tent for distancing, which displaced people,” said Garberson. “We also had picnic tables in the back for fans who didn’t want to be in one of the pads. This served to move some fans further away from the stage. To address this, we move each wall further to the side.”

A pair of 14.7’ x 8.2’ video walls positioned on six-foot high risers, comprised of 6mm Absen LED tiles, flanked the stage. Compared to previous years, the two walls were placed farther away from the stage to provide better sightlines for the socially distanced crowd.

Also different from the previous year, the festival did not show biker movies after the last musical act concluded. This, too, was a nod to safety protocol. Instead, the video walls display sponsorship messages and I-Mag images, fed to it via a Roland 800HD.

Despite having a smaller rig, the Creative BackStage team was able to support the diverse mix of acts with fast-moving colorful lightshows, complete with a variety of texturizing gobo patterns and some intense audience lighting from eight Chauvet Professional STRIKE 4 fixtures.

Also engaging the crowd were ten Chauvet Professional Rogue R2 Washes flown on downstage truss, which were used for audience washing. An additional 14 of the RGBW movers were hung , six on mid-stage and eight on upstage truss, and were relied on for color washing and specials.

Other Chauvet Professional fixtures included 10 Maverick MK2 Spots, flown on mid-stage and upstage truss and used for specials and texturizing gobo patterns. For eye candy, 12 Chauvet DJ COLORband PiX-M USB LED strip lights were arranged on pipes. A group of eight Elation Professional Opti TRI par units were used to add pop to the backdrops supplied by the different bands.

“This wasn’t a big rig, but we created some memorable looks with it,” said Garberson. “Everything really came together beautiful for Blackberry Smoke on our third night — it was kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing. We also helped create a lot of energy for Night Ranger on the fourth night — My boys! They rock, and they tore the roof off on Saturday night. It left the crowd cheering for more. This is what Bike Week is all about!”

On the subject of wanting more, Garberson is looking forward to lighting another festival, but is uncertain when that opportunity will arise. “We have no idea when we’ll work a festival again, maybe not for a while,” he said. “But after eight months of waiting, we were just very happy to have this opportunity. It was an emotional experience.”

Arizona Bike Week

WestWorld, Scottsdale, AZ, Oct. 7-11, 2020

Lighting Co: Creative BackStage


Opener LD/Programmer: John Garberson

Headliner LD/Programmer: Elie Knight

Video Director: TJ Watson

Followspot Ops/Techs: Travis Harris, Michael Morse

Camera Ops/Techs: Wes Webb, Johnny Chilcher

Lighting Tech: Steve Smith


1       Avolites Quartz console w/ wing

1       grandMA2 console

24     Chauvet Rogue R2 Washes

10     Chauvet Maverick MK2 Spots

8       Chauvet Strike 4 Blinders

12     Chauvet DJ COLORband PiX-M USB LED strip lights

8       Elation Opti Tri Pars (for back drop)

2       Absen video screens (14.7 x 8.2, 6mm)

1       Stageline SL320 stage


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