Robbie Snow, production manager for Waterfront Concerts, has seen a lot in his five seasons working with the organization, including Rob Zombie’s custom-made fog-belching locomotive set piece, used on stage during his 2013 concert at the Mayhem Festival; Lady Antebellum’s crew, backstage grilling burgers and watching college football before their concert on Aug. 30; and temperamental, demanding, even angry roadies for classic rock bands.
When the sound has faded from the last concert of the summer, however, the work is far from over. The touring industry is a year-round business, even if there aren’t many shows in the colder months.
“I wish I was drinking margaritas on the beach in the spring and the fall, but that’s just not in the cards,” said Snow, a Hampden native who has worked for Waterfront Concerts and its sister business, the production company Production Services of Maine, since it first started bringing concerts to Bangor in 2010. “It’s a year-round process. It doesn’t stop when the shows are over. There’s things to plan for all year.”
To give a sense of the scope of what it takes to pull off a Waterfront Concert, here’s a comparison. The average American household requires between 100 and 200 electrical amps to run everything, from the fridge to the lights to the TV. Last Sunday’s sold-out 2014 season-closing Jason Aldean concert required 2,600 amps to make everything work — that’s the equivalent of between 15 and 20 houses. That’s a lot of power.
“One of the biggest things I’ve learned doing this is just how much power it takes to pull this off,” said Snow. “Some shows only need around 1,200 [amps], others are 2,000 [amps] and more. I’ve turned into an electrician. That’s why we pay so much attention to light rigging and making sure everything is done correctly. It’s something you definitely don’t want to test with your tongue.”
Planning for a show begins one month before the actual concert. Snow will open a dialogue with each band’s tour managers to make sure everyone has what they need.
“We’ll go back and forth. They’ll send me rigging plots and riders, I’ll send them our specs,” said Snow, referring to contracts and to the mapped-out diagrams of where things go on stage. “Eventually it will all get approved by a stage engineer, and then it’s smooth sailing until the day of the show.”
A typical load-in day starts at 8 a.m., sometimes a little earlier. Crews — mostly comprised of local contractors and construction workers that work part-time for Production Services of Maine — are responsible for installing set pieces and rigging all the lights, motors and other equipment on huge trusses, and then flying those trusses up to the roof. There are a handful of workers on the floor and double that number on the roof, who pull the trusses up and carefully secure them.
Since 2013, the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion stage has been what in the industry is known as an SMS — a Super Mega Stage. What that means is that the trusses on the roof can hold an extreme amount of weight.
“We can hang up to 200,000 pounds from our roof,” said Snow. “The very first year, we could hang 36,000, and the second and third year, we went up to 58,000. When we built the stage that we have now, we jumped up to 200,000. … Kenny Chesney’s rig weighed 90,000 pounds in full, and we flew the whole thing and hung it.”
After all the rigging is done, the band’s crews come in and begin checking lights, sound and instruments. These folks — roadies — can range in temperament from the laid-back people that run country shows, to the high-strung perfectionists that tour with rock bands.
“The attitudes of different crews can vary wildly,” said Snow. “Country crews are really relaxed and laid back and easy to work with. They’re very understanding. Lady Antebellum’s crew didn’t care what was going on as long as college football was on. They were grilling burgers backstage. … Rock bands are much more high maintenance. They’re yelling and screaming about getting it done. Much less flexible. The Boston and Foreigner crews were as needy as they come.”
By 3 p.m., the lights have been hung, the guitars have been tuned, the drums have been teched, and it’s time for soundcheck. Once that’s done, there’s a few hours of downtime for crews — though the box office and concourse are getting ready to open, and ticket holders begin arriving between 5 and 6 p.m.
After the show, crews immediately begin breaking down the stage — a much speedier process than putting it all up, but still something that takes three or four hours, depending on the size of the production.
Jason Aldean and Kenny Chesney were two of the biggest productions the Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion has ever seen. Some of the smaller shows — such as Sting’s stripped down 2013 concert — are easy in, easy out. Sarah McLachlan’s concert this year looked small from the outside, but Snow said their simple LED lighting packages were deceptively powerful, and created a beautifully lit, atmospheric show.
One of the simplest shows Snow’s ever seen was Willie Nelson, who played in June this year with Alison Krauss & Union Station.
“He wasn’t traveling with anything much, really. Very simple. They just rolled in with a little bit of backline,” said Snow. “Very laid back. He’s Willie.”
Regardless of the size or scope of the show, Snow always spends the first few minutes of load-in just gawking at the gear. He’s still fascinated by what it takes to make a concert happen.
“I’m a gear guy,” said Snow. “I just love looking at everything, all the speakers and lights. I could spend 20 minutes just looking at it all. I still love it, even after all this time.”