CATALINA ISLAND, CA – For three weekends every autumn, smooth jazz drifts from the Avalon Ballroom overlooking the Pacific Ocean, when this legendary venue hosts the Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival. Constructed in 1929, the Casino in Avalon Harbor was an iconic entertainment spot during the golden era of jazz, when some of the most famous big bands were broadcast nationally from the ballroom. Hollywood celebrities and tourists from around the world visited the Casino during its heyday in the 1930s and '40s to dance to the sounds of Jan Gerber, Kay Kyser, Bob Crosby, Dick Jurgens and Jimmy Grier, to name a few. It's no wonder that JazzTrax producer Art Good has chosen to hold his festival at this historic Catalina Island landmark for the past 24 years. With its rich music tradition and breathtaking scenery, there could be no more magical venue for jazz.
There could also be no bigger logistical nightmare if you're a lighting designer/installer. The ballroom is on the second floor of the Catalina Casino, a building that has undergone very little change in 80+ years.
“Access to the ballroom is very limited because of the age of the facility,” said Ryan Steidinger of Pacific Coast Entertainment (Huntington Beach, CA), which has handled lighting design/installation for JazzTrax for the past six years. “You're dealing with the original 1929 elevator, which is the oldest operating elevator in the state of California. We have to use it to bring everything upstairs to the venue, or else haul gear up a set of 7 very steep ramps. We've learned over the years that we need equipment that's lightweight and gives us a lot of bang for the buck – something that's compact, versatile and bright.”
The Casino poses other challenges as well. For one, it doesn't have 3-phase electric power. “I'm dealing with single-phase power, so I need fixtures that have low power consumption,” said Steidinger. “I also have very limited rig points, as to where we can hang fixtures. There are three chain motors on the island that work, and we can't bring in any new ones because they're mostly 3-phase. So we have to use what's existing in there.”
Given these physical limitations, Steidinger decided to use an all-Elation Professional lighting rig at JazzTrax this year. The festival's lighting consists of 6 x Elation Power Spot 700 CMY-II; 8 x Elation Design Spot 250; 24 x Elation Design LED 36 Brick; Elation DMX Branch/4 (4-way DMX distributor); and 2 x Antari Fazer, which are distributed in the US exclusively by Elation.
The 6 Power Spot 700s, a 700-watt CMY color-mixing moving head with 2 gobo wheels and an animation wheel, are hung on truss in front of the stage. Steidinger said he chose the Power Spot 700s because “they're small, lightweight, incredibly bright and have all these effects packed into a very compact, versatile fixture.” Similarly, the Design Spot 250 moving heads, which occupy the stage area, have the versatility do double-duty as a spot or a wash effect. With some 40 headlining acts performing over the course of the three-weekend festival, “everyone wants something a little different,” said Steidinger. “Our lighting designer Ryan Burke works with the different performers to create the look they want, and the Elation fixtures give him the flexibility to do this. We're running custom gobos with the JazzTrax logo in each of the movers, so we can project those around the room and have some fun stuff with that.”
At the sides of the stage are six 15' high spandex columns, three on each side, with 12 Design LED 36 Bricks lighting them from the bottom. Pacific Coast Entertainment constructed the spandex columns to visually expand the room's relatively small stage and “bring the audience into the lighting experience,” explained Steidinger. “With the DMX control circuits we've individually addressed everything, so we can create a rainbow of colors across these spandex pieces with the DLED 36 Bricks to convey different moods.” The remaining 12 Design LED 36 Bricks are used onstage for backlighting. With 12 x 3-watt RGB LEDs in each unit, the energy-efficient (50-watt total draw) bricks provide a lot of bright light and color saturation while helping to keep power consumption down, said Steidinger.
One of the Casino's most notable features is a huge tiffany chandelier about 65' in diameter, which serves as a centerpiece of the visual display. “All of our lights play off the chandelier,” said Steidinger. “The facility has installed a dimmer system that addresses just the house lights inside that chandelier. We are able to gain control over it, so we can actually change the colors and adjust them to the moods of the rest of the lighting.”
Perhaps the best assessment of the lighting at JazzTrax 2010 came from the festival's producer Art Good himself. “The effects were stunning – I think it's the best the ballroom has looked lighting-wise since its 1929 inception,” Good remarked. “I probably enjoyed sitting on the side of the ballroom watching the lighting as much as I did listening to the music. . . I look forward to the same effects next year. It was absolutely outstanding.”
Along with this creative triumph, the Elation lighting rig met the performance challenges of the venue, reported Steidinger. “This is a rough and tough environment. Anyplace you look in the room you see the Pacific Ocean, and those doors are open so you're getting constant sea breezes. It's very hard on the fixtures. Plus, we don't have a lift in the room. Once the stuff goes up, it cannot come down again for four weeks so it has to continue to work and work,” said Steidinger. “In years past we have had other fixtures mixed in with the Elation. And the Elation has honestly held up the best.”
For more information, call Elation Professional toll-free at 866-245-6726 or visit www.elationlighting.com
Pacific Coast Entertainment can be reached at 714-841-6455 or visit www.pacificcoastentertainment.com