Marking the popular event’s 15th anniversary, this year’s Riot Fest was successfully reinforced by Technotrix with Martin Audio MLA, WPL and WPC line arrays on four stages in Chicago’s Douglas Park.
With a variety of high-powered artists ranging from Slayer, Anthrax, The Flaming Lips, Violent Femmes and Bikini Kill to The Raconteurs, Patti Smith, Wu Tang Clan and the Village People, Riot Fest offered some particular challenges in terms of controlled coverage on site and noise mitigation off site.
As Technotrix Audio Lead Brent Bernhardt points out, “As always, there’s a commitment to keeping off site noise to an absolute minimum. We’re still avoiding the same two hospitals behind and alongside Stages 1 and 2 along with neighborhoods around the festival.
Asked about using Martin Audio’s Wavefront Precision Longbow (WPL) system for the first time, Brent responds: “It was very impressive to have virtually the same amount of control we get from an MLA rig with only slightly less resolution. WPL was very good and the tonality wasn’t lacking either while the onsite coverage was uniform and consistent as well.
“On site coverage for Stages 1 and 2 is always a challenge as they fire into the rear of 4 and 5,” Brent continues, “especially this year because of gusty wind conditions on the first day of the festival. We’ve never used delays with MLA because it throws further than any other PA, even under adverse weather conditions.
“WPL was able to provide exceptional sound quality and tonal characteristics for a wide variety of genres, something that applied to all of the stages in terms of Martin Audio. MLA, WPL, WPC and all of their products work well for all styles of music.”
The setup for Stage 1 (Riot) included 12 Martin Audio MLA per side with one MLD with four W8LC as front fill stacked evenly across the front of the stage on top of the MLX subwoofers. A total of 21 MLX subs were ground-stacked in front of the stage in seven stacks of three tall with the middle sub in each stack reversed in a broadside cardioid array. A six box array of MLA Compact were ground-stacked stage left as a VIP fill. 14 XE500 wedges powered by iK42’s were used for monitoring. An SX218 with an XE500 on top was deployed as a drum fill on stage with a pair of CDD-LIVE 8’s at Front of House for nearfield monitoring.
FOH Engineer for Stage 1 Dan Steinman recalls, “To be fair, for this event we’re mostly FOH mixers for the bands who don't have an engineer. But, for Slayer or Patti Smith for example, our main job is to make sure their engineer is comfortable while anticipating what their needs might be for the PA, which is all part of an unspoken challenge because of various thoughts about what the tone curve should be.
“For me, mixing on MLA is fantastic. The system gives you a lot of power in terms of control onsite which makes it so useful at Riot Fest because of the two hospitals in close proximity and it’s designed to let you control and abate off site noise, a principal concern of the festival staff.
“The other thing is that with the software, some engineers assume that everything will automatically turn out great, which isn’t always true. You still have to tune the system, plan and think about things like wind which, the first day, was a major battle for all of the stages because no PA is going to beat physics, let alone the wind. That said, I had several engineers after the gig thanking me for how the PA sounded great and that’s really what you want to hear.”
The setup for Stage 2 (Roots) was the same as Stage 1 without the MLA Compact for VIP fill. Kyle Bulmann, FOH Engineer for Stage 2 explains, “We were covering approximately 400 ft. and wanted to maintain the intelligibility as far out into the audience as possible.
“In terms of its sound signature, MLA did a wonderful job of replicating exactly what was coming out of the console. In terms of the guest engineers, they were no complaints or concerns about feeling unsettled mixing on MLA. Even if they voiced the system a bit differently than what I had presented, it was a quick and subtle process, even for those who hadn’t mixed on the system before.”
For Stage 4 (Radical), the setup included 10 Martin Audio WPL a side powered by iK42’s using two-box resolution, fifteen SXH218 subs in five equally stacked clusters of three horizontally spaced across the front of the stage with the middle sub in each cluster reversed for cardioid. Four WPC were deployed for front fill across the downstage edge and there were also 14 XE300 wedges powered by iK42s as well as an SX218 sub with a W8C on top for the drums.
Richard Schroeder, FOH for Stage 4, comments, “Stage 1 and 2 fire toward the back of our stage and we were firing toward the outside of the venue so the biggest thing was covering the audience area successfully as well as avoiding as much as bleed outside the festival as possible, especially with the low frequencies.
“Unlike the other three stages, we only had one day to get the WPL system up and ready in time for the noise bleed tests. The Martin Audio software provided the correct optimizations right out of the gate, so it took very little time to tune the PA to the point where I’d be happy to present the system to any of the guest engineers.
“The coverage was very consistent front to back and side to side we had a very nice stereo image. People were happy with the way WPL sounded, guest engineers and audience alike. MLA and WPL are very similar in terms of the way the boxes are voiced and the way you tune both PAs, same goes for WPC and WPM.”
Stage 5 (Rebel) was equipped with 8 Martin Audio WPC a side powered by iK42’s with two-box resolution along with four WPM for front fill evenly distributed on the lip of the stage. For the low end, there were 16 WSX subwoofers in stacks of two across the front of the stage in a broadside array. There were also 10 XE300 wedges, one SX218 with W8C per side for side fill and an SX218 and W8C on top for drum fill.
FOH engineer for Stage 5 Joe Mion points out: “Our coverage area was about 160 ft. and because that stage faces neighboring residences we don’t usually go too far beyond Front of House. The WPC system handled the onsite coverage with no problems and really good front to back consistency. It cut off right where we wanted it to so we had no problems with offsite noise bleed.
“This was my first WPC experience and the box is very deceiving. It’s small and really light, but I was pleasantly surprised at how loud we were able to get it. The festival production manager made a comment about the WPC, WPL and MLA during the noise test where he said they all had this incredible clarity without ripping your face off with high end SPL.
Speaking of Festival Production Manager Grant Simmon, he sums up the sound reinforcement by saying: "Martin Audio continues to support Riot Fest not only with its impressive audio systems, but also its support. This was a tough year for Riot with sustained winds of 30mph. Once we knew we were in for a fight, we reprogrammed all the PA's and were able to stay show ready through what would could be described as ‘weather just barely good enough to have a show.’"
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