When we talked to Luke Combs’ live sound engineers, they were wrapping up a run of sports arena shows, just a few weeks after Combs won two 2019 CMA Awards (for Male Vocalist of the Year, and Song of the Year for co-writing “Beautiful Crazy” along with Wyatt B. Durrette III and Robert Williford). 2019 was a huge year for Combs, and his tour production has blown up exponentially along with his career in general.
At FOH is Todd Lewis, who—like Combs—grew up in Asheville, N.C. Lewis was building his live sound resume, working in regional venues, while Combs was coming up as a performer. “In late 2015, Luke came to a show where I was mixing Steep Canyon Rangers,” Lewis says. “We stayed in contact, and I said, ‘If you ever need a sound guy, give me a call.’”
Lewis’ phone rang in 2017. “When I first came on, we were touring with a smaller rig, and our sound company, Special Event Services (Winston, Salem, N.C.), was already providing the buses through their company called Musical Coaches. They’ve added everything we’ve needed for larger venues,” says Lewis. “Now, they’re doing the buses, the trucking, the lighting, audio, and video for us. It’s a real one-stop shop for us.”
The tour was using an L-Acoustics P.A. when Lewis joined, and that commitment has grown to encompass a main hang of 16 K1 over four K2 boxes, plus sidefill hangs of 12 K2 boxes each and a total of 16 KS28 subwoofers. “The K1 system has real power and punch that we need, because we’re creating impact,” Lewis says. “Some tours are trying to re-create an album, but we’re creating a moment.”
Lewis mixes Combs and his band (guitarists Tyler King and Rob Williford, bass player Delaney Baker, multi-instrumentalist Kurt Ozan, drummer Jake Sommers, and keyboardist Neil Tankersley) on a DiGiCo SD12 console, which he says he appreciates for being clean and responsive. “Luke has such a strong vocal, we just don’t need much as far as bells, whistles, and tricks,” he explains. “He’s on a Sennheiser 6000 wireless handheld mic with a Neumann KMS 105 capsule. Once we found that combination, we never looked back. We’ve been really happy with the way it sounds with that big, chesty vocal he has.”
Monitor engineer Michael Zuehsow uses a DiGiCo board as well—an SD10. “Everybody is running Shure PSM1000 systems, with the majority of the bandmembers on Ultimate Ears. The only other thing I’m carrying is a pair of Neve 5045 Primary Source Enhancers. My big thing is that I want to maintain as simple a setup as possible, so that even on international dates, I can easily rent my rig any place.
“It helps that Luke is probably one of the easiest guys to get along with,” concludes Zuehsow, who also manages Keystone Studios in Nashville. “He just wants an FOH-style mix with him a little on top. He said to me, ‘I feel like I’m at the show watching the show,’ and that’s what we’re aiming for.”