Popular singer-songwriter Marc Cohn and the Blind Boys of Alabama have finished one leg of their tour, drumming up interest in Work to Do, the wonderful collaborative album that they’ll be releasing in August. On the record and onstage, they’re creating a beautiful combination of Cohn’s dynamic folk songs and the Blind Boys’ treasured gospel harmonies.
Co-headlining with Robert Cray, Cohn and the Blind Boys have played a selection of amphitheaters, culminating in an appearance at Eastman School of Music’s Kodak Hall, as part of the Rochester International Jazz Festival on June 25. They’ll be back out in August, sharing the stage with Taj Mahal.
Cohn and the Blind Boys are being mixed by Alex Hug, Cohn’s regular tour manager and FOH engineer, and we got the chance to talk to Hug, to find out about how some critical decisions on technology and instrumentation were made for this production.
“We carried a Yamaha N2 AvantGrand digital stage piano as Marc’s primary instrument,” says Hug. “It has an actual hammer action inside—not just a weighted keybed. It looks like an upright piano, but has speakers built into the body. When Marc is playing onstage, he feels like he is playing a real piano. We also don’t have to tune the instrument every night. There were several outdoor venues where we had, at most, an hour to set up and soundcheck. There was not enough time in the production schedule to tune a real piano.
“The sound that comes from the piano is a sampled CFIIIS concert grand—and it has a stereo output that works in concert with the built-in speakers,” Hug adds. “This way, I can get a completely isolated piano sound while Marc can hear an ‘acoustic’ grand piano sound from the instrument loudspeakers.”
Hug placed a Telefunken M80 vocal mic for Cohn at the piano, and an M81 at center stage. For this tour, the Blind Boys sang into wired Shure SM58s. “Typically, we’d have wireless mics for them whenever possible, for their own ease of use,” he explains. “For this tour, it was simply going to be faster to use the wired microphones.”
One Console for Ears and House
Hug and the musicians didn’t have a dedicated monitor engineer, so he chose a console with easy setup/teardown in mind. “We’re carrying a Midas M32R,” he says. “It’s what we would normally use just for monitor control, but in this case, I am using it to mix front-of-house as well. Not only can the console be navigated efficiently for both tasks, but I could also strike it by myself in as little as two minutes. With several after-show drives and quick set changes, being able to get in and out of the venues quickly kept the show running smoothly.”