On The Road With Tim McGraw

The lighting for American country/rock singer and songwriter Tim McGraw's current Standing Room Only Tour was designed by Patrick Brannon, who also runs the lights at each stop on this 30+ city tour. Brannon first designed for McGraw in 2012, and his role has expanded over the years. Live Design chats with the LD/production designer/director about his design approach and use of color and motion in the show, for which the lighting and video gear was provided by Fuse

Live Design: How long have you designed for Tim McGraw?

Patrick Brannon: I started with the McGraw camp in 2012. I did a simple design that first year for an Australian Soul2Soul run with Faith Hill involved. In 2013, I was offered to design for Tim’s solo tour and that was my first big full-production design for Tim. Since then other designers have come and gone, but it seems like Tim was always coming to me to fix the lighting side of things that he wasn’t happy with. In my experience in lighting, I always had a rock ‘n’ roll feel that Tim was attracted to. My technique has always been in-your-face looks by dilating pupils and then shrinking them to nothing with a saturated dark, mystery vibe. 

Since then I have pretty much been a part of every tour that both Tim McGraw and Faith Hill has taken out, whether as the full production designer or the lighting designer/director. 

Photo by Jeremy Lloyd

LD: How do you approach the design for each tour?

PB: At the start of a new project, I first talk to Tim, and get his vibe on what he’s looking for, then take a look at the album theme and try to tie it all together. So far it’s been successful with that game-plan.

LD: Do you go out on the tours to run the shows? 

PB: I have always sold myself to design and operate all my projects! No matter if I’m designing or just designing the lighting with another set designer. I feel that to give an artist the full compliment of my abilities over the tour is to see the whole tour through start to finish. That way I’m not sidetracked on other projects or have other distractions. That approach also has been very successful for me.

Photo by Jeremy Lloyd

LD: Choice of fixtures and shape of the rig for the Standing Room Only Tour? What's where and what are the work-horses?

PB: Choice of fixtures for this project was pretty straightforward due to Jeremy Lloyd’s video, designed before the lighting. So basically the size of the video surface, and the footprint it required, dictated where I populated lighting fixtures. Once I figured out the size of the trusses in the designated areas I was populating, the fixtures were relatively easy. 

As I mentioned before, my rock ‘n’ roll background dictates the type of fixtures I use. I basically have a hard-edge profile (VL 3600 and VL-10) featured light for texturing and give cut patterns that cut through all the base washes in place. With that being said, I love the pin spot tight beam looks that the Claypaky Xtylos and VL-10 provide on the tour. 

Of course, my special effects go-to would be the JDC-1 strobe and the Q8 that also provide a strong audience fixture. I chose another amazing new special FX fixture to surround the set down stage and thrust, as well as three moving lighting pods above the downstage edge. That is the Pixel curve 12. Love this fixture!

My choice of wash was the Razor 1960 and the Maximus Brutus which both have amazing intensity and reliability. 

Just to reiterate, my horsepower for the visuals come in numbers. The video surface being so large and massive as a panoramic background. I just had to up the numbers with total fixture count being around 400.

Photo by Jeremy Lloyd

LD: Use of color and movement and integration with the video on this tour?

PB: With regard to the color palette and motion of the fixtures, this truly was based on the songs and energy of the set list! That dictated most of color choices. With warm colored pallets, chosen for the in-your-face rock stuff, and a cool down environment for intimate looks for the ballads. 

The set list for the tour was decided early in the process of the design, with only a few changes. As the design progressed, we decided to do pre-programming with the Depence version of the latest computer 3d visualization. After band completed the music we then took the music and started programming in November of last year. This process turned out to be so successful that I hope to continue to use this method in the future. While Two Trucks Production (Content Creation), based in the London area, were compiling content, we were programming lighting in collaboration with a treatment sheet for the show we all agreed on. I would send lighting programming to them and they would add video content into the same Depence file. This was awesome. Mark Cunniffe and myself talked daily and sometimes we found content color palettes would change, mainly because one of us would just go in a different direction with a palette. This turned out to be very productive! Again, I just wanna use this process every tour.

LD: Your collaboration with Mark Cunniffe and with Wonder Works?

PB: Jeremy, Mark, and myself talked regularly months prior to programming in the lead up to the start of the tour.  The communication and creative vocabulary between us was very natural. It almost felt like we all came from the same mold. It was a real pleasure to work on this with them. Everyone’s specialty in each department seemed to just evolve naturally and it literally felt that we had all been working together for years. 

Photo by Jeremy Lloyd

LD: Were there any particular challenges or problem/solution?

PB: The only challenge that I'm dealing with on a daily basis is perfecting house followspots. This being my 40th year in live entertainment, that’s a problem I’ve been used to for many, many years.  On tour, we carry six RoboSpots and once they are color corrected and set, they are solid. However, I’m using two local building spots and, as all lighting directors are very familiar with, house spots are  unpredictable. I set the color temp and level, every show, and as you may guess it’s somewhat hit or miss, even to the point where at two shows I had to pull two from my Robo band spots and use on Mr. McGraw. But honestly, there are no real problems on a daily basis regarding the design and the deployment of the system. All departments run like a well-oiled machine.

LD: What is most successful about the lighting from your POV?

PB: I feel the most impact that the lighting design provides is that a lot of  people come into this country concert expecting a laid-back kind of timid show. When in fact there’s nothing country about this show, it is all rock ‘n’ roll. The set list in place allows me to utilize the lighting and ImageSFX lasers in a tasteful intimate setting, or into a high-power, high-energy rock show. And Tim McGraw’s stage presence is like no one I’ve ever seen. He is full of energy and loves his job. That makes a big difference when lighting any live performance. 

Related stories: Plot Luck: Patrick Brannon Lights Tim McGraw

Wonder Works Creates Panoramic Views For Tim McGraw’s Standing Room Only Arena Tour

Photo by Jeremy Lloyd