Dance partners: Lds Steve Cohen and Curry Grant collaborte on Fleetwood Mac's comeback tour

Unlike the similarly combative Eagles, who chose Hell Freezes Over as the moniker for their surprising reunion album and tour three years ago, Fleetwood Mac (famous as much for its in-fighting as its music) promoted their reborn affection for each other by releasing a live greatest hits album with a far less caustic title, The Dance. Adding to its event status, the tour also coincides with the 20th anniversary of Rumours, and features that top-selling album's lineup: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks, and Lindsey Buckingham.

"This is the first time Lindsey has toured with them since the Mirage album in 1983," says LD Curry Grant. "It's not really Fleetwood Mac without Lindsey." Or, it seems, without Grant, for that matter. Now an account manager for Vari-Lite Los Angeles, Grant started touring with Fleetwood Mac in 1974--before Nicks and Buckingham were even part of the band. Other acts whose tours Grant has lit include Crosby, Stills and Nash, Supertramp, Chaka Khan, and Waylon Jennings. This tour also marked a reunion of sorts for LDs Steve Cohen and Grant. "Right before I joined Vari-Lite, I actually went and directed Hall & Oates around the world for Steve," Grant says. "He designed it, and I went out and ran it for him because he had to go out with Billy Joel."

For this tour, Cohen came up with the stage concept and designed the show's overall look by incorporating curved custom trusses built by All Access Staging. "Steve and Tom Strahan from Scale Design had a model, and all these curved pieces of trussing, which they were moving around to see what looked best," Grant says. "They had a really nice set, too, with graduated steps for the backing musicians--until we realized that they just wanted to be real low-profile. And we couldn't hang anything on vertical planes because they wanted to sell the arenas 360 degrees. That was the biggest limiting factor; it kept us from having a 'wall-o-light' or any backdrop to light upstage."

For Cohen, "It was all about architecture. There was nothing onstage. When Mick Fleetwood walked in, his first reaction was that I had done sort of a Beaux Arts train station," he says. "We customized the trussing with a flexible fiberglass type of material to light these curved lines and use projectors, then we'd backlight the three 32' (9.8m) curved arches. It's really the only thing we have to light besides the band."

The automated system lighting the band is composed of 90 Vari-Lite(R) automated luminaires augmented by seven Cameleon 4k Telespots, which were supplied, along with the conventional gear, by The Obie Company. In production rehearsals, Cohen and Grant worked with Vari*Lite programmer Robert Cochran and the tour's lighting director/Vari*Lite operator Wally Lees to put the looks together for the songs. "I tried to look at Fleetwood Mac as a whole, as a collective vibe, and bring that out with some really nice architecture, while at the same time consider each individual's contributions," Cohen says. "Each has their own particular style: Lindsey's songs looked tough and hard-edged, Stevie's were surreal, and Christine's were pretty pinks and lavenders.

"It was great working with Curry--a friend of mine, who at the same time is somebody I rent lights from all the time," Cohen continues. "What's interesting is that, in turn, Curry happens to be a fan of mine. So I'd come up with these looks during programming and ask, 'Is this going to fly?' And he'd say, 'Well, I really like it, so let's leave it.' We sort of indulged ourselves. We truly collaborated, because I brought my own little style in there, and Curry did the editing that was required--taking out what he felt wouldn't work and enhancing what would. I tried to approach it from what I felt was applicable for the band. The process of working with Curry was just a lot of fun, because he's a lot of fun to work with."

"I was basically just trying to play police, because I know the band so well," Grant concurs. "When Steve would throw in some big move, and I'd go, 'I don't know if we're going to get away with that,' Steve would say, 'Think arena. Think arena.' And he was right--it was just difficult for the band to picture how what we were doing would look in them. Of course, they've played large venues before, but, because they're standing onstage and not 450' away, it's hard for them to see the big picture.

"It was great working with Steve," Grant continues. "He's a really talented guy. I have a great deal of respect for him, and he's one of my best friends. We had a ball programming it, because there was Robert and Wally, and me and Steve, and every time we would come to a place where we needed a cue, we had four people with ideas for it. We have so much respect for each other that we would all sit and pow-wow and listen to everybody's input before we decided what to do. It turned out better, but it definitely took longer."

During the programming rehearsals, Grant did step back from designing some of the band's more popular songs such as "Dreams," "Rhiannon," and "Gold Dust Woman." "I tried to let Steve, Robert, and Wally do the songs that I have been doing for years and years, because I know how I would light those songs," Grant says. "I've done them a million times. I know the color palette I would use all the way through--and that's just my vision. So, hopefully, they finally look different."

Yet Grant admits he kept in a few of his favorite cues. "I did use some of my signature looks," Grant says. "There are some blackout cues I always like to do. For example, at the end of "You Make Loving Fun," it stops so abruptly, and it's all lit up--then we end it with just one back followspot on Christine. I kept that."

"Tusk" was another anthem for which Grant deferred to his fellow LDs--but for a different reason. "I just never knew what to do with it," he laughs. "They were actually going to try to find a college marching band to join them for that song in every city, but it would have been an expensive, logistical nightmare, so they ended up sampling the marching band. They had the horns on keyboard, but it's not the same as 80 guys marching around up there. It's such a weird song, but those guys created some good cues for it, and it builds up slowly."

In fact, even for the band's really huge hits, the lighting rig's potential flashiness is reined in to let the songs and the performers shine. "Just because it's an automated system doesn't mean it has to move--and it doesn't very much," Grant says. "We used the big 4k Telespots, because we wanted some big wash looks--some film lighting kind of looks-- in there for them. Lighting this band is actually very simple. Our job is to direct eyes, and not to distract from what those five people are doing onstage."

This was a lesson Grant learned from his previous tours with the band. "I tried to design sets for them--for a while I tried to drag them kicking and screaming into the 1980s," he says. "And every time, we'd end up with Mick's riser, Christine's riser and the amp line, and a carpet or a floor--and that was it. That's what they were comfortable with and that's what they liked. You could park a light on each one of them, and then just do color changes at every point in the song that warranted a cue, and be fine. Because I'm sure there's a lot of people that want to just sit and watch John McVie play bass all night, or John and Mick together. Mick is the epitome of an animated drummer. Watching him all night is a riot. So you could, theoretically, just light them up and do some solid color changes, and they'd be happy. It just works for them."

Grant started off with the band as lighting technician in 1974. "But they didn't like the guy who was doing their lights, so I took over and they loved me," Grant laughs. "I've been there ever since. In '74 it was Bob Welch, Christine, John, and Mick. They've been doing this a long time, and they're all very comfortable just being surrounded by their instruments. Stevie's and Lindsey's personalities are the same in that respect: None of them have ever been into anything that could be termed even remotely flashy. But because those five personalities are so unique and distinct, they can carry it. Directing the focus to the focal point--it's pretty simple."

To ensure that those focal points remain consistently illuminated, the tour is carrying six Lycian 1,200W Starklites. "We tried to do it without upstage followspots this time, just to be different, but in the end we decided we needed them," Grant says. "However, with the spot bridge in place in the arenas, we always have those nice, close angles so the audience can see them."

That's especially important for this band. "People are watching for the interaction between two or three of the members--especially in this soap opera band--so that's what we have to highlight. Christine is incredible, and everybody wants to watch Stevie. Lindsey is just unbelievable. And John McVie playing bass: He's like the invisible man, but bass players watch him intently. What he does is so understated and so cool. If there's something Mick does every night at a certain point in the song, you want to make sure that people don't miss it. And if you've got flashing lights flying around all over the room, they might miss it."

After rehearsals, Cohen left to dedicate himself to creating magic for Elton John's latest tour, as well as begin working on Billy Joel's upcoming outing. Also, the two piano players will co-headline another tour this spring. Grant stayed with the 11-week Fleetwood Mac tour for the first week or so, before returning to his duties at Vari-Lite. He left directing duties in the capable hands of Lees and crew chief Kevin Cassidy.

The last full tour Grant did with Fleetwood Mac was Tango in the Night in 1986-87--Cohen created its butterfly design. "Then I went and started the Behind the Mask tour in '91, which Allen Branton designed. I was working for Vari-Lite by then, so I tried to turn it over to somebody else, but eventually I had to go there and start it up. They just can't do it without me," he laughs. "They've tried."

Lighting/production designers Steve Cohen, Curry Grant

Lighting director and Vari*Lite operator/programmer Wally Lees

Vari*Lite programmer Robert Cochran

Lighting crew chief Kevin Cassidy

Vari*Lite technicians Gretchen Fields, Greg Kosurek

Obie lighting technicians Tom Mayer, F. Victory Mirabal, Jason Taylor

Production manager Paul Chavarria

Production coordinators Patricia Chavarria, Jennifer Dreesen

Head rigger Sean Webb

Riggers Mike Farese, Dan Machado

Head carpenter David Lashells

Carpenters Mark Candelario, Mike Hale

Custom trussing All Access Staging

Lighting suppliers Vari-Lite, Inc. The Obie Company

Lighting equipment (7) Cameleon 4k Telespots (15) Vari*Lite VL5 Arcs(TM) (17) Vari*Lite VL6s(TM) (39) Vari*Lite VL5s(TM) (19) Vari*Lite VL2Cs(TM) (60) PAR-64s (60) Morpheus ColorFaders (12) ETC Source Fours (6) Lycian Starklite 1,200W followspots (12) Thomas 8-lights (12) Wybron 8-light Colorams (2) Reel EFX DF50 foggers (1) Vari*Lite Artisan(R)Plus control console (24) Columbus McKinnon 1-ton chain hoist motors (6) Columbus McKinnon 1/2-ton chain hoist motors (1) Skjonberg 30-way motor controller (3) Skjonberg 8-way controllers (24) Columbus McKinnon 1-ton motors (6) Columbus McKinnon 1/2-ton motors