HOUSTON -- When Texas country artist Aaron Watson was planning the fall leg of his current Red Bandana Tour, the decision was to go native with Houston-based production company LD Systems.
It was a “natural” decision and an “easy choice,” says Lighting Designer Anthony McCoy, who recently worked with the company with Watson’s shows at the Houston and San Antonio Rodeos, plus a few festivals.
In business since 1975, LD Systems specializes in turning a sketch or key concept into a workable, real-world solution - be it for festivals, corporate events or concert tours. So when Operations Manager Bill Bowers saw a sketch of Aaron Watson’s design concept, he says, “We knew we had our work cut out for us.”
Production Manager Jared Miller created the design framework using the band’s Red Bandana album artwork for inspiration. “Jared’s idea was to have the truss justify the red diamond-shape of the red bandana on the album cover by rocking the truss at 45 degrees,” McCoy says. “Having this diamond as a template was a great way for us to explore a new shape-driven design.”
Multiple aspects had to be taken into consideration, Bowers explains. “The original design was built out of 20.5-inch truss, which wasn’t going to fit. It also needed to be light enough to ride on load bars in the trailer. It had to be able to house all the fixtures while in transport. Plus, it it needed to be modular and adaptable to different stage sizes and trim heights. And it had to be assembled with three people or less.”
Bowers continues, “As it was a ground-supported structure, we didn’t need anything as robust as medium duty truss, so we decided to build something from nothing. Using quarter-inch steel and aluminum, we fabricated the first of the four pieces that make up the entire structure. Then we added design aspects to it. We built channels on the front of the piece to hold the (Chauvet) Epix strips and fabricated custom brackets to hold them. And rather than drilling out the holes on the back section, we drilled out holes along the length of the entire piece so it resembled a rifle muzzle.”
Raising the structure into its set position of two inverted ‘V’s was another challenge, he notes. “We solved that by adding a 120v A/C wench system that allowed the rig to raise itself, with safety cable to hold it at its intended 45 degree angle. The standard configuration for the rig is a double inverted ‘V’; however, it can also be built as a single inverted ‘V’ with a trim height of 18 feet.”
As the lighting designer, director, programmer and operator on the tour, McCoy wanted a wide array of fixtures for flexibility in the rig. He ended up switching from his original specs to lighter-weight LEDs to fit into the truss and the one trailer.
McCoy and Bowers spent time with a dozen or so lighting fixtures, evaluating which could stand up to the strain of being on tour three to four nights a week for the next eighteen months. “We chose the Robe Spikie, Robe Pointe, GLP Impression X4, Chauvet EPIX Strips and Chauvet Strike-1 LED blinders. All of these have proven themselves road worthy,” Bowers says.
“I couldn’t be happier with the performance and reliability of our rig,” the LD says. “It’s a blast to operate, and delivers quite a punch for fitting in a single trailer with all of our backline.”
Describing the fixture selection, McCoy says, “The Robe Pointe is a solid spot that holds its own in arenas with its bright output and quick pan and tilt motors. The Robe Spikie provides that unique flower effect for delicate ballads while also serving as a clean beam to quickly zip across the stage.”
He chose the GLP Impression X4 for its “wide zoom, color saturation, and output. It’s an excellent backlight and provides that ‘wall of color’ when it catches the haze.”
Chauvet’s Strike 1 Blinder is his favorite blinder. “The amber shift when the fixture dims along with their tailored dim curve is so close to an incandescent, I’ve been fooled when running them alongside a rig filled with 8-cell moles,” the LD explains. “They pack a punch, act as a great strobe, and I’ve enjoyed using them creatively as set pieces during softer ballads. The amber shift warms up the fixtures nicely to make the stage feel intimate – a real treat in larger venues and arenas.”
Finally, he outlines the perimeter of the truss structure with Chauvet’s EPIX Strips to tailor the onstage atmosphere. “They act as a great secondary accent color or really increase the energy onstage when I run video content through them. Simple content, like a vertical wipe or bouncing circle, read well and add another level of excitement and movement on the stage.”
But equipment without support is just equipment. Watson’s team is enjoying the working relationship with LD Systems.
“It’s been great to work with Rob McKinley, owner and general manager of LD Systems, during the design process,” McCoy notes. “Rob and his team have been so hands-on and thorough in this design, and it’s made for a smooth tour. They thought through every little detail, from transport to setup. Bill Bowers takes care of our needs while out on the road; he has been very attentive and involved when anything pops up.”
Miller agrees. "Having played many shows with LD providing production, I knew they would easily be able to handle our lighting needs when it came time to redesign our touring set. We had a basic idea, a sketch, and they turned that into an incredible custom designed and built structure that reduced our set up time, yet still fit into our existing truck pack, where space and weight is a premium. Every detail was thought through perfectly and outside-the-box solutions make it a breeze to set up nightly. We feel so comfortable working with everyone at LD Systems. They really get what we’re trying to accomplish at every stage."
Bowers says, “It has been a great experience and all of us are very happy with the end result.”
Aaron Watson’s Red Bandana Tour continues across the U.S. with dates set to May 2020.