Rocking The Rodeo


When audiences of RodeoHouston entered Houston's Reliant Stadium each evening during the 74th annual Houston Livestock and Rodeo Show (HLSR), they witnessed a non-stop spectacle of bull riding, steer wrestling, and team roping. But it could be said that the real action was behind the scenes, where teams of designers, programmers, and directors oversaw the lightning-fast transition between the world's largest rodeo and the concert performances of some of the world's biggest musical talent. Texas-based LD Systems — the sole providers of the lighting gear, rigging, video screens, sound systems, and closed circuit television network for the entire event — worked with the RodeoHouston team to create a seamless transition between events in mere minutes.

With a flexible lighting and staging rig, each night a massive concert unique from the one before it took center stage in Reliant Stadium. George Strait kicked off RodeoHouston's concert series; three weeks later country songstress Gretchen Wilson gave the closing performance. For 20 days, from February 28 to March 19, the 70,000-capacity stadium was filled with music fans who came to hear performances by acts including Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, John Fogerty, LeAnn Rimes, and Maroon5 (see full concert schedule, p. 21).

“The arena never stops; from the beginning of the rodeo to the end of the concert, something is happening the entire time,” says Terry Donohue, who has directed the HLSR concert video for the past nine years. Keeping audiences constantly entertained is a priority of RodeoHouston, and it's achieved by the practiced coordination of the RodeoHouston creative and development team, which includes vice president and chief operating officer Leroy Shafer, broadcast department managing director James Davidson, RodeoHouston video director Zoli Vadja, and concert director Donahue. “It happens every day, and it happens without fault. In general, 98% of the time it happens right on schedule,” explains Donohue of the rodeo-to-concert transition. “Literally, at the end of the rodeo, Zoli takes off his headset and hands it to me, and he gets up, and I sit down, and we start the concert.”

Lighting Transitions

The quick turnover is helped by the integrated system set up by LD Systems, who has worked with RodeoHouston since 1986. LD Systems' lighting designer Jim Brace was charged with meeting the needs of the various high-profile acts. “There are a lot of big-name acts that come through here with very knowledgeable people,” he says. “We try to have everyone leave with a good feeling. We take a lot of pride in giving the people in the stadium a big show.”

These big-name acts are used to staging their own large, design-intense concert tours with all the entertainment technology fixins' (a few of which Live Design recently covered, such as Gretchen Wilson in “It's A Redneck Revolution,” April 2006, and Brooks & Dunn in “Multi-Tasking, Country Style,” February 2006). For the rodeo, they leave the usual tour set at home, so LD Systems' rig is designed to accommodate each performer's specific design needs. “You basically come to the table with your color palettes and then rely upon LD Systems to create the show,” says Steve Fallon, lighting designer for LeAnn Rimes.

In order to provide the most flexibility and cover the stadium's rotating stage from any angle, there are three lighting rigs: one conventional and two automated rigs for the stage and the perimeter of the stadium. “The lighting design is in the round. The design has to be generic, as we try to give the artists and their lighting designers as many looks as possible to choose from, but you don't have enough time for a lot of programming for each individual artist,” explains Brace. Programming must be performed during a small, two-hour window each afternoon, when Brace and his lighting crew — which includes assistant designer and programmer John Dickson, perimeter automated programmer and operator Phil Gilbert, and numerous technicians — meet with the incoming performer's LD to go over lighting looks for the evening's set, which starts around 9pm. “The first couple of shows are a bit hard, but as it gets going, it becomes easier with more looks built,” says Brace.

The conventional rig featured 192kW of PAR64s, Thomas 8-Lites with Chroma-Q color changers, Mole-Richardson 9-Lites with FAY lamps, and an array of dimmers, both ETC Sensor and Leprecon VX racks. High End Systems automated fixtures made up the rig that surrounded the stage, with Studio Spot® 575s and Studio Color® 575S fixtures, x.Spots, and Trackspots highlighting the performances. New for 2006, the perimeter rig featured 16 Vari-Lite VL3000 Spot luminaries, which were used to cover the stage and arena with gobo projections and enhance the stadium's large video screens.

Rodeo TV

Video plays an integral role in bringing the performance to the audience, as the stage — a self-propelled, rotating platform 42' across — sits in the midst of two acres of rodeo dirt. Eight 16'×28' video screens surround the stage in an octagon above the lighting rig, with nine cameras filming the concert action. “The stage is there; you can look at it, but what you actually end up focusing on is the screen,” explains Donohue. “To the people that are sitting in the arena, it adds a lot. You are at a live performance, and that's always the best part, but hopefully the screens add to your enjoyment of the concert. It's an enhancement to the live performance.”

Therefore, Brace's lighting must complement the video. “The video elements are taken very seriously with the massive size of the venue,” says Brace. “The lighting must be compliant with the video, or those sitting in the upper deck won't be able to enjoy the performance. You have to be able to put a little more light on the stage without drowning out the effects.”

RodeoHouston has its own video production studio on the grounds. The studio was built specifically to support the video elements of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, as much of HLSR is broadcast in its multiple venues over the 150 closed circuit television feeds throughout the fair grounds. Some events are also available on Pay-Per-View and DirectTV. All video feeds of the concerts are sent via fiber optics from the stadium to the video studio located in the Reliant Center for mixing on the fly by Donohue and his video crew. Footage for the concert video is mostly live shots, although at times, performers will bring their own material. In those cases, Donohue splits the eight screens, so that half show is live feed and others play the band's prepared content.

In preparation for each artist, Donohue will receive a general set list from each performer's design team up to a few days before, but sometimes the day of, making a tight turnaround for video cues. “Once I get a set list, then I can prep those songs, so when we actually do the performance, we know if it's a keyboard thing or a guitar thing, or background singers, or whatever,” he says. “Every band presents its challenges; every band is the same but every band is different,” continues Donohue. “Some have concerns how the talent is shot, and what kind of angles you use, and we're able to accommodate that. So for every band, you have to find out exactly what they want or don't want and then you go from there.”

The ability of RodeoHouston and LD Systems to accommodate each performer and keep the action in the “dirt” going is key to making RodeoHouston the largest, and arguably the most popular, rodeo in the world. “This show sells over 1.2 million tickets per year,” says Shafer. “When we turn the show over to LD Systems, we are completely comfortable. Every year we are more amazed by what they do.”

“It really is monstrous. Until you go and actually see the event and see how it happens, you don't realize what a phenomenon it really is,” concludes Donohue.

Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo Equipment List

All equipment provided by LD Systems

Conventional Lighting Rig

192 1kW PAR64
Wybron Scrollers
ACL racks
Thomas 8-Lites with Chroma-Q color changers
Mole-Richardson 9-lites with FAY lamps
ETC Sensor 24×2.4kW dimmers
Leprecon VX 12×2.4kW dimmers
Rose Brand trapezoidal custom white scrims

Automated Perimeter Rig

Vari-Lite VL3000 Spots
High End Systems Cyberlight® Turbo
High End Systems Intellabeam®
Syncrolite SX 7K
Syncrolite SS 7K

Automated Stage Rig

High End Systems Studio Spot® 575
High End Systems x.Spot®
High End Systems Studio Color® 575S
High End Systems Trackspot®

Truss & Rigging

Tomcat 93" Pre rig truss
Thomas 7'7" Pre rig truss
Tomcat 2-way PRT corners
Tomcat 4-way PRT corners
Tomcat 10'×12" truss
CM hoists with link counter sensors
Skjonberg Controls automated motor control systems


Tuesday, Feb. 28: George Strait
Wednesday, March 1: Trisha Yearwood
Thursday, March 2: Melissa Etheridge
Friday, March 3: Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, Raven
Saturday, March 4: Martina McBride
Sunday, March 5: Clay Walker
Monday, March 6: Robert Earl Keen, Cross Canadian Ragweed
Tuesday, March 7: John Fogerty
Wednesday, March 8: Toby Keith
Thursday, March 9: Maroon5
Friday, March 10: Pat Green
Saturday, March 11: Lee Ann Womack
Sunday, March 12: Ramon Ayala, Jay Perez
Monday, March 13: LeAnn Rimes
Tuesday, March 14: Larry the Cable Guy, Cory Morrow
Wednesday, March 15: Alan Jackson
Thursday, March 16: Hilary Duff
Friday, March 17: Lonestar
Saturday, March 18: Brooks & Dunn
Sunday, March 19: Gretchen Wilson