Still Rockin' the Free World

Keith Wissmar Tours with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

For many, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young epitomize the 1960s — a time of social and political upheaval. Years later, with our country once again facing uncertainty, the elder statesmen of rock are back on the road with their Tour of America. Concert editor Sharon Stancavage caught up with LD Keith Wissmar after the opening night of the show in Auburn Hills, MI.

Sharon Stancavage: When you went into pre-production, did the band have any specific ideas for the show, or did they give you free rein?

Keith Wissmar: They gave me a lot of free rein with this — we had a lot of success on the last tour and they pretty much said, ‘We trust you — if we hate it, we'll let you know.’ David [Crosby] is right behind Neil [Young] as far as interest in how the show is going to look.

SS: What's your truss configuration?

KW: There's a 44' downstage delta, a 32' midstage delta, a 60' upstage delta, as well as a straight truss all the way upstage that's used for the cyc and the paper collage I created as a backdrop. This might sound somewhat corny, but there is some patriotism involved in the rig — if you look up during the show, you'll notice that the angles of the truss deltas look like the B1 [bomber].

SS: What's the story behind the paper collage backdrop?

KW: The 12'x24' (3.6x7.2m) backdrop is a small collage of the last 100 years of people and things that we've all had to deal with. Most of the text is pulled from sociology books, the New Testament, an anger management book, tax books, all of which reflect some of the issues in our lives. I've actually compared it to two things — when the Towers went down, all you saw was the flying paper, and, at the same time, when the families started posting notes on bus stops, you started seeing a collage of faces.

SS: What instruments are you using?

KW: I'm still a huge fan of conventional light, although I have both conventionals and automated instruments in this rig. I have 48 1kW PARs with narrow lamps that have Wybrons on them with 16 colors in each scroller. Then I have 20 Martin MAC 2000s and 10 MAC 600s. The MAC 2000 is a terrific light; they're really bulletproof. I used them all last summer on our European tour, and on this one we haven't had a problem with them. They have smooth color-mixing and they're plenty bright. The MAC 600s worked out really well for me, too — I use them quite a bit on the cyc as well as the paper collage. My key light sources for the band are 750W ETC Source Fours.

SS: You're not using any house spotlights for the show — why?

KW: All four of the guys are just shrinking violets when it comes to spotlights — David has told me that, to him, spotlights are a symbol of show business. The band likes to be able to walk around, and with spotlights, they're squinting or looking away, so they're not giving an optimal performance. If I'm doing a Crosby, Stills and Nash show, there is a 50-50 chance there'll be front spotlights, depending on their location. Basically, they're actually getting more accustomed to not using them.

SS: You also don't use any spotlights on the truss.

KW: Truss spots are a consideration, but they weren't in my budget. If I can keep four extra guys out a night, or even two extra guys out, I can use that money to hang more on my rig. There's also a bit of mystery to the show, and the band doesn't want to be completely illuminated all the time.

SS: What kind of floor units do you have?

KW: For the cyc and the paper collage I've been using eight-light Molefays with about 16 colors in each scroller — those provide that richness on the cyc. I've also got six MAC 2000s on the floor — two in the upstage corners, two upstage center, and two in the downstage corners. There's also MAC 600s on the floor, in front of the paper collage.

SS: What about your color choices?

KW: I like two-color or three-color combinations. I can interpret the song with the use of color. For example, “Old Man River,” which is a blues number, Stephen does in blue. “Rockin' in the Free World” is done in red, white, and blue — it has to be. For “Old Man,” I use sepias and a warm, deep amber. So, I look at the song titles.

SS: Many of your automated fixtures are actually stationary much of the time.

KW: True. In “Rockin' in the Free World” I ballyhoo in the end, which I normally would do. Flyouts and such are generally looked down on by management. A couple of songs will get that treatment, but I've cut it back. There could be six or maybe even 10 anthemic songs where I have to curb myself.

SS: Did you use many gobos?

KW: I do, and currently I'm using the stock gobos in the MAC 2000s. In pre-production, I was struggling a bit, but we've conjured up a couple of good looks. “Woodstock” is very psychedelic, and “Wooden Ships” has a very lovely aquatic, pond-like look. I've also been talking to management about getting a peace sign gobo and perhaps an American flag gobo.

SS: You also have candles onstage.

KW: Yes. Normally, I would have used cylinders, but the white tapers this time have a “keeping a candle lit for you” theory behind them. The first night, I did nine on one side of the stage and 11 on the other. I've been trying to stay that route without burning anything down!

b>SS: So there is a response to the events of September 11th in your design?

KW: As a designer, I can't not try to make some sort of statement. I think I've been given an opportunity to make a statement with the paper collage, and with the candles. If I can put up something symbolic and subliminal, I want to.

SS: What kind of console are you using?

KW: I'm using a Wholehog and a wing. My programmer, Jeff Wilkin, is out with me; he's also crew chief.

SS: What is the band doing after the tour?

KW: Neil has hinted at going out with his band this summer; I'm crossing my fingers so that will happen. As for Crosby, Stills and Nash, I'm not quite sure.

Contact the author at [email protected].


Lighting Designer
Keith Wissmar

Crew Chief
Jeff Wilkin

Lighting Technician
Steve Hoover

Lighting Supplier
Bandit Lites

Lighting Equipment


Thomas 7' sections fully loaded Pre-Rigged Truss


Thomas 5' sections fully loaded Pre-Rigged Truss


Thomas 90° corner blocks


Thomas 10' sections A-Type Truss


Thomas 6-lamp bars


Thomas 4-lights


Thomas 8-lights


ETC Source Fours 26°


L&E 10-cell MR-16 striplights


Martin Professional MAC 600s


Martin MAC 2000s


Wybron 8-light scrollers


Wybron Forerunners for PAR-64s


Wybron Forerunner PSUs


ETC 72-way digital dimmer racks


Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II console


Flying Pig Systems Wholehog expansion wing