From Yes to Britney Spears, a career built on concert sets that rock
The client list at Tait Towers of Lititz, PA reads like a who's who of the music industry. From the Rolling Stones to U2, from Kiss to Reba McEntire, Tait Towers sets and stages can be found in the best touring productions out on the road. It is this sustained excellence in the field of concert set construction that has earned them a 2000 EDDY Award.
The firm, started by then lighting designer Michael Tait, began in 1978, when he was working for the band Yes. Tait, a pioneer in the concert lighting industry, devised one of the first self-contained lighting towers in the early 70s that were nicknamed Tait Towers. "The name stuck, and it seemed to be an appropriate name for the company as well," Tait says.
In the early days, Tait Towers was more focused on lighting, until the fateful day that Tait came upon the idea of using an in-the-round rotating stage. "If we played in the center, everyone in the audience would be closer, we could sell more seats, and everyone would see better," he says.
The Yes in-the-round rotating stage garnered rave reviews, and soon the likes of Kenny Rogers and Barry Manilow came knocking on the door. "At the time, Tait Towers was still primarily a lighting company; no one thought of actually having a set-building company," Tait notes.
Tait Towers continued to grow slowly, and, in the mid-80s, added general manager James "Winky" Fairorth to the stable. At that point, the industry began moving toward expensive automated fixtures. That's when Tait struck up a deal with Nocturne to buy the firm's lighting equipment. "I finally realized that for all of these years, the sets had been subsidizing the lighting," Tait explains.
Tait, with almost 20 years on the road behind him, understood the finesse needed to create good, roadworthy stages and sets. "I figured out how to make dollies that went up a ramp safely, how you can forklift set carts easily, and all of those little tricks that other people still haven't learned," he confides.
Tait Towers moved out of its original facility in the early 90s, and now has 40,000 sq. ft. of space, which enables them to work on several shows simultaneously, as well as an adjacent 25,000-sq.-ft. facility for set storage and staging rentals. The main facility has an entire floor dedicated to painting backdrops and a completely mobile welding and machine shop with 37 full-time employees who enjoy flexible scheduling.
The last year was a notable one for Tait Towers. The firm's handiwork can be seen in the movable B stage on the current 'N Sync tour, and they're out with Britney Spears as well. Working with scenic designer Mark Fisher, the company engineered the amazing movable arm found on the Tina Turner tour, as well as devised a new latching system for some of its scenic pieces. "The strength of the company lies in Michael being very hands-on,' Fisher explains. " He's been on the road, so he knows that it's the little things that count, as well as what works and what doesn't."
Tait Towers continues to be the leader in the industry, in part due to Tait's personal philosophies. "Our corporate plan is to build the best product possible," he asserts. "I'm involved in every single project and I look at every single piece that goes out of this building - the buck stops here because my name is on that piece." As Tait Towers looks toward the 21st century, Tait looks toward continuing the firm's tradition of excellence. "No matter what we did last week, when we do it this week, we're going to improve on it. We're looking to improve on every single thing that we do."