The wild, wild west: Far West Rodeo spurs lighting excitement in San Antonio


"It's the biggest club we've ever rigged," says Alan Voight, slightly exhausted, of Far West Rodeo--quite possibly the greatest innovation to stray north into Texas since the chicken fajita. That may be overstating the case, but judging by the packed houses that have greeted the club since it opened March 6, the people of San Antonio find the idea irresistible.

The statistics of the venue are what you'd expect in a state with the reputation of Texas. Three acres under cover, this is a multilevel country-western dance club that includes a live performance space worthy of any international touring artiste, and a full-size rodeo arena that encompasses 20,000 sq. ft. (1,800 sq. m) of space. Voight, of main audio and lighting installers San Antonio Sound & Light (SAS&L), says Far West Rodeo is even larger and more open ("It's not lots of small spaces linked together") than extravagantly outsized clubs in Fort Worth, TX, and has altered the local nightlife scene.

"It's certainly started what we call Bar Wars down here," Voight reports. "All the clubs in San Antonio--and we've got a lot of them--are responding. Everyone's got in more light entertainment (live bands and such) and they've started to remind people about their origins--how long they've been there, their well-established reputation--that kind of thing. But the truth is, Far West is the first club in San Antonio that can warrant a visit from Nashville-standard acts, the top-of-the-bill country acts. None of the other clubs can do that, although there's now one that's started to bring in classic rock bands. I guess you could say the people of San Antonio have benefited from the new club both ways."

Far West Rodeo struck San Antonio with lightning impact. Ian Coles, CEO of Total Structures (formerly Total Fabrications), recalls being at the company's booth at LDI in Las Vegas just last October when the first approaches were made. "It was the last day of the show. Everybody was pretty exhausted and these three men just walked onto the stand with a drawing and started talking about this enormous venue they wanted to build." This was no casual meeting--the three partners, Fernando Torres, Jorge Jimanez, and Javier Gonzalez, who have a similar club in Monterrey, Mexico, had already engaged lighting designer Joel Gonzalez. The LD in turn propositioned Martin Professional.

"Martin was the first contact," says Total Structures sales director Rick Stuart. "And because of the established working relationship we have with them, the company recommended us." The evolution of the club was, to borrow a phrase, done on the hoof; Stuart flew out to San Antonio every few weeks, collected the sketched-out ideas, and returned with them to the company's Ventura, CA, base, where they were transposed into full technical drawings. "Then I'd take the completed drawings back to Texas and ask, 'Is this what you need?' At that time the site was still a big hole in the ground, so it was kind of difficult; we had to advise them on things they could and couldn't do. And building regulations are a whole lot different up here."

The design was built from the kernel of a very Texan idea. It centers around a five-pointed star in a circle with triangular structures built off it. "There wasn't much in this job that was stock," Stuart says. "Apart from the 335' (102m) of 12" truss over the rodeo arena, almost everything else, on the mezzanine and dance floor levels, was custom. The 71' (22m) arc of truss that frames the performance stage was built to a perfect fit." That stage is no simple structure either--built by San Antonio-based Texas Scenic Co., it's just over 50' (15m) square, split into three sections of spiral corkscrew-type lift that can raise the upstage section to over head height.

There are also moving dimensions to the light system, so Total Structures engaged Knut Skjonberg of Ventura, CA-based Skjonberg Controls to produce a unique control for a 12-motor system that the proprietors wanted to run via DMX from the lighting console. "It's one of the first DMX hoist controllers we've built," said Skjonberg, "and I must admit I was a little apprehensive about the idea. DMX is such an open architecture, it's easy for the pattern to get skewed." He came up with a solution that maximized safety in the venue.

"I've used several channels instead of one, all conveying the same information, and a comparator. There's also an enable code, and an E-stop with the light desk," Skjonberg says. The enable code means he is currently the only person who can access the system and program moves. He has also limited all moves so that whatever happens, none of the components of the moving system can collide.

When you examine an undertaking like this it can often seem like bigger equates to just more of the same (particularly in terms of equipment), but with Far West Rodeo the compressed time period for the build (architect Oscar Pena, Jr., didn't see ground broken until just before Christmas) meant that installing the lighting system was perhaps the biggest challenge of the whole project. Little Rock, AR-based Concert Staging Services (CSS), long-time collaborator on Total Structures projects, rigged it; project leader Robert Richards outlines the obstacles. "There are 112 points off the red iron, including a dozen baskets. With the exception of the moving pieces, everything is hung off custom deadwire with the red iron eyes welded in right where we specified. Originally Rick [Stuart, who by this time had, much to everyone's relief, become install project coordinator by default] had scheduled truss hanging for four days, but the build schedule was still very much in progress and we often had to wait."

Truth was, nobody really knew where all the building services systems, especially air conditioning, were going to run. "The trusses were difficult shapes--triangles with one curved side to form a slice of a segmented circle, for example. Hanging them required precise points," Richards says. Fortunately Stuart had already decided it would be too risky to pre-determine rigging and pick-ups exactly, but doing it on-site proved a nasty business. "Because of all the work going on below--lots of welders working, and dumpsters and such moving around--the roof area was filled with poisonous fumes. For that reason we'd come in at night to rig. As my team was pulling up one section of truss I'd be figuring out how to rig the next one around some huge chiller pipe."

Richards is fulsome in his praise for San Antonio-based Midco Sling, which supplied all the suspension hardware. "They did everything they possibly could. I'd call through the specification as soon as I'd figured it out and they'd stay up all night making up the wire to exact lengths."

It was a similarly noxious environment that Voight and his team from SAS&L encountered when they followed up the truss work with the lighting and sound systems. And they also had to contend with similarly vague specifications. "They gave us a list of gear and a basic premise of design, and we'd have to draw that up to comply with building codes. Then we had to get it in the air." You could almost hear the diesel fumes choking the back of his throat. For the Martin lighting system, "We had to haul everything up onto the trusses by hand." Like CSS, the team from SAS&L ended up working the moonlight shift, an average 100 hours per week, using a team of a dozen of their own electricians plus support from the IATSE local.

Voight reports cars in the thousands have been parked outside Far West Rodeo ever since its opening performance, by Tracey Lawrence. Part of that success must be attributed to the professional relationship between Total Structures, Martin, Skjonberg, and CSS. Will the same combination of talent be asked to reteam in Phoenix for a second venue? They report it's an idea not too "Far"-fetched.

Contributing editor Steve Moles, a favorite son of Texas by way of Yorkshire, England, can be reached at [email protected]

ARCHITECT Oscar Pena, Jr.


LIGHTING SUPPLIER Martin Professional



CONTROL SUPPLIER Skjonberg Controls

RIGGING Concert Staging Services



ELECTRICAL WIRING Cappadonna Electric

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