Mike Swinford showcases Ayrton with Jason Aldean
Three-time and reigning Male Vocalist of the Year at the ACM Awards, Jason Aldean, is currently on tour across America and Australia with his We Were Here tour, named after his single Gonna Know We Were Here.
Lighting designer, Mike Swinford, of UpLate Design Inc, was intent on bringing a fresh new look to the country singer’s headline tour, using modern technology and new lighting tools to achieve an inspirational design that would be very different from what Aldean was accustomed to.
“We wanted a departure from the very large ‘rock’ lighting look, with very little video, that we had last year,” explains Swinford. “We started the current tour with a new set based upon many diamond shapes, with diamond-shaped video screens upstage, V-shaped stair treads and thrust tips, and five square lighting pods on Whirligigs which can be twisted into diamond shapes above the artists. To add to this cutting-edge look, we wanted a different style of lighting fixture that would really pop. Ayrton was a good place to look as the company produces unique lighting equipment that looks totally different from any others. What we ended up with was a veritable Ayrton showcase!”
Swinford is very familiar with Ayrton having been one of the first lighting designers in the USA to tour with MagicPanel™ 602 fixtures with Florida Georgia Line in 2013. “We had seen the MagicPanel™602 demo video online at first, but when we saw it in rehearsals we were totally floored by it! It also proved extremely reliable and robust so, despite having no direct experience with them, we decided to try the MagicBlade™-R and MagicDot™-R for Aldean’s tour.
“We took the five diamond video screens upstage and decided to add a surround accent around the large central screen. We used 40 MagicBlade-R fixtures to delineate its outline and create a border. We used the smooth pan and tilt movement to modulate the shape of the borders during the songs, changed the angles of the Blades to create geometric patterns and used the individual emitters to texture the ‘face’ of the fixtures. At other times, they were used to run some very geometric video content, designed by creative designer, Raj Kapoor, to make use of the lighting portion of the wall, each time altering the appearance of the border. It turned out really well.”
“The line of MagicBlades around the screen was really cool and something very different, especially for a country artist,” agrees Swinford’s programmer, Mark Butts. “We used them in a couple of different ways: as edge lighting, as a frame for the video screen and using straight effects. They are versatile and unique fixtures that lent themselves well to the diamond shape of the screen.”
The five overhead lighting pods provide the most dynamic element of the show. Each is formed of 36 MagicDot™-R fixtures (180 in total) arranged in a 6 x 6 matrix and rigged on Show Rig Whirligigs. These Whirligigs raise up and down, track up and down stage, and rotate 360° to give movement across the full X, Y and Z axes. The pods are deployed directly above the stage and obliquely at different angles, sometime right down to almost stage level, and at one point form a wall behind the band as they perform on the forestage. “The pods give us an infinite number of very dynamic, versatile looks which we change for each song and sometimes in the middle of numbers,” says Swinford.
“The MagicDots were programmed in banks to produce formations of sweeps and rolls,” says Butts. “Having a big array of fixtures lent itself to almost limitless combinations of colours and shapes. I made extensive use of the Grand MA2 layout views and the effects to create complex selections and looks.”
This is the first time Swinford has used MagicDot-R and, as a result, has elected to use them on the NBA All Star game in Toronto.
Ten of Ayrton’s giants, the MagicRing™-R9, line the upstage runway behind the band where the large faces of the fixtures are perfect for presenting graphics and creating bold beam strokes. “We were looking for something big and bold with a great output to use as a floor accent light,” says Swinford “The MagicRing-R9 just had to be tried. They are very powerful beasts and really very nice. We had great fun with them – I just wish they had a zoom on them!”
Finally 24 Ayrton IntelliPix-R panels were embedded around the perimeter of the front thrust stage, providing an illuminated focal point in close proximity with the audience, with Aldean in the centre surrounded by light.
Swinford and Butts, spent two weeks in pre-viz programming the show before rehearsals. “Using a pre-viz system gave us a great leg up on the production,” says Butts. “Because of the tight production schedule, which started on Jan 1, had limited rehearsals onsite, we needed to be prepared walking into rehearsals. It also gave us time to step back, and think differently about our approach this year. Working with lighting director, Keith Hoagland, was a huge help; he is intimately involved with Jason’s tour, and a huge resource. We split the programming between us, each handling a different part of the rig, and working with him was really key to getting it done.”
“Our goal this year was to change it up,” says Swinford, “which we did by adding a lot of automation – in the pods and the Ayrton lighting fixtures – which morphs the entire design for different songs and creates different moods throughout. As a result, the number of traditional lights we use – just 60 – is significantly lower than usual.
“Ayrton designs products that are truly innovative. They have taken a different direction from other manufacturers and produced more stylised and unique instruments that really don’t look like anybody else’s.
“They are very robust and very tour-friendly, and they hold up well. For fixtures that have a continuous pan and tilt and do so many spins, they come back to home with such amazing accuracy, which is very important. You just have to look at an Ayrton fixture and you know that it’s a well-made product.”
The lighting equipment for the tour was supplied by Bandit Lites of Nashville.
Jason Aldean’s We Were Here tour will cross to Australia for the first time this March before continuing throughout America until the Autumn. More photos can be found at www.jasonaldean.com
Photo credits : © Chris & Todd Owyoung