ST. LOUIS – Country music superstar Brad Paisley has seen just about everything in his illustrious 20-year career, but until Friday July 10, he’d never had fans “cheer” by flashing their car headlights at him. Welcome to Live From The Drive-In, a three night, three-artists series of shows that marked Live Nation’s first foray into the world of drive-in concerts.
Like the flashing headlight and honking horn ovations that greet Paisley and his fellow headliners, El Monstero and Nelly, at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in St. Louis, this precedent-shattering weekend was filled with “firsts.” Navigating his way through this uncharted territory was Chip Self, owner of Logic Systems, which provided audio, video and lighting for the three-night series of shows.
“This was a ‘first’ for me, to be sure,” said Self. “The biggest challenge in terms of lighting was that the shows were early, which meant dealing with the sun for half of the show, but you get that at outdoor festivals too– although not usually for the headliner. The major difference with this being a drive-in show was that everything was so spread out. This site got really, really huge, relative to the size of the show – and with people so spread out, the noise was substantially lower – ‘honking ovations’ notwithstanding.”
The expansive size of the drive-in lot, along with the spread of the audience due to social distancing, made it a challenge to give the stage a substantial presence, according to Self. “The site was so large, that even a relatively large stage (Stageline SAM550) seemed small in context,” he said. “We spread Maverick MK1 Spots on the deck, all the way across the width of the stage and on both work wings (over 100’). The goal was to go as wide as possible and let the beams go beyond the stage roof into the sky, in an effort to make the stage feel larger.”
Self, who designed and ran the show for El Monstero (Paisley and Nelly had their own lighting designers) put together the entire rig and managed the project in addition to running FOH for Nelly. He specified a collection of fixtures that included 12 Maverick MK1 Spot and 14 Rogue R2 Wash units from CHAUVET Professional for the three-day series rig. Flown on the mid-stage and upstage trusses, the Rogue units were the principal wash fixtures for all three headliners.
Planning the rig in advance, Self made flexibility a key criterion for fixture selection, given that the drive-in series would feature artists from different genres. “We wanted fixtures that would be bright enough to read in daylight and versatile enough to create looks that supported each show’s individual character,” he said. “Having three different designers really helped get different results from the same system. Each of us approached the task quite differently.
“Our own Erin Wolf from Logic Systems did a great job running lights for the Nelly show,” continued Self. “Tanner Douglas, our lighting system tech also did excellent work under challenging circumstances. I couldn’t do this without their help.
“This was a new experience for everyone – artists, crews and audience – and I think we were all happy with the results. It was as cathartic for the artists and crews as it was for the audience. As people, we have an engrained need for this type of community experience and for art.”
Also encouraging was the behavior of the crowds. “A big question mark for me was if the audience would respect and follow the rules,” said Self. “I knew that if they didn’t, the county would not approve Live Nation to do more shows later in the summer. I was thrilled to see that everyone was very respectful, and followed the rules. I hope this means we’ll get to do more similar events. When everyone stays safe and follows the rules, we can do more shows for them– it’s a win-win.”