Sean Keegan got into light through sound; and it is his ear for music that still guides his lighting vision today, as the house LD at Washington, D.C.’s jam band haven, Gypsy Sally’s. A self-described “sound guy,” Keegan was initially hired by the freewheeling Georgetown club to run its audio system, but quickly found himself handling lighting duties.
It was an ideal fit. Drawing on his audio experience, he became skilled at busking along with visiting jam bands, most of which turned up at the club without their LDs, as they set forth on their improvisational journeys. Keegan’s resourcefulness isn’t limited to his lighting console either, as he often has to come up with innovative ways for bands to arrange their floor package truss, given the unusual shape of the second story club’s stage.
The creative challenges suit Keegan well. He is so absorbed in his multi-faceted role at Gypsy Sally’s that he describes it as a “lifestyle more than a job.” Taking a break from his busy schedule, he sat down to talk to us about that lifestyle and the rewards it offers.
We know you maintain quite a schedule. So, how many shows do you light a week at Gypsy Sally’s?
“Well, I am the full time Production Manager so I run every show whenever we are open. Sometimes that is four days a week, but I can get six or even seven day weeks too. It’s really all dependent on our show schedule. I handle our lights and sound, so I tend to have my hands pretty full.”
How do you prepare for shows? Can you give us a glimpse of what a day is like when you’re lighting a show that night?
“I first try to come up with some vibe colors or scenes I might want to work off of for that night. If I am really familiar with a band, this is a lot easier than it is with one I haven’t lit before. After the band gets here and I get their final stage positions, I will set up solo spot positions and finalize a few scenes. For the rest of the show, I tend to work on the fly and feel things out as I go. It’s hard to pre plan a lot with jam bands since even they don’t have a plan!”
Gypsy Sally’s has a unique location being on the second story of a building in Georgetown. Are there any special challenges involved in being the house LD there in terms of power availability or space?
“Our stage is a bit of a weird shape. This can lead to some trouble with touring acts that want to add truss rigs along the back or sides of the stage. However, I always work with them to reshape the design in order to fit correctly. As far as power, I have been blessed with tons of clean, separate, 20 amp circuits all over my stage. I have never had an issue with having enough power or dirty power.”
You get a lot of great jam bands at your venue, which most often means a lot of unscripted improvisational shows. Do you do a lot of busking? How do you keep up with the flow of the music?
“Well, I think the key to jam bands is that you have to feel the music and where the flow of the jam is going. Obviously, being on tour you can really dial it in more specifically, but as a house guy doing this all on the fly, I find I rely a lot on my audio background. Knowing where the mix is taking me allows my lights to follow my mixes. Also having a musical background myself, I try to find the natural places where if I was playing myself I would change the jam to a different feel. This makes running everything feel more like playing an instrument as part of the band than anything else.”
Do you familiarize yourself with visiting bands before they come?
“I try to; however, I have so many acts and pull double duty, so it is hard. And most of the time even if I do, with a jam band the albums or recorded material will not be like what I will get out of them on stage. That’s why I rely so heavily on my instinct to follow the jam and essentially play along with it.”
You run the boards for a lot of visiting acts, so what percentage of the bands bring their own LDs?
“I would say maybe 10-percent. It’s actually surprising how few I see.”
What’s the most important thing you learned from those visiting LDs that you do see?
“For me I think it’s just learning new looks or how they might do something I never thought of before. I truly believe the day you stop learning you should just quit this business. You should always be trying to better yourself.”
How often do you rehang the fixtures in your rig to get a new look?
“Unfortunately, not often. My speaker line arrays are quite large and limit the angles I can get from the front truss. The shape of the stage overall is quite hard to really change my current design. I would like to add some different pieces to add some more options, but with the equipment I have right now I think it is the ideal positions. But like I said before, if another touring LD comes in and shows me something I hadn’t thought of I would definitely be open to new looks and options.”
What’s the best thing about being a house LD?
“I wouldn’t necessarily say this pertains strictly to the LD positions but more of a house production position capacity in general, but I think it is working with some really great bands that you may have never heard of on your own. I have made genuine friendships with not only local acts, but many touring acts just from seeing and working with the same guys for years. It’s one of the most gratifying things when you see that smile on their face when they see you.
“I guess it’s just that this lifestyle isn’t for everyone. It requires a lot of hard work and dedication. It really is a lifestyle and not just a job. And you need to be prepared for that if you want to get into it. But if you do, it becomes an addiction and the end of a hard day’s work is an amazing feeling. It’s the sense of accomplishment that you created something that will never happen exactly the same ever again. It’s that feeling that keeps you coming back for more.”