This year, Father’s Day was extra-special for me. I received a gift no amount of money could ever buy. Of course, 4 years of tuition payments to Belmont University didn’t hurt.
So you may have read my previous post “10 Years and 180 Degrees Later…” about how an event can be significant for one reason when it occurs, but have another, even greater meaning later in life. The event I’m referring to is the Steely Dan concert at DTE Energy Music Theater in June, 2000. It was not only a group that my son and I greatly admired, but it was my son’s first ‘real’ concert experience. We were both blown away by not only the performance that evening, but the overall DTE experience as well. Chris was especially in awe of the concert venue’s magnitude and sound system.
But little did we know…
On Father’s Day of this year, ten years (to the week) after that memorable DTE show, Chris and I were back at the venue. But this time, we were on the other side of the concert equation.
For over two years now, Chris has been Front of House sound engineer for Show Dog – Universal recording artist Joe Nichols. For the last year or so, he has also been the tour’s Production Manager. It just so happened that the tour was passing through the area on Father’s Day. And the venue? You guessed it… DTE Energy Music Theater.
The band and crew arrived at DTE around 11am Sunday morning, following a 12-hour trip on the tour bus from northern Wisconsin the previous evening. I arrived about 45 minutes later, and after making my way through security, I drove up a secluded drive to the backstage area to meet up with Chris.
Pulling up to the loading dock, I noticed Joe’s bus and equipment trailer, as well as several other buses belonging to opening act Chris Young and headliner Blake Shelton. Chris and the rest of the crew were just finishing up unloading the trailer with the band’s gear and had moved much of it to the stage area. Before they could finish setting up their gear on stage, they had to wait on Blake Shelton’s crew to finish their setup and soundcheck. This was likely to be a couple hours, so we headed to one of the assigned dressing rooms / production offices in the backstage area to stash our belongings and then off to the dining area for lunch.
After lunch, we headed out to the theater, where Chris finished setting up his mixing console and getting things prepped for the upcoming soundcheck. Blake’s band finally took the stage for a haphazard romp through a few songs, which was allegedly considered to be their soundcheck. Once they were wrapped up and had cleared the stage, Chris and his crew finished moving their band’s gear into place, setting up microphones and running countless cables. Within about 30 minutes, things were ready for the band to begin their soundcheck. But there was a small problem. Joe and several band members had not yet returned from an afternoon golf outing. Within a few minutes, Zach, the tour manager, placed a call to the guys requesting their prompt return.
Around 3:30pm, everyone had returned and the band took to the stage to begin warming up, tweaking their gear and starting the soundcheck. With Joe dressed in khaki shorts, a golf shirt, flip-flops and a backward-facing red baseball cap, the band ran through a few songs and making some small adjustments here and there. Meanwhile, somewhere north of Row P, Chris was busy making adjustments of his own at the mixing console. In less than an hour, the soundcheck was complete, and the crew for opener Chris Young began assembling their equipment on stage in front of Joe’s band’s gear. Joe’s band and crew all went their separate ways – some headed to the tour bus out back, some went to the dining area to eat, and some lingered on the loading dock speaking to loved ones on cell phones.
At 7pm, the show began with Chris Young doing his set, while Joe’s guys finished showering and changing in preparation for their hour long set. I watched a couple of Chris Young’s songs from offstage, near the monitor console, then headed back to the production office to prep my camera gear for a frenzied hour of shooting my seventh Joe Nichols show. Once the opener’s set was finished, there was a 30-minute intermission while their gear was struck from the stage, and Joe’s setup was moved back in place. Chris, Ryan and Taylor roamed the stage checking everything one last time before manning their posts for the show – Chris at front of house, Ryan on the monitor console, and Taylor, usually in charge of merchandise sales, was free to watch the show since DTE was taking care of merch sales that night.
At exactly 8pm, a local radio DJ (with the stereotypical name like “Johnny Z in the morning” or “Q103’s JimBob Jr.”) introduced Joe. As the intro music pumped through the massive sound system, the band took their places on stage, and within a few seconds, they launched into their opening tune, “What’s a Guy Gotta Do?”. The soft diffused light of the afternoon had now given way to harsh, direct light from the late evening sun. So getting proper exposures for much of the set was a challenge, to say the least.
The next 60 minutes was pretty much a blur for me, as I was intently focused on shooting as much as possible. I remained in the stage wings, shooting the first 35-40 minutes of the show. Then I moved out front to shoot a few images of Chris at work, and eventually I ended up at the foot of the stage on the right side to shoot the remainder of the songs. After Joe’s encore of “Tequila Makes Here Clothes Fall Off”, I clicked off my 978th image for the day and put the camera gear away for the night.
Chris and the crew struck their band’s gear from the stage to make way for headliner Blake Shelton and his band. I finished disassembling and packing all my camera components, and then sat down to rest for a bit after being on my feet most of the day. Chris came back to the production office and crashed for a few minutes, relieved to be done with most of his 13-hour day. The final tasks of packing his front of house console and associated cabling would have to wait until Blake had completed his portion of the show around 11pm. A section of seats had to be unbolted and moved in order to extract the console from the designated area. So for the next 30 minutes or so, Chris and I were able to hang out and reflect on what we had just experienced. The magnitude of the 10-year anniversary was not lost on either of us.
And while we were both exhausted, we couldn’t have been happier with the day we had just shared – just like that magical June evening in 2000.
See selected images from the show in this gallery at my photo website.