Little Big Town

Little Big Town – November 18, 2011 – Honeywell Center, Wabash, IN

As you probably know by now, my son works in the music business in Nashville. He has toured as sound engineer for several country music acts including Chris Cagle and Joe Nichols. Currently, he is approaching his one-year anniversary with Little Big Town, as their monitor engineer and production manager.

Last November, I was able to spend the afternoon and evening watching him do his thing at the last show of their tour in Wabash, Indiana. After meeting LBT members Karen Fairchild, Jimi Westbrook, Kimberly Schlapman and Phillip Sweet (as well as band members and remainder of the crew), I watched the soundcheck, took a group photo of everyone to commemorate the final show, and then got to watch and photograph the entire show. Here are a few of my images from that experience.

 

 (Jon Diener)

 

 (Jon Diener)     (Jon Diener)

 

 (Jon Diener)     (Jon Diener)

 

 (Jon Diener)

 

My son's view at each show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strike and load-out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Big Town members, band and crew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite the nearly 7 hour round trip drive, I enjoyed every minute of my day with Chris and the LBT gang. Being treated like one of the family, I was extremely grateful for the southern hospitality extended to this middle-aged yankee.

Be sure to check out my complete portfolio of live music images here.

Thanks for visiting!

 

 

$120 Coincidence? You Decide.

No riveting stories this week about brushes with greatness, or anything photographically related. Instead, a simple, short anecdote about how music saves the day.

So last night, after a stressful week worrying about finances, I went out to cut my grass in hopes of relieving some stress. Once finished, I came back inside, showered, made some dinner, and settled in for the night with some comfy clothes and my laptop. I was feeling particularly lousy – emotionally, physically, and spiritually spent. So the relaxing evening at home seemed to fit the bill.

Just as I had mentally subscribed to an evening of nothing, my phone rang. The ID on my iPhone said “Dave Stella”, my guitar playing friend, and fellow member of one of my bands, The Grape Smugglers. I figured he was calling about scheduling the next rehearsal for the band. Instead, he told me that the regular bass player for his other band, Dry Bones Revival, had a family emergency and would not be able to make that night’s gig at The Village Idiot in Maumee. He asked if I was available to fill in with them that night, as they had run out of other options. To be honest, my initial feeling was to say, “Sorry, no. I’m really not feeling well.”  But within a millisecond, my brain flip-flopped and said yes. I figured that a night of playing music might take my mind off of my worries, and the money wouldn’t hurt, either.  Now keep in mind, this is 9pm when I’m getting the call, and the gig started in about 45 minutes at a venue 25 minutes away.

Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison

A large mounted print of the iconic Jim Marshall photo of Johnny Cash leaned up against the wall next to me at the gig. It seemed to reflect my mood from earlier that evening.

Luckily, I had already showered and eaten by then, and most of my gear was already loaded into the car. So I threw on some jeans and a decent shirt and headed off to Maumee. After a quick stop at my office to pick up my basses, I made my way through the fading daylight. I arrived at “The Idiot”, unloaded my gear, and got myself ready to play. Fortunately, some of the other band members were still finishing setting up their gear, so I took a couple deep breaths to try to relax.

Fortunately, the gig went pretty smoothly, and the crowd was awesome. Soon, I was immersing myself in the music and starting to forget about my troubles. Afterwards, we packed up our gear, and waited to get paid. When band leader Bobby May passed out the pay for the night, I was thinking I might get $60 or $70 bucks for the night. To my surprise, Bobby handed me $120 for my share – apparently, the bar’s cover charge added up nicely, thanks to all folks who came out to hear us.

This morning, I reviewed our limited bank balances, and determined that I would put the previous night’s pay to good use by doing some Krogering. The refrigerator had been looking pretty bare lately. So as I made my way through the store shelves, I kept an approximate running total in my head, trying not to exceed my available funds.  As the checkout clerk  totaled up my haul, I held my breath. And the final tally for the groceries?

Exactly $120.00.  I was stunned by the fact that about twelve hours earlier, I was stressing about how I would be able to cover all the current bills and still put food on the table. Then out of nowhere, I landed a gig that paid exactly what I would need to get over another financial hurdle.  So, depending on your belief system, this was either a freaky coincidence, or something much bigger. My money is on the latter, as this is not the first time I have been shown a path through the financial minefield, at the last possible moment.

More Avon

When I started my last blog post “Avon Calling“, I had no idea it would end up where it did. So I ran out of room for some of the other text and images that I wanted share from Thursday night’s Joe Nichols show in Avon, Ohio. Don’t worry, this post will be like lunch the day after Thanksgiving – lots of unrelated leftovers that are still good after the main meal.

The previous post focused on people working behind the scenes, so I thought it only fitting to highlight the unsung heroes of Joe’s crew. There are several people involved with Joe’s career and tour (agent, management, publicist, record label folks, and tour manager), but I thought I would focus on the guys in the trenches at every show. You’ve seen them at shows – cargo shorts, black t-shirt, walkie-talkie – scurrying about like ants moving a giant sequoia tree, one leaf at a time. They are usually the first ones in the venue and the last to leave at night, often putting in 12 – 14 hour days. Without them, the show simply would not happen.

front of house - Avon

Chris mixing the show in Avon, OH

If you’ve been following my blathering for any length of time, you’ll know that my son, Chris, has worked for country artist Joe Nichols for a couple years. During that time, he has served as the Front of House Sound Engineer, and last year became the tour’s Production Manager, as well. I won’t begin to pretend that I could list all of his tasks and duties, but I’ll try to cover what I know. Chris’ work for a specific show begins weeks before the show date. As Production Manager, he interfaces with the venue, the contractor supplying the sound and light systems, and any other necessary parties to go over all the technical needs for that show (sufficient power, the kind of speakers, any needed backline gear for fly dates, stagehands, etc.). He also works with equipment companies to obtain endorsement or discount deals for specific products they use. Chris also handles their own equipment needs (mixing consoles, microphones, direct boxes, wireless systems, interface equipment), as well procuring expendable items for the band and crew (batteries, guitar strings, picks, gaffer tape, parts, etc.).

Joe Nichols stage

Chris' view during a typical show

On show day, all three crew members unload their equipment trailer, with the help of the locally-hired stagehands. All of the cases are rolled or carried to the stage and set up, or put in a staging area if another act is headlining and sets up first. When they are cleared to take the stage, all the gear is set up – drums, keyboards, guitar amps and pedal boards, mic stands, microphones, monitor console, and the front of house mixing console. Hundreds of cables are run to and from the stage, and between items on stage. Once this is complete, Chris “tunes” the PA system. This is where certain test signals and various reference recordings are played through the system, as he evaluates the characteristics of that particular system in that particular venue. Every day is different, so tuning the system to get a good starting point is critical. Once he has dialed in any needed adjustments, band members take the stage with their instruments and begin the soundcheck. Since most of the settings on Chris’ console are saved for each song, much of it can be recalled at the touch of a button. But it is still necessary to run through a few songs with the band, to verify everything is working properly and to fix anything that isn’t.

Once the show begins, Chris’s primary task is mixing the dozens of signals coming from the band’s instruments and microphones to create a pleasing mix for the audience. While the show is underway, his hands are in constant motion, adjusting levels, switching effects on and off, and dialing in the perfect blend of all the elements. After the show, Chris and the rest of the crew pack up the gear, load up the trailer and prepare to do it all again the next day.

monitor engineer for Joe Nichols

Ryan in monitor world during a show

Ryan is the monitor engineer for Joe’s tour. Although he is also involved in all of the unloading, set up, connecting, and tear-down of the stage gear, his primary function at soundcheck and during the show is to mix all band’s instruments and vocals into separate feeds for each of the performers’ in-ear monitors or floor wedges. This is an important task, since much of the way an artist performs is based on how well they can or cannot hear what is going on. Imagine trying to mix all the inputs from a band, in real time during a show, to get a pleasing balance. Now multiply that by 7 or more, and you get the idea of what the monitor engineer is up to over on the side of the stage. Another one of Ryan’s tasks at each venue is determine what radio frequencies can be used for the wireless microphones, wireless guitar setups, and wireless in-ear monitor systems. Once all the necessary units are adjusted and tested, they are handed out to the band for use during soundcheck and the show. Also, if anything goes wrong with the band’s gear or sound system during the show, Ryan is the one to dart onstage to swap out a bad cable or troubleshoot a problem.

Joe Nichols crew and merchandise

Taylor is rarely seen without a big smile

The third member of Joe’s “men in the trenches” is Taylor. Like Chris and Ryan, Taylor helps with the gear load-in, setup and connection.  But later in the day, Taylor is found at the merchandise table in the venue, selling T-shirts, and other “merch” to the loyal fans. Besides just selling these items, Taylor is responsible for all aspects of the merch part of the tour – procuring the items (which can often be tricky when you’re in a different city every day), sorting and tracking all the items, and dealing with the promotor or venue regarding any percentages they are owed. At some shows, the venue’s staff sells the merchandise for the artist, so Taylor often hangs out near the stage to help out with any issues.

So as you can see, this triumvirate of titans handles way more at each show than most people will ever know. Ironically, when they’re doing their jobs well, you don’t even notice them. So if you happen to see Joe live someday, show some love for these guys out there working hard, gettin’ it done for Joe, his band, and especially for the fans.

As always, thanks for visiting the blog!

Avon Calling

OK, I’ll admit it. This is going to be another post about me and a recent Joe Nichols show. But the angle may be a little different than what you might be expecting. And of course, I’ll throw in some visuals along the way, for those who get bored with all those silly words.

All Pro Freight Stadium

click image to enlarge

Unlike the last couple years my son has worked for Joe Nichols, their tour has made several stops in the area so far this year. Like any proud father, I make it a point to visit with Chris and the guys whenever the schedule permits. So this past Thursday, I headed off down the Ohio Turnpike to Avon, Ohio. Joe was opening for country superstar Alan Jackson at All Pro Freight Stadium with ticket proceeds benefitting the Boys & Girls Club of Lorain County. It didn’t really hit me at first. But as the day went on, it began to dawn on me just how much work had to be done to bring this event to fruition – much of the work being done by volunteers. Now, I’m not saying a great deal of hard work isn’t required for every concert event. But most of Joe’s shows that I’ve attended, were held at dedicated music venues or fairgrounds, where much of the needed infrastructure was already in place.  In contrast, this show was being staged in a Frontier League baseball stadium. So virtually EVERYTHING had to be procured, brought in, setup, staffed, and struck in a very short time frame, while protecting the delicate field and grounds, and all on a minimal operating budget. No small feat, to be sure.

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Spring Update

Well, hey everyone! Spring is here! (OK, officially about 24 hrs. from now) It’s time for an update on what’s coming my way in the near future:

– Time Peace – We have a couple dates in April at Pub 51 on Woodville Rd., and there are a few tentative gigs penciled in for the summer so far. Stay tuned to my ‘Schedule’ page for dates and times.

– The Grape Smugglers – Comprised of 2 guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, and a horn section, the band is covering a fascinating spectrum of classic soul and R&B tunes, as well as some early rock gems, and some of the standout pop tunes of the 70s. Still no gigs booked as of right now, but our song list is filling out nicely. Look for some interesting things to happen with this ensemble.

– Fill-in & Sub Gigs – I played a few fill-in gigs with The Homewreckers in 2009, and hope to do more with this band this year.  I’ve also done some fill-in gigs with Mt Fuji & the Eruptions, a good-time party band that covers all the bar favorites.

– Musicals – Spring means high school musical season is in overdrive. I recently played for Bedford High School’s outstanding production of “Urinetown: The Musical”. I’m currently doing Whiteford High School’s “Annie Get Your Gun” this week, and will soon be starting rehearsals for Ottawa Hills High School’s presentation of “Annie”. These evening rehearsals, on top of my regular day job, make for some very long, exhausting days. But, I’m glad to be playing these shows and I’m meeting some great new players.

Be sure to check out my gig schedule for details on dates, times and places.

Spinning Even More Plates…

Well, hey everyone! The holidays have come and gone, and my musical world keeps adding projects. Here’s an update on what’s coming my way in the near future:

– Time Peace – I took over bass duties with this band in April of 2009. We play a variety of classic rock and pop from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, with a few other things sprinkled in.

– The Grape Smugglers – Slowly gaining some momentum, this ensemble shows a great deal of promise. Comprised of 2 guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, and a horn section, the band is covering a fascinating spectrum of classic soul and R&B tunes, as well as some early rock gems, and some of the standout pop tunes of the 70s. Our first “official” gig was one set at a fall benefit in Waterville, but we had some great feedback from listeners.

– Hearts Afire – This is the Epworth United Methodist Praise Band.  I play with this group when my schedule permits. We cover many of the popular contemporary pop/rock praise songs, as well as a few classics.

– Fill-in & Sub Gigs – I played a few fill-in gigs with The Homewreckers in 2009, and hope to do more with this band in the future.  I’ve also started playing some fill-in gigs with Mt Fuji & the Eruptions, a good-time party band that covers all the bar favorites.

– Musicals – With spring just around the corner, the musical season is about get wound up. I currently have shows booked at Bedford High School, Whiteford High School, and Ottawa Hills High School (pending).

It’s been a challenge keeping up with everything, learning lots of new tunes in the last 6 months (over 100), and practicing. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Be sure to check out my gig schedule for details on dates, times and places.

Spinning More Plates…

Well, hey everyone! Summer is here, and my musical universe is filling up with orbiting projects. Some of the current endeavors:

  • Time Peace – I took over bass duties this spring and with a few gigs under my belt, things are settling in. We play a variety of classic rock and pop from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, with a few other things sprinkled in.
  • The Grape Smugglers – While we’re not officially a band yet, we’ve been rehearsing since early spring. This is an interesting combination of instruments and talents. Comprised of 2 guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, and a horn section, the band is covering a fascinating spectrum of classic soul and R&B tunes, as well as some early rock gems, and some of the standout pop tunes of the 70s. I’m expecting some promising results from this ensemble. Stay tuned…
  • Hearts Afire – This is the Epworth United Methodist Praise Band. I began playing occasionally as a sub here & there, but that has turned into a regular bi-weekly gig. We cover many of the popular contemporary pop/rock praise songs, as well as a few classics.
  • Fill-in & Sub Gigs – I recently booked 2 sub dates with Toledo’s powerhouse band, The Homewreckers. Amazingly, I’ve never actually heard them play before, despite their ubiquitous presence over the years.
  • Musicals – With summer upon us, the musical season is in a bit of hibernation period. But when the school year cranks back up in the fall, I plan to do several musicals at area schools.

It’s been a challenge keeping up with everything, learning lots of new tunes in the last 3 months (almost 100), and practicing. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Springing Ahead

Well, the days are getting longer, the temperatures are becoming less unbearable, and tonight we set our clocks ahead by one hour to begin Daylight Savings Time. It also seems that, after months of virtually no activity, my musical life is starting to spring ahead as well.

In addition to the bi-weekly appearances with the Epworth United Methodist praise band, I’ve also just taken over the bass duties for the local cover band, Time Peace. Gary, the former bassist has decided to move on, and may friend and guitarist for the band, Rick Thomas, asked if I wanted the job. We’re currently in rehearsals, getting the material worked out, and will be hitting the gigs before long. Our first weekend is April 24th & 25th, so I’ll be posting details on that gig soon.

I’m also in the early rehearsing/getting-to-know-each-other stages of another band, which may or may not develop into something tangible. There is definitely some talent involved, but whether we can work things out logistically and creatively, remains to be seen.

Also, next week I begin rehearsals for “The Music Man” at Whiteford High School, with performances on March 20, 21 and 22. Immediately following that show will be Pippin at Ottawa Hills High School on March 27, 28 and 29.