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You may have heard of Woodstock. You may even remember it. Joe Cocker, one of the epic 1969 festival’s headliners, was there to wow 500,000 people with a legendary performance. He’s still going strong and currently touring Europe's halls. Three satis&fy crew members joined the entourage to make sure the Sheffield steel (“Sheffield” rings a bell, doesn’t it?) in the veteran soul shouter’s voice comes across loud and clear.
A week of rehearsals and 32 gigs in just 60 days may seem daunting, but Arnd Wagner couldn’t be more unperturbed. “We rehearsed in Nice,” he says, grinning with glee, “in stellar weather with stellar catering.” Nice also hosted the opening gig of the Fire It Up tour, which wrapped up on May 28 in Warsaw. There were many miles of hard road and 32 occasions to set up and tear down equipment between the two venues. This is why s&f pre-assembled, installed and wired its gear in compact cases, giving the crew a convenient, plug-and-play rig to gig with.
As the engineer responsible for the front of house sound, Arnd knows each hall has its unique ‘charms,’ for example, acrylic balustrades lining the back balconies. But the satis&fy crew had come prepared after modeling the venues in 3D back at home. They angled front line arrays down a tad and flew delay lines below the curtains at the back. The solution was no sooner simulated than done. The folks at Woodstock would surely have loved to have a delay line that stops sound from the rear and front speaker systems from overlapping, but it hadn’t been invented yet. The sonic image at the back by the fence must have been positively psychedelic.
The Cocker show is special in that all sounds are captured with analog microphones, pickups and so forth, and rendered in analog mode by the PA. All signal routing in between is digital. This ultra complex, digital signal processing loop required painstaking planning and execution with state-of the-art gear such as a 96-KHz optical fiber network as well as the Dante communication protocol.
The various crews all seem so relaxed and in such infectious good humor that they would have fit in well with Woodstock. They may work in different groups, but most have come to know each other well over the years because Joe Cocker’s tours are a perennial crew magnet. The nationalities are diverse with Brits, Americans, Canadians, Irish, French, Czechs, and Germans on board. Things go smoother and get done faster with a helping hand, which is easily and frequently proffered regardless of crew affiliation. And there’s always time enough for please and thank you.
Bruce Jones, an American, has been manning front of house desks since 2005. He can’t recall doing anything else but mixing sound since leaving high school. He has ten years with Santana, eleven with the Counting Crows and lots of R.E.M. gigs to his credit. He says German audiences are particularly discerning, and quick to offer feedback. “And that's good,” he adds. He also values the team vibe, stating that the tour is “very popular among road people; we laugh a lot.”
This is the third outing for Arnd and his cohorts. As Bruce tells it, Mad Dog Touring, Inc. expressly requested them for the “brilliant job” that they do. Stefan Hüser is at the monitor desk adjacent to the stage. He’s also responsible for the stage equipment.
There are just two lonesome wedges on the floor. Today most artists and musicians prefer in-ear headphones, but not Cocker. He likes his monitoring the way it was at Woodstock and doesn’t want to hear too much bass on stage. Stefan agrees that the Cocker crew is special, “They share the desks and equipment with us and the various opening acts. This is as unusual as it is practical.” But some challenges remain: The backline – that this, the amps used by musicians on stage – requires two power feeds with 110 and 230 volts.
Stefan Schneider’s job is a loftier proposition. The satis&fy PA technician works with the master rigger and local riggers to ensure arrays, which can weigh tons, are properly aligned, aimed and angled at soaring heights to get the job done right.
The set is up in less than three hours after the crew ramps up the gear. The local hands are a big help in getting all the gear in place and working where and as it should. The carpets on stage are rolled out. Everything is ready for the master, who was awarded a Golden Camera early in the year for his life's work. Fire it up, Joe!
Photos: Ralph Larmann