Brightman, Hoffman, And Bandit Help Grateful Dead Bid Fare Thee Well
It was a celebration of epic proportions as the four original members of The Grateful Dead (Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, and Bob Weir) reunited at Soldier’s Field, almost twenty years to the day after they played their last concert with Jerry Garcia.
They were joined onstage by frequent musical comrades Trey Anastasio, Bruce Hornsby, and Jeff Chimenti. 70,000 Deadheads filled the stadium each night on July 3, 4, and 5 while millions streamed the show online and watched on Pay Per View to say goodbye to one of the most iconic bands in history. 2015 also marked the Grateful Deads’ 50th year in the business. The show was produced by Peter Shapiro and Madison House Presents.
Bandit Lites was proud to provide the lighting for the final three shows, where lighting designers Candace Brightman (The Grateful Dead’s original, long time LD) and Paul Hoffman used more than 500 fixtures to create breathtaking looks.
Seven months earlier, the team found themselves going through a lengthy design process, with many variables, including a set and video design that was still unknown. The band ultimately decided on an industrial look with a small header piece of roses and a custom made ‘Steal Your Face’.
“Candace wanted to create a design that would be a natural ‘follow on’ from her organic designs of the past while incorporating the capabilities of new technology,” said Hoffman.
“There wasn’t a set and nothing upstage of the band to light,” said Brightman. “The audience behind the stage needed a clear view of the band. And the first half of the show was in daylight.”
“It was also unclear for much of the process how large a role TV or film would play in the final shows, so the tendency was to over-design and then subtract what might not be needed down the line,” added Hoffman about the design process. “At one point we had several more trusses and fixtures than ended up in the final design – mostly to support a full film shoot.”
“The phrase ‘long strange trip’ has been bandied about a lot in the last few weeks, but it really and truly was one starting in December last year,” said Bandit Lites’ Dizzy Gosnell. “Candace and Paul started throwing ideas around and I doodled their ideas, emailed them back, got edits, tweaks, and ‘eureka’ moments and carried on to the next iteration of the design. It ended up not a million miles away from where it started, but having the comparative luxury of time to process new versions it was a totally organic design process, truly fitting for the history of designs that Candace has created with the Dead in the past.”
The heavy lifting was done by 50 Robe BMFLs, with additional gear consisting of 50 Mac Vipers, 60 VL3000 Spots, 36 VL3500 Washes, 32 Robe Pointe, 8 VL 3500 Spots, 12 GLP X4, 28 Mac 2000 Profile, 16 Clay Paky Sharpy, 30 2-light Mole, 12 Atomic Strobe, 3 GrandMA2 Lights, and 2 GrandMA2 Full consoles.
“The BMFL fixtures really were the spectacle of the show, outshining everything else,” said Hoffman. “They were hung to follow the general outline of the system and were also pointed inward to the 30 ft diameter scrim custom built to go inside the circle and serve as a projection surface. This is where the BMFL gobo animation system was able to be used to maximum effect. We were also very impressed with the PAN/TILT speed of such a large unit. They are really capable of moving from position to position very quickly and accurately compared to the more sluggish fixtures of the past.”
In addition to the BMFLs, 12 GLP X4 units were placed around the centre truss to add a splash of colour with the BMFLs. “Their lightweight, low-power and easy availability from both vendors made them the obvious choice – and their pixel functions came in useful during the more spacy portions of the show such as Drums and Space,” said Hoffman. “You can always count on them for high reliability and ease of use.”
Dizzy echoed Hoffman’s sentiments saying, “I must say how very impressed I was with the BMFL heads from Robe, and of course the GLP X4 LED units. Both of them are destined to become as ‘rock’n’roll’ standard as par cans in the future.”
With 500 fixtures on the stage and hundreds of thousands watching, Bandit worked tirelessly to ensure every single one performed flawlessly, an effort noted by Brightman.
“Did you notice?” she asked. “They all worked all the time. I think that's amazing.”
And while there were not any issues with the fixtures, the biggest challenge for the event came in the form of unpredictability during the concert as the band performed something both Hoffman and Brightman are skilled professionals at handling.
“There was no predicting how the band was going to play most of the songs,” explained Brightman. “There were lots of surprises.”
“There can really be no true “choreography” of the lights to the music,” said Hoffman. “Instead the operator, Candace, must operate the lighting console like another musical instrument – playing along with the band as they improvise, jam, and meander their way through the set. It’s only 30 years of experience lighting this band that will give her insight into what might happen next or what direction they might be headed musically.”
“Production Manager Robbie Taylor and Derek Featherstone had the really hard task of putting this event together, and about two months from the Chicago shows, two more shows in Santa Clara the week before were added,” added Dizzy. “With no trucking time for shipping stages, sound, lights, video, delays, etc. things got very interesting very fast. How Robbie and his team pulled that aspect off in the middle of a hugely busy summer concert season astounded me, as well as the crews in both cities who did exceptional work from beginning to end.”
Brightman called her experience with Bandit ‘wonderful,’ adding “Diz Gosnell made all this work so beautifully. It was extremely difficult because there were a lot of unnecessary changes and delays. And in spite of 50 emails a day, he put together a perfect show and was consistently funny and low key. And did I say everything worked - there were no problems! I think that's really impressive.”
“This really was an historic event and we at Bandit were so very proud to be given the chance to light this event by Candace, Paul, and Robbie,” finished Dizzy. “With the much talked about rainbow over the stage on the first night in California, to zero rain or weather events in Chicago for all three shows, someone was certainly smiling down on this farewell.”
While the Chicago shows were a wonderful ‘fare thee well’ to one of the biggest rock acts in history, it can be assured the Grateful Dead will never be forgotten. Deadheads and others will keep the Grateful Dead alive well into the future as the massive influence of the Grateful Dead assures their place in history.
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