When phenomenally successful R&B star, Usher, embarked on his latest tour - The UR Experience - he replied on the cream of production providers. Kicking off in Montreal, Canada, in November 2014 and ending at the O2, London, in March, it spanned the glove, visiting various continents and thrilling fans the world over. During its final leg in Europe, TPi's Kelly Murray visited the crew to talk tech talent and creative vision.
The UR Experience’s touring team is led by industry veteran and Production Manager, Harold Jones [Beyonce, Destiny’s Child] and new addition, Tour Manager, Vizion Jones. Facilitated by an abundance of top service providers and promoted by Live Nation, the show itself is another stunning visual creation from the Silent House crew, namely Baz Halpin and Chris Nyfield. The design is brought to life by Lighting Designer Eric Wade, who has toured with Usher for 15 years now. At the helm of the tour’s lighting operations as it travels across the world, Wade is still very excited by the tour, five months after it began.
This is due in part to his penchant for incorporating the latest lighting technology available. Sat on a rather luxurious Beat The Street tour bus post soundcheck in the UK, Wade told TPi: “Usher wanted The UR Experience to be able to change every day, he wanted people to feel every part of it as it evolves.”
This is certainly the impression the singer’s fans get, as the daily technical rehearsals are not abandoned until every aspect meets Usher’s specific criteria. The set changes daily too, so if you were to visit the show in more than one city, chances are you’d get your money’s worth from the performer. Prior to the tour’s first outing, the show was programmed during rehearsals at Rock Lititz Studios in Pennsylvania, followed by full production rehearsal at the Liacouras Center of Temple University in Philadelphia. “We had a good amount of programming time, thanks largely to the experience of Production Manager Harold Jones, who really knows what it takes to make a good show. We couldn’t have done half of what we did without Harold making sure we had the time to do it,” said Wade.
LIGHTING AND SHOW DESIGN
Wade’s lighting rig, supplied by VER, comprised an array of fixtures, some of which Wade described as his ‘new toys’. The rider includes 56 Martin Professional Viper AirFX, 55 Martin Professional MAC 2000 XB washes, 15 Martin Professional Quantum washes, seven Martin MAC 700’s, 16 Clay Paky Sharpy beams, 10 Clay Paky sharpy washes, 90 TMB Solaris LED Mozarts, 43 TMB Solaris LED Flares, 216 GLP X4’s, 25 Aryton Magic blades, 64 Aryton Magic panel R’s and 12 Elation Professional Sniper 2Rs.
Working from upstage-automated ladders, one of the reasons LD and Show Director Wade turned to the high-energy hybrid Sniper was for its intensity and brightness when compared to the overall rig.
Associate LD Eric Marchwinski and Assistant LD Jason Winfree both worked extensively to incorporate the Snipers into the UR Experience. “Eric Marchwinski made these lights do everything possible for me and Jason found places in the system for them and relentlessly made sure they were in position each day and looked right. My team is amazing!” stated Wade.
With the ability to produce beam looks, spread scanner and laser-like effects at dizzying speeds, and with 14 dichroic colours and 17 static gobos to choose from, the Sniper gives designers a lot of options. But for Wade it is the support he has received that has been the determining factor. “It is like haveing the support I used to get back in the day when everyone jumped on a problem as soon as it happened, or helped make changes to things when we threw out an idea or improvement.”
For Wade, getting quick and timely support from manufacturers is a major reason to specify their lights. “If I put a pile of lights on a show and know I have the support from the lighting vendor and manufacturer, it makes a difference when designing a system,” he said.
A staggering total of 216 GLP X4 S LED spots are mainly deployed on the upstage wall. Wade commented: “I wanted a wall of light from the very beginning and Baz and Chris made the space. The lighting system is a combination of asymmetrical and symmetrical. However, the GLP ladders are symmetrical and run on automation up / down / stage left / stage right and we got many different looks out of them as a result.”
Wade, who has been working with Usher since 2001 (initially alongside Peter Morse), can trace his own history with the GLP X4 S back a long way. “It was one of the first LED fixtures to feature in my designs back at the beginning of the LED craze. They were a great fixture then, but over the years it has developed into a fixture that is highly dependable, very bright and has many bells and whistles.”
He added that having Silent House creative directors Baz Halpin and Chris Nyfield on the team has been a huge bonus. “They are great to work with, but being lighting guys as well really makes a difference, as they left me all kinds of places to put lights within the set. When everyone starts throwing out ideas it evolves into something we can all be really proud of.”
Despite the large quantity deployed, the X4 is introduced very gradually into the show. “I didn’t want to turn on all 216 units on the upstage wall in the first song and lose that element of surprise, because when they come on at once, you can’t help but look on in awe.
“So instead, we started introducing them behind twin wall covers, which look like frosted glass, that Baz and Chris designed. In this way they start as a scenic element and end up uncovered with a giant rock ‘n’ roll look of tight beams and colour. In fact they are one of the main focal points of the system.”
Wade is also the first US-based LD to put Ayrton’s Radical new MagicPanel R out on a major tour. His rig includes 64 active MagicPanel-R units in the air, plus 25 Ayrton MagicBlade R fixtures under a transparent forestage. The common component of the entire Radical line is an individually-controllable, 15W RGBW multi-chip LED source coupled with a 67mm diameter 4.5° collimator optic. MagicPanel-R puts these emitters into a five by five matrix, while MagicBlade-R mounts them in a unique, seven-in-a-row, in-line configuration. Both fixtures feature a fast moving yoke with continuous, unlimited rotation on the pan and tilt axes. It is not the first time Wade has used Ayrton lighting products. “I first used Ayrton’s MagicPanel 602 on Maroon 5’s Overexposed European tour in January 2014. During the three-week run the MagicPanel 602 fixtures were the only ones we had absolutely no problems with. We didn’t have to change a single one! I liked them so much I decided to incorporate 64 of the new MagicPanel-R into my design for Usher’s international tour.”
Wade has made MagicPanel-R the main feature of four automated, diamond-shaped lighting pods, custom-made for the tour, each hosting 16 MagicPanel-R units. The pods are suspended above the stage and can be raised, lowered and tilted to any angle above the performers to create different shapes and looks throughout the show.
“I used Control Freak Systems and Earlybird Visual to pixel-map all of the MagicPanel units which enables us to send video into them as well. Control Freak Systems is the control backbone of my show while Earlybird Visual did all of the MA 3D files for the Ayrton products to give us beautiful 3D renderings of the fixtures, along with great pre-programming.”
The stage incorporates a number of lifts that are raised and lowered to deliver performers and create scenic elements. The combined movement of lifts and pods with that of the Ayrton fixtures above and below stage creates a very dynamic show. “At one point - during a breakdown in OMG - the pods are flown in so low as to wrap around Usher in a shape I created as reminiscent of the ‘Beamer’ space ship from Falling Skies (the post-apocalyptic sci-fi television series). Usher dances within the ‘spaceship’ while the MagicPanel-R configuration sprinkles light all around him before all are returned back up to the grid, flattening out as Usher raises his arms to send it away. It makes for a great opening song look!” Cueing of the pods and all automation is handled by assistant lighting designer, Jason Winfree.
Wade also took the very first shipment of TMB Solaris LED Mozarts. “They’re really cool to work with - you can separate TMB pixels and have lots of fun with them. We have almost 100 of them, and they’ve been working out great for the show,” he said.
Wade runs the entire show from an MA Lighting grandMA2 console, a desk which he describes as “the Cadillac - why would I want to use anything else?” This sentiment is echoed by the rest of the visuals team, who also incorporate the consoles; a total of four desks are used during the show; two grandMA2 full size and two grandMA Lights.
Wade concluded: “The team VER put together sorted me out in every way. There are many great lighting companies these days so at the end of the day it’s all about the service and support you will get. VER has absolutely done this for me on this tour.”
Award winning Video Director Chris Keating had worked with Wade previously, on a US tour with LA rock pop outfit Maroon 5, and has known PM Harold Jones since 2003. Combined with Usher, Keating views working with this calibre of touring personnel as a dream scenario.
“During rehearsals, Usher was often one of the first people in and the last out - I really admire his work ethic,” said Keating. “He’d go through sound, choreography, and other elements, and then when those departments were leaving, he’d stay with the lighting programmers during the night. I think in that respect it’s fair to say he’s a creative director alongside the tour’s creative team.” The tour’s Video Programmer is Kirk J. Miller.
Keating cuts IMAG, including a wide shot for recording use, which the singer watches back each night. “He critiques himself and the production as a whole - we’ve not done a show yet that he’s not watched. That’s the sort of professionalism we’re working at here,” explained Keating. True to form, when TPi are on site, Usher can be found roaming around the arena floor on a gold wheeled segway, ensuring every part of the arena looks and sounds as he envisaged.
“Eric lights for a live audience primarily, but his work is great for the cameras as well. His lighting really makes Usher stand out on camera, which is great for me directing IMAG. I came from the TV world so my first passion will always be camera work. People can dispute it, but I think it’s an art form in itself. I read Usher’s body language all the time and I have to be able to translate that for the big TVs.” I do a lot of cinematic shots too; one of my favourites songs in the set is the track Climax, which basically shows Usher stood on the risers with an LED screen behind him. It’s very minimalistic in a lot of ways, and Eric never lights him from the front, so on this song it’s almost like a half silhouette.”
“I’m pretty purist about the side screens. Steven Foster and I have a great rapport when it comes to that. He adds texture but never to the point where we lose the focus, which is Usher,” said Keating. The video package, from Control Freaks Systems comprises six cameras; two at FOH, a tracking dolly in the pit, stage left, and hand held stage right with some additional stage cameras for the musicians. For control, Keating utilises a Ross Synergy Digital Switcher 3ME and content is run through PRG Mbox media servers.
The shows features just under 50% IMAG on the onstage LED screens, with the rest being video content created by Geodezik [Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake], a company which has worked with Halpin on many high profile tours before. “I’ve known Baz for many years, and I think this show is by far the best thing he’s ever done. I’m so happy to be involved with it,” enthused Keating.
Wade said: “Olivier Goulet from Geodezik has been brilliant, we’ve known him a long time and I’m really impressed with the 3D visuals they have provided.”
“It breaks away from the stereotypical,” agreed Keating. “It’s a very rounded show and I love the set design. It’s still a big deal for me that I get to do this everyday; I’d never take the best job in the world for granted,” concluded Keating.
STAGING AND AUTOMATION
Once Tait received a brief from Silent House, the staging elements could begin to shape the physical structure of the design package. Tait’s Project Manager for The UR Experience, Matt Hales, explained: “We immediately began separating the show into elements that we know will be custom fabricated and those that can be pulled from our rental inventory. There is always a period of back and forth with the artistic design team and the production team to find an ideal resolution of form and function. It was an eight-week process from development to design, manufacturing and integration.”
Everything in the show was designed to be clean and minimalist, without sight lines being obstructed. “We implemented a lot of atypical construction methods in order to keep the obtrusive nature of structure to a minimum,” said Hales. “For example we built a significant amount of the scenic elements that all had integrated LED by utilising clear polycarbonate laser cut and bent into structural shapes. This kept everything light weight and compact, as well as virtually transparent. The only time you really visually caught the structures was when lights hit them, and because they were clear polycarb it just ended up refracting the light for some really diverse looks,” he continued.
The show design called for various staging elements including a rolling main stage with integrated piano and prop lifts and eight matrix video lifts - custom Tait lifts with integrated 10mm video on three sides which could be used in numerous configurations, while giving positional feedback to the video crew so that the image can be correctly translated and masked onto the display surfaces. The stage also featured video track truss (for the automation of the video wall), the custom-built lighting ladder that hung from Tait’s NAV hoists and track trolleys allowing each ladder independent horizontal and vertical automated axis. A static blade wall was made up of a scenic polycarbonate panelled wall with integrated video strips. “This gave a very slender forced perspective video lattice work that added a lot of dimension to the depth of the show,” added Hales. The blade wall close down was another custom element of integrating video blades for a similar lattice look to the blade wall itself but this piece boasted an opaque appearance. It was also hung on Tait’s NAV Hoists. Assistant LD Jason Winfree helped to design the bespoke lighting pods, which VER then manufactured. “They’re designed so that you can leave them loaded up with fixtures during transportation, making our lives a lot easier,” explained Winfree.
Once all of the components were approved, Tait ventured into rehearsal space, Rock Lititz, which Hales described as a “fantastic resource.” Based within very close proximity to the Tait HQ, it proved an invaluable part of the pre-production process. “One of the largest hurdles we try to overcome on nearly every show is making sure that the system in its entirety has been fully assembled integrated and tested,” stated Hales. “With tours such as Usher’s that have so many components converging into one massive production, you rarely get the opportunity to fully integrate a show prior to it hitting the road; you do the best you can, but there is always a piece that is too tall to hang in the shop, or too large to be set up in one piece. This results in a lot of freighting things back and forth as the show often evolves and undergoes changes. Yet all of these things are more easily addressed when the rehearsal space is right next door!”
Operating the automation for Tait is Chris Davis, whose name was put forward by the company following his work with Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour. From the outset, it was clear that this tour required some serious skill. “The production rehearsals were a very hard time for us in the automation team; there were only two of us touring the system. We did have a Tait integrator with us for the four-week rehearsal period but still the demands were quite high,” explained Davis, who worked very closely with his automation assistant, LC. “LC, my Number Two for this project, looked after the system during the day to facilitate lighting swap outs and video demands, then I would come in to programme during the afternoon for the stage lifts and work with the dancers, then facilitate the lighting department’s requirements during the overnight programming sessions.”
Once the technical rehearsals were complete, Davis was handling 55 axes, 53 of which are controlled by a Fisher Navigator automation system. They are broken down into manageable sections; 12 NAV hoists lifting and moving four lighting pods over the stage, seven NAV hoists moving a set LED piece known as the ‘snowplough’, that covers the front of the stage. Eight tracking light ladders at the back of the stage each utilised two NAV hoists and a DC trolley for the tracking side. There is a video wall which splits in half and tracks on and off stage, eight matrix lifts on the stage, a prop lift and a ribbon lift (controlled by a set carpenter under the stage). The lifts played a big part in communications between the crew and cast. “One of my major concerns during rehearsals was that we approach the subject of health and safety early. It goes without saying that nothing moves on the stage, in the air, or on the floor, unless there is always someone on the stage watching,” said Davis. “Choreography started to throw other challenges our way, as there is a lot of interaction between the lifts, dancers and musicians. Therefore, during the show LC is always on stage just behind the keyboard riser with views of all the lifts. I do not operate unless I get the go-ahead from him. It’s a simple method, but it’s proven to work time and time again. We also have another spotter on stage right.”
Wade added: “We take data from the Fisher Navigator rack which allows us to track content in whatever positions the lifts are in. Then we drive it all through the Control Freaks system rack via PRG Mbox media servers. Between the show design, the artist and dancers, it looks great every night.”
“The main challenges have been moving the show around the unique venues in Europe,” continued Davis. “It has been a lot of fun thanks to our great production and automation team but without the help of LC, some things would not have been possible. With the lighting ladder moving truss, video wall tracking truss, video blade truss, lighting back truss and the points on the mother grid, we’re not exactly a lightweight show either, so credit has to go to the talented rigging team we have with us,” he concluded. All motors and rigging equipment was supplied by VER, headed up by Chief Rigger, Art Mcconnell.
John Arrowsmith, the tour’s Pyrotechnic Shooter, alongside his assistant, Amanda Pindus is responsible for all of the special effects seen throughout the 90-minute performance. Supplied by Las Vegas-based Pyrotek Special Effects, the show’s effects comprised gold flitter mines, 11 red mines, 11 purple mines, 11 yellow mines and 11 blue and lime mines from NextFX. Arrowsmith also integrated various effects from Le Maitre including 13 silver gerbs and 12 Salamander canisters along with six Pyrotek Salamander units and 16 cryo jet heads.
“The show consisted of 12 one second silver gerbs for the opening pyrotechnic sequence of the show, the final song, Without U had five cues of various coloured mines. For U Make Me Wanna we deployed six Salamander Quad Pro flame units and DJ Got Us Falling in Love and Without U used 16 Cryo Jets (CO2), adding a visual spectacular to the production which was designed in part by myself, alongside Baz Halpin,” explained Arrowsmith. “The effects themselves are flush mounted into the stage for a clean look along with the Salamander flame units. The flush mounted items were manufactured by TAIT Towers. All of our pyrotechnics were manufactured by NextFX USA and LeMaitre Special Effects UK. Control systems were a Pyrodigital Firing System for the pyro effects and a Jands Vista console for the CO2 Cryo Jets.”
With so much going on in terms of visuals, and with a frenzy of dancers to contend with, the special effects team had their work cut out. “The greatest challenge was coordinating with the dancers during the show, especially during the track U Make Me Wanna, while we utilised the flame units,” continued Arrowsmith. “We had to make sure that they knew where the flames were - although it’s not difficult to remember once they go off! - but the choreography between what they needed to do and what I needed to do was a serious concern.” The tour’s choreographer Jamaica Craft ensured the dancers were on top of their game throughout the tour.
“Thankfully the entire tour went without a hitch,” he confirmed. For the audience’s safety, the usual restrictions applied, meaning the effects needed to be a minimum of five-metres or 15ft from the closest audience member. “We had ample room for that and the experience was great. Usher is a really nice guy who knows what he wants in his shows. He’s great to talk to about making the production happen. We also have a great crew starting from Harold Jones, our Production Manager and Libby Dostart, Production Coordinator. They, along with the rest of the crew have made for a very enjoyable tour,” he smiled.
Usher’s audio requirements came from Pennsylvania-based Clair Global. The sound supplier was tasked with designing a system that would cover a show of this scale, within budget. For Systems Engineer Mike Alison, this is his first tour with Usher, yet he has worked with some of the crew before hand. The relationship Usher has with Clair goes back many years, with the company delivering optimal coverage for the singer’s full throttle performances.
To satisfy the big club banger sound of the R&B star’s shows, Clair provided 16 i5 enclosures to handle the main left and right arrays and 14 boxes of i-3’s flown around the stage to achieve optimum coverage. Said Alison: “We are using Clair’s i5 system for the main PA along with the New CP 218 powered subs flown for side fill. The i5 is the main stay of the Clair’s arena and stadium tours, and the new CP 218 sub is - in a word - wow! It’s so powerful, musical and in your face if you want it to be. There is no need for front fill and there are no ground subs; our PA design covers these venues very well.”
The system is run with Lake controller software. “We are running eight Lake LM44 processors for system EQ, steering on the subs and signal distribution. For amplification, we are running the Lab.gruppen PLM 20000Qs. It has two channels of DSP per amplifier, along with Dante networking. We have two amplifier racks per side with nine PLMs on each. The Clair CP 218 subs are powered with a custom Clair amplifier built into each cabinet. Alison concluded: “The tour has sold well, sounds great and had a very smooth transition from the US to Europe - what more could we ask for?”
At FOH is Horace Ward, an engineer who has been associated with Clair for over 25 years thanks to his high calibre of touring cliental. The expert engineer began working with Usher almost 20 years ago, all the way back to his support slot for Janet Jackson’s Velvet Rope tour. Working with the world’s biggest artists takes a certain kind of mentality and to stay ahead of the game, each tour has to be bigger and better than the last in every respect, from visuals and stage performance to sound, so a constant re-upping of technology is necessary to wow the audience. For Horace, Usher’s UR Experience tour was the perfect chance to take his already headline-grabbing game to a new league and, working with Clair and a top class mixing system; a DiGiCo SD5 console and a brand new Focusrite RedNet networked audio system.
The RedNet System consists of 96 channels of RedNet4 microphone pre amps delivering the stage inputs to FOH via Dante at 96k and distributing them to the SD5 through three RedNet6 MADI bridges. An Avid ProTools HDX2 system is also connected to the RedNet Dante Network via three RedNet5s allowing for recording and playback to and from the RedNet system. A RedNet PCIe card in a Thunderbolt Magma chassis coupled with a Macbook Pro running Reaper provided a redundant playback and record system.
The project started in summer 2014 when Ward, alongside the team from Clair Global, put together plans for a 96-channel Dante-based digital audio system based around a DiGiCo SD5 console feeding a gargantuan PA system. “DiGiCo make great consoles, it’s a very powerful system we have out here. The only thing I’m limited on this desk, is the amount of waves plugins I can use, and I do use a lot of plugins to colour,” said Horace.
To accompany this power pair, the teams assembled what can only be described as a great wall of Focusrite RedNet devices, to interface between the stage, FOH and two recording systems. A total of 12 Focusrite RedNet 4 mic pre amps formed the front end to the system, taking 96 inputs from the stage at 96kHz and distributing them to FOH, where three RedNet 6 MADI bridges interfaced to the DiGiCo digital audio infrastructure. RedNet 1 and RedNet 2 A-D / D-A converters provided analog connectivity for Ward’s array of outboard processors, while the main Pro Tools HD recording system relied on three RedNet 5 HD bridges, to provide 96 channels of recording and playback between the Pro Tools HDX cards and the Dante network. A redundant recording rig powered by Reaper running on a MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt Magma Chassis was equipped with a RedNet PCIe Card, providing it with direct access to any and all Dante audio streams.
It was Ward who pushed for RedNet, having demoed a system at Clair Global’s HQ, and following positive prior experiences using RME preamp front-end on the road with Lady Gaga. “We tried the RedNet 4 microphone preamp units and were thrilled with the powerful sound that we heard coming through the Clair PA during a full system test. The actual sound of the preamp is phenomenal. I was immediately impressed and decided on the spot to incorporate the RedNet system for Usher.”
Monitors are primarily Shure PSM 1000 IEMs, Clair CM 22 floor monitors, and Clair CP 118 sub bass enclosures for Usher and the band / dancers. Monitoring side fill consist of CP-218s and CO-8 micro line array enclosures for overall stage coverage. Shure UR4D / Axient belt packs and handhelds cover the wireless inputs. To accomplish all of this, Monitor Engineer Ryan Cecil uses a DiGiCo SD7 console. “I’ve been working with Usher for four years now, but this is the first full tour I’ve done with him. It’s going great, it’s a lot of fun working with this crew and Clair is a really organised service provider,” he told TPi.
Cecil was using Avid Profile desk previously, but as the band grew, he needed to move onto a DiGiCo console in order to better handle all the necessary inputs. The SD7 sounds good and it looks really cool too.” Usher and the entire stage crew all wear in-ears from Shure, another popular choice of Cecil’s who is also the tour’s RF Tech. “Usher wears Sensaphonics in ears, so we try to keep the whole band on those. There’s just one guitar player who wears Ultimate Ears. All of the transmitters are Shure PSM1000’s, and the wireless system we’re using is Shure’s Anxient wireless UHFR with the new Axient spectrum manger. I just love Shure!” he said.
Usher’s microphone package is a hand held Shure UHFR with a Telefunken M80 capsule, and for the headset model - for the heavily choreographed songs - the star uses a Crown CM311. “Shure’s Axient Spectrum Manager really takes any headache away on a job this big,” continued Cecil. “Two years ago touring this size channel count would have taken me 90 minutes to programme, but with Shure, it’s so much faster.” The audio crew was completed by Monitor Tech, Jeremy Bolton and PA flyers Tim Joyce and Tim Peeling.
Keeping all of the crew fuelled on this demanding touring schedule is Sean Stone of Eat Your Hearts Out, Head Caterer for the UR Experience. With a load in at 8am, Stone and his crew prepare breakfast for 80 people, a service number which is replicated at lunch time. For the dinner sitting, EYHO caters for 150 people on average. Stone and the EYHO team are feeding the entire tour personnel, from Usher himself to the production crew and visiting friends and family members.
“The tour has been lovely for us, and everyone is enjoying the food. Well, I suppose I have to say that!” said Stone. “But I think it’s true! Everyone seems very happy to be here, which makes a difference. If the crew are easy going and laid back, it makes meal times a fun part of the day.
On the whole, the menu is varied, lending itself nicely to the popularity of Asian food. When TPi visited, Katsu chicken curry was a main dish gaining approval from the crew, alongside some traditional British Fayre. “A lot of the crew also like typical English cuisine, which means there’s a few stew and dumpling requests too,” said Stone.
“Usher has a varied diet, he doesn’t eat wheat but does like game, so lots of dark meat. In contrast, we have a few vegans on the tour, so our pastry chef creates a lot of beautiful vegan desserts. We make sure everyone is taken care of,” he concluded.
AIR, SEA, AND ROAD LOGISTICS
Paul Jones of Sound Moves UK planned the import of Usher’s production into the UK in late 2014. The key to this was finding a site large enough to be able to handle the magnitude of trucks. After liaising with EST, an airfield in Suffolk was chosen as the transfer hot spot and in January 2015 the cross-load of 15 40ft sea containers onto the 17 awaiting tour trucks was implemented.
Following this, trucking company EST provided production logistics for some of the world’s biggest names. EST Sales & Operations Managers, Ollie Kite and Del Roll both have a colourful history with Usher’s PM, Harold Jones. “We actually go way back with Harold,” said Kite. “All the way back to the early 1980s in fact, during his days on the road with Michael Jackson.”
Kite describes Usher’s latest tour as “pretty straight forward” having worked with his touring crew before. “It’s always a pleasure to deal with Harold. He is very laid back and takes everything in his stride, so there’s no drama on his tours. As a result, this tour was problem and stress free.”
In total, EST provided 17 trucks in the UK and Europe, handled by Lead Driver, Mick Levene.
For ensuring the crew got to each venue safely, it was down to Austria’s Beat The Street, which has been the transportation of choice for Usher’s tours during his last few trips to Europe. “We have a great relationship with Usher’s touring party,” stated Beat The Street’s Joerg Philip. “They’re lovely people to work with.” For the UK and European leg of the UR Experience, Beat The Street provided a Van Hool super high decker T918 Altano, six berth complete with double bed for Usher plus a Viano Mercedes van from its ground transport department which followed the tour in order to take the singer around each city he visited.
The company also provided four Van Hool super high decker T918 Altano (12 berth) for the band, dancers and part of the crew parties. Additionally, two Setra double decker S431DT 14 berths and two 16 berths were utilised for the remaining members of the production crew.
“It was fun to work with Usher’s new Tour Manager, Vizion Jones and Production Manager Harold Jones, who we already knew from our work with Destiny´s Child and Beyonce. We were very happy to be back with him as a part of the UR Experience,” concluded Philip.
When the R&B sensation hit the road for this world tour, Mojo Barriers was called upon to ensure crowd safety at the US and European tour dates. Mojo Barriers was entrusted with supplying the safety barriers to span and protect all aspects of the stage, including the catwalks. Working to CAD drawings, Mojo provided 32 Mojo straight barrier sections, two 1.5-metre Mojo doorsets, two Mojo snake gates, eight 45 degree corner sections and two vario corner sections. This varied equipment list allowed production to create a complex configuration, which followed the contours of the stage perfectly.
The US leg of the tour was seated, with the barrier set up adjusted accordingly with Mojo’s US office supplying an additional six heavy duty cable ramps, which can be quickly and easily positioned to prevent damage to cables.
Stanley Jilesen of Mojo Barriers, commented: “Safety barriers are the only part of your set the fans can touch and are the front-line between a performer and the screaming crowd. Artists are placing an increasing level of importance on ensuring their safety barriers are of the highest standard, and are now carrying these with them to every leg of their tour. This way integrity and trust of equipment can be ensured across every event date.”
To date, Usher is one of the best-selling artists in American music history, having sold over 65 million records worldwide and thanks to help from a great team of suppliers, this tour was yet another huge success. Who knows what the multi-talented performer will deliver on stage next.
Photos: Todd Kaplan and Kelly Murray