d&b's J-Series delivers to eighty thousand at Bonnaroo
Hard to imagine, in just a few short years this festival set in the heart of Tennessee has grown from arch hippy love-in to one of the America's most sought after tickets. This year's event is typical; eighty thousand people over three days saw a line-up that transcended those hippy origins, with Friday night headliners Tool satisfying the lust for something dark, loud and noxious, while Saturday saw an altogether more middle of the road agenda with the revitalised Police topping the bill. Returning to its roots, Bonnaroo signed off 2007 with a three-hour rendition of all that's great and good about skilled guitar country rock and blues in the form of Widespread Panic (Panic). There is something for everyone, and it seems everyone wants a bit of something.
Chris Rabold who mixes FoH for festival highlight Panic had a particularly enjoyable Sunday, "Eighth Day Sound already supply all my touring needs, and so coming to a festival serviced by them was always going to be a visit with old friends. Then to top things off they installed my favourite PA for the main stage, d&b audiotechnik's new J-Series. "You can't argue with that rationale, even though festivals are a different animal from the normal touring circuit. What makes it work for an act as musically dense and complex as Panic? "We figured we've already got more miles using the J-Series system than just about anyone in the US; we play five shows a week, three hours a show. At this point I'd hope I know as well as anyone what to expect from the Js in any environment. I started using it almost as soon as it became available in the US. As a band, Panic moved to using Eighth Day some time ago and that's when I first became aware of d&b products. Although back then we used another main system, I quickly found the variety of size, dispersion patterns, and power of the d&b range, all with that same musical sound, made the job of filling awkward gaps in different venues real easy. Every product put in front of me just blew me away. Eventually we came to do a show at a casino, just a two thousand five hundred audience but the Eighth Day guys put a little Q-Series rig up for me and just asked me to trust them. I was a little nervous, but after three songs I was just laughing because it sounded so good."
For Tool, circumstances were a little different, yet their touring situation was identical in that they too travel with Eighth Day and a J-Series. "The difference was that this was just a turn up, walk-on and play show," explained FoH engineer Al 'Nobby' Hopkinson, "any band would be a little more nervous than usual. It was handy that Eighth Day did the PA; that reassured us all. I had a discussion with Colin Beveridge at d&b USA before we came regarding the deep low-end ability of flown subs. I've enjoyed experimenting with the J subwoofers myself while we've been touring; they do move some air. I just needed it proved to me that they could do the same in a flown situation, which he did."
Eighth Day rigged the main stage with J-Series, two columns per side to cover the extreme wide spread of the audience area. Flown J-SUBs were augmented by B2s "in infra mode," explained Eighth Day's Owen Orzack, "to extend the low end range, as opposed to just increasing the grunt." Monitors were M2s with C4/B2 side fills and drum monitors C7-SUBs and M2s. Q10s for front fills. Delay clusters were dV-Dosc. Essentially such a rig is not dissimilar to Tool's or Widespread Panic's touring experience with the J-Series in the arena environment, but how do those lessons extend to such a large open-air site?
"We've played Bonnaroo several times though never with this system before," began Rabold. "It's always been one of the best shows we do. It is a huge field, big and wide; the mix position is one hundred and fifty feet from stage. I was aiming for 104dBA at the desk and never had any doubt. What I liked about this show was there was always plenty of headroom and horsepower, yet no ear fatigue." Nobby concurred, "Pretty much, in fact the system wasn't a lot bigger than the one we have on tour. The only real difference was, being such a long way back it took a bit of adjustment on my part. I mix from an XL4, which Eighth Day kindly shipped in for me; there is a lot of extreme dynamics to master with a Tool show so I do compress most things on the group, but it sounded great. To be fair this is one of the only systems that can handle it; the sheer dynamic variety." Although it was not possible to speak directly to Mike Keating, FoH for the Police, Orzack was able to report, "I know he had a good experience."
A critical consideration for all three engineers was to provide pleasurable dynamic variation over the course of each performance; Keating for example, is renowned for teasing out the musical nuances, especially in the Police's quieter moments. But how was system performance across the whole field? "Imaging was just astounding," said Rabold. "The thing with my band is there's a lot going on, a lot of energy and a lot of movement. In terms of the musicians I need the ability to find room for all of them. I can tell you this; J is not a system where I have to jam people up the middle to get them there. There is room to articulate the whole band in the mix. I don't use much system EQ, the ROPE system is just so easy to use and in fact I generally find the less system EQ the better. There is just so much detail already dialled in when you turn it on."
Ease of use extended across the festival site; Eighth Day also serviced audio requirements for The Jazz, Press, Comedy and Cinema tents, all with d&b systems. Yet just twelve Eighth Day technicians covered the whole site, including the main stage system. Rabold endorsed Eighth Day heavily, "They were just perfect, they do make my life easy." And then concluded, "We brought our own Digidesign Venue with us to this show. I have to tell you this, between Digidesign and d&b the bar is set real high. I'm convinced somebody over there in Germany sold their soul to the Devil. This system is something great."