Riding the Night Train: Jason Aldean travels with a tour worthy of his breakout star status

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So far, the 2013 music awards season has been good for Jason Aldean. He recently brought home the Academy of Country Music Crystal Milestone Award, won the Male Vocalist of the Year Award, and shared Event of the Year with Luke Bryan and Eric Church. Behind the artist is a very dedicated team, some of whom have been with him since the beginning. Handling the production design for Aldean’s Night Train Tour is Mike Swinford, of Nashville based UpLate Design, Inc. He has worked with a variety of country luminaries over the years and has been a part of the Aldean team since 2010.

At the front of house is audio engineer Chris Stephens, who has been with Aldean since 2009. “At that point, there were only four other guys on the crew,” he confides. For Aldean, Stephens has a PA from d&b audiotechnik, provided by Nashville based Spectrum Sound. “It’s great for us for a lot of reasons,” he says. “Obviously, it sounds fantastic. The sound of the box is my favorite of what’s currently out there. It’s a semi-passive box in that the mid and the higher combine, so we can power two boxes with a single two channel amplifier. It requires a lot less truck space, a lot less energy, a lot less amplifiers, and it goes up and down very fast. Even more so than that, it’s very light for the size, and it’s very efficient.” Stephens adds, “Honestly, from Jason’s perspective, it’s great value because the PA company charges per loudspeaker. If I can cover 50% more horizontal space with a loudspeaker that costs the same money and sounds the same, it’s great value.” There’s also a total of sixteen flown d&b J-SUBs, eighteen ground J-SUBs, and eight Q10 front fills.

The d&b J-Series PA runs off of proprietary d&b D12 amplifiers. Stephens says, “The really great thing about this system is the integration between the box and the amplifier and then the control software that controls all of the amplifiers.” The d&b R1 Remote control software is another beneficial component of the system, Stephens says. “We get constant feedback from the amplifiers: temperature, ohm load, if there’s an error, or an amplifier goes off line. If it goes into thermal, we get notification, and we can swap it out.” The cabinets are placed in the same position every night, and silent test via the R1, allows Stephens and his team to monitor each of them throughout the course of the tour. “It enables us to provide a level of consistency with the PA that would be really difficult to do with a system that didn’t give you this much information. This really enables us to see where things are happening, as you see numbers drift over a couple of weeks, you can see that a driver is starting to wear, so we can do preventative maintenance before something goes out during a show.”

At the end of the day, Stephens and his crew take the time to make sure that every single individual in the venue, no matter the location of his or her seat, has a great aural experience. “We really, really stick to our guns on coverage with the PA. Jeremy Seawell, Jason’s system engineer, does a fantastic job of really making sure everyone has an enjoyable experience, even the guy that bought the $30 ticket and is in the last row behind the stage. That’s our biggest day to day challenge. Thankfully, the PA, and the coverage it provides, makes that easier than it would be, compared to experiences we’ve had with other systems.”

When production manager Joseph Lloyd said the production was playing in a variety of venues, he didn’t mean simply theatres, amphitheatres, and arenas. Added into that mix was a handful of stadium dates, the first of which was in Athens, Georgia; it was a homecoming of sorts for Aldean, who is from the area. “This is the first concert ever at the University of Georgia’s Sanford Stadium,” notes Swinford. That in itself was a challenge. Lloyd comments, “There’s been a bit of learning curve with the facility, but they’re excited to have us. The economic impact of bringing seventy thousand people in outside of a football game is going to be huge.” For the stadium dates, the audio gear, like everything else is expanded. Stephens explains, “The tour is changing main hangs to twenty four and side hangs to twenty boxes per side, as well as adding three delay towers with sixteen J-Series boxes (J8s and J12s) each. Also, they will be adding an additional twenty four ground subs, including twenty J-INFRAs. This makes a total of two hundred and eighteen d&b PA boxes and one hundred and forty four D12 amplifiers. This will all travel in an extra audio truck.” The A and C delay towers each have sixteen J8s, while the B tower has sixteen J12s.

In any venue, the most difficult part of the tour for Lloyd lies in the setup itself. “Taking a show that’s automation heavy, with a very finite rig that has clearances that are often exceptionally small, especially onstage with scenery and artist proximity, and getting that in quickly, efficiently, and safely, and being able to do so in a variety of conditions, whether it be in an arena, fair, or in a festival outside or a stadium show is a challenge,” he concludes.

With acknowledgement to Lighting and Sound America, Sharon Stancavage for the editorial content and L&SI, Todd Kaplan and Chris/Todd Owyoung for the photographs.

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