In support of his new triple album Heart & Soul, Eric Church set out on The Gather Again Tour this fall with the intention to unite fans and celebrate the return of live music. While the shows take place in arena-sized venues, the stage is set up in an intimate, in-the-round style where the audience surrounds the performer from all sides. Despite being large-scale events, a prominent theme of Eric Church shows is the sense of community and gathering among fans––an aspect that was all the more potent following eighteen months of canceled tours and postponed shows. For the Eric Church lighting team, the main challenge was to design a rig that covered both the audience and the band in a way that reinforced the immersive and intimate nature of these shows while also providing the dexterity and coverage needed for arena-sized venues.
The crew selected Martin MAC Ultra Performance LED moving-head profile fixtures, making The Gather Again Tour the first to feature the lights.
Built with the biggest live events in mind, the MAC Ultra Performance sports a next-generation 1150 W, 6000 K proprietary LED light engine for striking beams and rich colors. The MAC Ultra Performance’s extensive features—including uniform color mixing, two layers of rotating gobos, high-resolution strobe effects, pin-point pan and tilt controls, and Martin’s innovative Extended Framing system—make the fixture a highly adaptable workhorse solution perfect for any large-scale tour or production.
The Gather Again Tour uses 24 MAC Ultra Performance lights in total, with twelve on each end of the arena facing toward the stage in the center. This placement allows for effective coverage around the audience while also providing fill lights for the band, which heightens the sense of community while still providing arena-level spectacle.
Red and blue are the motif colors of the Heart & Soul triple album, Church’s most recent studio project. The MAC Ultra Performance allows the lighting team to embrace the albums’ themes of dichotomy and unity, using striking beams and saturated washes that call back to the red-blue color scheme and blend into new, immersive experiences. Even as Church and the band often change their set mid-show, the fixtures provide the lighting team with the versatility needed to adapt and support whatever song, mood or moment is required.
“Eric wanted to do an in-the-round style tour because it’s a more communal experience,” said Gavin Lake, Lighting Director, Eric Church. “So when it came to lighting, we wanted it to be good from every direction. The band light can pass through them to become audience light, so the floor package has to be bright and versatile while also using limited space. Brad Schiller from HARMAN told us about the Ultras and we were interested. We put them into the design before seeing them, but when we finally saw the demo, I knew we’d made the right choice.”
“The MAC Ultra Performance is one of the most useful paintbrushes we’ve ever had on our table,” said Butch Allen, Lighting Designer, Eric Church. “The biggest element of any Eric Church show is the fact that we light the audience, because our backdrop is human. The crowd sees Eric, Eric sees the crowd, they feed off each other’s energy and that’s what really makes these shows so magical. The Ultra’s zoom range and consistent output even at its widest zoom allow us to use these 24 lights to light the room up in addition to the stage. Those 24 lights are probably the most prominent fixtures we use for effects in the entire show.”
“The saturated colors themselves just punch through really well; I’ve honestly never seen an arena lit that way,” added Lake. “At least a couple times a night Eric will venture off from the setlist, and often the first thing I’ll grab will be the Ultras to shoot light across the stage because I know that it’s going to be cool and it’ll fit with whatever Eric’s going to do. Whenever one of us would say, ‘I wonder if the Ultras can do X, Y, or Z,’ every single time the answer was, ‘Yes, it can do that.’ Every time we questioned what the light could do, it met or exceeded our expectations.”