When it comes to weather, outdoor music festivals involve some serious risks and rewards for FOH engineers and production managers.
On one hand, there’s nothing more rewarding than mixing a huge show on a sunny day or a cool evening in front of thousands of happy music fans. But when Mother Nature decides to toss a curveball with bad weather, things can get challenging in a hurry. A thunderstorm can flood speakers and short out amplifiers. Heavy winds can muddy the sound. Standing water can make deployment slow and tedious. And scorching heat can cause the entire system to overheat and fail.
HARMAN Professional Solutions’ tour sound gear is battle-tested before it ever gets to a customer, and it has proven to withstand the harshest conditions time and time again, including rain, wind, heat, dust—and whatever else Mother Nature throws its way.
It all starts with a rigorous testing process in HARMAN’s “reliability lab.” First, the gear is placed in an environmental chamber to make sure plastic and rubber components don’t dry out, crack, sag or deform in extreme temperatures—from a scorching 194 degrees Fahrenheit with 95 percent relative humidity to a frigid minus 31 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, a UV chamber tests exposure to sunlight to make sure rubber and paint won’t fade or warp. Finally, the gear is placed on a “shake table” to ensure that it can withstand the harsh vibrations that come with constant transportation on tours. Only after a piece of gear has survived all of these tests and more does it make its way to the marketplace.
I spoke to veteran sound engineers and production managers to learn how JBL by HARMAN’s VTX Series loudspeakers have helped them deliver excellent results—in some truly terrible conditions.
Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival
Located on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, the annual Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival features some of the world’s most renowned blues artists. Unfortunately for audio system provider Palmetto Soundworks, last year’s festival was inundated with some extremely adverse weather conditions, including high winds and driving rain. But the wet conditions didn’t phase their JBL VTX V20 system, and the production team was able to deliver crisp and clean audio that cut through the wind and the rain.
“We were in really poor weather conditions the whole weekend—we gave floating subs a whole new meaning,” said Jared Miller, Production Manager at Palmetto Soundworks. “The performance of the VTX rig was excellent, even with that much water. The high end was really smooth, and the entire VTX system sounded really great out of the box. The VTX arrays performed great through some truly terrible conditions. There were no hiccups in the system.”
The live sound veterans at Thunder Audio returned to Lollapalooza in 2016 to power high-profile performances on the festival’s Bud Light stage, including Ellie Goulding, Major Lazer, Lana Del Ray, The 1975, Future, Disclosure, HAIM and many more. But the production team faced a sticky situation during deployment—the site received a significant amount of rain in the week before the festival, and the area in front of the stage retained a lot of water. Thunder Audio needed to get their JBL VTX V25-II system up quickly to avoid tearing up the ground and creating a giant mud pit.
“We had to make sure the audience could enjoy where they were standing without getting stuck in the mud, so we needed to build the system quickly, while still maintaining the site,” said Greg Snyder, Vice President of Sales at Thunder Audio. “VTX is one of the most user-friendly systems to deploy, since it can easily be flown standing up or laying on its face. Deployment was very quick, and within a couple hours, we had all the main clusters and out fills up. Then all we had to do was fork down our subwoofers, which we placed on pallets to keep them out of the mud.”
Summer Festivals with CTS Audio
To say that it was a busy summer for Nashville-based audio provider CTS would be a massive understatement. Over the course of nine weeks, CTS worked six major music festivals, including Bonnaroo, Forecastle, Black Diamond Summer Concert, Big Ticket Festival, Lifest and Motion 16. The CTS crew faced a range of harsh conditions, including heat, dust, wind and rain, but their JBL VTX V25-II system delivered consistently excellent results from show to show.
“At Bonnaroo, heat and dust were a huge issue, but the amps and speakers held up really well … probably better than we did,” said Brooks Abbott, FOH and Systems Engineer at CTS. “At Lifest, we dealt with a lot of wind, which was a huge challenge. The VTX system gave us the high-end power we needed to push through the wind, without changing the sound sonically. The VTX system was rock solid through all of the long festival dates. We didn’t have any thermal issues or component failures, which was really impressive considering all of the heat, dust and rain the system was exposed to.”
Expecting the Unexpected
As engineers and production managers begin preparing for this year’s festival season, they’ll stock up on the gear they need to brave the elements once again: sunscreen and tank tops, hats and sunglasses, waterproof boots and ponchos—and dozens of pairs of clean socks. But when it comes to the gear, the engineers I spoke with are all set to hit the road. They know they can expect the unexpected, and their HARMAN Professional Solutions tour sound gear will be able to handle it.