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Socially Distanced... not Socially Challenged... Stage Eventures in the New Normal

Updated: Jan 24, 2021

A quick disclaimer, no one is professing to know the answers, we're all just working through these difficult times the best we can... and very much as an Event Production community. Through conversations with many of our peers and competitors in the Stage, Audio & Lighting worlds via socially distanced happy hours, #SaveOurStages zoom calls, and the random hopeful 'walk thru' with veteran properties and aspiring promoters, the truth is we have never been a stronger community of audio technicians, musicians and event coordinators. We've fought in the trenches for the fringe high paying corporate and EDM gigs, and more often got muddy in those same trenches together subcontracting and slinging truss, movers, wireless racks, line arrays and teaming up with our extended family Allied Audio & Lighting on those dreadfully awesome holidays like the 4th of July, Halloween Saturday and NYE! Damn, don't tell me you don't miss slugging it out with needy singers and hurricane like winds on those high intensity 3 shirt, 5 Red Bull, case of Gold Bond gigs!

Now onto the latter half of 2020, as we swap the Red Bull and Gold Bond for the 3 mask, 2 hand sanitizer, case of alcohol mic wipe gigs! Do we even need to say it, the phrase that makes us cringe... THE NEW NORMAL! Hopefully it will soon be THE SHORT TERM NORMAL... and soon we'll all be back to the controlled chaos that we love. Figured since we've been experimenting with a few brave and supportive churches, venues and theaters, we would share some of our experiences and open up the dialogue with our brothers(and sisters) in arms.

The Drive In Theatre:

Would love to hear from those of you that have rocked the actual old school Drive In's around the Southeast. Based out or Orlando, our closest regional Drive In producing touring and live music events is the Ocala Drive In. The visuals have looked amazing, as a few Christian agencies have routed the venue, along with the Blake Shelton and Metallica livestream, with a nice touch of riffage, having a Pantera tribute live on stage to heat the crowd up! So far the tours have been utilizing SL100 and/or APEX style rigs with two LED walls (which seems odd since it's a Theater), but with daylight savings, need to be able to see the screen during the opening acts. This could change come October, and reduce expenses significantly for everyone.

Drive In Concert in Deltona
Drive In Concert @Epic Theaters in Deltona • May 2020 (aXisPro MAP24 w/ stacked QSC)

We have been fortunate enough to experiment with the Drive In concept at Epic Theatres in Deltona, just north of Orlando. They have multiple locations and were quick to establish a painted wall screen on their exterior to capitalize on the shut down in April. Our event producers wanted to have the live experience shot to the screen, while having a minimal PA for FOH and front row, with FM Transmission to the rest of the parking lot. Roughly 120 cars could be positioned for decent sitelines and still have a tailgate vibe with 8x8 areas to chill behind or in front of your vehicle.

As you all know, PA tends to bounce on the concrete, traveling pretty well. So it takes some craftsmanship not to disrupt those in the areas cranking their FM stereo, but still give the closer vehicles and 'VIP's a decent live experience. We've found that most don't even turn the FM radio on, unless escaping the heat for the A/C. It's a great novelty to offer, but in a 50-100 vehicle lot, the live tunes and community of an outdoor concert is the real experience. Would be great to hear how the larger Drive In's with 200+ vehicles have done, as it seems these have line arrays that provide more than enough coverage as well. And sadly, with Covid Discounts, we're all willing to pack the truck and rock a field for the rates we used to do a couple speakers on sticks!

Drive In Concert Drive in Theatre
Drive In Concert @Epic Theaters in Deltona • May 2020 (aXisPro MAP24 w/ stacked QSC)

The Drive In Concert:

The unique challenges of the Drive in Concert at unorthodox venues and parking lots, doesn't stray far from the Theater concept. However, without the luxury of the pre-stylized parking schematic, as a promoter, not to mention as an audio tech, you are working from scratch (as well as CDC Guidelines).

We have worked with one of our Event Venue partners, the Ace Cafe in Downtown Orlando since their opening in the summer of 2017. The indoor/outdoor venue has an unparalleled history in local music lore, acting as The Edge in the seminal rock and EDM days of the early to mid '90s. Everyone from Pearl Jam to Lenny Kravitz rocked either the indoor two storied 1200 seater, or the outdoor 'field' which is now an 75-100 car parking lot. The venue acted as a routing partner with The Edge in Jacksonville and Ft. Lauderdale, so anyone and everyone graced those stages at some point. To put it in perspective, the outdoor 300 capacity 'Shed' which was basically an old barn with a makeshift stage, had Offspring on a Wednesday night, followed by Hootie & The Blowfish on a Friday night... with a local upstart Matchbox 20 opening.

The Wailers @ The Backyard at Ace Cafe Orlando • February 2020 (aXisPro SL100 w/ QSC Array)

So upon reopening two decades later and reimagining after Ace London as a Car & Bike Meet Up and Restaurant, with indoor conference space and outdoor concert space, they prepped the venue for just about any set up, including 'The Backyard' with a 120' x 60' fresh astroturf, well lit and 3 Phase juiced venue (we've rocked The Wailers, Pennywise and Puddle of Mudd in The Backyard since it's grand reopening) working with the support of Apogee Audio from Orlando, Hit The Lights Production out of Jacksonville, and others for additional support on hectic weekends. Due up in The Backyard was Collie Buddz, as Deuterman Productions was looking to route their Ineffable Music Group roster through for the Summer...then came the shutdown. Fast forward to our new reality, and off the cool astroturf and into the steamy black top, where the veteran knowledge of the Meet Up concept offered for a fairly quick transition into a socially distanced outdoor concert space.

The first go round in the parking lot was as efficient as you can imagine with a venue that caters to Drive In events year round. We've done well over a hundred oldies shows, Jeep bass drops, and Bike Nights over the past few years, but still didn't know how the Orange County codes would mesh with the sightlines and overall experience. The event was produced by Otown EDM scene veterans Thomas Toole and The Best of the Breaks crew, and featured DJ Magic Mike to round out a 15 artist bill. They referred the audio and lighting to Gator Sound & Lighting out of Gainesville, who utilized a 3 screen LED wall effect, taking advantage of the multiple new fly points on our 2018 Stageline SL100 model. The sellout event filled the parking lot with roughly 80 vehicles, socially distanced enough for everyone to create their own mini tailgate experience.

Tail Breaks @ Ace Cafe Orlando • August 2020 (aXisPro SL100)

The dynamics of the Ace Cafe layout, and it's longer narrow throw, presented a new challenge compared to the Drive In Theaters sideways sprawl. Although the concrete acted as a nice catalyst for the bass, the cars tend to act as a barrier. Although more audio may not be needed for volume, we have designed a schematic for the upcoming event with QSC K12.2./ KSC118 towers stationed in points halfway and all the way back, acting as sidefills for those that want to remain in the cars with windows down. The windshield is a hell of a drumshield, so we figure we'll hit them from all sides! Going to have some fun the weekend of October 17th-18th with Primal Productions hosting Endless Summer Nights w/ Virtual Riot, Champagne Drip and more... wait for the bass on this one, tape up those windows Downtown UCF!

It's looking like the Central Florida Fairgrounds will be hosting a Sister Hazel stop on October 24th, as the Gainesville band hits a dozen plus cities on their Drive In series. The Fairgrounds had a Disco Donnie Drive In event scheduled back in the early summer with Road Rave, and Miami's Blunts & Blondes, but had some programming issues, combined with weather, combined with an active BLM movement, combined with the height of the Covid surge. The venue footprint looks great though, looking Shawn and crew maybe have a nice Fall, as they can safely park 500 cars, seating 2500-3000 people with live audio booming, and the FM transmitter to compensate.

Church Services:

How many of Otown's top A1's and LDs cut their teeth behind the board on Sundays trying to keep the minister's out of tune vox down in the mix, and convince the church elders that replacing the tin 1000w Par64's with new LEDs would pay for themselves in electricity bills and reduce the choirs sweating onstage!

Church Drive In Service Orlando
Drive In Service @ New Life Cogic Church • August 2020 (aXisPro SL100 w/ QSC Audio Towers)

The church has been a sanctuary in more than a spiritual context during the shutdown, and has provided consistent work for many techs. We have had a few opportunities to assist Sunday services, and enjoy working with Leon Livingston over at New Life Cogic the first weekend of each month. The church hosts a service for the at risk members of the congregation, allowing them to attend monthly via the Drive In with both live audio and FM Transmission available. Leon trades in his interior RCF Line Array rig and m32, and plugs the scene into our x32 and works with four QSC K12.2./ KSC118 towers and a pair of K12.2 middle fills. With proper angling this offers a full sound for the entire lot, but not overwhelming to those that keep the windows up and pump it through their FM radio.

Drive In Church Orlando
Drive in Service @ Majestic Life Church • September 2020 (aXisPro SL100 w/ wings)

Seems like many churches just opt for decking with LED walls so that the congregation can see the announcements and words, and the Pastor close up. Not sure the videographer is really useful, as most congregations don't get close up views inside the church anyways, but the screen is helpful for those that get used to reading the lyrics for the singalongs. We provide the Stageline SL100 for New Life, which is extremely helpful in the summer heat and potential weather. The 24x20 footprint is great for a full band, choir and Pastor's pulpit, utilizing the 4x8 wings for the audio towers. We recently had the opportunity to work with Chauncey Brown and the team at Majestic Life Church on a series of Services leading into the cooler days of October. Majestic enlisted Audio Don Sound Enterprises on the mix, bringing out 8 across stackable EAW KF650z 3 ways w/ ADSE Duels and an M32 console. They also added in the FM Transmitter, which was a key aspect on a humid first edition of the series.

Graduation Ceremonies:

If only there had been more confidence in the school system's back in May, we might have all been working overtime to accommodate all the Graduation Ceremonies! We did have the opportunity to work with our buddy Thomas Westberry, of Westberry Music Group in Winter Haven, who we met years ago via Eric Gouge and ESG Audio. Eric brought Tom's DAS Line Array rig in for a UCF Spring Game Tailgate featuring Lauren Alaina. We've provided the SL100 for Tom in Winter Haven and Lake Wales for a few festivals, but on this one, didn't need to put the chains on and fly the big rig.

Graduation Ceremony w/ SL100 Socially Distanced
All Saints Academy Graduation • June 2020 (aXispro SL100)

Tom called for the All Saints Academy 2020 Graduation in June, requesting the SL100 with the stairs straddling the deck extensions on each side, to provide an up and down runway for a socially distanced ceremony. We placed the stage on the 50 yard line allowing for a wider seating chart, and keeping each family in their own 4-6 chair groups. With about 75 students, and only immediate family invited, it was more than enough spacing, with great sightlines, as well as having the entire event Livestreamed via Facebook. Tom handled the installation for the stadium audio, but opted for just a stacked system, with more than enough PA in the quiet setting.

The 'Reverse Beerfest' and Corporate Mixer...

With the State and County rules still intact for the opening of the 2020 NCAA Football season, deeming the stadiums and sports bars anywhere between 10-50% capacity, we were motivated to think in terms of the Socially Distanced Tailgate concept. Having also produced The Great Orlando Beer Festival for going on 7 years now, from Downtown Orlando, to Lake Mary Town Centre, to Downtown Lakeland, we figured here's an opportunity to combine two extremely social events!

Social Distance Football Beerfest Tailgate
Great Orlando Beerfest @ Ace Cafe (aXisPro K12.2s/118s w/ OPAV 16x8 LED Trailers)

The SEC officially kicked off with Florida vs Ole Miss, while the hometown team UCF was on the road vs Eastern Carolina for their second match up, giving us an opportunity to host the Tailgate with a motivated local fanbase. We designed the schematic for The Backyard @ Ace Cafe with 19 potential 10x20 'Tailgate Pods' allowing for a 10x10 and 10x10 area to create a viewing lane. We hit up Brandon and crew at OPAV for their 8x16 LED Trailer to view the game, while sampling brew. A longtime friend and DJ/MC, Anthony from Digital Designs kept the party going and motivated the crowd via "ZombieNation" and craft brew announcements! Then we realized that both the Knights and Gators were scheduled for the noontime slot on ABC and ESPN, so we cut a deal for a dual LED set up positioned like goalposts at each end of The Ace turf. The crew from OPAV were very hospitable, and for the record, really dig their craft brews... thanks all!

Coming Soon...

We look forward to rocking Lakeland with Eric and ESG Audio for an upcoming rally at Fellowship Believers' Church in early October, as well as services with Majestic and New Life Church. If anyone would like to check out a new look for EDM shows on the weekend of October 17th-18th at Ace Cafe, the Primal presents weekend should be visually stunning, outfitting the aXisPro SL100 with three 16x8 LED trailers via Brandon and crew at OPAV, along with some serious thunder with Dale and the team at Allied Audio dropping 16(yes 16) EAW SB1000's under the stage for a 600 person Drive In concert... did anyone hear that drop! On the westside of town, we'll be lighting up the Celebration Athletic facility with Pirate Flag and Off Kilter on the aXisPro SL100 on Oct 10th, with a socially distanced event on the turf. Let's keep it rocking it Otown... any noise is good noise!


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