Allman Brothers Band celebrates 50 with Robe
Tuesday, 28 April 2020
allman-brothers-band-jbg3379-photo-jake-brickThe Allman Brothers Bandshow was staged at New York’s Madison Square Garden (photo: Jake Brick)
USA - The Brothers: Celebrating 50 Years of The Allman Brothers Band show was staged at New York’s Madison Square Garden just before the state went into lockdown.
Lighting designer Chris Ragan utilised over 100 Robe fixtures in his design for the epic four-hour performance which delighted Allman Brothers and Allman Brothers Band (ABB) fans from several generations and all walks of life. The Brothers’ cult status and their dynamic fusion of blues, jazz and country with their own distinctive rock sound have resulted in their music and influence being relevant long after their first period of ‘glory days’ in the 1970s.
Chris has many connections and crossovers with several current members of the ABB, which has been a client for lighting rental vendor BML-Blackbird for 30 years - showing some impressive client loyalty.
When the late Earl “Pappy” Francis, ABB’s long-time lighting director passed away last year, Chris and many others in the lighting community lost a well-loved friend and hugely respected mentor. So, Chris was honoured and proud to be asked to light this seminal 50-year celebration show.
The Robe count included 44 Spiider LED wash beams, 20 BMFL Spots, 26 MegaPointes and 12 PixelPATTs, all supplied by BML-Blackbird.
By the time the event reached the design stage, the show had been sold in a 360 format, so Chris knew exactly what was needed in terms of sightlines.
The Allman Brothers were known for having liquid lightshows during the 1970s and “we all really wanted to involve that look and style in this show,” explains Chris, adding that a substantial visual challenge was adding a video element that could be projected onto, without blocking any in-the-round sightlines.
The creative process started on a cocktail napkin - a near-mythical place where so many great ideas have germinated - during a flight to meet the MSG management team for a walkthrough of the venue.
Chris sketched a “large mushroom” that would hang above the band onstage - adding a projection surface surrounded by lighting. The mushroom was originally adopted by the Allmans as a psychedelic orientated logo that had transcended the history and various line-ups of the band.
A photograph of the napkin was sent to LX crew chief Mike Deitz - and by the time Chris was disembarking the same flight - the ‘Trusshroom’ was born.
The 20ft by 30ft mushroom was created using an assortment of 12-inch truss circles, and when complete offered multiple projection surfaces. Mike, the “engineering mastermind” behind this, is a person whom Chris describes as a “veritable Swiss Army knife of the lighting industry”.
They then added four LED walls positioned at each corner of the stage to provide IMAG and to show custom show content created by Johnathan Singer, Marco Ferrero and Steve Pavlovsky. Adam Paul was the IMAG / camera / stream director.
The rest of the trussing configuration stayed straightforward as “real estate was at a premium” due to the large scale of the trusshroom centerpiece. It comprised four 21ft runs of HUD upstage, four 16ft runs overhead and one 52ft length downstage.
Once all this was determined, Chris positioned his lighting fixtures. The Robe BMFL Spots were rigged on the upstage and overhead trusses; the Spiiders were also on these two trusses and downstage on the deck; the MegaPointes were on the upstage deck and overheads, and the PixelPATTs on a series of upstage truss towers at different heights.
Over the course of four hours - with one interval - a major challenge was evolving and growing the visuality and atmosphere and ensuring that there was always something interesting and dramatic to look at.
Chris specifies Robe products frequently for his work, and this is for the “consistency and reliability show after show.” Also on the MSG rig were some profile moving lights for keys, plenty of strobes and around 100 lights dedicated just to audience illumination.
Control-wise, they used a grandMA2 platform with WYSIWYG. Luciano Savedra built the WYG file and Max Blackman assisted in programming.
Chris was inspired by many things whilst working on this landmark show, “The music of course and getting the chance to work with great friends,” he noted.
Those friends included the team at BML-Blackbird, including Shelly Diamond and Eric Todd with whom he’s had a working relationship for around 25 years. “They really hit it out of the park on this one,” enthuses Chris, impressed with their continued levels of support throughout the whole design and execution period.
He also pays tribute to his “fantastic” crew from BML-Blackbird - electricians Lowell Hayley, Mike Hale, Jeff Toombs and Noam CC Cooperstock.
(Jim Evans)

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