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The Magical Merry-Go-Round
How Crossroads pulled off 17 lineup switches at five minutes apiece.
|Left: Bill Murray pretends to hold the turntable back as new gear is rotated to the front. Right: The festival’s country crew—(left to right) Keb’ Mo’, an unidentified rhythm guitarist, Vince Gill, James Burton, Albert Lee, and Earl Klugh—stirs up the crowd with “Mystery Train.”|
“It’s like launching an aircraft from an aircraft carrier all day long,” says John Huddleston, general manager of Lighting Services for Upstaging Inc., about what it took to pull off so many Crossroads Festival performances in 12 hours. “It’s loud, there’s a lot of hand gestures and head nods, and everyone knows what they’re supposed to do the second they’re supposed do it.” The Upstaging crew had to be on their toes and know each and every move to get 16 sets and a huge grand finale finished before the crowd cried “uncle” on a sizzling summer day.
“We had to creatively figure out how one act could be playing while we prepared and set another act,” says Huddleston. “There really is no other option within these circumstances.”
Essentially, everything is set up on a 55-foot turntable stage. An eight-foot wall runs down the center, dividing the circular stage into A and B sections, and a large motor under the stage turns it a half-turn after every set. When artists are performing on one side, controlled chaos ensues on the other. Some things—like fully assembled drum kits, pianos, and keyboards on rolling risers—are completely set and ready to be wheeled up to mapped-out positions on the stage. Individual techs are busy tuning guitars, dialing-in amp settings, and prepping pedalboards while the Upstaging crew is checking cable patches, input levels, and frequency and channel compatibility so that the tones and sounds techs have prepared are properly represented.
|Crossroads’ giant turntable stage allows for seamless transitions between acts. 1. The current band plays their set as normal and stays on the stage as it rotates to the back. 2. Meanwhile, techs and crews set up the next act’s gear. 3 & 4. A large video screen and lighting rig hang over the top of the stage. 5. An eight-foot tall divider splits the turntable in half. Illustration by Lori Keehner|
“Two of the main goals everyone had throughout the day were to keep within five minutes of the scheduled set times and to retain the utmost sonic fidelity to truly showcase the artists and their signature tones,” says Huddleston. “We stayed pretty much on time up until the finale with B.B. and everything sounded great.” To guarantee that the show ran like a well-oiled machine, Upstaging had about 100 workers, and the bands and musicians had more than 50 techs to watch over the gear.
During all the moving, lifting, and situating of the gear, guitar techs are glued to their bosses’ gear to make sure settings aren’t changed, guitars are still in tune, and things aren’t missing or damaged—any of which could slow down or halt production and the show.
To aid in that area, Fender had their Custom Shop master builders at Crossroads to set up and refurbish guitars all weekend. “I even saw Bill Murray getting his Strat worked on,” laughs Huddleston. The Fender team also made sure the performers had their desired backlines. If a guitarist didn’t have their own tech—as was the case with Ron Wood, who simply showed up with his Strat—they made sure he had his preferred amp and someone to take care of his guitar before and after the set.
To ensure that the work of the instrument techs and Upstaging crew isn’t for nothing, Huddleston says audio engineers work feverishly to guarantee that the onstage legends get their legendary tones. They’re in constant communication via radios to make sure that, from act to act, each artist gets the best signals and highest-quality audio so that their tones are represented the way fans know them. “This is a festival about guitars and guitarists, so we have to be sure that when the turntable starts moving there’s not only juice going to the amp and guitar, but also that, when that first chord hits, their tone is there.”
Hit page 6 for 13 more gear and performance photos from the event...