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Looking Forward

Venue owners bet on the future with new sound and lighting systems

As we go to press, the CMA Awards aired live-ish from Nashville, even as Utah and North Dakota were moving to mask mandates and joining other states in increasing restrictions, while Oregon and New Mexico had gone back into two-week lockdowns. Yet even in this year of ongoing uncertainty and pain, faith and ingenuity continue to shape entertainment. Some venue owners are finding ways to change their spaces to welcome guests now, or they are using the time to build cutting edge systems for the eventual return of audiences. Let’s look at three examples:

Radius: Chicago is a 55,000 square foot multi-room venue, scalable in capacity from 2,500 to 3,800 guests. The venue opened in February 2020 and features a state-of-the-art d&b KSL loudspeaker system installed by Brown Note Production of Thornton, Colorado, exceptional acoustics, VIP mezzanine level, artist lounge, four stylish artist rooms with full amenities, an open-air artist compound area, production offices, and RV/truck parking with direct access to the stage for load-in and out.

Located in Chicago’s East Pilsen neighborhood just south of The Loop, Radius occupies a former steel factory, transformed into a modern artistic venue, showcasing mural work by local and international artists, and equipped with stunning light fixtures to highlight the uniqueness of the venue. Radius utilized the open floor plan of the building to produce an exploratory experience for guests, where they can flow between the various areas, hold creative photo ops, and changing viewpoints at the mezzanine level. Currently awaiting its reopening due to COVID-19, Radius is carrying on with plans for a new room.

The latest experience, Cermak Hall (set to come online in 2021), is located within Radius and is a 10,000 square foot multi-purpose event space with a capacity for 1,350 guests, featuring its own entrance, a full bar, and stage. The hall will be used as a pre- and postevent space, and audio was a high priority for owner Nick Karounos.

“The original spec was for a d&b J-Series as the project started four years before the SL-Series was available,” states Ryan Knutson, Brown Note Productions. “The KSL was the natural progression for the venue’s future sound reinforcement needs. As we went down the road with the J-Series, the clear replacement would be KSL as it fit the venue size and sound qualities needed to cover the venue throughout.” Brown Note also installed d&b Y-Series point source loudspeakers ideally suited for the additional fill coverage needs, providing appropriate SPL output and consistent d&b voicing

The engineers at d&b designed the SLSeries to set a new standard for power, accuracy and control in line array performance with full range broadband directivity and extended low-frequency response. KSL is the second system to be released as part of the SL-Series, providing these benefits for use in medium to large-scale applications in an accessible size.

Knutson said the client attended a demo at the Mission Ballroom (also a Brown Note KSL install) soft opening and listened to the system. “The use of d&b ArrayCalc to model the venue gave us the right predictions to be successful with the deployment and commissioning.”

“From the start, we wanted the sound to be a major differentiator for Radius and this system was the driving force,” Karounos confirms. “With this system and the venue acoustics, we’ve essentially addressed a major complaint of other venues that were a theatre first and then retrofitted into a concert venue.”

Radius will entertain most every style of music, from rock to electronic and everything in between. The venue is set up to handle most touring shows and since the pandemic, has shifted to small socially distanced experiential events, private events and corporate events.

The d&b system configuration consists of 11 x KSL (7 KSL8, 4 KSL12) per side for a total of 22, 10 x SL-GSUB, 4 x Y10p loudspeakers for front fills, 2 x Y10p bar area fills, 2 x Y10p under balcony fills, 5 x 10S-D for the mezzanine and VIP area fills, 17 x D80 amplifiers, 3 x D20 amplifiers and 2 x DS10 Audio Network Bridges.

Also in Chicago, the new lakefront Lakeshore Drive-In venue is operating now. Artist management company AudisBliss spearheaded the project working with LEC Event Technology, Inc. (LEC) to transform a parking lot just west of the Adler Planetarium into a safe, in-person concert venue. For this venue, lighting was a key technology.

LEC provided Ayrton Perseo-S fixtures for the stage, the first compact, multi-function luminaire with an IP65 enclosure rating developed for intensive outdoor use. LEC also supplied a large complement of grandMA3 gear for lighting control. Both brands are exclusively distributed in North America by ACT Lighting, Inc.

“With the Lakeshore Drive-In we’ve given our guests the closest experience to a normal live show,” notes Adam Weiss, Co-founder of AudisBliss. “We put on these concert events to bring gigs back to the community and give people the opportunity to enjoy live music safely – and see the best views in the city. Chicago needed this.”

The parking lot accommodates about 200 socially-distanced cars; guests can leave their vehicles to set up chairs within the boundaries of their parking spaces. Delivery of food and artist merchandise is available. The venue has hosted a minimum of three shows per week this summer with headliners including Lil Yachty, Mic Jenkins and Ric Wilson, Peekaboo and Autograf.

LEC provided a pair of 4mm LED IMAG walls, 27 x 15-feet in size, mounted to the left and right of the stage and a complement of PTZ cameras; some artists asked for additional LED displays, also supplied by LEC.

Twenty-four Ayrton Perseos are in the lighting rig with 12 pre-rigged on the truss, six positioned on the ground and another six available to supplement the truss-mounted units. LEC invested in an inventory of Perseos earlier this year, chosen for their robust outdoor performance, light weight, brightness, and performance of its gobo set and optics.

LEC also deployed a full-size grandMA3 for lighting control, an MA3 processing unit L, MA3 8-port nodes, and two MA network switches for lighting, cameras and switching. “Due to the depth of the venue we can’t use DMX or CAT-5, so the MA network switches allow stable FOH to BOH transmission via fiber optics,” explains Matt Brotz, owner and Director of Operations at LEC.

During the coronavirus pandemic setting up a safe live music venue certainly has been a challenge. “The failure of other drive-ins reminded us what not to do,” says Adam Weiss, Co-founder of AudisBliss. “Stress is high, but it’s all worth it when you see the positive fan [reactions].” And the same has been true with performers. “No artists have walked off stage without a smile on their faces,” he reports.

As we go to press, Nevada governor Steve Sisolak has tested positive but has so far stuck by his commitment to allow businesses to remain open. For Ellis Island Casino Hotel and Brewery this means welcoming guests to their new Front Yard beer garden for bevs, food, and football, including All You Can Drink packages.

Ellis Island Casino & Brewery was opened by Frank Ellis in 1968 as “The Village Pub,” located just one street off the main Las Vegas Strip. The pub quickly established itself as a local favorite. The location grew in popularity over the years, eventually seeing a rebrand as Ellis Island Casino & Brewery by current owner Gary Ellis in 1985.

This year, the casino recently opened a new facility called “The Front Yard,” which combines a casual brewpub atmosphere with a complete accompaniment of entertainment options: from big screens for sports to live music performances.

The new two-story indoor/outdoor facility is housed under a large retractable sun canopy and features a balcony area overlooking the main floor. The 350-person capacity building is also used for weddings, corporate events, and other large gatherings.

But that versatile use coupled with the space’s architectural intricacy was a challenge to plan for acoustically.

“With the large glass walls and the multiple floors of dining, there were plenty of reverberant surfaces,” said Shane Snell, Project Manager at National Technology Associates, the integration firm that installed the project.

The Front Yard utilizes two Renkus-Heinz ICONYX IC16-RN digitally steerable live array loudspeakers and two accompanying IC215S-R dual 15-inch subwoofers.

The ICONYX arrays make use of RenkusHeinz’ digitally steerable technology, allowing venues of all size and type to digitally position sound exactly where it belongs: on the audience. By programming the arrays digitally, the sound stays off the peculiarities of the room, and is directed entirely toward the audience’s ears.

“We were able to program the system using Renkus-Heinz RHAON software so the sound was hitting every single location we needed it to,” Snell said. “It took us just one afternoon to get it tuned to where we wanted it. And while the units are incredibly compact, which makes them easy to install, there is a ton of power in there between the arrays and the subwoofers. Listening to the system from every audience location is truly impressive.”

The IC16 loudspeakers are also weather resistant – a key consideration in a location that is exposed to the outdoor elements when the roof is retracted.

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