Currently touring the US with a Martin Audio MLA loudspeaker system provided by SES (Special Event Services) of Winston Salem, NC and Nashville, TN, the Avett Brothers recently sold out three nights at the challenging Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado.
Commenting about the different venues on this tour, SES Vice President Jeff Cranfill says, “This time of year, it’s everything from large format sheds like Red Rocks to smaller theaters and, as we move into the fall and winter, arenas. When it comes to the Avett Brothers, you name it and they play it.”
Formed in Concord, North Carolina in the late 90s by brothers Scott (banjo) and Seth Avett (guitars), the band also includes Bob Crawford (double bass) and Joe Kwon (cello), with Mike Marsh (drums), Tania Elizabeth (violin) and Paul Defiglia (keyboards) as touring members of the band.
An eclectic mix of bluegrass, country, punk, pop melodies, folk, rock, honky-tonk and ragtime, the Avett Brothers are hard to categorize, but are generally defined as “Americana.” A popular mainstay on the touring and festival circuit, they’ve produced chart albums that include I and Love and You (2009), The Carpenter (2012) and Magpie and the Dandelion (2013).
The Avett’s encompass an unusually wide dynamic range during a typical performance, which adds to the challenge of adapting to different venues throughout the tour.
As SES System Engineer Andrew Steelman points out, “They’re not a highly compressed band that lives in a pocket during the show. They go from very loud, aggressive, in your face rock, to acoustic guitars, banjos, a cello, violin and small high fidelity stringed ensembles. In terms of dynamics, it’s a constant rise and a fall, and then another rise and a fall, and you’re on the edge of your seat the entire show.”
Because MLA has smaller format compression drivers, the system offers the engineer a more neutral canvas that’s very responsive to the smallest EQ changes, making it a perfect partner for the dynamics of the band.
The Martin Audio MLA system has proved pivotal in coping with the specific challenges that Red Rocks presents. Known for the short distance from FOH to the PA and a limited trim height to the top of the system, Red Rocks also has an audience area extends out roughly 300 ft. from the front of the stage with a 105 ft. vertical climb to the top seats about 60 ft. above the roof of the venue.
Detailing the challenges, Steelman points out, “You’re so close to the PA at Red Rocks that sometimes when you make changes to correct the sound at FOH, where there is usually a lot of high end and low mids coming off the system, it can have an adverse effect at the top of the hill. Also, you’re at much higher altitudes where there’s less dense air for sound to travel through and you’re very susceptible to winds blowing through the audio at the top of the venue.
“With MLA, we were able to walk the show at the highest seats and see that the people were enjoying the show and they were as engaged as those down in front, even in the quieter moments, which really made me satisfied with the system’s performance. MLA covered every seat in the venue and helped us accomplish what we needed to in that environment, which is to have an Avett Brothers show translate to every seat in the house. I’d have to say it was one of the best sounding shows I’ve heard at Red Rocks.”
For the three sold-out shows at Red Rocks, SES deployed 16 MLA and two MLD (Downfill) enclosures with 6 ground-stacked MLX subs per side.
Expanding from Red Rocks to MLA’s overall benefits during the tour, Cranfill adds, “It goes without saying that Martin Audio speakers sound good. What’s especially useful for us is that the system can scale from a large amphitheater like Red Rocks down to a small theater and still maintain that performance level with high quality audio and the ability to put the sound where it needs to be. Regardless of where the band is performing, MLA keeps the coverage so consistent and non-intrusive on the stage that they don’t even notice the difference.
“Ultimately, the sound quality at Red Rocks was great for the band at all three sold out nights. The same goes for Sturgill Simpson who opened on Saturday night. As far as country music goes, he’s definitely one of the new country pioneers out there whose music and style of playing is a perfect fit for the Avetts with a wide range of dynamics that translated extremely well throughout the venue and fully engaged the audience from the front seats to the back seats.”
In addition to MLA, MLA Compact were used for outfills in several venues: “It’s really good how you can get both systems to voice well with each other,” Andrew explains. “You can go back and forth seamlessly between the two systems and sometimes it’s very difficult to discern whether you’re listening to MLA or the MLA Compact.
“Mixing consoles for the tour included a pair of Midas PRO6’s with DL371 DSP racks and a DL431 24-channel 5-way mic splitter. The two consoles have their own head amp control via a digital split and the combination of the MLA and Midas consoles is like a match made in heaven.
“The control we have with MLA is especially helpful in situations where we’ve been in civic centers with lots of concrete and metal surfaces,” Steelman concludes. “When a band’s dynamics rises and falls as much as The Avett’s, having MLA be able to project at long distance and eliminate some of those surfaces is as simple as going into the software and getting rid of it with a few keystrokes. It’s quite a nice tool to have in the arsenal without having to sacrifice something somewhere else.”
Justin Glanville, the Avett’s FOH Engineer, feels “the MLA’s strengths really show up in large areas where there’s a long throw, like Red Rocks, the Brooklyn Bowl or the Garden In Boston. It’s still really clear up top and seems to be very steerable for the Systems Engineer, which is great in those spaces because you’ve got to reach every seat so that everyone can feel the show.
“The system has a smooth, warm quality that works well with the band. An Avett Brothers show is acoustic instruments for the most part, there are a few songs with electric guitars but it’s mostly an upright bass, cello, fiddle, banjo and an acoustic guitar. It needs that warmth.”
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About Martin Audio®
Founded by audio engineer David Martin in 1971, Martin Audio pioneered the use of all-horn-loaded bass designs in world-class touring loudspeaker systems for groups such as Pink Floyd, ELP and Supertramp. Located outside of London, Martin Audio now embodies a sophisticated mix of acoustic design, research, mathematical modeling and software engineering for a wide range of products in the installation, cinema and touring sound markets.