Entec gets behind the stage lighting as American rock giants arrive in Europe.

Inspirational godfathers of Southern rock, Lynyrd Skynyrd landed in Europe during June on the latest leg of their Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour – a run of 11 extraordinary shows with Entec involved throughout as the lighting provider.

Revered the world over for classics such as ‘Free Bird’, ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, ‘Simple Man’ and ‘Gimme Back My Bullets’, the band’s original line-up is survived only by guitarist Gary Rossington, while the frontman role made famous by the late, lamented Ronnie Van Zant has been covered by his younger brother Johnny since 1987.

Following seven dates on the continent, Skynyrd crossed the English Channel for a series of four packed-out arena shows in Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and at Wembley’s SSE Arena, each featuring special guest appearances from none other than Status Quo and Lancaster rockers Massive Wagons.

The west London company’s involvement came through its transatlantic partnership with Steven ‘Creech’ Anderson at Premier Global Production (PGP), Skynyrd’s US touring vendor, and backstage during the run, Steve Voudouris, Skynyrd’s tour/production manager of 16 years standing, was brimming with positivity over the arrangement.

Steve commented: “Entec have done an exceptional job, not only with the equipment but also with their choices of gifted touring crew – Tom Crosbie, Richard Hutton, Ellis Canwell and rigger Dave Brierley – and the assistance they’ve given from their office.

“The level of communication between [MD] Noreen O’Riordan, [assistant head of lighting] Adam Stevenson and myself over the last few months has always been very clear and precise, and everything just fell into place so smoothly and naturally. It’s like we’ve all known each other a long time.

“Our own lighting crew chief, Ben Bearden was instrumental in putting together the rig in the States, so he came over ahead of us to work with Entec on some aspects that needed special attention, like our signature video wall arch, to help replicate that side of the production. It was a genuine collaboration between Ben and Entec’s warehouse team. Once everything was ready to go, we had a successful day of production rehearsal at Wembley and then headed over to the Netherlands to begin the run of shows on June 15th.”

FIREPOWER

Skynyrd’s lighting designer and director, Jonny Tosarello was quick to reveal that his crew nickname was given to him by Def Leppard’s band members and crew in the early 2000s. “Everyone calls me ‘Tosar’ [pronounced ‘Tosser’]… I like it,” he grinned, adding that, “of course, I appreciate it has a different meaning when I’m over here in Britain!”

When the friendly LD took over from retiring designer Steve Owens in 2010, his first move was to consult Johnny Van Zant about how the lighting plot might evolve. “I went through different ideas with Johnny, who is the band’s visual leader, and the conversations eventually led to moving lights being featured a whole lot more than they had been. For this farewell tour, he was very clear that we should ramp it up and I wasn’t complaining. This rig certainly has a lot of firepower.”

Exclusively a grandMA2 console user, Tosar’s current design makes a feature of six truss fingers that are arched upwards and facing the audience, populated by 12 Claypaky Sharpys, 12 Claypaky A.leda B-EYE K20 hybrid lights, 12 Martin MAC Viper profiles, 12 Martin LED Atomic strobes, 24 2-cell Moles and “a plethora” of truss toners.

“Johnny wanted something that was different to the standard three-truss design and he favoured silver truss, however, for practical reasons we’re using black in Europe,” said Tosar. “Having that range of fixtures gives us a lot of versatility. In some songs, I’m just creating a wash to allow more focus on the band playing music. I could just put white light on them and the whole crowd will still want to sing along to ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, such is the power of their songs.”

Other ingredients include a downstage truss formed of three 20ft articulating sections, with 12 MAC Aura XBs for generic washes and audience focuses, and another 12 as specials. There is also a horizontal floor light truss containing six B-EYEs, four Vipers and four strobes, designed by Tosar some years ago to specifically cope with quick set changeovers. He said: “We often encounter a lot of backline with some of our special guest bands and that takes up generous space onstage. By putting all the floor lights on an upside-down truss, we can hoist it up during a set change and then get it back into place for Skynyrd.”

Tosar added: “The great thing about this design is that regardless of any size of venue we are playing on this tour, the flexibility of the rig means that Lynyrd Skynyrd gets every light, every night!”

Steve Voudouris and Tosar agreed to add five Robe RoboSpots to the downstage truss for the arenas. “It was an inspired idea,” claimed the LD, “and the results are magnificent because the show now looks the same everywhere. If you’re using house spots, you’re never going to get consistency, so I’m really into this. The band love it, too, because they’re not getting blinded.

“We have five of our truck drivers manning the spot control stations backstage during the gig, each of them focused on a separate band member. Now I’ve used this system, I think I’d find it very hard to revert back to the old way.”

FROM A NAPKIN SKETCH

Surrounding the video wall was the tour’s other main scenic item: a 40 foot diameter half circle that accommodated 28 Martin MAC 101 LED wash lights (“acting as moving ACLs”), along with truss toners and Moles.

“Johnny originally asked for a circle truss above the drummer [Michael Cartellone] but this wasn’t going to work, so it needed addressing. On the flight home from a string of dates, I sat down with a Sharpie, a cocktail napkin and a glass of wine, and sketched this thing out. Pretty soon, I had the arch rendered as a set of CAD drawings and Johnny loved it.”

The strikingly smart layout of the stage is reinforced with the presence of many white elements, among them the drum kit, piano, organ and mic stands, while the risers and carpets remain black. To augment this image, the backline cabinets are placed behind a scrim and up-lit with Color Kinetics ColorBlasts along with the other white components.

Tosar explained: “The [nine-piece band] don’t like having footlights to the edge of the stage and so, with this approach, I’ve only isolated these ColorBlasts in the band members’ home positions. Further ColorBlasts are used on the floor downstage with diffusion to enable them to work as uplighters.”

Skynyrd’s finale at every show on the road map is the glorious ‘Free Bird’, the half-ballad, half-guitar showcase that propelled them to new heights after their epic performance as guests of The Rolling Stones at the Knebworth Fayre in the sizzling summer of 1976. How could anything follow that? “You just can’t follow it… it’s majestic,” commented Tosar. “It starts off quite subtle but as soon as Gary brings in that iconic slide guitar, the lights come up blazing in an airy, cloudy, heavenly way with the hazers earning every cent of their keep.”

DEDICATION

The tour’s title is a reference to the 1977 album that became a tragic epitaph when Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and his back-up vocalist sister Cassie were killed in a plane crash that October, along with assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick. Skynyrd disbanded in the wake of the disaster, leaving it 10 years before the survivors returned with a new line-up.

The departed’s crucial contributions to the band’s legacy are acknowledged in this show with a tasteful dedication. “History has made the Skynyrd crew a family; we look after each other,” said Tosar. “We keep a tight ship. Once you come in, you don’t want to leave because it’s the nicest bunch of people you’d ever want to meet.”

Working alongside Entec on the production were audio supplier Britannia Row and Video Design, with Bryan Grant and Dave Compton, and Alex Leinster managing the accounts respectively. As well as looking after the lighting, Entec’s tour rigger Dave Brierley took care of all the audio and video rigging points.

Lynyrd Skynyrd are now in the second year of a farewell tour began in May 2018 and is projected to last three years. “It’ll sure be a sad day when the curtain falls at the end of their last show,” reflected the LD.

“These guys are a huge part of my life. I’m just enjoying every minute and I am thankful for people like Entec who have given us such amazing support. They did a fantastic job of matching our lighting spec, although it’s always more about the crew for me and Entec’s guys have been brilliant.”

Photography © Joe Okpako / projoe.photography

& Mark Cunningham / entecLIVE.com

https://lynyrdskynyrd.com

https://www.aegpresents.co.uk