Bringing The Thunder To Texas

Live Sound International  ~ November 2013

Serving the main
stage at a popular
music festival.

by Live Sound Staff

Thunder Audio (Livonia,MI and Nashville) headed to Texas in October to provide sound reinforcement and support for the Samsung sponsored main stage at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, now in its 12th year. The festival attracts top talent to its eight stages spread out over downtown Zilker Park, with this year’s line-up including Muse, Kings of Leon, Depeche Mode, Lionel Ritchie, and Queens of the Stone Age. Heavy attendance had pushed the limits of the spacious expanse, and this year the Austin City Council voted to allow the event to expand to two consecutive weekends.

“It’s a big show and we’re covering the main stage, but we have a tremendous amount of experience doing the high-profile shows at large festivals,” says Paul Owen, Thunder Audio’s vice president and resident U.K. expat. His confidence also stems from the fact that Thunder Audio has been a long-time SR provider for Lollapalooza, which shares C3 Presents as concert producer with the ACL Music Festival. “We’ve had a long relationship with the folks at C3 and they know that we know what’s expected for a major outdoor music festival. We know the caliber of artists that are on these shows and they leave it to us.”

Nonetheless, Austin can be a challenging environment for live sound due mainly to heat and humidity. Shade for the main system’s 86 Crown I-Tech HD 12000 amplifiers (networked and controlled with JBL HiQnet Performance Manager) was in place behind the stage with clear airways for fans, while thermal blankets covered consoles to reflect heat and keep dew off. But according to Owen and Thunder Audio project manager Greg Snyder, the most important part is keeping the crew hydrated. “That’s rule number one,” Owen stresses.

This year also marked the first deployment of JBL VTX line arrays at the festival. Thunder Audio flew 36 V25 cabinets configured in two hangs of 18 per side flanking the main stage, with additional V25 cabinets flown eight per side for the outside hang. VTX S28 dual-18-inch subwoofers were formed into two hangs of 12 each on either side of the stage, with another 24 ground-stacked across the front. Four JBL VerTec VT4888 modules were used for the front-of-stage fill along with a pair of V25s as left-right out fills. The JBL loudspeakers were managed and controlled using a pair of dbx DriveRack 4800 system processors.

“We’ve used this system before, for Metallica on the Orion Festival, the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, and Faster Horses. The performance has been spectacular and the reaction of guest engineers has been just as positive,” notes Owen. Snyder adds that the punch from the multitude of subs was especially noticeable for Muse’s headline set during the first weekend of shows. “The low end was monstrous,” he adds. “The people there that night got a real treat.”

Three arrays on delay were also flown, located several hundred feet from the stage to help augment coverage to the expansive area. AC power, always a point of interest in festival world, saw 4 x 200-amp, 3-phase distribution for the main system, as well as dedicated 200-amp, 3-phase distribution for the stage and another for the delays.

Thunder Audio had changeovers between artists choreographed like a NASCAR pit stop. “There’s an hour between shows on this stage and we’ve got [the change-over] down to about 20 minutes,” says Snyder, citing a DADCO AC distribution system that lets his crew simply hand a feeder cable to artists’ stagehands. “We’re self-contained in terms of power, so it’s a fast change and there’s no interface buzz. We can patch up to six bands at a time and we have spare snakes — BNC or Cat-5 cables — if they don’t want to run their own snakes. The change-over is organized chaos, but its very, very organized chaos. We have every checklist in hand before the day of the show and we know what is coming at us. The FOH mixer even has time for a break before the show.”