Jeff Ravitz, longtime LD for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, got a surprise call in late 2011: The Boss would once again be hitting the road with the 2012/2013 Wrecking Ball tour, with a new five-piece horn section attempting to fill the void left by The Big Man, Clarence Clemons, who died June 18, 2012. Ravitz and fellow Intensity Advisors designer Kristie Roldan were in New Jersey most of February for rehearsals. The tour launched in Atlanta after pre-tour gigs at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem and Austin’s South by Southwest Festival.
Ravitz, who won a Primetime Emmy for the band’s HBO special, had a full plate of touring and TV gigs in 2012 along with the Wrecking Ball tour. In recent years, he and Roldan have also lit every kind of live televised event imaginable (concert, award, comedy, fashion, opera, and studio-based TV productions). Along with all the artists he’s designed tours for, he’s lit music DVDs for Usher and Beyoncé, among others. Ravitz has also worked as lighting director for the nightly Whistler Plaza medals ceremonies during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, BC along with concert broadcasts. He also consults on the conversion of other designers’ stage lighting into TV-friendly designs, with an emphasis on retaining the vital qualities of the original.
With this month’s Designer Insights feature, however, we focus squarely on Ravitz’s work for the ongoing Bruce Springsteen tour. It’s followed by a few comments on the tour’s video production by Peter Daniel, owner of video rental company Pete’s Big TVs.
Jeff Ravitz, Lighting Designer
“The lighting design has evolved considerably over the years, as Bruce’s style grows and as my own taste and approach have developed. There are some constants, tour-by-tour. The band’s basic stage positions have not varied much in well over 20 years. And many of the songs’ arrangements are exactly the same as they were in the 1980s. What has changed is the new music that gets added as Bruce’s catalog expands. Plus, there are more musicians onstage, now that Bruce has added a full five-piece horn section, three backup vocalists, and a percussionist. As most fans know, Bruce’s show is of legendary length and so to re-cue every song based on a totally new light plot would be time-prohibitive. But even if we had all the time in the world, we have honed the cueing to work with Bruce’s performance, so we take the best of what works and use that as a starting place for a new tour. That way, we can spend our time, which actually isn’t unlimited, to be maximally productive when cueing the new material. Of course, we do always find things to fix or change or improve in the old stuff, too, but that’s the smaller part of our cueing task for a new show.
“As for the light plot, it also has been tweaked carefully to achieve a look that Bruce and I agree is the best for interpreting his music and performance. The entire look changed radically in 2008, when, after Bruce’s solo acoustic tour (Devils & Dust) and his foray into Big Band-Dixieland-Folk-Jazz-Whatever with his Seeger Sessions Tour, I had tried so many new ways to light Bruce and his band that my mind was in a different place. I started thinking more cinematically in the way I wanted to reveal the performers, and Bruce liked that direction. So in 2008, armed with lots of [Vari*Lite] VL1000 tungsten shuttered fixtures, I tried a better way to sculpt each band member to make them cleaner, more dimensional and more dramatic. Then, with some new layers of backlight, washes, and stage texture, I struck on a look that really grew some roots, and also really worked nicely for the IMAG screens. It continued to improve over the course of the tour. So, when the next tour came around, that became the foundation of the new plot. It was something that wasn’t broken, so to speak. So, I kept the best of that plot and also changed a number of things that were still on my to-do list. Not a radical new plot at all. We did some change-out of various fixtures for better, more up-to-date equipment, and we added some new bells and whistles. I know there is an expectation to completely change the look of a band’s touring production for each new outing, but for me, those changes take the form of the cueing of the new material, into which I always work hard to inject a more contemporary style of lighting if it’s appropriate. So there really is a visual progression to every subsequent tour. But, wholesale change for change’s sake is not something that works particularly well for Bruce’s aesthetic.
“For this tour, which is in support of the Wrecking Ball album, we’ve changed all the tungsten washes for a really excellent LED fixture, the Ayrton Wildsun 500C, which has changed the brilliance of all the base color in the show. That has made an incredible difference in the look of our lighting.
“Bruce has a number of career tour personnel including tour director George Travis, who brought me onboard. Lighting operators John Hoffman and Todd Ricci just celebrated 10 years with me on the tour, and crew chief Brad Brown has been there a few years longer. When I decided not to travel full-time, Gregg Maltby took the tour on the road for me. When he wasn’t available in 2002, I invited Todd, whom I knew as a longtime Morpheus Lights staff designer and systems coordinator. He was a talented LD who was really eager to take on the challenge, although I don’t think I was able to completely prepare him for the unusual task ahead. You have to just experience it to get it, because this is a unique show in many respects. Todd dug in with serious effort to master the volume of material and to lead the team, and I’m extremely grateful that he can handle this wonderful client of mine in the best way possible.
“John Hoffman and I became acquainted on a John Mellencamp tour and we really clicked. He’s got a wealth of experience running shows, and like Todd, he gets along with everyone. That’s of paramount importance on a Bruce tour, and you simply won’t last if your personality clashes. So, when we were looking for the best grandMA operator, John was a terrific choice. Brad [Brown] and I had worked together on several tours prior to being with this band, and he’s absolutely the best. He’s got the technical and leadership chops, and a sense of humor, too. Just don’t slow him down when he’s getting the rig up and working.
“The first lighting vendor I used with Bruce was Tait Towers Lighting, when I joined for the Born in the USA tour in 1984. We had zero automation on the tour, except for quite a few color scrollers. It was a great system, but Mickey Tait sold off his lighting equipment shortly after that tour to concentrate on his scenic construction business. When Bruce and the band toured next in 1988 for the Tunnel of Love show, Morpheus had introduced and established their new Pan Command system, which allowed for truss loads of automated lights, in an efficient and fairly economic package. Plus they had the first crossfading hard-edge spot fixtures with the PC Spot. And their Pan Command console allowed for quick programming and lots of effects, long before the mass-production of consoles that we’re used to having now. I had just used Morpheus for John Mellencamp, and George Travis and I agreed it would be perfect for a show like Bruce’s, to give us unlimited variety as well as quick recovery from unexpected changes. With George, if you do the job, price yourself reasonably, and, like I said, get with the Bruce program, personality-wise, there will be a level of loyalty that is accorded you. We always re-examine our vendors at the beginning of every tour just to be positive that we’re still getting all we want. And Morpheus is still here, 24 years later.
“It’s true, we’ve decided to retire several of the Morpheus-manufactured fixtures for more updated and commercially available lights, and Morpheus has always been fine with that. It has improved their inventory, too. We still use some of their legacy fixtures that I love and that I think are the best for what they do, such as the Panabeam XR2, the BriteBurst 2000E, and for certain purposes, even the grand old tungsten FaderBeam. I am happy to work with any of the fine vendors that exist today, but in the early 1990s, I once had five Morpheus tours on the road simultaneously, often at the insistence of my clients, even before I was brought onto the project. So, my relationship with them is pretty good!
“Over the years, Bruce and I have gotten together quite a few times pre-tour, to discuss the look of a show and some of the broad-brush choices. We’ve talked about his taste in film and cinematography and shows he has seen that he’s liked. He has taught me a lot, and it’s been a rewarding working relationship for me. But for the last few big tours, the timing has been off to really get Bruce’s attention in the pre-tour design phase. He’s been in the final stages of recording or promoting the latest release and so he has had to trust me to move things forward in a way he knows I understand. And George Travis is always a great sounding board for ideas. He has a great visual sense, too, and often sets the tone before I start designing. But, having said that, it’s more about the cueing than the rig design. So, once we’re together at rehearsals, Bruce and I do talk about any song he has specific ideas about. Or, he’ll let us cue a song and then he’ll ask for adjustments or sometimes, a complete change of direction. It’s easier for him, frequently, to get a feel for the look once he’s into the performance. Just like me. I could pre-viz the entire show and I might think I have a handle on it, but until I see and hear the performance, I will never know the final look for any particular number.
“One thing about the design of the show… When Bruce or his management ask me what the theme of the design is for that particular production, my answer is that the system is designed for utmost flexibility and maximum power. The show defies one sole theme. Bruce will never agree to anything that pigeon-holes the show into something that might represent his material, like highways, factories, cars, teen-age friendships, or what have you. Because really, the themes go on and on in his music, and each show is really like 35 individual shows strung together. So, we strive to keep the overall framework of the design very neutral until we transform it, chameleon-like, into whatever works for any specific song. That’s the driving force behind the design. Don’t let it get in its own way.
“I’ve been really lucky to have a superb crew and lighting direction team over the years. It makes all the difference. Working for Bruce and the E Street Band has been an ongoing learning experience for me. Bruce is a master and a once-in-a-generation entertainer, poet and musician. So, it’s been an honor and privilege to design for him. Thanks for the opportunity to chat about it.”
“The Bruce crew is the best in the business. They’ve been hand-picked over the course of our 25 years in the industry. The video director is Chris Hilson. He was CT/Screenco ace director when tour director George Travis called me up from the opening night in Barcelona 15 years ago. George said to me that he was walking to the stage that night with Bruce and Bruce looked up at the 80,000 [fans] and said, ‘I think we should have video for these people.’
“We have, on the indoor part of the tour, six digiLED MC7 screens (two wide, three high; the tile is 500mm by 500mm) in Tait frames. The main screen over the downstage is 12 panels high and 16 panels wide. The two side screens are our now-famous upside down ‘T’ — the wide part of the screen is 16:9 aspect ratio and is 16 feet by 9 feet tall. The top of the ‘T’ is 7 feet by 7 feet. So when we go into ‘Hero’ mode, Bruce is 14 feet tall. The back three screens are six MC7 wide and three MC7 tall.
“On the outdoor shows, Chis also has a 6 meter tall by 18 meter wide upstage screen that he puts live cameras and video content from a Ross Black Storm two-channel video server.
“The left and right ‘T’ screens outdoors are made up of 305 digiLED MC7 tiles in 51 Tait frames per side and 432 digiLED MC15 in 72 Tait frames for the upstage screen. The side screens are 10.5 meters tall and 9 meters wide.
“We have over 3 million LEDs just in the video screens on this tour, and we have to up-convert HD to fill the 1344 pixels tall that we have on the side screens.
“The show is switched on a Ross Vision 4MLE desk. Chris has a straight 16:9 HD show he cuts for the main screen and the back three screens that go also to a Sony SRW HDCam tape for archival recording. Then he cuts a portrait show on the second MLE, when he uses the ‘hero’ look on the side screens. He has a second Sony SRW tape machine that he is picking out ISO for later use. The rest of the system includes five Sony HDC 1500HD cameras, four Sony HDC1 HD box cameras on robotic heads and a Panasonic HD robotic on the downstage spot truss for Bruce’s crowd surfing shots.
“Working with Bruce and his tour personnel is always a huge pleasure. We’re continuing on with the relationship with the 2013 tour, which starts in March in Australia.”
For the Wrecking Ball tour, Morpheus Lights of Las Vegas custom-built a new fixture — the Morpheus CP7 IP LED Blinder — based on Chauvet’s COLORado 1-Tri IP fixtures, according to Paul Weller, Morpheus’ managing partner.
Morpheus modified and mounted 175 individual COLORado units to build 25 CP7s—which mount six of the 17-degree beam angle heads surrounding a seventh fixed head in the center. This configuration allows the combined beam of the 23-inch diameter cluster to be varied from 17 to 34 degrees, or “shaped” as required.
“Jeff [Ravitz] metered it in direct comparison to our old tungsten blinders,” Weller added, noting that, “at only 616 watts, the CP7 efficiently replaces traditional nine-lights with color changers that drew close to 6,000 watts.”
“CP7 is designed to be tour friendly,” Weller added. “It was conceived as a single high-output fixture, with a single power cord and data input that handles easily and can be mounted and focused quickly.”
For in-the-round arena shows, 12 CP7s light the audience around the stage. For stadium shows, the fixture count doubles, Ravitz notes. “Ten shoot forward from the trusses of the main rig; 10 more from above the I-Mag screens in the wings, and four more from the two 60-foot followspot towers out in the audience,” he says. “It’s an impressive look.”
Lighting Designer: Jeff Ravitz
Lighting Director: Todd Ricci
Board Operator: John Hoffman
Lighting Crew Chief: Brad Brown
Lighting Techs: USA: Carl Hughes, Steve Osnoszko, Jimmy Varga, Brandt Gentry, Rob Savage. ?Europe: Hadyn Williams, Julian Keil
Video Engineer: Paul Whitfield
Video Director: Chris Hilson
LED Techs: Will Farnham, Phil Summers
Cameras: Dave “Legs” Driscoll, Mike ?Colucci, Kim Hampton, Rob Villalobos
Production Manager: George Stipanivich
Tour Director: George Travis
Stage Manager: Sean Magovern
Production Assistant: Kelly Shaunessy
Riggers: Tom “Zep” Lyster, William Stonecypher
Carpenters: Troy Garcia, Pat McCloskey, Mat Travis, Ron Czajkowski
Lighting Co: Morpheus Lights
Video Co: Pete’s Big TVs
Staging Co: Tait Towers
1 MA Lighting grandMA console
2 MA Lighting grandMA lite
5 MA Lighting grandMA NSPs
1 Avolites Diamond II console
24 Morpheus FaderBeams
22 Morpheus PanaBeam XR2+
12 Morpheus BriteBurst 2000E
52 Ayrton Wildsun 500C fixtures
28 Clay Paky Sharpys
17 Martin MAC Auras
21 Vari*Lite VL2500 Spots
22 Vari*Lite VL3000 Spots
15 Vari*Lite VL1100 TSDs
1 Vari*Lite VL3500 Spot
6 ZAP Technologies L2D2 fixtures
6 Morpheus ColorFader3 MFader3
18 Morpheus ColorFader3 XLFader3 fixtures
8 Topaze followspots w/Morpheus tungsten-halogen modification
3 Manon followspots w/Morpheus RJE
12 Morpheus CP7 IP LED blinders
34 Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12 TRs
5 Color Kinetics ColorBlaze 72s
16 Color Kinetics ColorBursts
3 Color Kinetics iW Blast TRs
2 Chauvet COLORado 2 Zoom Tours
10 ETC Source Four PARs
7 ETC Source Four ellipsoidals (6 x 19°, 1 x 14°)
12 Martin Atomic 3000 DMX strobes
1 Pathport control distribution system
2 MDG Atmosphere APS hazers
More photos by Steve Jennings are posted at: www.plsn.me/SpringsteenExtras