What was special about the New Year’s Eve show? A punter would say, “The pyro, the confetti cannons, the balloon drop!” A production person, meanwhile, might answer, “Oh, it was the usual: pyro, confetti cannons, the balloon drop...”
What makes it memorable at midnight in a production person’s NYE? Maybe it’s events that seem wacky, wardrobes gone wrong, artists who go wobbly, or anything or anyone rigged up to fly when the clock strikes 12 that occupy a special spot in the memory bank. Sometimes it wasn’t anything that happened, but more of a feeling about the night.
Here are some shared memories from friends in the industry.
Lee Rose (LD)
“For 27 years, ever since Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve 1985, I’ve had the privilege of working a New Year’s show without having to work on New Year’s. We have always shot the ‘Hollywood Party’ portion of the show in early December. Many years ago we used to shoot the show at the Coconut Grove in the Ambassador Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. The building didn’t have sufficient power for the whole show, so we had a generator to provide the balance of the power we needed. As Dick Clark Productions is on the ‘frugal’ side, they didn’t want to pay for a weekend fuel delivery. The generator company’s solution was to bring a 250 gallon tank and hook it up to the skid tank that is on the generator. But the technician hooked it up backward. Instead of the fuel going from the 250 gallon tank into the generator, it was being pumped into the skid tank. So the fuel overfilled the skid tank and started pouring out all over the parking lot.
“Another year there were complaints about the generator exhaust getting into the building, so the same generator company has their sales guy come down with some aluminized dryer hose and gaff taped it onto the exhaust to raise the exhaust above the doorways. Unfortunately, the dryer hose was not rated for the heat of a diesel exhaust, and an hour later it erupted into flames on top of the generator.
“One year we had actress Priscilla Barnes, from Three’s Company, as a host. She picked a semi see-through dress and made a grand entrance down a set of stairs with lots of back light. Let’s just say that the amount of back light left absolutely nothing to the imagination, and the ABC Standards and Practices person almost has a stroke on the spot. After some wardrobe tweaks (like her adding some underwear) and some lighting tweaks (like me going from a 3:1 back light ratio to a 1:1 ratio), we re-shot her entrance.”
Marsha Stern (LD)
“It was 1991, New Year’s Eve, at the Palladium in New York. The headline artist was Grace Jones, and I was specifically asked by her management to do lights for her show. The show went well and, afterward, Grace and entourage were hanging out in the VIP area adjacent to the technical booth (DJ/Lights/Video). Naturally, drinks were comped. The group went to the bar on the same level as the technical booth, where Grace now demanded champagne. Not just any champagne, either; she wanted Cristal. After much convincing, the manager, on my good word, agreed to give her a bottle of Dom Pérignon, and everyone was happy. I returned to the booth to continue working, thinking I’d just done a good thing, making peace with everyone. Not! About 20 minutes later, above the loud music, there was a crash. It seems Grace, for whatever reason, decided she’d throw the bottle against the back glass above the bar. It was not only a mess, but with glass everywhere, the whole area had to be cleared. Grace instantly went from VIP to OTD (out the door), and I was just mortified. Lesson Learned: If the artist can’t get a free drink on their own, don’t get involved!”
Steve Garner (Programmer)
Garner programmed this year’s New Year’s Eve for MTV and LD Mike Grabowski. A memory: “In the past, the first New Year’s that comes to mind is running the console at MTV NYE 2000 with LD Rob Strohmeier, watching the clock tick down and praying that the Y2K thing wasn’t real. We joked about doing a blackout at midnight but decided we liked being employed. For sheer spectacle, nothing really compares to running a show from a stage in Times Square directly under the ball. I’ve been lucky enough to do Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve show for LD Dennis Size (Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers). Everyone should be in Times Square for New Year’s Eve at least once.”
Billy Heaslip (Production Manager)
This year, Heaslip and the crew at Austin City Limits Live designed chairs to fly in “Father Time” and “Baby New Year” as Willie Nelson rang in and sang in the New Year. A huge balloon drop and a champagne toast added to the festivities. A memory: “Working as an LD in the 1980s with Barry Manilow on New Year’s at the Universal Amphitheater. It was always a hoot because we would stage festive clowns and dancers and fly in a clock and choreograph a big production number around the countdown. I worked as LD on many Donna Summer NYE concerts at Trumps in Atlantic City. The countdowns and hearing ‘Last Dance’ and hitting the mirror ball was always fun ‘old school traditional production.’ It always made The Eve disco dance the night away.”
John Rossi (LD)
“I remember in Y2K — I was with Styx at Walt Disney World’s Pleasure Island in Florida. We, and the rest of the world, brazenly went ahead with plans, but we all wondered if the power grid would shut down. (That was the big fear.) We figured if there were ever a place that had ‘backup’ it would be Disney World. Midnight came, the band played, lots of fireworks. Nothing went to black. Huh. Next day, we got on flights, went home. No big deal, but there sure was a lot of Y2K hype leading up to it.”
Jim Lenahan (LD)
Lenahan is designing Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ tour of North America and Europe starting April 19, with lots of other special headlining dates in there as well, including the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest. A memory: “This was 100 years ago in the 1980s. I was a tech on Tom Petty’s tour. We were playing Oakland Coliseum for a big Bill Graham Presents blast. Graham was always outrageous on New Year’s. Well, Bill Graham calls me over. ‘At midnight, we want Tom Petty to fly across the coliseum, land onstage and pierce a giant red heart,’ he said. ‘You’re crazy. I’ll ask him but he’ll never do it.’ So I ask Petty and he says, ‘Cool, I’ll do it.’ ‘You’re nuts,’ I told him.
“Now, keep in mind, everything about this show was crazy. First of all, the evening was to start with a Kung Fu movie. Then The Fabulous Poodles were playing. (They were a quirky New Wave band known for exploding ukuleles and other stage antics). And Chuck Berry was playing after that. Berry doesn’t show up until five minutes before he’s onstage with his guitar — but not before he’s paid in cash first.
“So they’re testing out the Flying V for Tom Petty’s ‘flight.’ The cable only went two-thirds across the coliseum. They have a trolley on the cable that weighs 50 pounds, and all of a sudden one of the bolts lets go and the steel cable snaps, sounding like a broken bow string, and it shoots the trolley across the stage. I ducked and could feel the wind — it would have taken my head off! This is the early 1980s and we were all stupid, but Bill Graham wanted to do it, so we go ahead with the plan. Now it’s me, Bill Graham and Petty onstage discussing it. Now, no one goes against what Bill Graham says, but I actually proceeded to tell him my way. I couldn’t believe it, Bill decided my way was better! It was a bold thing for a roadie to say to Bill Graham — “my way is better” — but it worked!
“Now we’re counting down to midnight, we’ve got Petty in the Flying V. Then, kaboom, confetti drops, and I hit Petty with all the followspot beams I’ve got. Petty’s got champagne that he’s squirting over the crowd as he’s flying. Pyro and concussions are going off. There’s a big red paper heart, about 12 to 15 feet tall, that he’s supposed to hit and out would come a bikini-clad woman wearing the year on her sash and a dwarf in a diaper. But Petty misses the heart. Anyway, the flying is over, and he gets out of the trolley onto the stage, and the band cranks up and we play the show. After, Petty asks me, ‘Do you think I could have hit it if it were a bigger heart?’ I laughed for a full month after that, just thinking about it. The whole evening was so bizarre!”
Stan Green (LD)
Green is preparing to work with Lenahan on Tom Petty’s 2012 tour. A memory: “A New Year’s memory right off the top of my head — it was late 1980s, Queensrÿche at the Seattle Center Arena. I was sitting at dimmers while my buddy Sam Rafiel ran lights. The band played, the people were having a great time, my girlfriend was miles away, at midnight I was wondering if I would ever spend New Year’s with the one I loved.”
Quick Holiday Cues
LD John Conti has always refused to do New Year’s Eve shows, as he likes to have the night off. However, Conti was premiering a new TV game/competition show for NBC during Christmas week, Who’s Still Standing...Meanwhile, LD Bud Horowitz was busy during the holiday season reprogramming Yanni’s current touring show for a PBS shoot in front of the old historic fort in San Juan, Puerto Rico...LD Dave Farmer was out with Tori Amos’ Night of Hunters tour, which ended just days before Christmas.