Anatomy of a Rig – Matthieu Larivée and Billy Strings 2024 Tour

Posted on May 7, 2024

It started with an idea on a European tour bus. It wound up being one of the most innovative production designs in recent memory, one that broke the mold time and time again to result in novel, transformative looks.

Grammy-winning singer-guitarist Billy Strings set off the initial spark for this impressive design when he was riding on a bus between shows. Why not create looks on stage based on a UFO theme, he thought, and shared his idea with his LD Roger Grant, who then brought in Matthieu Larivée and the Luz Studio team, along with Bandit Lites.

The ingenious result was a design that features five circular pods resembling UFOs that projected brilliant light over each musician. Drawing on the pods, the production team is able to create  beautifully flowing visuals that allow them to divide the show into blocks. By doing this, rather than having distinct looks for specific songs, Larivée and his fellow creatives are able to come up with more organic visuals that better reflect  the improvisational nature of the music on stage.

To amplify this effect, the tour’s set design had no side screens, and instead features one massive and very flexible video wall that occupies the entire center space on stage. (Conventional lights that support this wall are arranged in a downstage arc around the performers.)  The myriad visual images displayed on the video screen together with the vivid overhead pods take audiences on a visual journey that, like Billy Strings’ tour bus ride  opens up endless possibilities.

Matthieu Larivée talked to us about how this journey came to pass.

We  know how the inspiration for the circular pods came from Billy’s vision on the tour bus. What were the challenges of placing these pods over the stage?
“From a production stand point, we wanted to make sure that those pods would travel with their lights mounted and would not take too much truck space.  So, working with Bandit to come up with a seven-foot-ten-inch OD custom truss was the way to go to get them rolling in the truck directly and being able to stack them.  That was the bulk of the design for the pods.  Then, it became all about finding the right fixtures to get them pretty loaded to obtain the UFO look with the multiple flashy lights.”

You divided the stage into blocks.  How many blocks did you have and how did you decide on that number?
“There are seven blocks total.  We started with five blocks and thought about doing roughly four songs per block – but Billy’s music is not working this way.  Some songs are 12-minutes apiece, so we could not base our block count on  song count.   Then, some designs were more focused on a specific album, like  ‘Turmoil & Tinfoil.‘ Therefore, those looks became more focus to those songs. This is why we needed to have a bit more flexibility to cover the various songs within his catalog.  The blocks can be used in sequential order or random order.  Billy’s team was very involved through the design process so they sit down every night to create this visual show flow that matches the music.”

Can you talk about why you decided not to have side video panels on this show? Did that affect how that influenced what you did with your placement of lighting fixtures?
“In my opinion, side screens are good for large audiences like festivals but when you are performing in an arena, it can take you out to the show because you are watching those and not the stage.  Within all the visual blocks created on stage, we made sure that live camera could be embedded at any time.  We used Notch to add filters and effects so the IMAG looks integrated into those designs.”

Can you give us a sense of the sequence of events in this design. What were the first things you did after learning of  UFO concept?
“The UFO idea led into a round shaped direction.  So, after creating the set extensions of the pods on the screens, we created another look where it was a half- circle arch into the screen.   For other looks, we went full screen but we always made sure that we were not touching the edges of the screen, so it looks like the digital elements are floating and that way the physical pods become more impactful.

How long did it take to complete this design and build the rig?
We started to talk with Billy’s team at the end of summer and it took all fall and January to create this show.  Since it’s not a typical show and typical music, we genuinely needed to understand the artist’s reality and the crew’s reality.   One big part of the complexity is how this show is run.  Being able to punt anything at any time requires a lot of trial and error.”

About how many people were involved in this process?
From Luz’ team, there was a team of 12 designers, plus programmers and producers.   From Billy’s team, there’s the LD Roger Gant, VJ Tyler Taj Givens, PM Charlie Bryson, Video Director Ryen McPherson, Manager Bill Orner.  Plus, Bandit Lites with Dizzy Gosnell who help on the pod design,  Upstaging with set pieces and Colonel Tom with video elements. This was a beautiful exercise in collaboration.”