HOUSTON – Sometimes numbers can be misleading. At other times, they offer the best way to understand the full measure of something. For instance, saying the Empire State Building is 102 stories, makes it easy to understand that it is one huge structure.
The same can be said for The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, aka RodeoHouston. Not just “Big,” the world’s largest livestock exhibition and rodeo is epic!
A quick look at the figures from the recently concluded 2023 version of the three-week event makes that crystal clear. A total of 2.48 million guests turned out at NRG Stadium for the occasion, over half of them (1.36 million) paid to attend the live concerts it offered by stars ranging from Jason Aldean and Brad Paisley, to The Chainsmokers and New Kids on the Block. Then there were also the 2.8 million carnival riders, and some 215,000 Barbeque contest guests.
Lighting this massive and diverse affair was a tall order; and it was one that the LD Systems production services team met with help from a versatile and powerful rig that featured hundreds of CHAUVET Professional fixtures, from the COLORado 3 Solo units that highlighted the iconic rodeo announcer’s booth, to the 66 STRIKE 1 blinders that filled the massive stadium concert venue with crowd-engaging audience lighting.
“Our goal was to have a lot of flexibility from day to day without sacrificing output,” said LD Systems Nate Brittain, the lighting and technical director of RodeoHouston. “Having to program 20 different acts in 20 straight days presents a lot of challenges; one of them is to keep the looks fresh and unique for the show each day. So, having a versatile toolkit of fixtures is critical. Output is also important here because it is a stadium, so our throws are further than normal. Also, there are seemingly acres of video wall all over the place creating a lot of light pollution. IMAG throughout the stadium and all over the rodeo site as a whole is also critical for this event, so we always focus on these issues when choosing fixtures.”
Having a well-chosen collection of fixtures is critical, but it’s only the beginning. Arranging those fixtures and selecting the optimal output levels for each of the many applications, throughout RodeoHouston was also important to the success of the event. At the large concert area, this meant ensuring that the rig was flexible enough to meet the needs of different visiting LDs.
“This show actually runs more like an awards show,” said Brittain. “The designers worked with us during programming to create the looks for each song. We tried to layer into the design as many options and features from various fixture types as possible to be versatile.”
A feature of the concert rig that was valued by all visiting LDs were the STRIKE 1 fixtures. Speaking of these units, Brittain noted, “We positioned them all over the rig above the stage. They worked great as audience blinders for the seating bowl. We chose the Strike 1 because of its large single face and high output. We feel like the large face of the Strike 1 plays better in such a large space. These fixtures are tanks too; they just work and can take a beating.”
Versatility was also the order of the day at “The Hide Out,” which served as a Honky Tonk dance hall during the event. The LD Systems team used a collection of COLORado 1 Solo, COLORado 3 Solo, Ovation E-260WW IP, Ovation Reve 3 IP and STRIKE Array 2 fixtures to create a wide range of looks in this area.
“The Hide Out was similar to the main concert stadium in terms of needing a flexible rig,” said Brittain. “There was a different performer in there every night as well. The Hide Out was also used for a few other events during the BBQ Cook-off before the rodeo began. The lighting rig needed to be able to serve all of those needs throughout the entire time it’s in use. I think our goal with the lighting design is to be sort of an upscale dance hall. We had a lot more technology than you would usually find in one, but still has the look and feel that you would expect.”
Among the many signature looks at RodeoHouston is the illuminated border around the announcers booth. The design team created this with 40 EPIX Strip tour linear fixtures that displayed video content, in addition to outputting light.
“These strips worked perfectly for what we are trying to accomplish,” said Brittain “the idea with the EPIX was to have something that could draw people’s eye to where the booth is in the stadium.”
The final piece in the equation, in addition to fixture selection and placement is having committed people. Brittain praised his crew: Perimeter Programmer Lance Williamson, LX Techs Wade Henry, William Diven, Fred Deci, John Utsey and Will Anglin, and Hide Out lighting programmer Kelly Conery, as well as Grounds LX Team Sheridan Murray, and Deanna Williams.
“Lighting this event is a fun challenge, but it can be draining given its size and the schedule,” said Brittain. “We’re lucky though, we have a talented crew with a great attitude, which makes everything good.” Such a positive attitude can’t be measured in numbers, the way the number of visitors at a rodeo can be, but at the end of the day, it means everything.