PHOENIX – Rain can play havoc with any outdoor festival. That much is true, but in Phoenix Arizona? The second driest city in the USA (only Las Vegas gets less precipitation), Phoenix has gone as long as 160 days without rain; that happened back in 1972.
The organizers of the inaugural Zona Music festival had no such luck. On December 3, the day the festival opened, Mother Nature dropped .76 inches of rain down on the city, breaking a record that had stood for 115 years.
Yet, despite the unexpected downpour, a large crowd poured in to Margert T. Hance Park in the downtown district for the two-day festival, eager to take in performances by 50 different acts, headlined by Portugal The Man, Beach House, Bleachers, and Japanese Breakfast. Brightening the cloudy skies and reflecting the music of each artist in vivid colors were dynamic lightshows created on rigs designed by John Garberson and the team at Creative BackStage that featured over 100 CHAUVET Professional fixtures.
“It rained for 23 straight hours, which, to put it mildly, was a challenge,” said Garberson. “There was no rain the second day, but most of the venue turned into a huge mud pit. But that didn’t stop anyone from having a good time. Everyone involved did a great job, from the set up crew to the artists on stage.”
Garberson had particular interest in one of those artists. His wife, Teresa’s cousin, Taylor Upsahl (known professionally as UPSAHL), did an extended set on the festival’s “Ronstadt Stage.” Like the other artists who performed on this SL250 stage, and the SL320 “Nicks Stage,” she was supported by a fast-moving lightshow characterized by aggressive aerial effects, vivid color washes, crossing beam patterns, and ample amounts of audience lighting.
“This festival was all about boldness and brightness, despite the rain,” said Garberson. “We had a broad cross section of artists, a lot whom were young, as were the fans, so we wanted to maintain a high level of energy, covering the stage with richly saturated colors, and mixing things up with specials in the air over the crowed.”
At the Ronstadt Stage, where L1 Matthrew Breg and L2 Niyah Lowell supported visiting LDs, these looks were created with the help of 24 Rogue R2 Wash fixtures, flown on mid-stage and upstage truss, 12 Outcast Beam/Washes on downstage overhead truss, 12 Rouge 3R Beam units and six STRIKE 4 blinders flown in front of the stage for audience lighting. The Bleachers added eight STRIKE Array 2 to this mix in their floor package, while main headliner Portugal The Man brought seven Maverick Force S Spot fixtures to their show.
At the Ronstadt Stage, which was run by L1 Tyler Coan and L2 Charles Jones, visual excitement was generated by 24 Rogue R2 Wash, eight Maverick MK2 Spot and four STRIKE 4 fixtures. “We followed the same basic philosophy on both stages, using color washes, and putting audience blinders in front,” said Garberson. “When the festival was up and running, everything worked pretty much as planned, which is a tribute not only to our gear, but to our entire crew, including Maxie Kichler, Wes Webb, TJ Waston and Ben Waldock. The rain notwithstanding, this was a success.”
Anyone who saw Portugal The Man close out the festival would readily agree with Garberson. For their final song, the Grammy winning band, with their Maverick Force S Spots sending intense beams of light in every direction, performed Atomic Suite. This composition somehow magically morphed into the Rolling Stones’ “Gimmie Shelter,” and ultimately The Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy.’ It was a magical journey into the brightness of music and light that made everyone forget about the rain.