Patience, technical skills, a willingness to listen and help… all are necessary traits in a successful house LD to be sure. But to this list Gerry Dintelman would add another attribute, “musical memory.”
Running the lights at St. Louis’ red hot Ready Room, Dintelman welcomes a steady stream of touring and local bands to the 750 capacity venue. About half the touring acts come with their own LD. The remainder ask Dintelman to hop in and run the boards. Being a drummer, he delves deep into the band’s sound, draws on his musical memory bank to put it into context, and then relies on this understanding to guide him in the busking process.
In his almost two years at the Ready Room, Dintelman has worked with over 300 bands by his own reckoning. It is one of the things he likes best about being a house LD. One of the others is the opportunity his job affords him to work with so many visiting LDs, and learn their tricks of the trade.
Taking time from his busy schedule, Dintelman talked to us about the music he’s heard, the friends he’s made and the other pleasures of being a house LD.
You welcome a wide variety of acts at the Ready Room. How do you ensure that your rig is versatile enough to meet the needs of all of them?
“That was one of my biggest challenges in the beginning of my time here a year and a half ago. The show file I first built is somewhat similar to how it is now, but it’s been constantly updated and improved with every show. I quickly realized I needed more space than just the venue’s console, so I added my own too. I’m pretty happy and comfortable with the layout now.
“I rely heavily on musical memory when I’m punting with that much space, so I try not to change things too drastically. It also really helps to have had such a great musical education growing up to help me. Being a drummer, I’m very punctual and picky about tempo and rhythm. I really try to play my set up like it’s an instrument. Regardless of if it’s a touring band or a local band, I give each show the same amount of effort and attention to detail.”
Do most of the bands who come to your venue have their own LD?
About half the touring bands that come here have their own LDs. I really like it this way, because it gives me an equal number of chances to do headliners for some shows, and then really try out my tricks on others. When touring LDs come, it’s a nice learning experience, since I can see how they use the same rig. It can occasionally be a challenge with touring rigs being that there’s a 9-foot clearance from stage to ceiling, but we always figure it out and make it work. I think that’s one of the best characteristics of the venue also, because it can be very in-your-face, or very intimate, depending on what’s called for by the show.”
When you design for a visiting band, how do you familiarize yourself with their music?
“I am constantly on Spotify, researching upcoming bands, either at my home, or at the venue. Spotify also gives me the opportunity to familiarize myself with the band members, where they’re from, what their influences are, and even tour dates, so I know how long they’ve been on the road, where they’re coming from, and where they’re going next. My control set up is very versatile, so I don’t have to do much programming day-to-day, but it really helps to know at least they’re top played songs well.”
Do you have to like a band’s music to do a good job lighting it?
“Absolutely not, but with the level of talent that’s consistently coming through, it’s hard not to like the music. I usually find myself listening to the bands that come through for weeks after. I feel very fortunate to have a house gig, so I’m happy regardless of what kind of show we have. Plus with great sound engineers and an awesome PA, it’s always a pleasure to listen to the bands here.”
What is your routine like on days when you’re lighting a show at the Ready Room?
“My show days usually start at home going over the band’s music. I live three blocks away, so it’s just a short walk or skate down to the venue. Then, I just get some light on stage for load in, make sure I have enough haze fluid for the night, call in to temporarily disable some of the smoke detector system, and help out wherever I can.
“As soon as the band is done setting up and ready for sound check, I move my fixtures on the ground to fit the band’s set up. I’ll get the ladder out and focus my down stage pars, before getting back to the console to dial in mover position presets for all the members. I have a pretty close starting point every time, so it goes pretty quick. Once that’s done, it’s usually grab some food, and hurry up and wait. Of course the last 10 minutes before the show starts is the longest point of the day.
“Then as soon as the show starts, I get in this headspace where I kind of grey out because I’m so concentrated on the band, and the drummer particularly. I feel like my best shows I hardly remember. Then everyone’s quick to load out, grab a drink with the crew, and get ready for the next one.”
What are the questions that visiting LDs most often ask you when they get to the Ready Room for the first time?
“They’ll ask things like ‘where do I set up my console?’ and ‘where is my power coming from?’ Or they’ll want to know where the guest line is, do we have Cat5, and where are our patch sheets? Our rig has nine different groups of fixtures, and can have a personality of its own, so sometimes there are fixture profile and patching questions that come up. However, I know the venue and the light rig like the back of my hand, so it’s pretty rare to have a question about the house I can’t answer.”
What’s the best thing about being a house LD?
“I love everything about being a house LD. I get to meet the coolest people, discover new bands, improve and expand my lighting skills, and have the support of a family of a staff every day. Of course I also love to travel and work on as many rigs as I can, but this venue will always have a soft spot with me.”
What’s the worst thing?
“The worst thing is probably the maintenance and upkeep with the fixtures. Everything’s probably 5-10 years old and worked hard every night, so they need close attention. Other than that, maybe the same thing that sucks for everyone is the slow seasons, but I always have plenty of work/projects to keep me busy.”
What’s the best piece of advice you ever got from a visiting LD?
“That’s sort of a hard one, because most of what I learn from touring LDs is by watching them work. A lot of my lighting style is just the result of the collective influence of all the LDs I’ve had the pleasure to work with. As far as advice, Quinn Brabender with TDWP, told me to, ‘make sure you already know what the touring LD wants, and to have that information open and available when they get there.’ I don’t think a lot of people realize how long of a day it can be for a touring LD, and how strenuous touring can be, so having those things ready and easy for them when they get in can save a lot of time, and make their day a lot easier.”
When you aren’t at the Ready Room, what are the other things you do in lighting?
“When I’m not at the Ready Room, I try to fill my time with as much lighting stuff as I can. I really try to focus on my professional life as much as I can. I fill in at other venues in St. Louis like Delmar Hall and The Pageant, and if I’m not working on something specific, I try to come up with as many different ideas as I can in my visualizer to keep my creative juices flowing. It’s great having a job that’s also my hobby. I never get tired of doing it, and I’m always eager to grow and find new ways to give bands and audiences a memorable experience.”