Jeff Maker racks up a lot of frequent flyer miles. As the designer and board operator for bands like All Time Low, Dropkick Murphys, Dresden Dolls and Our Last Night, he travels the world doing shows. When he’s at home in Boston, he keeps busy as a house LD for House of Blues in Boston, working with head LD Ryan Baker.
Maker’s roots at the iconic live music venue run deep. He began working there even before it opened. As busy as he is with tours, he returns to work at the club, which is located across the street from historic Fenway Park, as often as possible. There he works with Baker and house PM Tim McKenna, who just won the Pinnacle Award for Best Promoter Rep at Live Production Summit.
We spoke to Maker and Baker about life at this iconic club.
The House of Blues Boston is right across the street from Fenway. Do you get a lot of baseball players?
Maker: “It depends. We get all sorts of sports celebrities in here. Tom Brady came in a couple weeks after the Super Bowl to watch a band. Sometimes Celtics or Bruins players will stop by. As far as Red Sox players, we get them in here mostly for fundraisers or Red Sox events. There was a club that used to be on this property called Axis that David Ortiz used to frequent after games. He’d never drink but would show his friends a good time. He always took pictures with staff or patrons. He’s the nicest, most genuine person.”
Baker: “We get many Boston athletes that come through our venue from past to present. Being across the street from Fenway has made our venue a destination for Red Sox special events and fundraisers. For many years we had a celebration dinner after the first home game of each season in which many of the players and coaching staff would attend. Other events included The Roast of David Ortiz in which Dustin Pedroia gave one of the most comical roasts of his friend and teammate. Josh Beckett once held a yearly fundraiser to benefit cancer research by hosting many prominent country singers to play together unrehearsed, Pat Green and Dwight Yoakam among them.”
You get a lot of big acts at HOB. Do they all come with their own LDs, or do you ever run shows for them?
Baker: “Many bands at this level are generally touring with an LD and supplemental lighting package to complement the house. However, there are surprising opportunities as the house LD to run lights for the headliners. I’ve had the pleasure of lighting Les Claypool as well as Sean Lennon‘s Delirium Band and Lone Bellow, both recording live broadcasts for WGBH. Others include a yearly visit with Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Guster – pluid some Fenway Concert Series post parties with Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert and Lady Gaga.”
What happens when visiting LDs come? How do you get the visitor acclimated?
Maker: “I introduce myself and ask them if they are rigging anything from our house truss or need us to rig motor points – that’s if I haven’t gotten that information prior to their arrival. Then I’ll ask if they’d like me to strike our house console, use the house console, or move it to one side for support. After that I’ll ask what they’re bringing in — sometimes things can change from the advance to load in so I ask anyway.
“I’ll also determine how much power they’ll be needing and I’ll show them the location of our power service, and then ask them if they need us to run their FOH snake. We have three open copper lines here so lots of LDs use those, but for CAT 5, video cables, or even projection power, we would run their snake.
“Of course, I’ll also tell them what we have in our rig if they haven’t seen our plot. Boston has some…unique fire safety rules so we’re only allowed to use our house hazer. I make sure they know this and yes it tends to break some LDs’ hearts. Finally, ask them if they have a backdrop to hang (if there’s no video being built).
“Once they have all of that information, we try to make sure their setup or rigging goes safely, quickly, smoothly, and correctly. As one of our old school riggers Paulie ‘Rigatoni’ used to say, ‘there’s always enough time to do it twice, but never enough time to do it once.’ So quickly isn’t always the best route. Correctly and safely is the priority.”
Baker: “As a touring LD myself you try to give the day that you would want to have. It starts with a conversation that includes power tie ins, house lighting plot/patch sheet, do they need to fly lighting or drapes, do they need house LD to run lights for support bands.”
Do you ever make changes to your house rig for a visiting band?
Maker: “If a touring LD needs us to strip fixtures from any truss we do it for them, or if they’d like us to reposition some fixtures we try to do that for them too. Every situation is different so sometimes moving a couple fixtures might not work due to cable lengths or availability in house. Some artists will do multiple sold out nights and require us to move or even remove our house truss. That’s a rare occasion, but we have done that in the past before as well.”
What’s the key to getting along with a visiting LD?
Maker: “Since I’m both a touring LD and a house LD I feel like I have a good grasp on how to work with other touring LDs. Having answers to all of their questions before they ask them. Making sure they have the best day possible in any given situation that may come up on any given day. To make sure their rig gets up safely and in a timely fashion, and at the end of the night make sure every fixture gets put back into its properly labeled road case. Being attentive and present is always important. Having a clear, defined patch sheet for our house gear. And not to talk their ear off when they’re trying to work.”
How do you and Ryan Baker divide up duties?
Maker: “Ryan is the head LD, but we handle shifts separately. We both take inventory and maintain/clean the house rig together as often as possible. We consult each other on new fixtures and on where those fixtures would be most effectively positioned with the rest of the house rig.”
How did you get started?
Maker: “There are three people in Boston who’ve been essential in helping me get into this business and to become an LD. First, Shane Kocher hired/trained me to be a house LD at a venue called The Paradise Rock Club. I started out as a barback in the venue lounge in 2003 and he took me under his wing. I owe a lot to him. The venue is still going strong today!
“Then there is Billy Bud, PM of The Paradise Rock Club, who gave me a chance to grow and learn on his watch. He’s still there today and is such a positive force at the venue. He’s the heart of The Paradise.
“Finally, and in my mind most important is Tim McKenna. He is the current PM at both HOB Boston and Xfinity Center. He gave me the environment to thrive in the world of lighting. He also let me start touring in 2006, even though I was one of his only house LDs at the time, at a club called AXIS. The club is no longer around, but when I returned from the road my job was still waiting for me. Much like now with HOB and my current touring schedules. He’s still one of my bosses to this day. Tim means a lot to the city of Boston and to those lucky enough to call him a friend, a mentor, and a colleague.”
You’re part of Live Nation. Do you guys have any input to the specific fixtures used at HOB Boston?
Baker: “House LDs are very much a big part of this process. I always request what I think will be best for sized venue and what touring LDs will generally be looking for in a house rig. However, Live Nation budgeting always has the final say and I’ve had my hopes and dreams dashed many times. I do think for our venue we have found a great balance with fixtures that are reliable and accepted amongst the touring community for a venue of our size and a price point that works for the budget”
What’s the best thing about being a house LD?
Maker: “Seeing amazing tour designs/fixtures come through. Working with some of the best LDs in the business. Getting to light the artists that don’t have an LD. Coming up with new ways to make our house rig look different. And working in a business I love so much.”
What’s the most challenging thing?
Maker: “Walking through a sold-out crowd trying to reach FOH! Just kidding. The most challenging thing is adapting to the different ways a touring LD/tech/PM directs their own setup or how they treat local crew. You can tell those who have worked in a venue before they toured and those who’ve only been a touring LD. The way a touring crew treats a house crew tells you a lot. But to diffuse anyone who might be a bit difficult to work with, you just have to make sure they have an easy/great day and get them out of the venue as quick and nicely as possible when the show is over. You never want to hold a grudge because this is a job and reflects on everyone who works at the venue. But you always remember those who treat you with respect.”
Baker: “Dealing with other personalities and attitudes. There are many different levels of experience that come through our building from worldwide touring pros to the drummer’s little brother who just started. The challenge is not taking anything personally and remembering this is only one day. You always want to give respect to get respect and once in a while you need to kindly remind people of how you would like to be treated in the event they are throwing attitude or disrespect your way. As a house LD I can make your day really great or step back and not give it my all. We always prefer the former to the latter.”
What is the most memorable thing for each of you about your times as a HOB house LD?
Maker: “For me, it’s been meeting and staying friends with so many great LDs or other touring personnel, seeing some of the latest and greatest fixtures that come through as an almost impromptu live demo. HOB Boston is an amazing place to work and at this point it feels like a home with a local crew I consider family.”
Baker: “The shows are the most memorable thing and the relationships you build over your career. This is why I got in the business. Every once and a while the big bands want to play the small rooms. We’ve had the pleasure to work on some of these shows including BB King, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Green Day, Jimmy Buffet and the Coral Refer Band, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Robert Plant and Allison Krauss, Sting, The Black Crowes, Tedeschi and Trucks and others. The more years you put in the more opportunity to connect with other production professionals. Sometimes on the road you meet LDs who eventually come through your house as a touring LD or other sound engineers, PMs, and TMs you have toured with come to your venue touring with other acts. It really makes for a great day, the more familiar faces you have.”