MARTIN AUDIO DEPLOYED ON FOUR STAGES AT RIOT FEST 2019
Marking the popular event’s 15th anniversary, this year’s Riot Fest was successfully reinforced by Technotrix with Martin Audio MLA, WPL and WPC line arrays on four stages in Chicago’s Douglas Park.
With a variety of high-powered artists ranging from Slayer, Anthrax, The Flaming Lips, Violent Femmes, Dashboard Confessional and Bikini Kill to The Raconteurs, Patti Smith, Bob Mould, Wu Tang Clan and the Village People, Riot Fest offered some particular challenges in terms of controlled coverage on site and noise mitigation off site.
As Technotrix Audio Lead Brent Bernhardt points out, “As always, there’s a commitment to keeping off site noise to an absolute minimum. We’re still avoiding the same two hospitals behind and alongside Stages 1 and 2 along with neighborhoods around the festival. This year, we were able to add Stage 4 to our lineup because it had been harder to contain noise with the previous PAs. With the success we've had with Martin Audio on Stages 1, 2 and 5 in the last few years, the festival Production Manager Grant Simmon felt it was best for us to take over that stage so we could execute the same type of control and mitigate the problems they’d been having.
“The noise issues with Stages 4 and 5 come from being located only 500 to 700 feet away from residential neighborhoods. In the past, the subwoofer control has been the main issue along with low mids from the mains escaping out of the premises. Last year, there were some calls about the noise, this year, there were none.”
Asked about using Martin Audio’s Wavefront Precision Longbow (WPL) system for the first time, Brent responds: “It was very impressive to have virtually the same amount of control we get from an MLA rig with only slightly less resolution. WPL was very good and the tonality wasn’t lacking either while the onsite coverage was uniform and consistent as well.
“As with most events, budget is always a factor so when we ran the optimizations for two box resolution in the WPL rig, the DISPLAY software was telling us we were achieving the results we were hoping for without adding to the costs. The software predictions and actual outcome of the system response are very close so that when you set it up onsite, you actually get what you’re expecting. At this point, I’ve developed a trust for the Martin Audio software and I don’t question it very often.
“On site coverage for Stages 1 and 2 is always a challenge as they fire into the rear of 4 and 5,” Brent continues, “especially this year because of gusty wind conditions on the first day of the festival. We’ve never used delays with MLA because it throws further than any other PA, even under adverse weather conditions. Traditional PAs have a lot of spill in the low mids and even the upper mids. So having a line length long enough to get the Martin DISPLAY software to actively control the frequencies down to 120 to 160 Hz was very helpful.
Describing the music audience at Riot Fest, he adds: “There’s no sitting at these shows, it’s all punk bands, metal and rock and nostalgia acts. Stage 4 had a very eclectic lineup this year with Ween, the Village People and Wu Tang Clan. WPL was able to provide exceptional sound quality and tonal characteristics for a wide variety of genres something that applied to all of the stages in terms of Martin Audio. MLA, WPL or WPC and all of their products work well for all styles of music, and that speaks volumes in terms of using the Martin Audio tonality as a tool to help artists convey their message.
Summing up about the FOH engineers that worked the festival, Brent explains, “The engineers working with Technotrix are longtime freelancers and full timers with a history for working these stages so they know the drill. It’s a typical festival situation where we’re responsible for presenting a blank palette that should be easy for guest engineers to mix on and we supply engineers for bands who need them. In terms of their reaction to the Martin Audio arrays, the guest engineers gave us a lot of handshakes, high fives and ‘good day at the office.’”
Taking a more detailed look at Riot Fest, Stage 1 (Riot) had a setup that included 12 Martin Audio MLA per side with one MLD with four W8LC as front fill stacked evenly across the front of the stage on top of the MLX subs. A total of 21 MLX subs were ground-stacked in front of the stage in seven stacks of three tall with the middle sub in each stack reversed in a broadside cardioid array. A six box array of MLA Compact were ground-stacked stage left as a VIP fill. 14 XE500 wedges powered by iK42’s were used for monitoring. An SX218 with an XE500 on top was deployed as a drum fill on stage with a pair of CDD-LIVE 8’s at Front of House for nearfield monitoring.
In terms of consoles, Stage 1 and 2 had Avid Venue S6 L 32D surface with 192 FOH engine racks with Waves Sound Grid cards and Waves Extreme servers at Front of House.Both stages also had Avid Venue Profiles for Monitors.
Explaining his role at Riot Fest, FOH Engineer for Stage 1 Dan Steinman recalls, “To be fair, for this event we’re mostly FOH mixers for the bands who don't have an engineer. But, for Slayer or Patti Smith for example, our main job is to make sure their engineer is comfortable while anticipating what their needs might be for the PA, which is all part of an unspoken challenge because of various thoughts about what the tone curve should be.
“For me, mixing on MLA is fantastic. The system gives you a lot of power in terms of control onsite which makes it so useful at Riot Fest because of the two hospitals in close proximity and it’s designed to let you control and abate off site noise, a principal concern of the festival staff.
“The other thing is that with the software, some engineers assume that everything will automatically turn out great, which isn’t always true. You still have to tune the system, plan and think about things like wind which, the first day, was a major battle for all of the stages because no PA is going to beat physics, let alone the wind. That said, I had several engineers after the gig send me a personal email thanking me specifically for taking care of them and how the PA sounded great and that’s really what you want to hear. They really liked the system.
“In addition to the smooth, uniform coverage, MLA can’t be thought of as a PA for one type of music. It has the ability to do a jazz group, Patti Smith or a band like Slayer on the same stage with the same tuning––which is unbelievable. Finally, I was excited to have so many people walk away having had such a great experience and that’s what we need to spread the word. Also, I find MLX to be my absolute favorite subs because they have so much power, more than any other sub on the market.”
The setup for Stage 2 (Roots) included 12 MLA per side with one MLD plus four W8LC as front fill stacked evenly across the front of the stage on the MLX subs. 21 MLX subs were ground-stacked in front of the stage in stacks of three tall with the middle subs in each stack reversed for cardioid. 14 of the new Martin Audio XE500 wedges powered by iK42’s were used for stage monitoring, along with an SX218 with an XE500 on top as a drum fill on stage and a pair of CDD-LIVE 8’s at Front of House for nearfield monitoring.
Kyle Bulmann, FOH Engineer for Stage 2 explains, “We were covering approximately 400 ft. and wanted to maintain the intelligibility as far out into the audience as possible. The system was set up for several different coverage area presets including a long throw for the headliners. Basically the presets were used to minimize bleed into other areas of the festival so that festival goers just meandering around the grounds wouldn’t be disturbed during the day.
“The main goal with the subs was to effectively cover the audience area with proper rejection to the sides and the rear because the residential neighborhood starts approximately 150 ft. behind the stage and there’s a hospital off to the side. We were able to achieve this as well as minimize bleed towards Stage 4 by deploying the proper arc delay to the cardioid subwoofer array. This allowed for a consistent amount of power across approximately 100 degrees of dispersion within the audience area. As it turns out there were no noise complaints whatsoever.
“In terms of its sound signature, MLA did a wonderful job of replicating exactly what was coming out of the console. There was nothing over the weekend that was above and beyond the capabilities of the system. And it does fine reproducing a variety of genres, which is a requirement for any great PA. Compared to other systems, the MLA’s clarity and intelligibility is really good without the need for quite as much SPL to get the same aural experience.
“In terms of the guest engineers, they were no complaints or concerns about feeling unsettled mixing on MLA. Even if they voiced the system a bit differently than what I had presented, it was a quick and subtle process, even for those who hadn’t mixed on the system before.”
For Stage 4 (Radical), the setup included 10 Martin Audio WPL a side powered by iK42’s using two-box resolution, fifteen SXH218 subs in five equally stacked clusters of three horizontally spaced across the front of the stage with the middle sub in each cluster reversed for cardioid. Four WPC were deployed for front fill across the downstage edge and there were also 14 XE300 wedges powered by iK42s as well as an SX218 sub with a W8C on top for the drums. Digidesign Avid Venue Profileswere used for FOH and Monitors.
Richard Schroeder, FOH for Stage 4 (Radical), describes his situation at Riot Fest: “Stage 1 and 2 fire toward the back of our stage and we were firing toward the outside of the venue so the biggest thing was covering the audience area successfully as well as avoiding as much as bleed outside the festival as possible, especially with the low frequencies.
“In terms of throw, we were covering about 250 feet with the goal of not impacting surrounding residences with noise. Especially with an artist like Wu Tang Clan on Saturday, there was a lot more low energy than the rest of the weekend and we had to make sure it was well contained. Having the subs in a cardioid array made sure the stage was a low rumble environment. This, paired with a sufficient delay arc, allowed us to cover the audience area smoothly with minimal off site bleed.
“Unlike the other three stages, we only had one day to get the WPL system up and ready in time for the noise bleed tests. The Martin Audio software provided the correct optimizations right out of the gate, so it took very little time to tune the PA to the point where I’d be happy to present the system to any of the guest engineers.
“The boxes were powered by iK42’s with two-box resolution which gave us more than enough power and headroom. The coverage was very consistent front to back and side to side we had a very nice stereo image. People were happy with the way WPL sounded, guest engineers and audience alike. MLA and WPL are very similar in terms of the way the boxes are voiced and the way you tune both PAs, same goes for WPC and WPM.
“We used DISPLAY 2.3.2 software for optimization and VU-NET 2.2.0 for control and EQ.Other FOH engineers thought WPL was a really cool box and being able to check out the MLA systems on site, they commented that all of the Martin Audio PAs had the same distinctive sonic signature, which was cool.”
Stage 5 (Rebel) was equipped with 8 Martin Audio WPC a side powered by iK42’s with two-box resolution along with four WPM for front fill evenly distributed on the lip of the stage. For the low end, there were 16 WSX subwoofers in stacks of two across the front of the stage in a broadside array. There were also 10 XE300 wedges, one SX218 with W8C per side for side fill and an SX218 and W8C on top for drum fill. The consoles included an Avid Venue SC48 Remote at FOH and a Standard SC48 in monitors.
Describing his responsibilities as FOH engineer for Stage 5 (Rebel), Joe Mion points out: “Our coverage area was about 160 ft. and because that stage faces neighboring residences we don’t usually go too far beyond Front of House. The WPC system handled the onsite coverage with no problems and really good front to back consistency. It cut off right where we wanted it to so we had no problems with offsite noise bleed.
“Stage 5 goes for this punk rock vibe with some hard core and metal bands. The WSX’s low end coverage was fine in terms of the audience area with no off site noise problems because of the broadside array with a correct arc to it so we could keep it out of places it didn’t belong. The WSX is not new but it’s a classic Martin Audio horn-loaded sub design so it stays really consistent with the PA, much more so than a front-loaded sub would. I never had to turn the subs down during the show, we had no problems.
“This was my first WPC experience and the box is very deceiving. It’s small and really light, but I was pleasantly surprised at how loud we were able to get it. The festival production manager made a comment about the WPC, WPL and MLA during the noise test where he said they all had this incredible clarity without ripping your face off with high end SPL. All of the guest engineers were really happy with the PA in terms of audio quality, clarity and coverage and they all had a great experience mixing on it. It’s what I expected from having a Martin Audio PA and the scalable resolution is really cool, giving us tremendous flexibility based on how many amps we have available.”
Speaking of Festival Production Manager Grant Simmon, he sums up the sound reinforcement by saying: "Martin Audio continues to support Riot Fest not only with its impressive audio systems, but also its support.This was a tough year for Riot with sustained winds of 30mph.Once we knew we were in for a fight, we reprogrammed all the PA's and were able to stay show ready thru what would could be described as ‘weather just barely good enough to have a show."
Photography by Kelly Fleming.