Think you have been to more concerts than anyone you know? Meet Ryan Williams, aka R-Dub. He probably has you beat.
His passion was born in 1994 at his first concert, 104 Fest at Riverside Park in New York. Since that day, he has seen 708 different bands, 215 of which he has seen more than once. His list spans all genres, including musicians like Aerosmith, Alanis Morrisette, Blake Shelton, Eminem, Fuel, Kayne West and The Verve Pipe. The two bands he has seen the most are Pearl Jam (11 times) and Korn (nine times).
Believe him? He has every single concert ticket and backstage pass (stored in chronological order) saved to prove it. And “yes, I have a spreadsheet of every band I have ever seen and how many times I have seen them,” he says.
It probably comes as no surprise then that R-Dub made his passion for music into a job. JHE’s senior production coordinator/concert producer narrowed down his top-10 concert experiences (and no it was not easy!):
Top-Five JHE Concerts:
1. Keith Urban at Daytona International Speedway (2009)
Most memorable moment: Prior to the main show, there was a media-only acoustic performance.
Most challenging production moment: It was the first performance where we did one song prior to TV taking it live, and there were some issues. The pre-show song saved the big show.
2. Three Days Grace at Richmond International Raceway (2008)
Most memorable AND challenging production moment: A tropical storm hit the city on the day the band was scheduled to land. Everything at the track was suspended for the day. We worked with management, the band and our client to reschedule everything and do a stripped down version of the show Sunday morning before the race.
3. Kid Rock at Homestead-Miami Speedway (2012)
Most memorable AND challenging production moment: Kid Rock travels with a large band so we had a lot more gear on the stage than we normally do for any performance. When Kid Rock and the Twisted Brown Trucker Band came out for the sound check, it all came together immediately and sounded perfect.
4. Orianthi at Daytona International Speedway (2012)
Most memorable moment: The production of this concert wasn’t hard; instead it was just really interesting to see someone with her credits playing at a race track. The night following opening ceremonies, she played an electric set in the fan zone. One of my personal favorite highlights was the “VooDoo Child” solo she played one-handed.
5. Red Hot Chili Peppers at Charlotte Motor Speedway (2006)
Most memorable moment: A late night jam session with the band.
Most challenging production moment: The band was scheduled to play two songs from the new album, “Stadium Arcadium,” in between segments at the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Unfortunately, NASCAR schedules and band schedules rarely coincide with each other. When the race was starting back up, the band was midway through a third song they had decided to play on the fly.
Top-Five Personal Concerts:
1. Pearl Jam – Tweeter Center, Mansfield, Mass. (2003)
Pearl Jam booked three nights at the same venue and only repeated two songs over the course of three days. I happened to be at the show that featured an hourlong acoustic performance that opened the show. To date, it is still one of the longest “PJ” shows ever and a fan-favorite. When we go to see them, people are always surprised to hear I went to the “Mansfield 3.”
2. Bruce Springsteen – Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y. (2002)
I was asked by a co-worker at lunch if I was interested in going to the show. It was an easy choice to make on my end. Bruce was doing 10 days at MSG as part of the 2002 tour. It was great seeing an “evening with” such a big name at a historical venue.
3. Roger Waters – Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, N.C. (2013)
Seeing Roger Waters perform one of my favorite albums from start to finish was amazing, although the best moment was when he played “Comfortably Numb.” The level of production was like nothing I had ever seen before.
4. U2 – Atlanta Dome, Atlanta, Ga. (2009)
When U2 went out on the 360 Tour, there was a huge amount of media buzz about the stage and what the tour would be like. It still holds the record as the largest touring stage ever, the second time U2 has held that title. The fact that they had three replicas of the stage made it even more amazing. The most memorable moment was walking in and seeing “The Spaceship” stage. I was lucky enough to catch the show in Chicago in 2011 as well. U2 never puts on a bad show, and they didn’t disappoint with this tour.
5. Beastie Boys – Amos Southend, Charlotte, N.C. (2008)
In 2008, the Beastie Boys, Sheryl Crow and Santigold teamed up for a “Rock the Vote” Tour. Most of the shows were in theaters or arenas but Charlotte landed a club show. The venue sold out in less than five minutes. To see them on one of their final tours, up-close on a small stage, was something I will remember forever.
This list was almost impossible to make. Here are my five honorable mentions:
- Metallica – Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. (2003)
- Guns N’ Roses – Hartford, Conn. (2002)
- Eminem and Jay Z – Yankee Stadium, Bronx, N.Y. (2010)
- Bob Dylan – University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, N.C. (2011)
- Foo Fighters – Atlanta, Ga. (2012)
Want to know what’s happening in the concert world? Find R-Dub on Twitter at @R_Dub81.
Ryan Williams, R-Dub, Aerosmith, Alanis Morrisette, Blake Shelton, Eminem, Fuel, Kayne West, The Verve Pipe, Pearl Jam, Korn, Keith Urban, Daytona International Speedway, Three Days Grace, Richmond International Raceway, Kid Rock, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Orianthi, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR, Pearl Jam, Mansfield 3, Bruce Springsteen, Madison Square Garden, Tweeter Center, Roger Waters, Time Warner Cable Arena, U2, Atlanta Dome, Beastie Boys, Amos Southend
While my job in the special events department holds many responsibilities, one of my favorite roles to fill is announcer manager. Now what is that you might ask? As a member of the opening ceremonies team, the announcer manager manages everything the opening ceremonies emcee says from start to finish.
Prior to the race, the event producer feeds information to me, and I develop a script for the announcer. On-site, I finesse the script, make changes as they occur throughout the weekend and meet with the announcer to walk through the script before each race.
Once it is race time, the intensity increases quickly. I’m wearing a radio and listening to both the NASCAR and JHE teams. With communication coming from two sources, people are constantly talking to me and changes happen quickly. It’s key to stay on your toes for whatever is thrown at you. Being “in show” with so many moving parts is the most challenging part of the job but also my favorite aspect. Managing the momentum and anticipation of a live event is thrilling and becomes second nature with practice.
Though the job can be intense, it is also a nice break from the norm. I love traveling and exploring new cities as well as the opportunity to work with employees I don’t usually interact with and see faces that are always on the road. Occasionally known as the “road mom,” the job sometime calls for a random trip to the infield care center with a sick co-worker or an attempt at helping our hauler drivers make a meal. I’m no chef, but I can make a mean PB&J.
One of my favorite memories as an announcer manager is from Texas Motor Speedway when Eddie Gossage was serving as announcer for an IndyCar race. I was staring at Eddie’s toes while cueing him from the flagstand. It was definitely a different take on the role! Through a variety of different settings and challenges at the track, I’ve cemented a fun relationship with the permanent track announcer who is always up for a few practical jokes.
Everyone at JHE wears many hats, and this role is no different. It’s important to be flexible and willing to jump in wherever and whenever help is needed. When the opening ceremony ends, you feel a huge sense of accomplishment for being a part of the team who created such an impressive show.
– Kristin Thompson
Kristin Thompson, announcer manager, opening ceremonies, NASCAR, Texas Motor Speedway, Eddie Gossage, IndyCar
For the second year, Sprint hired JHE to create and manage its interactive fan display at NBA All-Star Jam Session, the five-day fan experience leading up to the All-Star Game. Brandon Stegall, director of operations and facilities, takes us behind the scenes to reveal five things you might not know about the experience:
- The Sprint layout was designed to resemble a basketball court, complete with the wooden flooring and yellow touches, Sprint’s signature color.
- A Skull Candy DJ will live in a 12-foot “crow’s nest” that replicates the appearance of the “top of the key.” The custom-built stage features Plexiglass, wooden flooring and Sprint branding.
- It took two fabricators working eight hours a day for one full week to build the custom handrails and stage that will be a part of the display.
- The planning for an inside event is much different than the outdoor NASCAR events that JHE produces for Sprint. The footprint is much more defined so JHE must work within stricter confines to produce the experience.
- The Sprint display offers autograph sessions, a basketball court and a store displaying the brand’s newest innovations.
NBA All-Star Jam Session kicked off at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas on February 13.
– Brandon Stegall
Brandon Stegall, Sprint, NBA All-Star Jam Session, Skull Candy, George R. Brown Convention Center
Early December 2012, I was asked by Michael Verlatti to help design a custom system that would drop a curtain on cue during the unveiling of the NASCAR Fan and Media Engagement Center. The room was unique in several ways; one of the most notable was that its walls consisted of thick glass panels from floor to ceiling.
We looked at pictures of the space and did a site visit to assess our options. We immediately figured out that typical Kabuki Solenoid systems were out of the question since there was nowhere to hang anything and adding structure would take away from the look of the room. Instead, we opted to use electromagnets to do the drop. The magnets would be turned on to hold the curtain up via a piece of metal attached to the fabric. When it was time for the reveal, the magnets would be turned off and the curtain would drop.
I then set out to design and implement the electromagnet system. I found a company in New Jersey that had what I was looking for and purchased four 12V magnets for a test run. The mock-up successfully dropped the fabric and I knew we had found what we needed for the reveal. I ordered twenty more magnets, each a little shorter and more powerful than the test ones.
The large quantity of magnets required a bigger power supply than we had in-house at JHE so I ordered some equipment to power the magnets and give us precise control to cut power. I built and wired up a control box that housed all the electronics then installed a large button to release the magnets and a safety switch to prevent an accidental drop.
Next, we ordered a somewhat translucent, neutral-colored, lightweight fabric and had it sewn into a drape that would fit the room’s dimensions. Small squares of steel were attached to the drape with buttons so we could place them where they needed to be on-site. I soldered and attached all the magnets to a cord, placing each one evenly apart yet close enough so the fabric wouldn’t sag. The process took quite a while; imagine putting together a strand of Christmas lights from scratch, where each light is the size of a hockey puck and weighs a little over a pound!
In order to attach the magnets to the glass, we wrapped the top six inches and glued the magnets to the wrap with superglue to keep them sturdily in place. The wrap enabled us to attach the magnets to something other than just the glass so when the event was over we could peel-off the wrap and magnets, leaving the glass clean and undisturbed.
After several test drops it was clear the system would work excellently. The day of the event, the team used a few tiny pieces of Velcro to keep the fabric tight around the room. With some other fancy set pieces and decals the room looked excellent and was ready for the big reveal.
The event started, people started filing in and I took my position at the control box. Verlatti was up front and cued me over radio when to drop the curtain. The time came and I “armed” the box and hit the button when I heard “drop, drop, drop.” I heard the sound of the curtain falling, immediately followed by people clapping and amazement with the engagement center. We had some people in place to pull the curtain away and out of sight quickly. Interestingly enough since I was always the person hitting the button, I never actually saw it happen first hand.
It all happened very fast but all that prep work paid off. The custom-made system designed exclusively for this event was just what the client had in mind.
– Joe Sullivan
Michael Verlatti, Joe Sullivan, NASCAR Fan and Media Engagement Center, NASCAR, technology, custom designs
As 2012 comes to an end, there is one last party to organize to celebrate an incredible year and kick off 2013 in style.
JHE asked Vice President of Special Events, Jacqueline Gafrarar, who always throws spectacular soirees to share her top-five tips to planning a memorable New Year’s Eve party:
1. Food, food, food
No party is complete without yummy food to eat! From dips to cheese to something sweet, you have to craft the right menu! Be sure to prepare in advance and consider how much time you will need to cook each item so everything is ready when your guests arrive.
2. Tasty cocktails
Whether your palate prefers beer, wine or a fancy mixed drink, there must be a plethora of options. If there is a mixologist at the party, taste test different shots. Some of my favorites include “tiny beers” and “choco shakes.” And don’t forget the champagne for the midnight toast!
3. Party favors
Everyone needs the right party favors to ring in the New Year. Stock up on fun accessories like party hats, horns and clappers to welcome in 2013.
4. Don’t forget the décor
When ringing in the New Year, balloons signifying 2013 are always a hit. I also like to incorporate clocks that are set to go off at midnight to ensure that New Year’s kiss with your significant other!
5. Be responsible
Last, but certainly not least, remember to be a responsible party host. If your guests have been drinking, offer for them to spend the night, call a cab or have a designated driver on hand to drive them home.
JHE wishes you a safe and happy New Year!
Jacqueline Gafrarar, New Year's Eve, party tips
Our employees have several travel options for getting to the next live event. As the Fleet Administrator for JHE, yours truly opted to travel in style via one of our 18-wheel tractor trailer units. What better way to get a sneak peek of what it’s like to work an opening ceremony at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the NASCAR Sprint Cup AdvoCare 500 race.
Riding in a big semi gives you a new perspective on traveling down the highway. Seeing and experiencing firsthand some of the challenges a professional driver faces on today’s busy interstates has provided me with new insights to help strengthen our safety program. In addition to viewing road safety and compliance challenges from the driver’s perspective, there was also the fun side of traveling in a big rig. My driver for the day tells me, “Did you know you can see perfectly into the car traveling beside you?” This makes for very good people watching. Another perk? “Ladies – with all that room inside the cab you can also take as many suitcases as you want.” This was only a three day trip so I didn’t need that option. Besides with all my years of air travel I’ve learned how to pack but it is nice to know the option exists.
Once the equipment is parked the drivers work is not done. They now have to face the challenge of building the stage at the race track regardless of weather conditions. We lucked out in Atlanta and had no rain but the heat was definitely a factor. However, the JHE staff didn’t miss a beat and watching the events unfold over the course of the weekend was a thrill. Military-like precision dominated from the execution of the build to the run of show to the tear down making the ceremonies seem effortless. The comradery and professionalism were palpable and made you proud to be part of the team (even if only for the weekend).
Montgomery Gentry was the lead act of the weekend (Frank and William, if by sheer coincidence you are reading this, after meeting you and watching your performance you have made me an even bigger fan. Thanks for injecting some fun, humor, and excitement into a long day!). But after watching the JHE team members in action, the headliners were not the only rock stars in Atlanta. Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to experience up close what JHE does so well.
In a blink of an eye, the show was packed up and ready to head back to Harrisburg, N.C. My trip back commenced and I didn’t worry as I knew I was in good hands. My chauffer for the evening, along with his entertaining steering wheel drum solos, had 14 years of “over the road” experience and had logged over 1.5 million miles. As hard as I tried to be a good ride buddy and stay awake somewhere along that long stretch of I-85 my ride turned dreamlike… Do I see a Vegas trip in my near future?
– Julie Alascio
Fleet, Julie Alascio, Atlanta Motor Speedway, NASCAR, Sprint Cup, Montgomery Gentry
Near the end of my freshman year of college, I started to look for work for my summer break. A close friend of mine helped me get a position with a stage crew at a local Live Nation venue. With that, my career in live entertainment began. There was no training day or a “come in and get your feet wet” period; you had one chance to prove you could do it or look for work elsewhere.
On my first day, I was tasked with loading in Joni Mitchell and a 40-piece orchestra. All seemed to go well, and it was an easy start to a job. Within two weeks, I was loading in cathedral backdrops for Don Henley and setting up drums for Mike Portnoy. Over the summer, I worked close to 30 shows, covering every style of music possible. I also was tapped to be a runner since the venue was in my hometown and I could help with local needs. To pass time on long days, I also helped set up hospitality in the band’s dressing rooms.
At the time, I was studying for a job in radio broadcasting, so working the stage portion of the industry seemed to fit in pretty well. After working that first summer, I realized I enjoyed the live set up of a concert more than the “behind the mic” life of radio. There was never a better feeling of accomplishment than seeing a performance start from an empty stage and turn into a large-scale production, then disappear again within a few short hours. I would spend the next three years working at the theater on my breaks from school.
Although I enjoyed working the stage and live events, I was still in school pursuing my first love of radio. I served as an office assistant for a year, and then was promoted to the Loud Rock Music Director for the school’s radio station, WECS. My days were spent working with promotion companies in getting new and upcoming artists on the radio and played on our station. For two years, I worked charting “Spins” on our station, and reporting them to College Music Journal (CMJ) and the national publication, FMQB. I was also one of the directors for the station. I along with 2 other musical directors was responsible for schedules and monitoring the station while students and locals were on the air.
I also spent a year as a promotions intern at the local Hartford radio station, The Rock 106.9 WCCC. The station was an independent rock station that has been in Hartford for over 50 years. Constantly evolving to keep with the times, yet also playing host to classic rock, WCCC has always been a staple of Connecticut radio. It was also the first station in the US to give shock rock Howard Stern his own radio show.
My internship helped me get ready for JHE much like my stage job had. Get to an event, set it up in a short time, and execute something the fans would enjoy. We always had to look ahead for items that would cause a “hic-up” or impose a problem.
The basics I learned during my internship have proven true in my career at JHE. As the Senior Production Coordinator/Concert Producer, I have to remember to always be a step ahead, envision problems (and solutions) that could arise and be willing to be flexible. When I came to work at JHE, there were only a few live entertainment events on a large scale. I used the knowledge I had gained, along with time and dedication to prove I could successfully run big events like Food Lion Speed Street.
Over the years, I have used my knowledge and passion to continue to grow the department, enabling us to tackle any event thrown our way. JHE’s potential for further growth is exciting, and I’m looking forward to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
concerts, live entertainment, RDub
The 30th Olympic Games have begun and as always the opening ceremonies were a highlight for me. This event was different from what we experienced four years ago, but like Beijing, there were memorable moments that we won't soon forget.
When recounting the highlights of the four-hour long ceremony, it is hard to pick out my favorite moments especially when you had David Beckham, Paul McCartney, James Bond, Mr. Bean and a skydiving queen.
There have been remarkable advancements with integration of video product in live stadiums, but we have never seen them used in the grandstands before. The event producers took low resolution video tiles and broke them into squares mounted to the seats. By utilizing the screens this way, they were able to create a TV-friendly "card trick" that could happen as often as they liked and on cue. This was the first time I have seen video tiles used this way, but I guarantee it will not be the last.
As a behind-the-scenes guy, I was impressed at how the producers included the men and women that built the stadium into the show. This was a classy touch.
The set pieces that were integrated throughout the performance were a highlight for me. From the forging of the rings to the lighting of the torch, each of these elements started small but built into massive props that once illuminated were impressive and unforgettable.
Very few people in the world know how difficult it is to organize the thousands of cast members that participated in this production, but Danny Boyle should be proud of what he was able to accomplish. He did an excellent job of educating as well as entertaining the 80,000 in attendance and 40 million viewers watching from home as he paid tribute to his country’s rich history both past and a classy nod to the future.
We are pulling for the U.S. Olympic team and especially for our five Charlotte swimmers. Here is to bringing home the gold!
Michael Verlatti, Olympics, Danny Boyle, Opening Ceremony, U.S. Olympic Team
Since JHE’s beginning, May has been the benchmark month for the company. We have more projects in more venues than any other time of year.
The NASCAR Sprint All-Star week in Charlotte is what separates the men from the boys and the women from the girls. One of the marquee events is the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race opening ceremony. In a matter of minutes a race track that moments ago was filled with race cars is transformed into a rock show style spectacle complete with video walls, pyrotechnics, live audio, and all of the pomp and circumstance that should accompany a pro-sports all-star event.
In the months leading up to the show, all of the artwork and video designs are rendered for approval. The print materials are sized, drawn, proofed, and printed to fit the client’s standards. The video portion goes through a similar process, but often the final versions are not able to be fully completed until within days of the show.
Once the physical aspects of the stages are decided, we map out the technical plan including cable paths for the video, lighting, audio, and communication lines. The main goal is to provide the necessary data to the required locations on the stages and have them powered up and with signal in minutes. In addition, it would be impossible to move the stage into place for the show as one piece since it is approximately 150 feet long and more than 20 feet wide. So instead it rolls out as seven separate main pieces that need to be connected with assorted signal cables once it is in place.
Early in the week, the technical guys load the video walls, speaker stacks, communication drops, and lighting fixtures. Once this is done and signal paths are checked, it is ready for show time.
When the Sprint Showdown checkered flag flies, a dozen technical members connect the various cables and wires needed for the speakers, lights and videos within five minutes or less.
The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race opening ceremony joins several events during those two weeks including Food Lion Speed Street, NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Day, Speedway Children’s Charity Gala, and the Coca-Cola 600.
These two weeks in May highlight the critical nature of what we do and how imperative it is to have a well-organized plan, talented team members and a passion that surpasses all expectations.
See you next time,
NASCAR All Star, Pit Crew Challenge, Food Lion Speed Street