Do’s & Don’ts for Small Festival Providers

In my last post, I discussed assembling a survival kit for the upcoming outdoor festival season. Continuing with that theme, I’ll talk about and list some do’s and don’ts concerning the setup and deployment of gear on show day, dealing with festival organizers, ego-driven entertainers, and stage safety. While I realize many of my readers are pro’s and might argue the merits of some of my points, the target audience for this blog is for the technician or crew member who is new to the business. For you industry veterans, you might look at this as a quick refresher for your crew, especially when it comes to safety.

Do – Assemble a notebook that includes entertainment and festival information such as the daily entertainment schedule, stage plots, sponsor lists and contact information for fest organizers, security etc. This book will be a valuable guide for you and your team and should be used as a road map during any festival.

Don’t – Have a lazy “we’ll deal with whatever, whenever” attitude to your business. Festival organizers and the entertainment will notice your half-ass approach, which will yield more problems and sour attitudes than you need.

Do – Bring more “accessory” type support equipment than not. I can tell you that extra mic cables, DI boxes, mic clips, MP3 cables, gaff tape, gaffers tape shirtclamps, bungee cords, tie-down straps(and ratchets) and tarps will save the day. I always brought plenty of the large barrel size garbage bags. They are ideal to slide a wedge monitor into and can be used to help keep many other items dry. I can tell you that sending one of your techs back to the shop or to the nearest Home Depot to get any of this stuff is a waste of time, will add to your job costs (which directly effect your net revenue) and makes for a stressful work environment.

Don’t – Have the attitude that inclement weather is no big deal. I’ve heard people say “we’ve prayed for it to not rain”, or “we’ll be fine”. This is absolutely the wrong perspective and Mother Nature will not listen. It’s always better to be prepared for worst case scenarios when considering what can quickly happen when dealing with the weather. Bring more tarps than may be necessary. If your gear and the stage are under a tent, don’t think that tent will not collapse under the force of heavy rain and gusting winds. My crew has heard me say a thousand times “eyes to the sky” and “golf course rules”. storm radarWith today’s smart phones, there’s no reason to not be checking a weather app and radar to see if any bad stuff is coming. If it looks as though you are in the path of a storm, alert your crew, the entertainment and the event organizers that inclement weather may be approaching. Have your tarps ready; save your gear!! If you hear thunder in the distance, you can be hit by lightning. So caution has to be the rule. More often than not, musicians will want to play on through when it’s raining. Don’t do it! Using electrical equipment in wet conditions is no different than taking a bath with your toaster. Standing on a wet stage, playing a guitar or touching a metal audio mixer is just stupid. Those of you who have been through a real electric shock can tell you it’s absolutely brutal and can kill. Similarly, people will want to run under the tent during rain or storms. Bad Idea. Why? Because a tent frame made of metal and can become a giant lightning rod. You are safer standing in the street getting wet rather than under the tent. For me, I always demand the final say as to when to shut down the system, pull power cords and cover the gear and, when the storm passes, when (or if) the stage will be ready to start back up.

Do – Be cautious after a storm has passed. Just because the rain and wind have subsided doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Check the radar to see if any trailing storms are again heading to your location. Often on the hot, humid days, a storm can hit within minutes of the last one. There’s nothing worse than pulling your wet tarps off the gear, starting a stage re-set, then having to scurry to tarp up the gear a few minutes later.Festival Goers In Rain Additionally, there may be standing water or puddles on or around the stage. Standing in water with wet clothes when firing up the amp rack is silly. Use common sense when dealing with water and electrical equipment. Leave the barbecue’n to the food vendors. Lastly, the fest organizers may pressure you to get the stage going and the entertainment performing. Before allowing this, check your equipment for moisture, make sure the stage is dry and don’t take chances. Sometimes those organizers are not thinking clearly when they are dealing with a wet festival, empty streets and sinking revenue because of rain.

Don’t – Be bitchy to the performers. Yeah I know, performers’ egos can be hard to deal with during tough festival conditions. But taking the high road and pocketing your attitude is the best policy for success. Sound, lighting and crew members in general have gained a long-standing reputation for being stupid, grumpy, dirty and more. Be the exception to this old and sometimes deserved perspective. Frankly, a less-is-more attitude is the way to go here.

Do – Be sensible when cranking up the system and setting volume levels. Just because you have a 20k watt PA doesn’t mean it needs to be at full throttle during the first band who plays for a couple hundred children at 10am. I always tried to give the system someplace to go. Start at a sensible and moderate output level and increase as the day moves on. decibel meterThe time to crank it is during the headliner or last act. Similarly, keep the break time or between band music at a lower level (unless fest organizers want it cranked). Doing this serves several purposes. First, it gives you, your crew and the audience a chance to rest your ears. Second, it allows the next act to stand apart from the between-act music. Also, always consider your environment when providing break music. Typical family fests will likely frown upon Ozzie being cranked at 11am during the kids’ band’s break. This music is not for you. Nobody wants to listen to your Yes, Genesis, Outfield mix disc. I like to ask the fest organizers to provide a preloaded iPod containing their choice for appropriate music. Just remember, you’re in a family environment.

Don’t – keep you stage messy and cluttered. Maintaining a clean, safe stage is a reflection of how you do your business. Be sure to properly wind cables that are not in use and place them in designated tubs, trunks or cases. Mic lines, speaker cable runs, snakes etc. should always be taped down or secured so your crew and those providing entertainment don’t trip. Messy Cables On StageThere’s nothing worse than jumping up on a stage and hitting a loose cord and having it roll under your feet, resulting in a fall on your ass. Similarly, keep case lids, empty transports, tarps and anything not used during the day out of site and safely secured. Put empty food and drink containers in the garbage. Remind the on-stage entertainers to clean the stage upon their conclusion. You and your crew are not their maids or the stage janitors.

Do – Keep the kids, band friends and non-authorized personnel off the stage and out of your work areas. Don’t think twice about finding security personnel should a beer-enhanced patron be giving you trouble. Don’t place these types of situations in your own hands, as it will only make the situation worse.

Don’t – Invite family and friends to sit under the front-of-house tent. Remember, you are working, not providing V.I.P. seating and cooler storage for your buddies. They will get in the way and can prevent you from doing your job. As a musician, I can tell you there is nothing more frustrating than to be on stage and trying to get the attention of the sound guy, only to find them preoccupied talking with their friends or texting and not doing their job.

Do – Be ready for the evening. Make sure your front-of-house tent has light so you can see your gear. Think ahead. Is everything ready for the sun’s exit? Do you have flashlights? View from FOHRemember that when the sun goes down, the weirdos come out. Keep a sharp eye on your gear, the stage and the front-of-house area. With the headliners playing during the evening, the crowd will likely be large and sometimes can hamper your ability to get to the stage when needed. I often will position one of my staff at each side of the stage when crowds are large. If you are behind the mixer, keep your head up. Too often I see front-of-house engineers with their head down and staring at the mixer. Look around at what’s going on and anticipate any potential issues. Remember, visual communication with the on-stage entertainers is important.

Don’t – Leave anything behind when loading out. Once the trucks are loaded and before you’re ready to leave, do a walk through and check the stage, under the stage, front-of-house location and adjacent areas for stray gear. You’ll often be surprised at what you’ll find.

I’m sure I’ve left out some other hints. But I think if you implement these simple suggestions, your event will go as expected, your staff will be safe and booking that same job for next year will be easy.