Do’s & Don’ts for Small Festival Providers

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.

Staging Crews Get Ready

Staging Crews Get Ready

Here we are in April and, for most large and small sound and staging companies and our teams, it’s time to get ready for the outdoor season. You’ve likely spent the late fall and winter resting up from last summer’s fests and shows, while cleaning gear, painting cabinets and doing the all-important, down-time maintenance.

If you’re the company’s new guy, you’ve likely been told to start scraping some type of dried human funk off the cables, cases and racks.

Gear Repair

Those of you who are lucky enough to have purchased new equipment during this time are probably busy learning the cumbersome menus of a new digital mixer, experimenting with new settings on that speaker management processor and even doing some tests on those new speaker rigs that will be deployed at the many festivals during the coming months.

In a matter of just days, it’ll be time to start the real work. But this is the fun part. Seeing all your hard work during the past several months being successfully used on stage by local and national acts is a great feeling. The sound, the looks and the positive comments are why we do this. Yeah, I know, the money is kind of important too. As much as our family and friends might think we do this for the love of it, we also realize we do this for a living.

homewood days gear in shop

Having worked as a crew member, stage manager, sound engineer and company owner, I’m continuously amazed at what I see the crews and employees do to themselves during the busy season. Let’s not forget that we have heavy lifting, harsh weather, ear-damaging volume, ungrateful audiences, porta-potties and more to deal with on a daily basis . I think you’d agree that what we put ourselves through is rough, taxing and seems to make us old quicker than many other career choices. And don’t get me started on the food… festival food… under-cooked burgers, barbecued everything and God knows what’s in that deep-fryer…? Why does my deep-fried ice cream kinda taste like fish?

So in the spirit of the season, I thought I’d toss out a few tips and reminders to help us get through, be safe and have more fun in this sometimes harsh outdoor festival environment.

Bring a survival kit and cooler. Too often I see rookies show up for work with just the clothes on their back. By the end of a hot and humid day, these young and strong individuals are sometimes useless, smell bad, have sunburn and they seem to frequently disappear, often having found the love of a certain outdoor toilet. So, he’s what I pack and bring..

  • A couple changes of clothing
  • Back brace
  • Extra socks & shoes (changing your socks can revive sore feet and a tired back)
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug repellent
  • Antacid & anti-diarrhea meds
  • Work gloves (ones with sticky-grip palms can help for lifting those slick cabinets)
  • Sun glasses
  • Ear protection
  • Jacket (cuz it can get cold at night)
  • Hat
  • Disposable rain poncho
  • Energy bars, crackers, granola (snacks with salt and sugar)
  • Lots of cold water (bring a small cooler)
  • Juice or clear soda (try to avoid caffeine as it can dehydrate you)
  • Flashlight, pocket knife or Leatherman
  • Breath mints (for the benefit of your coworkers)
  • Anti-fungal (yes guys… for your feet and that other area)
  • Eye drops or wash
  • Wet wipes or baby wipes
  • Extra cash, your ID (do I really need to tell you this?)

I know you’re thinking “this guy wants me to bring my luggage to work”. Yup! Bring anything that will make you feel comfortable and allow you to work better and safer. Don’t wear a tank top. All that exposed skin can assist in getting sunburn on more areas. Plus they look unprofessional. Who the hell wants to see your arm pit hair, etc. My employees get sent home if they show up for work wearing one of these. Frankly, you just need to act and look like you give a shit.

Lastly, let me discuss dehydration, overheating & heat strokeĀ Web MD: Heat Exhaustion . I can’t stress the importance of staying hydrated. Having been a victim of heatstroke, I can tell you it’s scary and can kill you. It will get the best of you and make you drop before you realize it’s too late. And it can get you even when you think you’re sufficiently hydrated. Some years ago I was working at a local fest doing sound and thought I was properly hydrated. However, the 100+ temps combined with 90% humidity kicked my ass. I woke up in an ambulance not understanding what had happened.


A week-long stay in the hospital taught me a valuable lesson….. water, water, water. My doctor told me to look at my urine. If there is any color to it, I’m not drinking enough water or fluids. Absolutely stay away from coffee, energy drinks and caffeinated drink. They will all contribute to your being dehydrated. Please notice I didn’t mention sports drinks in my list above, like Gatorade. While they have their purpose, continuously slamming these will only give you diarrhea, which also contributes to dehydration. I can tell you from experience that there’s nothing worse than having this issue and having to live in a hot, smelly porta-potty. It’s not a good time. Don’t think that by power-driving Gatorade, you’re doing yourself any favors.

Lastly…. Alcohol consumption is also a factor in contributing to dehydration. I No Alcoholguess the more important question would be why you’re drinking on the job?

But I’ll leave that answer to the shrinks. As a business owner, my rule for the crew was, that on nights when there is no tear down involved, you can have a beer after the last set of the last band has started. Though through the years, I’m always pleased to see that very few of my employees had any desire to “drink” after a day of festival sound, lights and stage turns dealing with musicians. For most of us, the end of the work day meant going home, taking a long shower and collapsing in bed in hopes of a good night’s sleep. Remember, you likely have to do the whole thing again tomorrow….

Thanks for reading and listening to me and my motherly ways. Be safe out there this festival season. It’s a great job, of which many are envious.

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