Strings Music Festival: Festival prep
July 20, 2017
The Strings Music Festival stage hosts a wide variety of shows, from classical orchestra to bluegrass to rock-and-roll to storytellers and children's performers. For my purposes as the stage manager for the festival, preparations for these shows generally fall into two categories: Classical and Everyone Else.
Most classical shows — especially the large orchestras — include nine hours of onstage rehearsal in the week leading up to the performance. The program order is decided in advance, so I can create a preliminary stage changeover plan for each show before the season even starts. For me, rehearsals are for tweaking the plan and addressing changes.
The pieces are often rehearsed in order of largest instrumentation to smallest, so musicians can be released when the pieces they're in are finished. But dress rehearsal — held the morning of the performance — is usually done in show order, which gives me one chance to practice the stage changes. Occasionally, we'll do dress rehearsal in reverse show order, so when rehearsal is over, the stage is already set for the top of the show. That means I don't get to rehearse the actual stage changes, but it's nice to have the top of show work finished.
For amplified, non-classical shows, full rehearsals are unusual. The shows are usually "one-offs" — meaning they arrive to the venue with their gear on the day of the performance and leave with their gear after the performance is over — and, they're touring one show to multiple venues.
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Without real rehearsal time, we only have one shot to get it right. Following is the order of the day.
- Load-in: We unload the band's gear from the truck and set it up onstage. We run cables to amps, instruments, microphones and monitors. This is first heavy-lifting portion of the day.
- Line check: Once everything's plugged in, we test each microphone to make sure the cable is working properly and is going into the right channel on the sound board. Mostly, this means one of the sound crew clapping or snapping in front of each mic to make sure there's a signal.
- Sound check: The band members take their places onstage with their instruments. They play something, and the monitor engineer sets an individual mix — that's the relative volume level of each instrumental and vocal mic — into each band member's monitor. Once everyone's happy with the onstage monitor mix, the band plays a few songs, so the sound engineers can adjust the mix for the house — this is what the audience will hear, thoough in a house as intimate as Strings', the stage monitor volume plays a role in the house mix, as well.
- Rehearsal: It's unusual for a one-off show to rehearse the entire performance, but they will if they have a new band member or if they haven't been out on the road together in a while and feel the need to refresh themselves. More often, they'll do a quick rehearsal after sound check of only the new songs in the set. If there are no new songs, the band breaks until dinner.
- Load-out: this is the second heavy-lifting portion of the day, where we coil up all the cables, re-case the gear and put it all back into the band's truck. Then, we have beer.
Depending on the amount of equipment involved and the fussiness of the artist, load-in can start as early as 10 a.m. or as late as 4:30 p.m. for a 7 p.m. show. As you can imagine, I'm much more fond of a late-afternoon load-in, because it's a signal to the Strings crew that the visiting artist is pretty chill and the working mood is likely to be low-key.
But it doesn't really matter how we get there, does it? All preparations at Strings Music Festival are aimed at show time. Regardless of which category they're in, for my purposes, the artists know that nothing — not the most perfect of dress rehearsals or the hippest of sound-check jam sessions — can match the actual energy and excitement of stepping onstage in front of a live audience eager to share their music.
Tickets are available at 970-879-5056 and stringsmusicfestival.com.
Ali Mignone is the stage manager for Strings Music Festival, among other things. When she's not telling roadies and musicians what to do, you can find her hiking, biking or skiing around the Yampa Valley and blogging at thequirkyquill.com.