Live Sound

Classic L.A. Clubs: The Roxy Theatre

LEGENDARY LIVE MUSIC VENUE UNDERGOES AUDIO UPGRADE

The Roxy Theatre’s FOH engineer Donovan Haney (left) and production manager Dann Saxton.

The Roxy Theatre immediately established itself as a cultural touchstone on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood—already home to other historically important and vibrant clubs such as the Whisky A Go-Go—when it opened as a music venue on September 20, 1973, with Neil Young as the headliner. The Roxy’s original partnership comprised music business veterans Elmer Valentine, Lou Adler, David Geffen, Elliot Roberts and Peter Asher, who launched the club by presenting such artists as Linda Ronstadt, Frank Zappa and Genesis during its first year. In the years and decades since, The Roxy has hosted the likes of Bruce Springsteen, X, David Bowie, Warren Zevon, Van Morrison, Billy Joel, Nirvana, Motley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses, Joan Jett, Sex Pistols, Jay-Z, Foo Fighters, and Arcade Fire. The venue remains in the Adler family today, owned by Lou Adler and his son, Nic Adler.

“I think that it’s great that the club is family owned,” says Donovan Haney, The Roxy Theatre’s head FOH engineer, who has worked there for three years. “The Sunset Strip is one of the last places where second-generation club owners—third generation in the case of The Whisky—are still passionate about the clubs and business that their family started.”

“Working closely with the Adler family—Lou, Nic and Cisco—on numerous projects has opened my eyes to how impressive longevity really is in the music venue business,” says Dann Saxton, The Roxy Theatre’s production manager. “To have done everything in-house for 40 years is incredible. The Roxy isn’t just a bar and a stage; it’s a trendsetter and a safe place for artists to introduce their vision to the music industry. There’s an integrity and ‘vibe’ that the Adler family has kept alive here, and as a manager of the club I’ve adopted that vibe, and our staff helps convey that to the artists and patrons.”

Saxton says that The Roxy presents all types of music. “We’re known for rock ’n’ roll for sure, but we have music of all kinds: folk, R&B, pop acts, comedians, hip-hop, punk shows, hardcore shows, etc.,” he says. “We used to have many local shows [but] recently we’ve refocused our booking and most shows are national acts and we throw on local openers.

“There’s a magic about this place that you can feel walking through the hall backstage,” adds Saxton, who joined the staff in February 2008. “It’s in a building that was built in the 1920s. Here’s a story: Van Halen rehearsed at The Roxy for two months in 2011. They loaded in every other day in the mornings, and they would go through songs for a few hours onstage. David Lee Roth and I became close, and one day he told me that when Bob Marley was playing The Roxy in 1976, Van Halen was outside handing out flyers to their show! Then one day I was talking to Rivers Cuomo—Weezer was playing The Roxy in 2012—and I told him that story. Rivers went on to tell me that when Van Halen was playing in the late ’80s, Weezer had just moved to L.A. and was outside handing out flyers for their shows. It just shows you how the music scene in L.A. continues to feed itself—the cycle of the Sunset Strip. I wonder who was handing out flyers at that Weezer show!”

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Haney cites The Roxy’s longstanding reputation for its great sound as an equally important part of its status as an iconic Hollywood club. “I was a touring engineer for 10 years prior to settling down at The Roxy, and when I toured, The Roxy was one of my favorite rooms to mix in,” says Haney. “It was small, you could get the P.A. loud and it sounded good. Mixing in the Roxy is an honor. I felt that way the first time I walked in the room and I feel that way every time I step behind the console. Since the room is so small it can bring little challenges to the table depending on the dynamics of the band, so the job is far from stale.”

However, in 2013, The Roxy’s staff realized that it was time to finally address some long-needed upgrades to the club’s audio and lighting infrastructure. Management committed to closing the venue in January and February 2014 to install a new LED/digital lighting system, and bring in Rat Sound Systems and company president Dave Rat to evaluate, repair and renew the venue’s audio system and components.

“Once I took the house gig [in 2011] I realized that the amp room needed a lot of work and processing was less than desirable, but unfortunately the budget wasn’t there to replace everything,” Haney recalls. “Toward the end of 2013 we got word that the P.A. would be a major part of renovations but there would be a budget. I started talking with Dave and Paul [Freudenberg, Rat Sound general manager] in January, giving them the specs of everything we had in the room so we could work within a budget and get the most out of it. There was a lot to go through as well; you can imagine the club had accumulated a lot of gear over the years and transitioning to a digital environment from an analog one also left us with a large surplus of gear. Rat really worked closely with us to recycle gear back into the club where we could and sell the remainder of the gear so we could put that money back into the club. Dave and Paul definitely seemed to go out of their way to see what we wanted in the club and brought everything up for discussion, which was incredibly cool.”

Dave Rat says his company’s approach involved analyzing and revitalizing The Roxy’s legacy P.A. gear. “We found that some of the gear was mismatched from repairs over the years,” he says. “The mains system was in pretty good physical condition, but electrically and acoustically it needed a good bit of work. There was a mish-mash of various amplifiers. The wiring had quite a few issues.”

Rat Sound Systems took care of the mains system by fully testing all of its components, replacing the ones that were blown or the wrong type, and repairing problematic wiring issues. “Meanwhile, we sent a truck from Rat and picked up all the amplifiers, monitor wedges, 18-inch speakers and outboard gear,” Dave Rat says. “Back at Rat we tested and sorted the gear into piles of working, need to fix and stuff to sell.

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“Probably the biggest project was the monitor system,” Rat continues. “We decided to do a rebuild of the Clair 12AM wedges. Once all of the original loudspeakers and wiring was repaired or replaced and tested, we pounded out the grilles, put on some fresh paint and moved on to amplifiers. We cleaned, tested and repaired all the existing amps, and by using all the amps from both the main and monitor system we were able to set up four matched high-power bi-amp mixes, four medium power bi-amp mixes, a few subwoofer mixes and a high power mix for the pair of EAW MicroWedge MW15 monitors we added, as well as power for the dual 18-inch Rat Drum Sub.” Rat also added five fully processed Powersoft M50 amps to power the main system and a Powersoft K10 amp to power the four dual 18-inch cabinets under the stage.

Rat also specified two Avid Venue Profile consoles for monitors and front-of-house. Saxton says, “It was time to bring in digital boards that were user friendly for our visiting engineers. With national acts, almost every headliner will have their own FOH engineer. We decided not to bring in a board that required us to give the engineers a tutorial at load-in. Venue Profiles are very common and most engineers have used them before—and the room sounds great.”

“Personally I feel that the Avid Profile is a no brainer for the venue,” Haney adds. “Even if someone prefers another console they usually are still proficient in the Avid Venue environment. If they aren’t familiar it’s nothing a 10-minute crash course can’t handle.”

“Finally, there were a few areas that had some sound coverage issues,” Rat says. “One area on each side of stage under the P.A. hangs as well as an area in the center just in front of the stage, to which we added some EAW full-range speakers to cover.”

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