Live Sound

Rockin' in the Park | Outside Lands Festival

SAN FRANCISCO'S OUTSIDE LANDS 10/01/2008 8:00 AM Eastern

Tom Petty performing
Photo: Steve Jennings

You can add another destination to the Coachella-Bonnaroo-Lollapalooza-Rothbury-Austin City Limits summer festival season: San Francisco's Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival, a star-studded three-day event featuring more than 60 bands, six stages and an estimated 150,000 fans from August 22-24. When Radiohead hit the Land's End stage Friday, it was the first nighttime performance in the fabled Polo Fields of Golden Gate Park.

Produced by Superfly Entertainment and Another Planet, the event turned into a celebration of San Francisco's unique culture, from the naming of the stages attached to local landmarks, to the Eco-Lands pavilion to the local restaurants and Winehaven, to the CrowdFire tent featuring live digital content uploads distributed across the festival's seemingly unlimited screen displays. Video and audio capture was by Third Wave Productions out of Chicago. Audio for the two main stages was provided by UltraSound/ProMedia, with assistance from the Bay Area's Meyer Sound. The first order of business was coverage for the estimated 60,000 people estimated for the main stage.

“We had 17 [Meyer] Milo 90s and one Milo 120 per side,” explains Derek Featherstone, general manager of UltraSound/ProMedia and front-of-house mixer for Primus, who played the Twin Peaks stage on Saturday. “The side-shot P.A. was eight Milo 90s per side, and we had 11 tall Meyer M3D subs per side with an additional eight 650-R2 subs in the center. For left/right stage and center-fill, we used six MSL-2s. The four delay towers used a total of 12 MSL-10s. The system comprised 17 zones, so we had to be diligent about alignment. We used Meyer SIMM and SIA Smaart systems. Thankfully, we had done this park a few times over the years — because the timing was so tight, we didn't get a soundcheck!”

One of the big advantages to the Meyer system for a festival of this magnitude is the throw. Featherstone usually likes to bring in the first delay towers about 50 feet before a drop-off point, with a goal of 6 dB down at 275 feet. “We can get about 15 percent more distance with this system,” he says, “so with our setup, we didn't have to put in the first tower until 300 feet, with the second set at 575. The promoters like that for sight lines, and the audience is getting a full, even range all the way to the back.”

While Radiohead, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (with a Steve Winwood appearance) and Jack Johnson highlighted the main stage, about a quarter-mile away on the Twin Peaks stage, the likes of Primus, Wilco and the Black Keys kicked it on a clean, punchy system. “Twin Peaks was a pleasure to mix on,” Featherstone says. “We didn't really expect that many people. But the system was really well-tuned, and because it's a narrow field with a downward slope, we focused the energy down the meadow. We were pleased with how it delivered. And the natural surroundings in the park provided really effective isolation between the stages.”

Mixing Primus turned out to be the “relaxed” part of the first two days for Featherstone, as he was forced to troubleshoot the Land's End system following loss of power twice in the Radiohead set and again during Petty's performance. “We learned a great deal about generator tolerances and battery backup units with computer-based systems this past weekend,” he says. “And we'll be forwarding the information to other festivals and promoters. Essentially, you have to be careful with the specs on your generator systems, as the way these generators are ‘tuned’ can vary greatly. We found that high-frequency oscillations and minor voltage fluctuations would kick in the battery backup, as it's supposed to, but eventually the battery drained and when it switched the power shut down. On the third day we brought in a crystal sync generator and it worked flawlessly.”

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