Still riding high on the success of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? movie and O Brother tour, Alison Krauss & Union Station with Jerry Douglas are bringing their bluegrass musical stamp to theaters across the nation. Mix caught up with the tour at the Berkeley Community Theater (Berkeley, Calif.) in mid-March; the tour continues to wind through the U.S. until July.
Equipment for the tour is provided by SE Systems (Greensboro, N.C.). According to front-of-house mixer Bernie Velluti, “I’ve been working with Cliff [Miller, SE Systems] and the guys from SE for quite a few years. All of us go back as fans of this style of music and as players. Our main concern is for the quality of the acoustic [instruments] to still sound truly acoustic once they come out of a large P.A. system. Timbre, tone and presenting this band and its outstanding level of musicianship is what we’re after. We try to be as transparent to the process as possible.”
The main speaker system comprises various models of JBL VerTec boxes. “For the theater/short arena tours, we carry 24 4888s and 16 4887s,” says Miller. “This summer, the 4888s will be replaced with 24 4889s, which work great in the outdoor sheds. Line arrays are the greatest thing that’s happened to acoustic music. Very little energy comes off the rear of the cabinets. The longer the array, the better the low-frequency control.”
Velluti is mixing on a Yamaha PM5D, which replaced the tour’s Heritage board and three processing racks, allowing for a much more contained and less-cluttered FOH footprint.
Monitor engineer Mark Richards is also mixing on a Yamaha board: a DM2000. “I really like having all of my comps, EQs and effects on the console,” Richards explains. “It reduced the amount of gear I had to carry and set up, which is great at festivals and other places where space is at a premium. We just got some of the new [Yamaha] AD8HR remote preamps, which sound great. Having recallable scenes is one of the best features of the digital console. I have changes on almost every song, whether it’s effects, different mix levels or muting instruments.” Using the digital console has reduced Richards’ external processing, but he still relies on a rack of Aphex Dominator II 720 limiters for in-ears. “You just can’t beat them,” he says. There are no onstage monitors; IEMs are Shure PSM700s with a PA821 active combiner and a PA805WB antenna.
“Mixing this band is a dream come true,” Richards continues. “I grew up in Western North Carolina where bluegrass and old-time music really matter to people. I had seen Alison and the guys when I was 16 or so, when I was first getting started doing this at MerleFest in North Carolina. I got to work with them many times after that doing stacks and racks for AKUS and during the O Brother tours.
“Mixing them does have its challenges. They have really good ears, especially Alison. She can hear the smallest change. Being all acoustic leads to challenges [especially in] going from arenas to theaters as far as tone, phasing and levels, but we make it work.”