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Bringing Boutique Festivals to the Beach

Successfully executing six back-to-back weeklong festivals in a Mediterranean climate requires stamina and technical expertise.

Tisno, Croatia—Tisno, an idyllic beach town along Croatia’s Adriatic coast, enjoys a relatively quiet existence for nine months of the year. However, as in many seaside locales in the country, summers bring a massive influx of festivalgoers reveling in the music of their favorite DJs in the brilliant sunshine on the beach and at sea. Tisno’s particular appeal is an intimate festival site (2,500 capacity, nearly matching the population of the town itself) comprising four beachside stages, two boats with stacked sound systems and a nearby after-hours club for the nocturnally inclined. The site hosts six summertime festivals, each lasting five to eight days and spanning different sub-genres of electronic music. Things kicked off in late June this year with the house- and disco-fueled Love International.

Successfully executing six back-to-back weeklong festivals in a Mediterranean climate (read: water, sand, salt corrosion, dust, blistering sun) requires stamina and technical expertise, and the site’s sound designer, Kim Lewis, has tackled Tisno annually for the last decade. His team of nine freelance audio pros handles the sound reinforcement for all six festivals, supported by a Funktion-One-heavy kit list that has withstood both the elements and the test of time.

“When I started doing these Croatian festivals, my team inherited a pile of gear and we were told to make do with what we were given,” says Lewis. “Some of these Funktion-One boxes you hear today are from that very same pile, and they still sound pristine.”

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Lewis’ bronzed tan is a reminder of just how close this place is to the sun, but there’s little wear on the Funktion-One cabinets or degradation in the quality of their output, and that’s no small feat in this salty, dusty, UV-drenched environment. While deep-cleaning is required after each season, the systems have survived other aspects as well. “The gear truck showed up this year with three Funktion-One Resolution 4 speakers vertically ratchet-strapped to each other,” he recalls. “The truck parked on a very slight tilt, and when the driver undid the strap, they tumbled off the truck and bounced off each other on the way down. The waveguide on one of them was destroyed, and the company was very expedient in getting us a replacement, but afterward I couldn’t help myself and tested all three boxes’ drivers. They all worked flawlessly; none of the magnets were knocked out of alignment. We couldn’t believe it!”

While he’s the sound designer for the site, Lewis performs double-duty as FOH engineer for the Main Stage, where he uses an old-school 48-channel Midas Legend to mix through eight Resolution 4 and eight F218 subs, all powered by MC2 E45 amplifiers. He selected new Midas MR18 tablet-controlled rackmount mixers for the slightly smaller Beach Stage and Barbarella’s, the offsite after-hours club. The digital desks were additions to the kit this year, and Lewis points to them as a massive improvement over the previous years’ analog desks for their ability to adjust levels directly from the audience position.

“The biggest reason I love this site so much, and the festivals that appear here for the summer, is the intimacy,” says Lewis. “With other big festivals around the world, I’m front of house but just a face at the other end of the field to the DJs and performers. But with this place, the intimacy is significant enough that I often build relationships with these artists. That’s the best part, as I get to hear their feedback and incrementally improve every performance so that when they return the next year, I get to ensure their wishes are incorporated.”

Read more Pro Sound News stories about the music festival business.

As for the other stages, the 200-capacity Argonaughty boat is equipped with four Funktion-One F88s, Crown Macro-Tech amps and two custom Electro-Voice DeltaMax 218 subwoofers that take advantage of the boxes’ 90-degree dispersion to cover the open-air environment. Lewis also deployed eight non-custom E-V DeltaMax 218s at the open-air club.

“We’ve placed the four subs on the outer ring of the club upright, but the four in the middle are sideways, again providing that 90-degree dispersion. If we also position the outer subs on their sides, we receive complaints of excessive sub as it emerges straight out the side … but when upright, the vertical dispersion is perfectly balanced,” says Lewis. That careful balance keeps dancers moving from midnight to 6 a.m. night after night.

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With only 10 days of build leading up to nearly two straight months of performances, all outdoors and surrounded by every elemental severity a FOH engineer can think of, it is not your typical American festival format. Boutique-size festivals are becoming a global trend, however, so that influence may start being felt here, too. In the meantime, Lewis and his crew will be back at it next year, when the string of festivals returns to Tisno in early July.

Love International •