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Cruisin’ with Rock Legends

It sounds like a typical festival—20 bands over three-and-a-half days— but for Bauder Audio Systems (Horsham, PA), it was a sink-or-swim situation when the company provided audio, lights and backline for a Rock Legends Cruise in December 2011.

ZZ Top rocks out aboard Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas, via a JBL VerTec VT4889 / 4880 PA,
part of the four audio systems supplied for the Rock Legends Cruise by Bauder Audio Systems.
It sounds like a typical festival—20 bands over three-and-a-half days— but for Bauder Audio Systems (Horsham, PA), it was a sink-or-swim situation when the company provided audio, lights and backline for a Rock Legends Cruise in December 2011. Setting sail from Ft. Lauderdale to the Bahamas aboard Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas, production manager/ systems tech Brian Naab and an audio crew of 13 provided sound for 58 performances on four stages. Thanks to careful planning and coordination, they kept ZZ Top, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, John Kay and Steppenwolf, The Marshall Tucker Band, Foghat, Molly Hatchet, Edgar Winter, Johnny Winter, The Outlaws, Blackfoot and others rocking on the high seas.

While one might imagine providing audio on a cruise to be a leisurely gig, that was hardly the case. A trio of tractor-trailers arrived at the ship at 6 a.m. on departure day, where everything had to pass through customs and then get loaded aboard via cranes since typical entrances were being used to move passengers and luggage.

“Some gear went through the side door to the venues located in the belly of the ship, and the pool deck had to have a stage, lights, sound and backline built,” said Naab. “We were still receiving gear up until 4 o’clock—and our first show was set for 6 o’clock! It was definitely a hectic first day, but as soon as we got our gear, everyone got it up and running. We line-checked the first band and started a 58-show festival from there.”

Coordinating the equipment needs of 20 bands for a floating festival where it would be impossible to make an emergency run back to the shop wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t impossible, either. “We received all the riders months in advance, and based on which bands were playing which stages, we sent back a basic gear list for each of the stages,” Naab recalled. “The bands couldn’t have been more flexible—everyone left the attitude and egos at the dock. For instance, everyone could see we only had half-hour changeovers in two of the venues, so they were real cool, flexible and willing to accept what the situation was. But at the same time, we were giving them all top-quality equipment, so there really wasn’t any need to argue.”

All bands rotated playing at each of the four stages, except for ZZ Top, which played nightly at the Platinum Theater, the 1,000-seat main venue. There, Avid Venue Profile consoles were stationed at FOH and monitorworld, while house sound was provided by JBL VerTec VT4889 and 4880 boxes. Monitor mixes were provided via Sennheiser ew300 G3 personal monitor systems, as well as Turbosound TFM420 wedges (powered by Lab.gruppen FP 10000Q amplifiers) and Aspect sidefills. ZZ Top brought its own control gear.

Meanwhile, the Pool Deck stage— a 20×30-foot performance space built over the pool—sported Yamaha PM5Ds at FOH and monitors, a Turbosound Aspect 890H/890L PA, and monitors in the form of proprietary wedges, Shure PSM 900 personal monitors and Turbosound TQ445DP/ TQ425DP side fills. For the outdoor system, ocean breezes were a serious concern, sitting at a steady 15 MPH throughout the voyage, with frequent 35-40 MPH peaks. “Everything had to be strapped down with sandbags and ratchet straps outside, and windscreens were a must,” said Naab.

Down below deck, an ice rink became a 600-seat theater with a Yamaha PM5D-RH at FOH and an M7CL at the monitor position, feeding a PA comprised of Nexo Geo S12 line array boxes and RS18 subs, all powered by NXAmp 4×4 amplifiers. More Turbosound monitors and Sennheiser IEMs could be found on stage.

Despite being out on the ocean, there were still RF concerns. During a pre-cruise site survey, Naab made note of what bands the ship’s typical entertainment productions used (those shows were shut down for the Rock Legends Cruise), and then ensured his team used the same frequencies for the Shure UHF-R wireless mics provided at every venue. The only true wireless issue was with production radios between the Pool Deck stage and the Platinum Theatre, which were at opposite ends of the ship, nine levels apart. Naab noted, “Radios didn’t work that well between them, but if you were in the right spot, you could get radio contact just for crew communication.”

The smallest venue was a lounge stage for acoustic acts and live auction events, which sported a PA of Electro- Voice QRX boxes over Turbosound 880L subs, more Turbosound wedges and a Yamaha M7CL-ES console.

Naturally, spare gear abounded to be used at all stages if needed, with extra VerTec, Turbosound and Nexo PA boxes brought onboard as well as another M7CL console. Fortunately, none of them were put into action.

Another initial planning concern was power—diesel-powered generators provide power for the entire ship. “The only issue was it freaked out some of the Uninterruptable Power Supplies in our digital console racks—they were confused because of the fluctuation in the line frequency,” said Naab. “Here in the U.S., we run everything at 60 Hz; when you’re plugged into the wall, it’s solid, and while a generator might not be exactly 60 on the dot, if you power it up and it’s 59.8, it’s probably going to stay at 59.8. This was moving from 59.9 to 60.2 constantly, so we bypassed the UPSs on a couple of stages.”

While the Platinum Theater was as well-appointed as any landlocked venue, said Naab, its method for dealing with power issues was unique to a cruise ship: “ZZ Top popped a breaker during its last song on the first night, so the next day, we asked for more power. It’s not like a venue where if you were on the double-60 amp breaker and you blew it, they’d say ‘We have a double-100 amp breaker; with some more feeder, we can switch over to that disconnect.’ Because there’s one source of power for the whole ship—it was essentially a big rheostat—they just turned a dial and assigned more current availability to the disconnect that we were cona big rheostat—they just turned a dial and assigned more current availability to the disconnect that we were connected to; we didn’t have any issues after that.”

After four days on the seas, the cruise’s last jam session ended at 3:30 a.m., which gave the Bauder Audio crew a slight break before its 7:15 a.m. call for docking and load-out. The cruise ended, however, just as planned, having provided all the passengers with a unique opportunity to enjoy the acts aboard. Naab recalled the Pool Deck stage with a laugh, “There were people on the lounge chairs and in the hot tub, watching The Marshall Tucker Band. They were having a great time, hanging out throughout the afternoon in their bathing suits, drinking and watching their favorite bands. It was kind of neat!”

Bauder Audio Systems