Stewart Sound’s Chad Stewart is on hand for any contracted event.
It may not seem big-time compared to the high-profile regions (New York City, L.A. and such) that are locally contracted for top-name tours and installs, but Western North Carolina has long been a popular area for the arts and music. In addition to the vibey music scene of Asheville, area festivals and the more high-brow concert productions, there is plenty of work for Stewart Sound (Leicester, N.C. — just northwest of Asheville; www.stewartsound.net) and its sister company, Stewart Stageworks Inc.
“I unknowingly started my audio journey as a musician,” says company founder Chad Stewart. “To this day, I still say I am a guitar player that happens to make my living being an audio guy or my other title in the theater world — sound designer. There are those times when the mix is just what I want and things are powerful, beautiful, and moving life stands still for me and I feel connected with the music. I take my mixes personally, and after 11 years in this industry, I feel very blessed to be doing something that I truly love.
“The bulk of our work comes from festivals and touring,” he says, pointing out the Peter Mayer Group and Christian pop/rockers Sonicflood as acts who regularly receive the company's production support. Stewart is also the sound designer for the Brevard Music Center in Brevard, N.C., a high-end, 1,800-seat shed set in the foothills of the Western North Carolina mountains.
“I think we do something like 72 shows in eight weeks,” continues Stewart, who has been with Brevard for five years and just signed a five-year deal with the venue. “We typically load in three operas and two Broadway-style musicals, as well as many orchestral performances. This season, we are including Del McCoury, the Five Browns and Burt Bacharach.”
Anyone who has negotiated the tight, winding curves of Western North Carolina's mountain highways and roads, as well as the unpredictable stormy micro-climates that can occasionally happen there, can understand that getting to a gig isn't always an easy undertaking. “The mountains of North Carolina do represent some challenges,” says Stewart. “We have replaced a few transmissions due to the steep grades and mountainous terrain, and it rains at a moment's notice. Needless to say, we own a small mountain of tarps.” Keeping inventory of this “essential” gear is Jimmy Stewart, who handles transportation and logistics. Additional company crew includes David Tate (production manager/audio engineer), Chris Mitchell (production manager/systems tech), Patrick Dashiell (shop manager/lighting designer/systems tech) and James Watt (engineer/lighting designer/system tech).
In addition to theater and festival work, Stewart Sound is also called to handle SR for touring and corporate work. Packed up for such events is a slew of top-end gear, including rider-friendly consoles from Midas, Yamaha, Soundcraft and Allen & Heath; a full mic closet; and an assortment of backline amenities.
But in particular, Stewart emphasizes a recent acquisition: In 2005, Stewart purchased a d&b audiotechnik line array speaker system and has been thrilled with the results, calling it the best purchasing decision he has made to date. “I thought the whole line array revolution was getting overused, but I have found with the d&b rig I can do everything, and it performs so much better than the conventional trap boxes I have owned in the past,” enthuses Stewart. “The array calculator, Q-Calc, is dead-on and allows me to see how the system will behave in a given space, as well as make crucial aiming decisions. It is very conducive to the corporate environment and will just as easily get down and dirty for powerful rock 'n' roll — type gigs. The Q1 line array box is less than 50 pounds, and the d&b B2 is the most musical sub I have ever heard, as well as the most effective. I plan on doubling my d&b inventory by this time next year.”
Stewart also recently purchased a Stageline SL100 stage system, an all-aluminum mobile unit that offers a fully hydraulic setup of stage, sound, lights, banners and sets, providing the company the ability to offer a turnkey concert package — all in-house. “We can fly 12 d&b Q1s from the Stageline and stack B2s and Q subs and handle several thousand people outside,” says Stewart. “I felt like I was paying too much for stage rentals and I was not happy with the service or the stages I was renting. The Stageline adds a good production value to the events. It looks great and is solid as a rock. It is perfect for flying the d&b rig, as well. Overall, [a] good business move for me.”
Rick Clark is Mix's Nashville editor.