Detroit’s newly opened Little Caesars Arena (LCA), the new home to the city’s NHL Red Wings and NBA Pistons as well as part of The District Detroit, a dynamic mix of sports and entertainment venues, is visually breathtaking. Much of the focus has been on the arena’s unique rafter-level gondola seating, which gives some fans and sportswriters a truly birds-eye view of the floor and stage.
However, what’s good for Architectural Digest may be less so for Rolling Stone—the gondolas create an acoustically challenging environment for some seats during concerts there, as was evidenced when the musically adventurous Kid Rock opened the venue as a music destination with a run of six nights in the $863 million facility this September.
Fortunately, the artist was carrying an L-Acoustics K1/K2 PA system, provided by SR vendor Sound Image, which was able to get crystal-clear, full-range and highly intelligible sound to every part of the house. The two-hang stereo main system comprised 16 K1 speakers and four K2 downs per side with eight K1-SB subs in an adjacent hang. Left and right side-fills used eight K1 and four K2 each, and a 270-degree third hang used four K1 and eight K2 per array. Eight Kara enclosures spread out across the stage lip delivered the front fill, while 16 ground-stacked SB28 subwoofers supplied the system’s low end. Ten LA8-equipped LA-RAKs per side powered the entire setup.
Russell Fischer is the ideal FOH engineer choice for Kid Rock. With a résumé that extends from Barry Manilow and Poison through Jane’s Addiction and Garbage on to Toby Keith and Taylor Swift, he says that kind of extreme variety is what he encounters every night with Kid Rock. “We’ll go from hard rock to old-school rap/hip-hop to hybrid rock/country in a single set, and the K1/K2 system can handle it all,” he says. “When he’s playing rap, the big bottom is there, but when he moves to traditional rock and country, we still get a nice low end, even as the upper frequencies stay clear and intelligible. You couldn’t find a system that matches what he does so closely.”
The varied set list—Fischer may not see a final list until just before showtime, a bit of tension he says makes the shows even more exciting for him—was icing on the cake in a new venue whose acoustics were still unexplored territory. “The gondolas run almost the length of the building and for sports, they’re no problem, but for music, they create some coverage challenges,” he explains.
“This was a challenging acoustical situation,” agrees Sound Image Systems Engineer Bill Price. “But the K1 and K2 speakers in the 270 hang were the perfect solution for the areas around the stage. We were able to get that last row up top above the gondolas but still cover that first row of seats below. It’s a lot like Red Rocks—it needs a very steep banana [hang shape], but with the K1/K2 we were able to cover what we needed with a normal trim height.”
Using Soundvision, Fischer, Price and Sound Image’s system engineers worked carefully with the venue’s audio staff to get the L-Acoustics sound everywhere for maximum sonic consistency throughout the arena. “Both the K1 and the K2 are pretty incredible when it comes to coverage, and that was the case here, too,” Fischer shares.
What was especially helpful was how effortlessly the L-Acoustics system accomplished that, with a minimum amount of boxes. That’s particularly important at a Kid Rock show because of the over-the-top nature of his productions. And, at the LCA, the artist made the most of the space.
“Instead of just a huge US flag dropping out of the ceiling, the entire huge lighted grid in the arena became one big American flag,” says Fischer. “They could do that and we didn’t have to compromise the coverage. The sightlines remained excellent everywhere in the house.”
Fischer recalls that the new LCA revealed some acoustical intricacies on its maiden voyage. For instance, the interior temperature affected the room’s frequency response, with upper frequencies especially affected by colder temperatures. But, he says, that’s to be expected as the venue’s staff learns more about the room, and L-Acoustics’ LA Network Manager nicely allowed him to control the HF with the system’s air absorption compensation EQ tool.