New York Metro

The Grand Ole Opry celebrated its 80th anniversary by playing only it’s third concert at Carnegie Hall. It was, of course, recorded.

Martina McBride and band at Carnegie Hall for the Grand Ole Opry's 80th birthday celebration

Photo: Wireimage

Striking similarities abound, but ultimately, New York City and Nashville aren't exactly thought of as two great tastes that go great together. Every once in a while, however, a fleet of cowboy boots is seen on Broadway, and when they are, musical magic is probably in the making. In November, the legendary Grand Ole Opry celebrated its 80th anniversary at — where else? — 57th Street and 7th Avenue, in the equally legendary confines of Carnegie Hall.

Carnegie Hall stands as one of North America's most revered live venues since hosting its first concert in 1891, and 85,000 events later, it shouldn't be too surprising that a country show or three has crossed its stage. In fact, this show was the third visit for the Grand Ole Opry, after memorable shows in 1947 and 1961. Not surprisingly, expectations for the live recording of this event, which featured such country stars as Trisha Yearwood, Vince Gill and Charlie Pride, were much higher than ever before, especially given the deep radio broadcasting and recording experience that the Opry's engineers have racked up in their Nashville venues: the Grand Ole Opry House and Ryman Auditorium.

“We're the longest-running live radio broadcast in history,” points out Steve Gibson, musical director for the Grand Ole Opry. “We produce live radio, live TV broadcasts on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday on Great American Country [GAC] cable, we're also streamed on the Internet and simulcasting to Sirius Satellite Radio. So on any given evening, we're presenting a live concert to a 4,400-seat auditorium and then airing it across the world.”

In Nashville, the considerable audio action is captured first through a Euphonix System 5 console before moving to a rig powered by Dual-Core AMD Opteron processors running Steinberg Nuendo. “We have in excess of 50 artists per week for the two-hour shows,” adds Kevin Reinen, chief technical engineer for the Opry. “During that evening, there can be any number of different performances where you'll see five artists that cross the stage. We multitrack everything — that's 56 tracks coming off the stage — and record that into the AMD/Nuendo rig. That ends up being 300 gigs of information per week. The reason we do all this is that you never know what will cross the stage: The open platform means anything can happen during the week. It's a structured free-for-all.”

For Gibson and Reinen, precisely recording the 80th anniversary concert for a 5.1 surround DVD and stereo meant balancing the freewheeling nature of the Opry with the refined, signature acoustics of Carnegie. “The Grand Ole Opry is a living, breathing live experience, and as such, we wanted to try to capture the event with historical and cultural perspective — you don't know when you'll capture a magical performance moment that will never happen again,” Gibson says. “The key was to record everything to Nuendo with a view toward having it not only for archival purposes, but also a two-hour special for GAC and the option of a DVD remix.

“I had an opportunity to listen to Carnegie Hall from a number of locations, and the stage is one of liveliest stage performance venues I've ever encountered,” Gibson continues. “It's good but very live. The hall itself is remarkably even, with smooth and spectacular sound even up on the rear of the fourth floor, under the top balcony. Often without reinforcement in a hall, things start to get mushy in the corner, areas get built up or there's a lack [of certain frequencies]. At any location from within Carnegie, everything remained — the detail, separation and clarity were just remarkable.”

Steve Gibson (L) and Kevin Reinen at the Grand Ole Opry Studio

Photo: Copyright 2005 Grand Ole Opry

With those characteristics in mind, the Opry crew — which also included TV mixer Steve Marcantonio, general broadcast mixer King Williams and head of technical Services Jon Mire — focused first on managing the sound from the stage. “There's nothing more frustrating than having too much volume in a magnificent hall,” states Gibson. “Essentially, we encounter something similar with Ryman Auditorium. I'm not comparing [Carnegie and Ryman] one-to-one, but it's an old building designed for performance before amplification was ever available, and we've found there's a learning curve for artists who play at Ryman, where they need to play at lower volumes onstage.

“Where the orchestra sits at Carnegie is an extremely live stage. It's such a fabulous building we wanted to keep the stage volume as low as possible. So instead of being an amplified program, we urged all artists to consider their material carefully, use as many acoustic instruments as possible and eliminate electric instruments with the understanding that volume must be kept to a minimum. As a result, people didn't use much signal processing. A couple of guitarists used stomp pedals, but there were no big pedal boards. We also went without in-ear monitors, which really encouraged more of an organic event and certainly a hall experience. Everyone was very gracious. We only had two guitar amps onstage, a bass amp with a DI and small drum kit with kick, snare, two cymbals and a floor tom.”

At that point, it was time to start plugging in the microphones. When all was said and done, the scheme numbered 32 stage inputs, plus nine more to cover the audience. In addition to four vocal mics (including two wireless), Opry specifications included Shure SM57s to cover the two Blackface Fender Twin amps, six Neumann BCM 104 instrument mics and an Ampeg SVT-DI for bass. Carnegie's standard audience coverage setup, including three Sennheiser shotgun mics from the stage front pointed L/C/R, plus a Schoeps mic hanging 45 feet high mid-hall and pointed straight down, was left intact.

Next, the mics were run to Carnegie's front-of-house Yamaha PM1D digital console (supplemented by a PM5D for monitors). “Very little compression was used because of the very low stage volumes,” Reinen says. “They maybe had done a little EQ'ing, but no hard compression was necessary for any of the instruments other than the standard vocal compression. Reverbs were not necessary because of the brilliance of the hall.”

From there, the in-house Carnegie feed was split to a Sony Oxford — equipped broadcast truck parked outside supplied by All Mobile Video (AMV, New York City). Next, a MADI split went to a secondary truck where the Opry's mobile AMD/Nuendo rig captured the performance. “We took the split directly off the console — post-EQ and dynamics — directly routed from the Oxford to the MADI stream to us, interfacing via RME MADI cards installed from the DAW,” explains Reinen. “One reason we use Nuendo is the ability to interface with MADI. You can't do that with Pro Tools, and our Euphonix System 5 console at home is completely MADI-driven, as well. So it gives us the platform and immediate connectivity that we were looking for, and the sound quality is fabulous.

“We also couldn't do what we do without the power and durability of the AMD equipment. Currently, we back up to a 300-gig FireWire drive every week. When we upgraded to the Dual-Core system at the Opry house in September, we found that the speed and reliability upgrades were pretty incredible: Some of these are 5,400 rpm speed hard drives pulling in 56 tracks at 48k, and our Dual-Core AMD rig has knocked down the time for remix almost in half.”

As you might expect from a group of seasoned engineers recording an ensemble of pro performers in one of the most highly revered halls on the continent, the audio that passed through to the hard drives that evening was as memorable as expected. “We captured exactly what we wanted to,” Reinen concludes. “The room is just phenomenal, and the room miking that the Carnegie guys did allowed us to hear the nuances; every detail of everything we wanted. Today, with so much music being manufactured, the ability to take these phenomenal performers and capture it in raw form is a very powerful thing for us.”

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