2002 was the year Kenny Chesney reached the upper echelon of country music performers. 2003 could be the year he emerges as country music’s entertainer of the year.
And he has the live show to reach that plateau. Drawing from top country showmen such as Tim McGraw and Garth Brooks, and taking pages from some of the rock bands of the ’80s, Chesney’s Senoritas and Margaritas tour promises to deliver even more flash, excitement and entertainment than last year’s highly successful No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problems tour.
“It’s definitely bigger,” lighting designer Mike Swinford said of this year’s show, which kicked off Jan. 16. “We added 40 VL2000TM Spots luminaires and 15 VL2000TM Wash fixtures. Plus we have eight of the VL1000TM arc units. Most of what we have in the air are the VARI*LITE® fixtures.”
This year’s show also includes a moving truss and a considerable amount of vertical lighting that has been added between the LED walls. The lighting rig consists of seven columns of five of the VL2000 Spot fixtures. Between each column is an LED wall. The total size of the LED wall is about 48 feet wide by 17 feet high.
“The Series 2000 fixtures are unbelievable. They are such a rocking light. They’re fast, reliable, bright, punchy…they’re everything I wanted,” Swinford said.
With just 19 inches between each video wall to mount the five vertical lights on a mini-beam truss, Swinford needed a small profile luminaire without a big, clunky head that could be hung at any angle. The physical size of the Series 2000TM fixtures made them an obvious choice. Because the lights hang horizontally, Swinford is able to generate some fabulous effects just because of the natural way the fixtures move.
Huntsville, Ala.-based Theatrical Lighting Systems, Inc. provided all of the automated lighting, which was purchased by Dale Morris Leasing, and included custom gobos and colors. TLS Inc. President David Milly and Project Manager Doug Bennett worked closely with Swinford and Chesney’s personal manager Clint Higham to ensure that the lighting needs for the tour were taken care of.
Chesney is not a fan of three-color palettes, nor is he particularly fond of magenta or purples. Instead, he prefers solid, big, bold colors. Through TLS, Swinford was able to custom order luminaires for the tour. Swinford took the standard palette of the VL2000 Spot and replaces four of the standard colors with custom dichroic colors more suited for the look Chesney prefers. The result was to the artist’s liking.
“The power and color in the VARI*LITE fixtures is unprecedented,” Swinford said. “There’s no light out there that has that rich VARI*LITE color. That was one of the first things Kenny noticed during rehearsal. He said, ‘Wow, look at this color.’ He’s been very, very pleased.”
The original design for the show called for a rig that included only hard-edge lights, but after seeing the VL2000 Wash luminaires, Swinford decided he could make use of those as well. The wash units are not interspersed throughout the rig, but are rather all in a row on a mid-stage truss, allowing Swinford to create a soft light flood across the stage.
“The VL2000 Wash fixtures are just fabulous,” Swinford said. “I really wanted something where I could zoom out. The VL2000 Wash has a beautiful zoom. I just love those things.”
The VL1000 ERS luminaires are used to wash the band, for isolating solo positions and for crowd lighting. During some of the ballads, when Chesney is at center-stage, Swinford uses the VL1000 units to backlight the singer. Programmer Mark Butts controls all of the lighting through a GrandMA console.
“They’re a great light. I like it because it’s a nice fat source, not a tiny source that comes out into a fat beam,” Swinford said. “Visually, it looks really good.”
The overall design for Senoritas and Margaritas carries somewhat of an ’80s rock tour look. It’s all metal, very clean underneath without many floorlights. On stage there are 48 amplifiers double-stacked all the way across the set. There are ramps within the amplifiers; the upper ramp being about nine feet high. There is also an elevator where Chesney rises from behind the amps out on top to start the show.
“Kenny is one of the top-drawing country acts out there, and they were looking to take his live show to the next level,” said Bennett. “The buzz in Nashville surrounding the tour is just unbelievable. It’s ‘Garth-like.'”
“Most of the show includes big, bold looks and a lot of aerial graphics coming off of the LED wall because there’s just so much that can be done,” Swinford said. “This is my second year with Kenny, so I had a pretty good idea of what he wanted, and we absolutely nailed it.”
Audiences nationwide will most likely agree