Tour Profile: Alan Jackson & Deana Carter

Jan 1, 1999 12:00 PM, Gregory A. Detogne

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Alan Jackson is as prominent as ever on the Nashville charts with his new album, High Mileage. He's all over the tube in national Ford truck commercials, and then there's his tour that's taking him across the U.S. and Canada in the company of country siren Deana Carter.

Between August and the publication of this article, 80% of Carter's live shows were slated to be on the same bill with Jackson. When traveling together, they are hard to miss out on the interstate. Five trucks move Jackson's gear from town to town, while a single rig transports Carter's.

However, true to his traditionalist mind-set, when Jackson hits the riser and steps up to his Beta 58A vocal mic, it's all about the music-there are no gimmicks. As a natural foil to Jackson's hard-core country sensibilities, Carter's music rocks out with a completely different energy of its own.

Carter opens each show, appearing onstage with brother Jeff Carter on guitars and vocals, Loretta Brank on fiddle, Paul Kramer on guitars and mandolin, Steve Mackey on bass, keyboardist Vic White and drummer Angelo Collura.

Jackson kicks off his show with an electric set, followed by an acoustic set. Then he's plugged back in for the third and final set, which features many of his mega-hits. From his place at center stage down front, Jackson is backed from stage right to stage left by steel guitarist Robbie Flint, guitarist Danny Groah, utility player Tom Rutledge, drummer Bruce Rutherford, bassist Roger Wills, Mark McClurg on fiddle and Monty Parkey on keys. Pulling double duty, tour manager Tony Stephens fills in on harp for some songs. Three video screens managed by Performance Video bring live close-ups of the onstage action to the crowd, along with other clips of Jackson "visualbilia."

Showco (represented on the tour by crew chief Kevin Gilpatric, Gary Brown and Wade Griffin) provides a Prism rig for both acts-eight columns per side in its standard configuration. As with most country tours of this magnitude, the Jackson/Carter show has regularly played warm-weather venues ranging from state fairs to sheds, as well as the reverberant world of arenas.

Phil Somers, a seasoned vet who ran his own sound company and specialized in big-name jazz accounts before moving to Nashville in 1981, mixes Jackson on a Gamble EX-56 console. Monitor mixer Chuck Young rides herd over a combination of Showco SRM wedges and Future Sonics in-ear systems.

Everyone on the Jackson/Carter tour seems completely affable and easygoing. "There's no time for attitudes," Young points out. "This is Nashville." Somers and his "ready-for-anything-so-why-worry" work ethic easily fall into the genial pace. Gain and tonality are among his main FOH objectives, so Somers avoids automation and sets up routing so that he can mix from the center section of the EX-56, where there are eight stereo groups.

"I basically maintain one stereo group per player," Somers says. "So I can pretty much pick up whatever instrument is playing in the center section. The Gamble has very narrow modules, so it's easier for me to stay in the center rather than trying to hop around grabbing at things. That way, I can concentrate on listening to the show rather than on looking for the correct fader."

During the course of a night's work, Somers deals with a number of cues and a good mixture of musical textures running the gamut from slow ballads to up-tempo, high-energy hits. To manage the diverse nature of the show, a MIDI controller can access about ten reverb scenes. Somers keeps a pair of AMS RMX-16 units in the effects rack for snare and tom on slower-tempo material and ballads. For up-tempo and mid-tempo songs, three Yamaha SPX 900 units are employed. The Lexicon 224 is the primary vocal reverb.

Somers creates a rockabilly slap echo on vocals with a pair of Roland SDE 3000 delays, while a BBE Sonic Maximizer adds a little definition to Jackson's vocal in reverberant rooms.

Other "primary helpers" in the Somers FOH gallery are a pair of Apogee CRQ12 equalizers, which, along with providing main system EQ, add gain to Jackson's vocal to compensate for his sometimes loud audiences. Equalization from two Klark-Teknik DN-410s is applied to background vocals left and right, and to upright bass. Industrial Research TEQ DG-4023A EQ is included as a Jackson channel insert, as well as for backing vocals and some main system EQ. Rounding out the list is a contingent of Summit and dbx compressors for channel inserts, backing vocals, bass, fiddle and mandolin.

Overall, Somers has been given somewhat of a loose leash with his mix. "I had a discussion with Alan when I was hired in January of 1996," he relates. "And I asked him what he was looking for in his audio presentation. He essentially said he wanted good, intelligible vocals and a sound that was oriented toward the style of his recorded material. So I lean toward the album mixes, but we have different players, so I try to add a live feeling by taking a few more liberties with effects and other characteristics, which add spontaneity."

Jackson prefers an onstage mix that "creates an intimate nightclub atmosphere for him, with studio quality," monitor mixer Young explains. "In his early days, he developed a fondness for standing in that magic pocket within the band that is easy to find in the close quarters of a nightclub stage. As he worked his way up into the studio, he quickly began to appreciate the sonic quality he got from his headphone mix. Today, my job is to bring him the qualities of both worlds in my live mix onstage, where all of this is at his disposal."

Young mixes from a 52-channel Yamaha PM4000M console (Jackson and his band, The Strayhorns, require a total of 20 monitor mixes). Power is provided by Crown 36x12 amps, and a Showco "deep rack" allows 40 spaces for, among other units, a Yamaha REV7 and SPX 900, as well as a Lexicon PCM 80, which Young occasionally employs to "fatten up" lead guitarist Danny Groah's Telecaster. BSS DPR-402 compressors are used on kick and snare, with a pair of DPR-504 4-channel gates. A dozen BSS VariCurve FCS-926 digital units are controlled remotely.

Ramsa S-5As cover the drum kit at rack and floor tom positions, with a B&K 4011 at kick. Sennheiser 409s pick up steel and lead guitars directly at the amp. Jackson's voice is captured by a Beta 58A, as are all other vocals, with the exception of drummer Bruce Rutherford, who likes a Beta 56. DIs take care of acoustic guitar, fiddle, mandolin, piano (left-right), upright bass, banjo, synth and tic tac.

"When you're singing in clubs, you're going to sing into an SM58-that's the standard," says Young. "Alan got used to the mic there, and even to this day, it still simply lends itself to his voice. We've upgraded to the Beta 58A just because it's a little smoother and has a little better rejection."

Standing behind a band mix coming from two Showco SRM wedges, Jackson receives his vocal only from an outside pair of SRMs. Frontfills line the stage, and bass player Roger Wills uses a single wedge in tandem with a single earpiece from a Future Sonics system. Other configurations range from stereo wedges to a Future Sonics ear mix used by drummer Rutherford, augmented by a wedge mix and an 18-inch sub. Young directs multiple feeds to Rutherford, including one for ears, another that arrives at a Mackie 16-channel mixer, and stereo left and right of everything. "That way, he can take or leave whatever he wants, whenever he wants," Young says with the confidence of someone who has all his bases covered.

SMOOTH TRANSITION A natural logistical consideration with double-bill acts is how to quickly manage set changes. "With the exception of our shared use of the Prism system, we are totally separate in every way," notes Young. "So the Carter crew can tear down right after their show and load out during the set change. They are usually gone by the time we're ready to get started with Alan. That makes for an extremely smooth transition."

FOH mixer, Mike "Max" Maxson, actually began at the monitor desk with Carter and company in March 1997. He made the switch to FOH in May of that year and was given the directive to make things sound like a band, not an artist being backed by a group of musicians.

Maxson mixes from a Crest Century console, and he relies on some limiting, compression, and a Spartan amount of effects from an Eventide H3000 and a Yamaha SPX90. Extremely natural-sounding, his mix is further refined by Behringer Composers and Ultra Q units, Drawmer DS-201 gates, BSS VariCurve FCS-960 equalization, and a BBE Sonic Maximizer. Inputs arrive at his desk from a phalanx of hard-wired Beta 58A vocal mics, as well as Carter's Shure U2 UHF wireless system, outfitted with a Beta 58A capsule. SM98As gather signals throughout the drum kit at points including snare bottom and overheads left and right, while an SM91 stands in at kick. DIs are in abundance to accommodate the proliferation of acoustic instruments, which in this case include fiddle, mandolin and guitar

Bob Bussiere mixes monitors from a Crest LMX, feeding a stage dominated by Shure's PSM 600 Personal Stereo Monitor system. Bussiere runs three of the in-ear mixes through subwoofers for "feel," which is especially useful when the band performs on non-Jackson dates without the Prism system. Two sidefills provide a basic left/right house mix, just in case someone pulls out their earpieces during a show or a monitoring problem arises, which, Bussiere happily reports, has never occurred.

Prior to embarking on the tour, Bussiere spent a number of days in rehearsals with the band establishing the foundation of his mix. "They all told me they wanted a rocking house mix," he recalls. "But that's a very subjective thing. I could've let them mix their own versions of a 'rockin' house mix,' and each would've been completely different. I thought the best way to please everyone was to give them exactly what they wanted with their own personal monitor systems. Now everyone has their own mix, plus they have control over it from their own beltpacks."

Bussiere outfitted five members of the band-including an initially reluctant Carter-with Shure's PSM 600 UHF wireless systems, each of which includes its own transmitter and receiver. (Drummer Collura took a hard-wired PSM approach.)

"At first, Deana was of the opinion that no monitors at all was a better option than having to wear earpieces," Bussiere says. "She loves to hear the sound of the P.A., and she thought that the PSM system would isolate her. Eventually, her brother Jeff got her to try them, and her attitude changed. I use a pair of Shure SM81 condenser mics downstage left and right to capture some of the P.A. for her, which I tweak via two of the stereo mic inputs in the master section on my desk. Those channels are routed to a built-in compressor-gate, so I simply adjust the threshold of the SM81s according to the venue, and she's digging it. I pretty much give her a full house mix at a very comfortable level. It's definitely not on Full Stun."

In this day and age of country going mainstream, and young country grabbing radio airplay and the headlines, the Jackson/Carter tour provides a rich sampling of complementary yet unique styles-a bit of the traditionalist with a splash of the contemporary. "Seeing and hearing Alan Jackson and Deana Carter together is a nice combination," Somers says, echoing the sentiments of fans and the rest of the crew. "There's a lot of good material in this show, and it plays well to the audience. Everyone seems to enjoy both acts, regardless of whether they came thinking they would or not."

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