Kenny Chesney Tour Profile

Oct 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Carolyn Maniaci



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From left: systems engineer Matt Naylor, front-of-house engineer Bryan Vasquez and vocal monitor engineer Phil Robinson

From left: systems engineer Matt Naylor, front-of-house engineer Bryan Vasquez and vocal monitor engineer Phil Robinson

The show includes a four-man horn section (saxophonist Jim Horn, trombonist Chris Dunn, and trumpeters Steve Herman and Scott Dukaj), all using Audio-Technica's ATM350cW clip-on high-SPL mics. As the horns are on- and offstage several times during the show, their wireless packs have a built-in Mute switch.

In addition to drums, Sean Paddock also plays a cajone. Miking the instrument turned into an experiment in placement, but Vasquez eventually found a spot for an Audio-Technica 4055 to pick up the low end where it wouldn't get too much of the slap from the top. A Shure SM57 delivers the high end. Percussionist Drummy Zeb plays behind a Plexiglas screen to shield his sound. Vasquez mikes the percussion with Electro-Voice 468s and Shure KSM 27s and SM57s.

Fiddle player Nick Hoffman runs his Zeta electric fiddle direct through an Avalon U5 preamp into a Fishman Aura Acoustic Imaging Blender to replicate a miked acoustic sound. It is then routed through TC Electronic's G-Major for effects processing, adding chorus and some reverb before sending out a stereo signal.

Welcome to Stage-Left

Behind the scenes, both Robinson and Baxley work on Midas Pro 6 consoles. Setting up Chesney's vocal mix, Robinson dials up his vocal most prominently, with reverb, and backing vocals slightly under him. He prefers the band at only about half his level. Robinson is mainly cueing instrument solos that Chesney needs, pushing them at the right time and the right amount not to block his vocal. He cups the mic, putting his hand around the diaphragm, and the engineer has to tell Chesney not to do it without “pissing him off. Sometimes he listens, sometimes he decides not to listen,” Robinson says.

The band's monitoring is all but invisible. All except the horn players wear Sennheiser in-ear monitors. Robinson explains, “When horn players play, they're vibrating their lips and their heads, so when [the sound] gets back to their ears, it's out of phase. I haven't met a horn player yet that uses ears.” So the horn section has wedges, and the only other wedges onstage are one for the drummer and one for the bass player's sub.

After some debate, the crew has decided to forego using monitor sidefills because, while they may cure some problems, they just cause others. They have the potential to create the need for more wedges to boost each player's own mix, as well as a long list of cues for the engineers to manage. Of course, in-ears can create some challenges, too. For example, Chesney sometimes will pull out an earphone so he can hear the crowd. “He'll have the mic right beside it,” Robinson says, “so he'll get the really high-end feedback that you can barely hear, that makes your eyeballs hurt. He can't hear why it's making that sound, and I can't get my eyes uncrossed long enough to tell him.”

Nonetheless, getting tied up with a lot of speakers onstage complicates things both from an engineering standpoint and aesthetically. Chesney is adamant about having an uncluttered, clean look onstage, so the ultimate solution has been to keep things in the in-ear realm as much as possible.

When you go to a Chesney concert, don't bother watching the stage when showtime arrives. Kenny gets lifted up from the FOH booth on a sort of trapeze chair, performing his first number as he dangles above the heads and reaching hands of his faithful followers. During his airborne approach to the stage, he's far enough from the P.A. that it's out of time with his in-ears. “We couldn't get his monitor loud enough to cover the P.A. and the crowd noise,” Robinson explains, “so we took this blinking light, which converts a click track to a flashing light, so he can find the downbeat and know he's in sync with the band.” This clever workaround was so successful that Chesney now uses it throughout the set whenever he comes out onto the catwalk. “Bryan will keep moving it around so Kenny can see it from wherever he is. We've got a nine-dollar ‘blinky light’ taking care of a million-dollar show.”

Carolyn Maniaci (nee Engelmann), formerly an assistant editor for EM magazine, is now based in Chicago.

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