When the Sun Goes Down, VL3000™ Fixtures Shine
Published Thursday, April 22, 2004

If you thought the automated lighting rig on Kenny Chesney’s last tour was mammoth, just wait until you see the 2004 version. Lighting designer Mike Swinford doubled the number of VARI*LITEŽ moving lights bringing the total count to 125 VARI*LITE moving heads. And he also dusted off nearly 50 VLM™ moving mirrors he had sitting in stock and put them to use.

Swinford added 29 VL2000™ Spot luminaires (69 total), 19 VL2000™ Wash luminaires (34 total) and 14 VL3000™ Spot luminaires. He is also using 8 VL1000™A fixtures. Besides Chesney, the star of the show is the VL3000 Spot fixtures.

"The VL3000 Spot is my new favorite fixture," Swinford said. "The intensity, the optics and the zoom are just fabulous. I can punch nice dark blue colors through it and they read so rich. I’ve always been a fan of VARI*LITE color, and the VL3000 Spot luminaire makes it even better because it’s got the horsepower to make that vibrant color read well."

"That’s one of the things on this tour that people comment on, the VL3000s and how great they look – the color, the intensity," he continued. "We love them."

All of the VL3000 Spot luminaires are floor lights. Swinford positioned six of them across the back of the stage and three on the floor both stage left and right. The main purpose of the VL3000 Spot fixtures is to shoot into the VLM moving mirrors, which Swinford modified to fit his design. He shoots light into the mirrors from the floor and controls all of the reflections from the console.

"It’s a really cool look and something I’ve wanted to do for a long time," Swinford explained. "This year I proposed it to Kenny and he liked the idea. We did a mock-up of the VLMs and the VL3000 spot fixtures, and we are both very pleased with the results."

The VLM units have a flat surface with a mirror on both sides, which could create lighting chaos during some numbers. Swinford blacked out one side with black gaffer’s tape to eliminate that problem. During the opening acts – Rascal Flatts and Uncle Kracker for most of the tour – and on songs when Swinford isn’t using the mirrors to reflect light from the VL3000 Spot units, there’s no highly reflective surface in the truss. On some songs, Swinford actually lights the black surface with the VL3000 Spot luminaires to create a nice graphic pattern in the air.

In the air, there are five eight-foot circle pods, which are mini-beam 12-inch truss circle trusses. Positioned around the perimeter are six VL2000 Spot fixtures. On the interior, the moving mirrors are placed three deep and three wide for a total of nine per pod.

The set itself is a fairly open, multi-level set. Because Chesney is a big fan of bar-grating, this year’s set, like last year, is comprised mostly of that material. This year’s set-up has lost the big amplifier wall, so it’s not as tall as last year. Swinford positioned lights underneath that shine out from under the set.

Las year, Swinford positioned columns of automated fixtures between three video screens. This year, the three 16-by-12-foot video screens are almost butted up against one another, so visually it looks like a single 48-foot long, 16-foot high video wall. All of the lights that are hung are overhead, none are nestled between the video walls. The center video wall opens up and Chesney flies out on what the crew calls a "magic carpet," which is actually a 6-by-6 foot grated deck.

"I made all of the lights moving trusses via a Motionlabs motor server," Swinford explained. "I did some truss moves last year, but we did them manually so we couldn’t do much with it. This year we are much more aggressive, and we do a lot of radical moves."

When the truss moves, Swinford pulls the lights down in front of the video wall (without the video) to achieve the look of a huge wall of light. The VL2000 wash units are positioned as close together as possible in three rows of five in a rack custom made by All Access. Each light has a pivot and can pivot individually so that the yoke is always perpendicular to the stage.

On a few songs, the only fixtures he uses are the VL3000 Spot units. Swinford points the VL3000 Spot fixtures into the audience with the 60-degree wide-angle zoom, and throws in a rotating gobo. None of the other overhead lights are on, so it creates a really cool lighting effect.

"It’s just this big huge beam coming out from behind the band, raking across their backs," Swinford detailed. "We use the zoom quite a bit on there. It’s unbelievable how wide the VL3000 units open up."

Many of the designs Swinford created for Chesney’s show are just as unbelievable.

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