LD Systems Takes VARI*LITE to the Rodeo
Published Tuesday, April 4, 2006
by Bryan Matthews

On Tuesday, February 28, 2006, Rodeo Houston opened the gates of Reliant Park for the 74th Annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™, the largest livestock show and rodeo in the world today. This 20-day event accommodates over 1 million visitors, and hosts 24 of the hottest musical acts in the industry today, along with countless livestock and rodeo participants from around the globe. Standing at the forefront of the event is the newly authorized Vari-Lite Sales and Rental Dealer, LD Systems, the sole provider of the lighting gear, sound systems, rigging, video screens, and closed circuit television network for the entire event.

"The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is a very cutting-edge installation from start to finish," stated Rob McKinley, LD Systems Owner and Project Manager. "Sound, Light, and Video, it takes all three to stay alive in the market today. It’s our ability to support all these endeavors that has enabled our sustained growth."

With offices in Houston and San Antonio, LD Systems is a Texas-based sound, lighting, and video company which provides production equipment and engineers for a broad spectrum of events that include stage lighting and sound for national touring acts, annual festivals, and corporate theater meetings with large format video projection. Their systems integration department designs and executes permanent installations of sound, light, video, and video conferencing systems in corporate facilities, houses of worship, sports facilities and even offshore oil platforms.

The relationship between LD Systems and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo began in 1986 with lighting support for the event, but over the course of time has grown into an all-encompassing integrated system. Product sets supplied by LD Systems can be seen throughout the grounds including Reliant Stadium, Reliant Center, Reliant Arena, and the newly fashioned Hideout nightclub, which is set up on the floor of the Astrodome adjacent to the stadium.

"The reliability of LD Systems is their biggest attribute without a doubt," commented Leroy Shafer, Chief Operating Officer for Rodeo Houston. "This show sells over 1.2 million tickets per year, with 40% sold prior to the opening. Because of this, we need to know that the complete package is going to be in good hands. Through our relationship with Rob [McKinley] when we turn the show over to LD Systems, we are completely comfortable. Every year we are more amazed by what they do."

The highest profile installation for LD Systems during the event is in Reliant Stadium, the 1.9 million square-foot rodeo and professional football facility, with a seating capacity for over 70,000 excited rodeo and music fans. And each night after the rodeo, a different musical artist takes the stage. For 2006, LD Systems has added a new element to their lighting design, 16 VL3000™ Spot luminaires.

"When looking at the lighting design this year, we had a market need that drove the purchase of a larger fixture," said Jim Brace, LD Systems Lighting Designer. "The VL3000 spot is easily the hard-edge of choice."

Brace continued, "The lighting design is in the round with 24 musical acts in 20 days. The design has to be generic, as we try to give the artists and their lighting designers as many looks as possible to choose from, but you don’t have enough time for a lot of programming for each individual artist. The first couple of shows are a bit hard, but as it gets going it becomes easier with more looks built." Word of mouth from incoming lighting designers gave a resounding appreciation of the VL3000 spot. "We have to have the product that the larger events require, and I have always liked the quality of VARI*LITE® luminaires."

A typical day for Brace and his lighting team begins at 1 p.m. with a meeting involving the incoming artist’s lighting designer, where they discuss the different looks for the show. At 3 p.m., the house lights are reduced in Reliant Stadium and for the next two hours Brace and his team will work with the lighting designers to program and build the evenings performance.

"Keeping your head together and not freaking out is the biggest challenge," stated John Dickson, LD Systems Co-lighting Designer and Automated Luminaire Programmer. "With so many shows in such a quick timeframe, it becomes hard to stay fresh, but with the zoom, strobe, and light intensity of the VL3000 Spot it’s fun to create and be a part of the whole experience."

Brace added, "There are a lot of big name acts that come through here with very knowledgeable people. We try to have everyone leave with a good feeling. We take a lot of pride in giving the people in the stadium, a ‘Big’ show, and the thousands of people watching monitors all over the grounds a quality picture."

"You basically come to the table with your color palettes and then rely upon LD Systems to create the show," said Steve Fallon, Lighting Designer for multi-award winning artist LeAnn Rimes. "It’s great to know that when you are doing an event such as this that you are working with professionals. LD systems has been great and very supportive."

The stage for the concerts is a self-propelled, rotating platform 42’ across. The trim height on the lighting truss comes in at 36’, utilizing four 16’x16’x16’x32’ trussing trapezoids for gobo projection screens. And with a large venue such as Reliant Stadium, video imaging for the concerts is of the utmost importance. Therefore, eight 16’x28’ video screens, in an octagon, hang just over the lighting rig for a clear visual to all in the stadium.

Brace continued, "The video elements are taken very seriously with the massive size of the venue. The video is essential to the show. The lighting must be compliant with the video or those sitting in the upper deck won’t be able to enjoy the performance. You have to be able to put a little more light on the stage without drowning out the effects. The brightness, gobo selections, and color palettes of the VL3000 Spot make it perfect for this installation."

Dickson added, "To enhance the video, I use the VL3000 spot to cover the stage and the entire arena with gobo projections, and the wide zoom on the light easily covers it. With only 16 lights there are no dead spots anywhere. That’s amazing in a venue this size. It’s a great light and I have always been a fan."

Rodeo Houston, which offices onsite, also incorporates a state-of-the-art video production studio. The studio was built specifically to support the video elements of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. All video feeds of the rodeo, and the concerts, are sent via fiber optics from the stadium to the video studio across the walkway in the Reliant Center for mixing on the fly. The video feeds are also rebroadcast over the 150 closed circuit television feeds throughout the fair grounds and the large video screens inside the stadium. 12 cameras are used for the rodeo and 10 cameras for the concerts.

"The VL3000 spot has made a noticeable difference in the video," stated Zoli Vadja, Rodeo Houston Video Director. "The lighting is brighter and more crisp than in the years past."

"LD Systems has brought in some great new looks for the rodeo and the concerts this year," said James E. Davidson, Rodeo Houston Managing Director for Broadcast and Audio-Visual. "The new effects are going great, and we are seeing it clearly on the video. It's nice to see new stuff this year."

LD Systems began in 1973 when Andy DiRaddo and John Larson began renting sound equipment for local Houston gigs out of DiRaddo’s parent’s garage. In 1975, Larson joined the armed services and Rob McKinley joined DiRaddo as a business partner. Considering 1975 as the beginning the company, they continued to complete their degrees at Rice University as they worked full time to build LD Systems. The foundation of the company was, and still is, to provide a high level of professional service based on superior people and equipment. This focus on excellence is the reason LD Systems’ equipment and engineers have circled the globe and regularly supply events and tours across the United States.

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