(l-r) Monitor engineers Tony Luna
and Brad Johnson, and FOH
engineer Jim Ebdon with the
DiGiCo SD7 used for
Aerosmith’s FOH position.
Photo courtesy of DiGiCo.by Clive Young.
It was all over the news last week that 61-year-old Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler fell off the stage during a concert at the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. Apparently he was dancing up a storm in an effort to keep the audience entertained after "the sound system failed," according to the Associated Press.
Corrective word has started to spread that it was a power failure as opposed to a problem with the audio gear, but the damage has been done (Most noticeably to unfortunate Mr. Tyler, who wound up with stitches and a broken shoulder, putting the rest of the band's summer tour with ZZ Top in jeopardy).
He's not the only one who plumeted Wednesday night, however. Because of the erroneous reporting, the sound crew, SR companies and pro audio manufacturers took the fall. Of course, none of them were at fault; reportedly other backstage entities surreptitiously tied into the power service designated for Aerosmith's system, causing it to overload.
A representative from DiGiCo (whose consoles are out on the tour) dropped PSN a line to clarify, "the 'audio failure' was not an issue with any of the PA or pro audio gear or the regional sound companies' gear.... The word from Aerosmith production is that everything in the audio system works great and the power issues were not part of the production but part of the venue issues."
So it was a power failure, but more importantly, it was failure in judgment. To be fair, "rock n' roll" and "clear-headed deliberation concerning the cause and effect of one's impending actions" are concepts rarely spotted in the same room.
There's multiple sides to every story: It could be argued that the AP showed poor judgment by not getting its story straight; that it was poor judgment for those unnamed parties to tap into the PA's power service; or poor judgment that no one in the tour camp checked up on it during the show. Or even, dare I say it, poor judgment to flail around dancing to imaginary music to keep a show going when something's clearly gone very wrong.
Of course, that's easy for me to say--I've never had thousands of bikers staring at me, each wondering "what [insert your favorite string of expletives here] just happened?" The closest I've ever been to that kind of situation was 11 years ago when I covered a rather different outdoor concert for Pro Sound News.
The irony was as thick as the humidity that late June evening when the Spice Girls played Jones Beach Amphitheatre. Showtime was nearing and the sold-out crowd began to chant the group's slogan, "Girl Power," just as the production was losing its supply of the electrical kind. As a venue-wide power failure stopped the PA and caused the main video screen to go blank, panel by panel, the crowd--predominantly nine-year-old girls--squealed louder and louder, thinking the show was about to begin. When the evening's festivities finally got underway 80 minutes later thanks to a backup generator, it was well past most of the audience's bedtime.
None of the singers fell off the stage that night (though I'm sure a few parents wished they would). Then again, 14,000 grade-schoolers simply didn't have the potential to get as unruly as a crowd at the world's largest bike rally might (for one thing, the grade-schoolers probably hadn't been drinking).
Treating your audience members with respect means, yes, entertaining them since that's what they paid for, but it may also mean simply finding a way to communicate with 'em. We've all experienced failure--power and otherwise--and who knows? Maybe they would've hung in there to catch the second half of "Love in an Elevator." Instead, Tyler was livin' it up while he was goin' down--and his fall may have taken the tour with him.
August 14, 2009 UPDATE: The rest of the Aerosmith tour, which was due to conclude on Sept. 16 in Detroit, has been canceled. Guitarist Joe Perry, in a statement, remarked, "Words can't express the sadness I feel for having to cancel this tour...we hope we can get the Aerosmith machine up and running again as soon as possible."