Cars may be Detroit’s main export, but music has always run a close second. Whether it’s soulful Motown legends, classic rockers like the MC5 and Bob Seger, or modern upstarts like Eminem and Kid Rock, the place has rich musical legacy. Aiming to become part of that storied musical history is a venue right on the banks of the Detroit River.
Built in the late 1990s, Chene Park Amphitheater is a 6,000-seat venue, sitting just east of General Motors world headquarters. The venue has its own concert series every summer, featuring jazz, classic soul and R&B acts like Brian McKnight, India Aire, The O’Jays, Average White Band, The Whispers, Lauren Hill, Lonnie Liston Smith and others.
Providing audio for the venue is Grand Rapids, MI-based Stage Works, and the audio point man onsite is Johnny Winkler. Acting as both Chene Park’s system engineer and Stage Works’ head audio engineer, his work at the venue predates his time with the audio provider.
“I’ve had a relationship with Chene Park for eight years, so once I moved to Stage Works, it was a nobrainer to try to get them in there,” said Winkler. Tours that come through the amphitheater make use of the Stage Works-supplied house system, which centers around a pair of Avid Venue D-Show consoles at the house and monitor positions, respectively, though cabling is on hand for bringing in other desks if requested.
The house PA is an ISP Technologies HDL 42 line-array system, with stage hangs of 10 4212s per side with additional pairs of 4210s at the bottom to handle down fills. The hangs are supplemented by nine subs. Monitors are also ISPoriented, with five 4210s a side over dual-18-inch subs for side fills, plus 14 ProWedge 212 monitors onsite for use as needed.
Having ISP boxes on hand seems fitting since the manufacturer is based in Waterford, MI, but that wasn’t actually a factor in picking the system for the facility. Instead, the choice was made simply because Stage Works has a sizable ISP inventory. While Winkler was all for getting the company into Chene Park, however, he admitted some initial reluctance concerning the PA.
“It’s not on a lot of riders,” he deadpanned, “but nobody can argue with the results, and that’s kind of where I’m at with it. When I walked into the company, I had never really heard of the product, so I was surprised by the overall power and clarity of the boxes and the ‘4-way’ system. You have four discrete bandwidths that you can manipulate, so the box can take on the characteristics of any box that an engineer is used to mixing on. I had a Meyer guy come in who I had worked with in the past, and we discussed curves and the things that I would normally do with a Meyer box. When I was done with that, he was like, ‘Man, that sounds just like the Meyer rig.’ I had an Adamson guy come in—same thing: ‘Sounds like my Adamson stuff.’ So the quality is there; it’s a no-name product right now, but that’ll change.”
For now, however, Winkler often finds himself in the position of introducing the rig to engineers who are sometimes as wary as he was. “I’ve encountered that ‘rider-friendly’ hurdle, but I’ve worked with many of these artists and engineers before. [When advancing a show], I say it’s ISP and they go, ‘IS-who?’ I tell them, ‘It’s got a super detailed high end, and you’ve got to hear it.’ When they sit in front of it, I’d say 9 out of 10 guys have been absolutely blown away and the 10th guy was, ‘This is good.’”
While Stage Works set up the house system to have some punch, given Chene Park’s urban setting, the audio team onsite strives to avoid noise issues. “There are concerns about dB levels outside of the venue,” said Winkler, “but with some software, I was able to aim the PA and focus it in such a manner that it only hits the lawn and stays within the bowl. There’s probably 60 dB at the bottom of the show outside of the venue, but once you hit the roadway, all you’re hearing is a bit of a thump in the bass.”
Of course, albeit vitally important, the house audio system is only a small part of any venue. Atmosphere, quality bookings and a million other factors play their roles in creating a place that audiences want to visit— and just as importantly, that crews want to work in. “Detroit is really a phoenix rising out of the ashes these days, so they’re really trying to develop the Riverfront, and Chene Park is a big part of that,” said Winkler. “It’s a great venue to work in.”