Whitinsville, MA (April 5, 2012)—Anderson Audio of Harrisburg, PA recently provided an EAW line array system for In Performance at the White House: Red, White and Blues, a White House concert attended by President and First Lady Obama that featured performances by B.B. King, Jeff Beck, Mick Jagger, Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi, Warren Haynes, Keb’ Mo’ and Shemekia Copeland.
The event was produced by public television station WETA; Ken Ehrlich, executive producer of The Grammy Awards; and Robert Santelli, executive director of The Grammy Museum, for AEG Ehrlich Ventures. Broadcast on PBS, the event was also streamed live on the internet and aired to service members around the world via the American Forces Network.
The PA system consisted of two arrays of four EAW NTL720 self-powered line array systems and four NTS250 large format flyable subwoofers per side, in the front of the 40-ft x 80-ft East Room. Other EAW products used included JF60z compact full-range loudspeakers for front fills and NT29 self-powered full-range loudspeakers for out fills.
The PA system had its work cut out for it on this show. First, instead of the stage being located at one end of the long room, as is usual for most performances in the East Room, the stage for Red, White and Blues was set up along one of the long side walls, necessitating hanging the speakers from the lighting truss 16 to 18 feet up and angled sharply downward. This required the ability to widely and evenly disperse the sound. Secondly, the backline was an array of Marshall and Fender amps, two drum kits, a horn section and keyboards – in other words, it was going to get loud.
“This was the loudest show we’ve ever done at the White House,” recalled Chris Anderson, president of Anderson Audio (who has done sound for shows in the East Room since the George W. Bush Administration using EAW equipment), adding that the volume was measured at 105 dB during rehearsals. “We’ve worked with many of these artists in concert before, including Jeff Beck and B.B. King, and we knew they were going to play louder than the other concerts we’ve done in the East Room, so the PA had to sound good at higher volume levels than usual.”
But there were still more challenges: the room itself is highly reverberant, with plaster walls and parquet floors, and since the event would be televised, the sound system had to be nearly invisible. As Anderson recalled, “I needed low-profile, high-output enclosures with a wide horizontal dispersion pattern, and EAW provided the solution. There are many challenges involved in an event like this—we are shooting a TV show, and the sound system has to be effective in translating the energy and excitement of the show while not getting into any of the camera shots. Frequency response must be smooth and accurate to not interfere with the broadcast mix audio. The EAW system did it all.”
The volume was up there for the show, but, Anderson said, “No one winced. When a sound system sounds honest and real, volume is much less of an issue.” In fact, Ron Reaves, the FOH Mixer on the show, who had just come from mixing the Grammy Awards a week earlier, remembers President Obama stopping by during the rehearsal and being asked by an aide if it was too loud. “I knew that the President was going to be sitting literally 12 feet from Jeff Beck’s guitar amp, so when he was asked about the volume, I really wanted to hear what he said,” said Reaves. “The President said, ‘No, it sounds fine,’ so the sound got the Presidential seal of approval before we even started, which was great. The show went fine and sounded fantastic, and that’s what everyone was after.”