LOS ANGELES, CA—The 2011 NAMM Show in mid-January marks the start of another year and another 10-month tour for the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. The past year was somewhat bittersweet for the staff, marking what would have been Lennon’s 70th birthday by documenting two nights of performances by Yoko Ono, the Plastic Ono Band and a host of guest stars at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.
“We were very excited when we found out that the Plastic Ono Band was going to do two shows in Los Angeles the week before John Lennon’s 70th birthday,” says Jeff Sobel, chief engineer for the bus, which was already scheduled to be in Los Angeles at the beginning of October. “It was Yoko’s idea to have the bus onsite at the theater documenting the shows. She almost always documents her performances, mostly for archival purposes.”
With a 5-camera shoot planned, says Sobel, “The bus already has a number of Sony HD cameras onboard, but we realized we were going to need a little extra gear. We gave Sony a call; they’re a sponsor of the Lennon Bus, and they sent us some additional cameras.”
Indeed, the bus is sponsored by a who’s who of audio and video companies. “These were once in a lifetime performances, so they were meant to be documented in the best way possible,” observes Sobel, noting that logistics made it impossible to use the Avid equipment already on the bus for the recording.
“We could have run a feed from the stage to the bus and actually done the recording in the bus. The bus has a Pro Tools|HD system and up to 64 inputs, so we could have run a digital snake out. But we had things going on inside the bus all throughout the day.”
That meant another call, this time to Avid. “They arranged for a new Pro Tools system for us, through a company called Advanced Audio Rentals, which is L.A.- based. They got all the gear together for us to our specs, set it all up, tested it, and gave it to us ready to go.”
The Plastic Ono Band, led by Sean Lennon, brought in an analog console for the live show, Sobel reports. “We had them get an isolated split out for us. We set up the Pro Tools rig next to monitor world. We ran the split into our Aphex 1788 preamps, and from there analog into the Avid interfaces. It was flawless.”
The show was split into two parts, the first half comprising We Are Plastic Ono Band, a selection of Yoko’s compositions, with the second half also featuring a variety of guests, including Lady Gaga, Perry Farrell, RZA, Carrie Fisher, Vincent Gallo, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Harper Simon (son of Paul Simon), Iggy Pop, bassist Mike Watt, guitarist Nels Cline and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore.
The two nights were certainly out of the ordinary, but as Sobel notes, there’s no such thing as a regular day on the bus. On the road since 1998, initially audio only, adding nonlinear video production and editing in 2001, the nonprofit program generally tours the country to provide schools and youth organizations with hands-on experience with recording and video technology.
When the bus pulls up at a scheduled stop, he says, “A group of students comes in; a lot of times, they’re meeting each other for the first time. They collaborate to write an original song and go through the songwriting as well as the recording experience. They’ll also produce a video. What they walk out the door with is their original song, recorded, as well as a music video. This generally happens in a one-day workshop, so it’s fast and frenzied.”
As for the itinerary, “It’s a perpetualmotion machine in a way; we schedule an event, we do the event, and then many more people find out about the bus through that event and they request the bus,” he explains. “Our sponsors will also recommend schools or programs that they are involved in.”
Lee Whitmore, Avid’s education strategy director, notes that the bus relies heavily on the company’s creative digital media workflows, incorporating Sibelius notation software, and Nitris DX, Mojo and Media Composer video systems, in addition to Pro Tools|HD. Whitmore annually works with bus executive director Brian Rothschild to schedule some dates on the tour.
For example, Whitmore offers, “We’ve held reseller events over the last few years for NAMM members who are Avid partners, and we’ve hosted dealer breakfasts with a tour of the bus, where NAMM members can interact with students.”
Ten months on the road may sound arduous, but it’s rewarding work, according to Sobel: “People are really surprised what you can turn out in a day. With the right guidance, in a day, you can turn out something that looks every bit professional. It’s really pretty amazing.”
John Lennon Educational Tour Bus