Lighting Up Coachella

If you think that the production sound crew at a festival such as Coachella has a busy time, spare a thought for the lighting team. “Our day is 24 hours,” reports Jamie Jensen, lighting design director for the main stage at both Coachella Festival and Stagecoach, its country music twin, since 2012.
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Each night, Coachella’s lighting team strikes the day’s lighting set up and installs a new rig. This year, the lighting at Coachella was provided by PRG.

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If you think that the production sound crew at a festival such as Coachella has a busy time, spare a thought for the lighting team. “Our day is 24 hours,” reports Jamie Jensen, lighting design director for the main stage at both Coachella Festival and Stagecoach, its country music twin, since 2012.

“Each night that we do Coachella, we almost strike the whole rig and reinstall a whole new rig,” says Jensen, who was also LD for the New York area’s Summer Jam in June 2014. As bands are arriving in the middle of the night at Coachella, he continues, “We’re having meetings with them while getting rid of last night’s set, and the trucks are unloading to install the next day’s designs.”

All of the lighting equipment at Coachella was provided by PRG—account executive Robert Allen was on-site—with Quantum Special Effects supplying special effects equipment.

The design process begins six months out. “We start conversations about the project and who the potential headline bands are going to be,” says Jensen. As bands confirm, “We start interacting with them as to what potential

designs they would be looking at trying to produce. Coachella [which is produced by Goldenvoice and AEG Live], uniquely, really embraces allowing the band to bring in and try to pull off different designs. Even within a night, we can have two or three different designs.”

With the design proposals in, Jensen works out how to accommodate everyone within a design that is practical to produce in the venue, which is located on a polo field in the Colorado Desert just outside Indio, CA.

“I come up with a finished design that produces all of the different looks that the bands are looking for. It can be a challenge, but on the production side, we really do everything we can to pull off their designs.”

At least four and up to six of the bands at the top of each day’s schedule typically submit designs. Those bands are playing at night, when lighting is most effective, but as Jensen explains, “Bands do, even in daylight, put on [lighting] packages so that they still have an impact for video and worldwide streaming. The lights do have an effect during the day.”

As on the audio production side, since many artists are mid-tour, they expect to bring their own lighting control desks. But cycling different consoles in and out also presents challenges. “It’s not just the swap of a cable,” Jensen explains. “It depends on the console and what they’re trying to do.”

To help LDs transition their designs onto the festival rig, the production team provides an ESP previsualization suite in a backstage trailer, which this year was staffed by Erin Anderson. “It has the whole rig set up in a computer, and they can pre-program everything, typically in a two hour session, before they go out,” says Jensen.

PRG supplied three MA Lighting grandMA2 Full consoles plus one Light version at this year’s festival. For those LDs who want to program on their own desk, “In that previs [previsualization] suite, we can set up whatever console they want to program. That then moves out front for their show.”

Enabling bands to produce great lighting designs involves heavy investment from the Coachella side, says Jensen, but the LDs are no less committed to achieving their goals.

“I have guys that will stay there all night long programming—and it could be one of the bands from the middle of the day. It’s amazing what goes into that show.”

The production team is happy to accommodate any request, and only ever nixes lighting designs for one reason: “Nothing’s too much work; the only issues we’ve had with not being able to implement designs are because they’re simply not safe for the environment.

Anything that comes through has to be engineered to the wind and weight ratings. So everything has to be produced in time to get those approvals so we know that it’s all safe and good to go.”