RIP Taylor Hawkins
(Lead Photo by Paul Rovere)
Rock ‘n’ roll returns as Dave Grohl and Frontier Touring bring down the border
It was seemingly impossible. After two years of no international acts touring our shores, Foo Fighters announced a mere 10 days out from the gig that they would be gracing Kardinia Park with their presence; a venue that has never hosted a gig before. Surely this had been long planned. You can’t pull together production on that scale that fast. To some extent, that was correct. Production had much more notice; 21 days. Again, impossible. Long-time Frontier Touring partners JPJ Audio took the call for sound, Big Picture for video, PRG for lights, and Clifton Productions for staging and infrastructure.
They built it, and they came; all 36,000 live music deprived souls. The gig was an outrageous success. When tickets went on sale a week out from the night, they sold out in hours, testament to the power of pent-up demand. Sadly, just three weeks later, Foo’s beloved drummer Taylor Hawkins would pass away while on tour in Columbia.
Supported by local legends The Meanies, and Amyl and The Sniffers, this concert was the first outing for the Victorian State Government’s Always Live initiative, which promises to be “a Victoria-wide celebration of contemporary live music, the biggest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.” Upcoming gigs under the Always Live banner include Nick Cave & Warren Ellis with Courtney Barnett at Hanging Rock, Isiaih Firebrace in Echuca, Tash Sultana as part of Ocean Sounds at Philip Island.
“It was very quick,” understates Mats Frankl, Senior Account Manager at JPJ Audio. “We got the specs, and we just organised it very quickly. Luckily, availability of all the gear was good that week!”
With Kardinia Park an unknown quantity, the JPJ team got onsite and assessed the sonic environment. “At the pre-show meetings, we’re interested in surfaces; glass, screens, structures. It’s all about slapback, which is always an issue in stadia. Luckily, it was pretty good, with only a couple of active spots.” JPJ mapped the venue in L-Acoustics’ Soundvision software and managed to steer the energy off of the problem areas.
One of the big surprises apart from the short timeframe was the fact that the state suddenly has a new stadium sized concert venue. “Now Victoria has a third big outdoor arena, which is great!” enthuses Mats. “There’s been a lot of work done at Kardinia Park since it was rebuilt, and hopefully this means we will see more concerts there. It can be difficult to work around sport at the MCG and Marvel Stadium, so we’d be very happy to work at Kardinia again.”
With the resumption of international touring, the gig was a huge psychological boost to the community, and even more significant to the live production sector. “All of our staff are just so happy to be out there working,” grins Mats. “They love live sound and there’s nothing more fun than having a big PA system to play with. We could do this show, it happened, and there was no COVID cancellation. It is absolutely huge for our industry. My staff was so happy and so was I.”
“I was made aware of the gig about three weeks out by our American contacts who were handling the international tour,” says Joe Bonanno, CEO of Big Picture Australia and New Zealand. “At the same time, Frontier Touring contacted us. From contact to confirmation was a matter of 48 hours. There were four Americans coming out to handle video; a director, engineer, media server operator, and lead camera. We were to provide a shadow media server operator due to system complexity, as they were only bringing their media, to a one-off show with almost no rehearsal. We supplied a further six crew to complement theirs.”
With staff from both Big Picture Sydney and fellow Melbourne NEP brand Creative Technology, it was a combined effort. “There was certainly no struggle in getting anyone to work on this!” reports Joe. “To be working on an international act again, through international partners, with an international crew was a real privilege. It was great to get the band back together and work alongside PRG and JPJ. We all really needed it. It’s been a long time since we’ve had that feeling, and it reignited the flames.”
Joe singles out staging and rigging provider Clifton Productions for particular praise. “I think Clifton Productions had the toughest gig in an industry suffering real human resource shortages,” he surmises. “Outdoor gigs are complicated because of the construction of the stage, barriers, and lack of any permanent infrastructure that’s normally in an arena. Clifton really put the pedal to the metal and got it done.”
Joe is seeing the green shoots of the industry returning and is optimistic about the rest of the year. “We’ve got ourselves set for an extremely busy itinerary at the end of the year that will present another range of challenges,” he explains. “So let’s call Foo Fighters a warm-up gig!”
“It was just three weeks from the time we were told to the time we did the gig,” recalls Fergal O’Sullivan, Senior Account Manager at PRG. “We got the call on a Friday, and two weeks later we were on site on a Tuesday. Because of how PRG work, all our looms are permanent, which makes a massive difference as you can pull them off the shelf and two days later you’re ready to go from a dimmer and cable perspective. There certainly was a bit of ‘how the hell are we going to do this?’ but once we got going it was fine.”
Foo Fighters LD Dan Hadley is a global PRG client and came straight to the company with the spec. There were minor substitutions for availability with a couple of fixtures swapped, but nothing significant.
Again, Clifton Productions come in for high praise from PRG. “Kardinia Park has never put on a show, so I was preparing myself mentally to walk into a nightmare,” admits Fergal. “All we were hearing before we got there was ‘building site, limited access’ and so on. Normally it takes at least four days to build stages on this scale. We were prepared to be standing around waiting for floors to go down. However, when we got to site, there wasn’t a Cliftons staff member in sight, because the whole thing was done!”
“It was just phenomenal,” praises Fergal. “I was blown away, especially considering we haven’t worked on these kind of gigs for two years. All the delay towers were up, the stage was 100%, the loading dock was ready to go, and Cliftons had built a track through the building site to the loading dock. Everyone had their A-Game on.”
As for the punters and the rest of the crew, the return of a huge international act was an emotional moment. “The moment that gave me goosebumps was when Foo Fighters first came out,” confides Fergal. “Dave Grohl just stood there for what felt like an eternity, and the crowd screamed at the highest level you could imagine for at least three minutes. It felt like a mass emotional release from the last two years, and Dave just stood there and let them go for it. He then walked out to the wings, came back, and just stood there again. It was phenomenal. I’ve toured all my life and never seen anything like it; a crowd going that nuts for that length of time before a note is even played.”
The heroes of the hour, Clifton Productions, were responsible for supply and build of the stage, the FOH position, 20 metre delay towers, egress stair walkways from the venue into the food service areas, engineering compliance, and dealing with building regulator the Victorian Builder’s Association.
“It was a big push for everyone involved,” states Adrian Potts, National Manager of Staging for Clifton Productions. “We already had a full calendar, which really tested the crew. Our Hercules roof hasn’t gone out since COVID. The stage design was based on a previous Foo Fighters tour because of the short time frame, and that really helped in getting everything coordinated, with quick sign-offs to get things moving.”
It was a full company effort, with Adrian based in Geelong for a week dealing with back-end compliance. Robertai McKibbin was the project manager responsible for delivering pretty much everything, and Jason Marrable coordinated trucking, flights, and accommodation for fly-in crew, not just for the Kardinia Park gig, but the five other jobs Clifton was running at the same time, including Day on the Green in nearby Mount Duneed.
“We had 40 crew flown in from NSW and QLD staying in Werribee,” reveals Adrian. “Getting that many skilled scaffolders at short notice was a feat in itself, especially considering so many have left the industry.”
Ultimately, a four-day build was compressed into two, with crew working around the clock. “I’m immensely proud of our crew and everyone else involved for the amazing effort,” praises Adrian. “And the show itself was amazing. It’s a great venue that’s easy to get in, get around, and get out. I’m excited to see what the future holds for Kardinia Park as a regular concert venue.”
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