2 Feb 2019

Tales from the Road


Tales from the Road

Gigging and giggling alfresco

by John O’Brien.

Ahh, the great outdoors. Fresh air, wildlife, views, Mother Nature in all her glory – what’s not to love? Oh: sun, rain, wind, snow, mud, flies, snakes, spiders, dust, salt, bushfires, floods and all the other natural wonders. We might enjoy hanging outside in the elements but electrical equipment generally doesn’t. Moisture and dirt – abundant natural elements – are innate enemies to the precious gear that our industry now relies on.

Here are some of the delights of mixing these elements with our gear.

Dust & Dirt
The soil that grows our food and feeds our trees is dirt, and, yea, it is dirty. It fouls our gear and gets into every nook and cranny only to reappear long after. One time, we were doing production for a B&S. Not truly outdoors, we rocked up to a local hall where we found sawdust spread two feet deep throughout. Promoter: “It gets pretty feral.”


We needed shovels and brooms to clear a path to load in and setup. Every spare truss, case and board was fastened together to make an impregnable FOH fortress. It held (only just) but the worst bit was finding sawdust in absolutely everything for the next few months.

Providing the weekend’s entertainment on hard packed clay for a Harley festival. Bump in went fine but lights looked thin. Halfway through the first set, enough dust has kicked up from the bikers to put up a nice haze and now it looked awesome. A win for dust…

Rain, Wind & Snow
Water and electricity don’t mix too good. Keeping the wet stuff away from the sparks is crucial when you are outdoors. Expensive consoles and outboard racks need protection from the elements. FOH marquees, tents and raincoats – normally these are well planned. You have checked the weather forecast, right? Too common though the last minute dash to the supermarket for garbage bags as the storm clouds roll in.

Local community festival in NE of Melbourne. Outdoor stage that I’d used often before and experienced crew for every department. Setup all by the book but one hour before showtime, the clouds are ominous and the wind was howling. Dropped the stage roof a bit, removed the backdrop (mainsail?) and still dicey.  I made the call to can the gig and spent the next hour fending off death threats from the promoter … until the heavens finally opened and washed everyone away. Tough call, but the right one.

Wind is a very powerful element – I’ll not forget watching an unsecured two tonne RSJ launch from the top of a scaff tower in a strong gust. Thankfully, no-one got hurt but we did find new riggers pronto! I’ve never gigged outside in the snow but still carry the legacy of tearing a ligament on an icy ramp loading out at Jindabyne 20 years ago. You bunnies can keep that stuff…

Mud & Slush
Add dirt and water together to get – MUD – the worst of both worlds. Fun for pies, crap for gear. At the end of a long hot festival day, a storm blew through, wet down and cooled off the crowd. Then a local character whipped up the punters into a mud fight. All good until the stage was pelted with dollop after dollop until totally brown.

Brand new mics written off, mud all over and through amp-racks, floorlights and stage gear. Took us hours just to do a basic clean but pity the poor guitar tech who had to strip back and rebuild a dozen vintage axes overnight before the next show. Fun times …

Mud is not very helpful for transport either. One late night after a regional show, we parked the truck on the verge outside the motel. 50mm of rain dumped while we slept and of course the truck was bogged in. Sticks, branches and rocks under the wheel didn’t help so I had a brainstorm – drum carpet. Not only did that make things worse but the drummer never talked to me again! Cue expensive tow truck from 60km away!

On the Road
Even the most hardcore city vampires need to get from gig to gig. Which means facing the outside world and all its greeblies.

Welcome to the joys of: walking 10kms for fuel because some dingbat didn’t watch the gauge, having the band car stripped clean on the side of a mid-winter road by overzealous constabulary (they never did find anything!), fixing clogged injectors on the truck in a torrential rain storm, having the truck up on two wheels bouncing from side to side in peak hour traffic, or waiting four hours for emergency services to clear the only way through after a semi got stuck half off a bridge.

Off the Road
Before the magic of GPS, people used maps or memory to navigate. Quaint, I know. One night after a gig in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, we were Sydney bound. Me: “I know a shortcut.” Headed for Yea, I cocked up and took us to Warburton.

Once we realised the error, the map said the Acheron Way pointed in the right direction so, off we went. Unsealed, steep and twisty, branches scraping the pan both sides – hard work in a 4WD, let alone 13T truck. Stopped on a steep incline because the king of all wombats had plonked his fat arse right in the middle of the road and wouldn’t move. Rob the driver forgave me at that point. We lost way more hours than going crosstown but saw some awesome nature … oops.

Fun Gigs, Big Shows & Sport
For several years, summer for me meant regional tours as a loader and rigger. Camping under stages, bunkrooms in pantechs – 5 million star accommodation. Not so good when a bout of explosive gastro struck just before climbing into the front truss spot chair for the evening. I didn’t go up – best not expose the talent to that potential s***storm!

Same act, big outdoor NYE show, this time in the rear truss spot. Everything according to plan until the pyros start going off unannounced, three feet from my head. Different kind of storm erupted on the comms…

Another pleasurable summer gig: after race entertainment at Phillip Island Grand Prix. Top of the PA scaff tower had views of three quarters of the track. Hauled a TV (CRT of course) and receiver up to cover the rest. Awesome.

One year on Moomba, a king tide came up the Yarra and destroyed the cross-river multicore and spare. We cried and ran another one from the tinnie. The next year all the pyros went pear shaped and had the dignitaries running for cover. We laughed because it was funny. And then there was Shakespeare in the Botanical Gardens. Afternoon setup and evening show in lush surrounds. Almost felt rude getting paid. Almost…

On It Goes
Yeh, the elements throw some production curve balls but also provide some of the more bizarre and memorable moments. Like the scout jamboree we played one time – pelting rain but the most excited crowd I’d seen in years. Like the umpteen festival moments, like the endless semis of a mega-act in the park, or Carols in the (various) parks, or windblown fashion parades, or messy street parties, or even messier country weddings. And what about sport? Grand finals, Olympics, horse / car / bike races, tennis tournaments – these stories could go on forever.

But it’s time to get dirty in the garden. A shovel, a hose and no electronics in sight…


From the December 2018 – January 2019 edition of CX MagazineCX Magazine is Australia and New Zealand’s only publication dedicated to entertainment technology news and issues – available in print and online. Read all editions for free or search our archive
© CX Media


See also the Australian Entertainment Safety Resource Guide  – a free resource about working safely in all weather conditions and supported by CX Media. Link.


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