The 30th anniversary of the festival revives the industry
(Lead photo: Baker Boy, by Saige Prime)
I can’t believe that in 30 years, I have never made it to WOMADelaide. From 1994 to 1996, I lived across the road, but was a dirt-poor student and couldn’t afford a ticket. I somehow avoided ever working on it, too. And what a loss I feel now. WOMADelaide is the most extraordinary live music environment I have ever experienced. It’s so fitting that this is the first major festival back as pandemic restrictions fade.
It’s almost impossible to imagine WOMAD happening anywhere else in Australia. The sheer scale of Botanic Park and the fact that the powers-that-be allow it to be taken over like this couldn’t be replicated anywhere else. For example, when Melbourne’s Princes Park hosted the Big Day Out for one year in the early 2000s, there was so much pearl-clutching from the nearby Carlton Resident’s Association that it was never allowed back. Nowhere anywhere near a CBD in Australia could host something of this size in such agreeable and practical surroundings.
I walked on site not long after opening and went straight to the Foundation Stage to see a group of drummers from the Cook Islands. Seeing the enormous line arrays hanging either side of stage, I almost cried. I hadn’t been in front of a big outdoor PA for two years.
I caught up with NW Group’s Australian General Manager Mario Valenti and Head of Audio Ian Shapcott at the FOH mix position of Stage 2 early on Sunday afternoon, as Melbourne-based Argentinian band The New Monos got the crowd on their feet dancing. I have never seen two techs look so happy to be at a gig. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face either.
NW Group are three years into their contract as technical supplier, responsible for all audio across seven stages and seven activations. They also supply video and lighting, with a little help in the lighting department this year from Chameleon, who supplied Stage 1 due to the sheer amount going on around the country in ‘Mad March’.
With NW Group a heavily L-Acoustics house, their products grace every stage at WOMAD. “The first thing we do is use L-Acoustics’ Soundvision software to map the whole site,” explained Ian Shapcott. “It shows all the bleeds, and all the coverage. There’s a lot of Soundvision work in preplanning, and it’s mostly about how the stages will affect each other. As such, every sub stack is cardioid on the main stages. We’re lucky here that there’s a natural hill and lots of trees insulating the nearest residents in Hackney and College Park, and on the other sides there’s the Zoo and more park. We’ve never had a complaint from residents or the client.”
Some household names, including Paul Kelly, Goanna, Courtney Barnett, and The Cat Empire ensure there’s plenty of rider-driven demand on the console side of things. “Stages 1, 2, 3 and 7 are very rider driven,” confirms Ian, “Especially Stage 1. We have AVID S6Ls and Profiles, and DiGiCo SD5s, SD7s, and SD10s, two at a time at FOH in an AB set-up, due to riders. Stage 1’s monitor engineers are usually with the band, Stage 2 is 50% us, and we’re doing monitors on every other stage. Stages 4, 5, 6 are monitors from FOH running Yamaha digital desks; eight sends to wedges and four sends to ears.”
One of the most impressive things about the festival, which runs four days with 650 artists performing, is the metronomic precision that all of the acts stop and start across the site. You could set your watch by it. How on earth does stage management get so many cats to walk in a parade?
“It’s partly down to how long the festival has been running,” offered Ian. “They’ve worked out the distances between stages, and how crowd movement between them works. When Stage 1 is going, so are 4 and 6. When 2, 3, 5 and 7 are running they don’t interfere with each other. There’s a central Stage Manager who calls to all the Assistant Stage Managers when to start and finish. All of the Stage Managers at WOMAD are excellent. They’re all helpful and are bang-on with their times.”
“The biggest challenge of WOMADelaide is the sheer scale of Botanic Park,” said Mario. “You can’t drive up to most of the stages, and you’re restricted by the ring roads around the site. Everything is spread out so far. We can come in with trucks, but as we get closer to the first day, everything that’s not part of the festival gets pulled back.”
“You can only get semis to two stages,” added Ian. “The only vehicles you can get to the other stages are rigids. And because it’s the Botanic Garden, you must be careful of the trees and grass.”
With 57 NW Group crew on site and human resources in short supply across the industry, getting the festival fully staffed has been a challenge. “This is a full company effort,” illustrated Mario. “We have a couple of operators from New Zealand, and staff from Melbourne and Sydney. As COVID restrictions have wound back, everything has gone ‘boom!’. We’re just coming out of supplying Mardi Gras in Sydney. Our resources are deep, but they’re stretched right now.”
Experiencing the unique and vast WOMAD, exactly two years to the day after ‘Black Friday’ shuttered live events in Australia overnight, was a cathartic experience and went a long way to treating the latent PTSD lurking in all of us. “The is the last festival I worked on pre-COVID, and this is my first festival back,” observed Ian poignantly. The sheer joy in returning to our collective passion was written large across Mario’s face. “The crew are right into it!” he grinned.
Head of Audio: Ian ‘Shappy’ Shapcott, NW Group
Senior Project Manager: John Watterson, NW Group
L-Acoustics product deployed: 40xK2, 12x KUDO, 64xdV-DOSC, 16xKIVA II, 4xA15, 20xARCS, 18xARCS WIDE, 10xX8, 10x108P, 24x12XT, 30xKS-28, 8xK1-SB, 28x SB218, 16xdV-SUB, 12xSB18
DiGiCo – 1xSD7, 1xSD5, 1xSD10, 3xSD8, 1xSD9, 1xSD11
AVID – 2xS6L, 1xProfile
Yamaha – 3xPM5D-RH, 3xQL5, 2xQL1
Project Manager: Luke van Roy, NW Group.
NW Group managed and supplied lighting across the park. Due to the amount of work across the country, NW Group approached their long-time friends at Chameleon to look after the supply of Stage 1.
Stage 1: 120 fixtures as the main festival package with floor packages for L.A.B., Paul Kelly, Courtney Barnett and The Cat Empire, adding another 148 fixtures.
Chameleon crew: Lewis Gersbach and Michael O’Conner.
Stages 2 – 7 and all activations supplied and managed by NW Group.
Project Manager: Wes Chapple, NW Group
Shadow AV for LED, and TASA for cameras and broadcast on Stage 1, 2 and 3
Stage 1 upstage LED: P3.9, 9.5m x 5.5m, 19×11 panels, resolution 2432×1408
Stage 1 delay LED: P3.9, 4.5mx 2.5m, 9×5 panels, resolution 1152×640
Stage 2 delay LED: P3.9, 4.5mx2.5m, 9×5, panels, resolution 1152×640
Stage 6 backdrop LED: P3.9, 4.5mx2.5m, 9×5, panels, resolution 1152×640
Published monthly since 1991, our famous AV industry magazine is free for download or pay for print. Subscribers also receive CX News, our free weekly email with the latest industry news and jobs.