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Lüz Studio & CHAUVET Professional Create Visual World for Billy Strings Tour

© Jesse Faatz Photography

When they aren’t being used to catch up on some much needed rest between gigs, tour bus rides can give rise to some pretty cool things. John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote their first number-one single “From Me To You,” while traversing the road between York and Shrewsbury as a supporting act.

Not that long ago, Grammy-winning bluegrass sensation Billy Strings was also inspired on a European tour bus, though his vision wasn’t about a song, but a production design. During a bus ride on an EU tour, the Michigan-born guitarist came up with the idea of placing “UFO pods” above the heads the musicians on stage.

The artist discussed this concept with his LD Roger Grant, who drew up some sketches. That’s when Matthieu Larivée and his team at Lüz Studio came in. “Billy and Roger present these drawings to us and that was the starting point,” said Larivée. “This idea kicked off our creative process.”

The ultimate result of that process is a stunning production that is adding a captivating and immersive dimension to Billy Strings’ current North American arena and amphitheatre tour. With its brilliantly illuminated circles above and below each of the five musicians on stage, as well as its free-flowing curved background patterns of light and video, the transformative design evokes a sense of infinite movement and freedom, a perfect accompaniment to this gifted star’s music.

Contributing to the power of the design is a collection of 70 x CHAUVET Professional fixtures supplied by Bandit Lites. Featured most prominently in this group are 40 x Rogue Outcast 1 BeamWashes, which were flown in the UFO pods above the band. “They were our main wash light,” said Larivée. “Being compact and bright enough to create an impact for solos made them ideal for this show. We were also able to use their halo feature, which is similar to the pod ‘s halos.”

Elaborating on why the pods worked so well in this design, Larivée noted: “Bluegrass is very unique, because it’s all about music. There are no drums and there are many, many solos. Each song can have multiple band members doing solos. So, by having one pod on top of each band member, we could highlight each of them separately, creating multiple looks as we went. We had a great support from Dizzy at Bandit in developing these tailor-made pods.”

The impromptu, jam-band nature of bluegrass also led Larivée and the Lüz team to divide their show into blocks, rather than try to create distinct looks for specific songs. “We needed to create looks that accompanied the audience on a journey,” he said. “Sometimes those looks have to last 30 minutes. “There were no side screens in this show,” Larivée continued. “So, the video designs had to be flexible enough to created subtle looks in addition be to being bold when need. We also had to give our IMAG enough bells and whistles to work with the musical flow.”

Helping to make the IMAG images come off effectively were the rig’s 10 x onAir Panel Min IP fixtures. “They were great compact footlights,” said Larivée. “We used them to get enough key light for the IMAG. Their good CRI and soft diffusion made them a perfect fit for this purpose.”

Underlying the concept of this design was the need to create “architecture with our virtual lighting,” noted Larivée. Of course, conventional lighting also added to the structural form of the stage. So, in addition to lighting the crowd, the rig’s 20 x STRIKE Array 2 fixtures helped define space.

“We use lighting to dictate the downstage arc that lives in the same circle world as the pods,” said Larivée. “The lighting created a U-shape around the band to focus attention on the performance and support the unique artist-crowd connection that you have in bluegrass.” Enhancing this connection, the designers wove video and light tightly together, sometimes running arcs of light over the video screen. At other times, they gave their video screen an amorphous configuration with no sharp edges, accentuating the flowing nature of the music.

This gave rise to an array of distinct visual images, including one of Larivée’s favorites, which showed a woman with a house of cards behind her. “This grabbed my attention,” he said. “To me it reflected Billy’s unique graphic world – a world that really gave rise to such a wide range of stunning visual effects.”

CHAUVET Professional