Brad Paisley 2017 'Weekend Warrior' Tour

by Kevin M. Mitchell
in Production Profile
Brad Paisley in St. Louis. Photo by Kevin M. Mitchell
Brad Paisley in St. Louis. Photo by Kevin M. Mitchell
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Summer is winding down at the St. Louis shed (today called Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, which old timers still call Riverport, its original moniker). Brad Paisley picked this spot to end another successful summer tour, and he, the band and the crew are all in an especially good mood.

Brad Paisley in St. Louis. Photo by Kevin M. Mitchell

“But it seems like we were just getting warmed up!” jokes his longtime production manager and FOH engineer, Kevin Freeman, about the tour that ran from May 18 to Sept. 24. When this tour is packed away and Freeman’s beloved analog board shelved, he’ll head back to his home in Anniston, AL, population 23,105 — or when Paisley isn’t performing, 23,106.

The crew is relaxed and content, which comes from the vibe emanating from the man at the top. A Paisley show is typically a pretty joyful affair on any given evening, but this particular one seemed to be even more so (Paisley called out from the stage that this was the last one of the tour, and the locals responded approvingly to the idea that this was the location of his last party of the summer). His shows are always a party filled with great music and good humor. There’s a spontaneity of anything could happen when he’s on stage, and the audio crew certainly handles anything that comes its way with aplomb.

FOH engineer Kevin Freeman with his still-working Midas Heritage 2000.

‡‡         If It Ain’t Broke…

Freeman was born in Anniston, and studied marketing and real estate at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, AL before working in sound. “I was a frustrated drummer, the kind you could find in any bar in the country, when I got into audio,” he says. “I worked for local sound company Ram Sound based in Tuscaloosa and cut my teeth doing a big variety of shows,” listing the likes of Debbie Reynolds to Otis Day and the Knights. “Back then you had to be open minded about the music you’re listening to!” In the mid-1980s, he hit the road with the Bellamy Brothers and stayed with them into the early 1990s when he got a gig with Billy Dean that lasted until 1997. He first mixed for Paisley in 1999.

“The first couple of years I was with Brad, I was using whatever [audio console] was there,” he says. “You’d say, ‘I need this,’ and they’d say, ‘Well we don’t have it; you’re going out with this.’” But in 2001, he settled with the analog Midas Heritage 2000, and then went to digital… never. Freeman truly lives the mantra of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and he is still making magic with that Midas console. “It still works!” he laughs.

When he’s mixing in general, and Paisley’s band in particular, he doesn’t want to think about technology. He wants to stay with the music and serve the audience the best he can. “It still sounds good, and it doesn’t make sense to me to change just for the sake of changing.”

The magic is in his collection of outboard gear. It includes a variety of compressors, Distressors and de-ssers, and he’s learned to use them with great skill and savvy. He’s got a Bricasti M7 reverb for vocals, which he uses with a couple of Yamaha SPX units, a TC M2000 an Eventide Eclipse Harmonizer and a Yamaha D5000 delay. In general, for every tour, he actually tries to pare it all back. “I ask myself what do I not need anymore? I’m always looking for a simpler rig.”

The system included 13-box arrays of JBL VTX V25-II elements.

‡‡         The System

When the mixing and tweaking is done, it’s all coming out of Sound Image’s JBL VTX system. “We’re loving it,” Freeman says. “We have used VTX for a long time, and added their upgrades when they came out. Now they sound better than ever, especially the mid-section, which is really audible.”

Every shed and arena they play gets treated to 52 V25-II speakers, 16 S28 subs and four Sound Image-supplied 1160s used as front fills. It’s all powered by Crown I-Tech 12000HDs — 57 of them. System tech and crew chief Bill Chase keeps it all together. “He’s the best at what he does in the business,” Freeman says. “He does all the work, and I get all the credit!”

Reflecting on the closing of another tour, Freeman says that, at this point with the venues, there are few surprises. “There are no issues really, but some places have challenges,” he says. The Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA tends to be tricky acoustically, as “you can’t do your normal subwoofer setup there — otherwise you’ll destroy the first 10 rows of people in the audience, so we had to fly them to get that to work.”

Sound Image provided the speaker system.

The MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa, meanwhile, presented some curious external acoustic issues that he had to fight; but otherwise, “we have played most of these venues at least 10 to 12 times at this point, and so we go in and start up where we finished the last time we were there.”

The mics used are mostly the usual suspects, and Freeman says while Paisley can use any mic he wants, he continues to come back to the Shure Beta 58A. Paisley has four separate guitar rigs which he switches through depending on the song and he has SM57s on those, plus a Royer ribbon on one to add a little flavor to it all. Freeman has a Beta 91 on the kick drum, SM57s on the snare and Sennheiser 604s on the toms. There’s a pair of Heil RC35s used on the FOH B stage and thrust.

Of course, all this knob tweaking is just a break from his day job — Freeman also wears the production manager hat, which he’s been also doing for nearly 20 years. “I’m able to do both because I have a really good crew. We do so many things the exact same way every day that I really don’t have to think about it. We just try to be consistent.” Consistency is the lineage of the Paisley family from the crew to the stage. “The ‘new guy’ in the band is the pedal steel guitar player [Randle Currie], and he’s been with us 17 years!”

Monitor engineer Mark Gould used an Avid D-Show Venue.

‡‡         Monitor World

Mark Gould was working in a factory in central Illinois in 1989 when he had an epiphany along the lines of, “Wow, this sucks.” He decided to move to Pennsylvania in hopes of joining the crew at Clair Brothers, but didn’t get in. He attended their Recording Workshop and ended up mixing for a band called Blackwater (“Best vocals of any band I’ve ever worked with”) for four years, after which he ended up in Nashville and managed to get his foot in the door with the Clair office down there. He had met Freeman and, in 2002, got a call from him saying Paisley was looking for a monitor engineer. (His daughter was born the same year, making it a particularly bountiful time of good fortune for him). He’s been with Paisley ever since.

Brad Paisley keeps coming back to the Shure Beta 58A vocal mic.

Gould is working for seven accomplished musicians, all of whom have Westone IEMs in their ears working via Shure PSM 1000 systems. “The band doesn’t ask for much in terms of a mix,” he says. “With Brad, I ride his mix, but with the band, once it’s set, it’s just a matter of muting and unmuting.” One thing that is always on Gould’s mind is what affects the hearing of the star of the show. If Paisley is flying in for a gig, and is on stage an hour or so later, that affects his hearing. “We call it ‘airplane ears’,” he says. When that happens, he has to find ways to make sure Paisley hears what he needs, which at that point is also a moving target, as the ears get used to being back on the ground during the length of the show. He does all of it on an Avid D-Show Venue console with a sidecar. He likes the recallability of it and the ease of loading files.

Gould adds that he enjoys working with longtime audio provider Sound Image. “[Owner] Dave Shadoan is great, and let’s just say that they treat their clients in a way that others aren’t quite able to do. They are always there to help, and I enjoy working with their team.” Otherwise, as he goes to get ready for the last show of the tour, Gould is thinking of his home in Nashville. “Me, my son, and my daughter have been getting into BMX biking, and I’m looking forward doing a little of that back home in Nashville.”

The crew, from left: Mark Gould (monitors), Kevin Freeman (FOH), Bill Chase (crew chief/ FOH tech), Liam Walker (P.A. tech) and Collin Erdman (monitor tech).

Brad Paisley 2017 "Weekend Warrior" Tour

Crew

P.A. System

FOH Gear

Monitor Gear

Mics