48 Hours as a Lighting Director at The Peach Music Festival
Festival season is back (kind of)! Umphrey’s McGee recently performed a two-hour set at The Peach Music Festival in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I thought this would be a fun opportunity to illustrate the workflow and schedule that is required to light a music festival.
I love festivals because I get to see industry friends and bands that I usually do not have time to connect with due to our heavy touring schedule. It was awesome running into two lighting director peers that I admire: Manny Newman from Pigeons Playing Ping Pong and Luke Stratton from Dopapod and Smashing Pumpkins.
One fun but challenging aspect of lighting at a festival is acquiring time before your set to focus and program your show. During a festival, lighting directors have hardly any time with the rig before their performance slots because the bands are performing on the stage. I have found that the best way to work around this is to program after the music ends for the day. At jam and electronic festivals, this comes in the wee hours of the night. For The Peach Music Festival, my programming slot was between 2:15 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. late Thursday, the day before our Friday set. Despite the odd hour, these types of nights are standard for me, as I have done plenty of programming sessions right up until sunrise.
Umphrey’s was at The Peach Music Festival for only 48 hours, and here is what that looked like for me:
4 p.m. - Busses arrived on site.
6 p.m. - Headed to Front of House to introduce myself to the house lighting staff and make sure everyone was on the same page.
7 p.m. - Dinner
8 p.m. - Pre-programmed on the bus since I can do a significant amount of work on my laptop without being in front of the actual lighting rig.
10 p.m. - Took a programming break and watched the band Dark Star Orchestra on stage.
11 p.m. - Back to programming
12:30 a.m. – Went to watch Manny Newman run lights for Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. Manny’s work is a massive influence on me, and watching his show is always a joy.
2 a.m. – Pigeons Playing Ping Pong set ended, so I loaded my file onto the console.
2:15 - 4:00 a.m. – Finally, time to program with the rig! This time period was critical to ensure all positions, colors, effects, and cues looked just how I wanted them. The darkness of this time of night is imperative to a successful session. I have had late-night programming sessions that have gone past sunrise. Once the sun is up, your work is done.
4 - 6:45 a.m. – Slept…finally!
7 a.m. - Woke up and headed to the stage to build our additional lighting package. Local technicians are not expected to build our lighting packages at 2:15 a.m. during the clean-up after Thursday’s shows. However, we did this build early to ensure everything was working before the other bands' audio and instruments were on stage for the day.
8 - 9:30 a.m. – Programmed more with the rig and our completed additional lighting.
9:30 a.m. - Ate a little food, but I distinctly remember, no coffee.
10 – 5 p.m.(ish) - Slept
Only now did our time at Peach get tough; waiting around for another seven hours before our midnight set messed with my head. An odd sleep schedule and lots of waiting are fatiguing. “Hurry up and wait” was the name of the game on this gig.
6 p.m. - Walked around the festival grounds to catch a vibe. I got some food and observed the sea of hippies. It had been over a year since being amongst this type of crowd, a truly amazing sight.
9 p.m. – I programmed final edits on the bus.
10 p.m. - Went over the setlist with Brendan, UM’s lead singer.
11 p.m. - Went to the lighting console for the end of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead set and waited for the changeover.
11:30 p.m. - Loaded my file onto the desk while a changeover between Joe Russo’s Almost Dead and Umphrey’s McGee occurs. I touched up the front lighting focus and coordinated with the follow-spot operator on the headset for our special guest.
12 – 2 a.m. – ROCKED!
2 - 3:30 a.m. - Loaded out and cleaned up my station, headed to the stage to help put our lights back in cases, and then loaded the truck.
4 a.m. - Busses headed to NYC for flights as the tour ended.
What a time!
Umphrey's McGee The Peach Festival
Ben Factor is the lighting director for Umphrey’s McGee. He explores the ever-changing relationship between technology and music through his work. While operating the show, Ben leans on his background as a musician to help ensure the lighting is as tasteful and dynamic as the music on stage. He is based in NYC.
About Umphrey’s McGee
The music of Umphrey’s McGee unfolds like an unpredictable conversation between longtime friends. Its six participants—Brendan Bayliss [guitar, vocals], Jake Cinninger (guitar, vocals), Joel Cummins (keyboards, piano, vocals), Andy Farag (percussion), Kris Myers (drums, vocals), and Ryan Stasik (bass)—know just how to communicate with each other on stage and in the studio. A call of progressive guitar wizardry might elicit a response of soft acoustic balladry, or a funk groove could be answered by explosive percussion. At any moment, heavy guitars can give way to heavier blues as the boys uncover the elusive nexus between jaw-dropping instrumental virtuosity and airtight songcraft.
Umphrey’s McGee is a touring powerhouse, performing 85+ shows per year, headlining annual shows across the US, including Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado, and the Beacon Theatre in New York. Umphrey’s is a constant US festival staple, with performances at major events including Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, Rothbury, and Bonnaroo, as well as international festivals Fuji Rock Festival (Japan) and Byron Bay Blues Festival (Australia). The band hosts their own festival in Illinois, Summer Camp Music Festival, where they perform three nights and have hosted the likes of Primus, Jane’s Addiction, Thievery Corporation, and Willie Nelson, to name a few. Umphrey’s McGee has also hosted and headlined Jam in the Dam (2005, 2006, 2008, and 2010), a three-night mini-festival at the Melkweg in Amsterdam.
All Photos By Jay Blakesberg