PRINCESS THEATRE - Raising the Curtain: June 2014

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Acoustics And The Princess Theatre

The Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary defines acoustics as:

noun plural \ə-ˈküs-tiks\ :the qualities of a room (such as its shape or size) that make it easy or difficult for people inside to hear sounds clearly: acoustic qualities.

Unfortunately, bands, old established bands, and upstart bands, playing the Princess have long disregarded and ignored the "acoustics" of the theater.  The Princess was built in 1939, after the last total destructive fire.  A time when theater builders knew a little about sound and how it travels.
Even the ancients knew that sound travels in round waves, spreading out until it either dies away or hits something and bounces back toward the source.  The "bounce back" enhances the sound on it's way back to source.

In the early years of theatre, there were no microphones to amplify the players' voices.  Actors and singers had to either project their voices or rely on help from the building's design.  Luckily for the performers coming to the Princess, the building is superbly built for that very purpose.  Unfortunately, outside the one or two theatrical shows we've had, no one, or no band has yet capitalized on our Princess' acoustic design!

Acoustics allow the audience to hear the instruments and the voices just as they are; not amplified into distorted muddy noise!  The sound should leave the stage and fan out in a wave, bounce off the hard plaster in the rear of the building, and back toward the stage.  The walls should be of such material as to soften the waves preventing an echo.
That all works fine for players and dances.  But what about concerts...modern day concerts?

It takes takes a little more prep for that kind of electric driven sound.
Thus far, on stage at the Princess, are groups with "sound men", two of them in most cases, that think louder is better, when in fact it's killing their sound and appeal to the intended audience.  We keep telling them to turn it down, but they want it louder, as if that makes them sound better.

The result is that loud music (rather sound) is all that is heard and the artists are muffled somewhere under all that noise and cannot be understood; unless they know the words, causing them to perceive that the lyrics were heard and understood.

I went to the Tennessee Theatre once, and, yes, all theaters have the same issue these days, specifically to hear Chris Robinson's lyrics to all the Black Crowes songs.  I was so disappointed when I could not make out one single word he screamed; trying to get above the noise I suppose!

"It was too loud!"

"Can't they turn it down some?"

These have been the common, and only complaints I've heard from Princess goers.

The words of Muse Watson, from some almost 10 years ago, ring in my head every time I hear a band kick off on "11" (for those of you that might be "This Is Spinal Tap" fans), or see someone stuffing tissue into their ears at a concert, "I've been on many stages, but the Princess has the best acoustics anywhere!"

My theory, make it yours (to borrow a phrase from Phil Williams), is that musicians and sound men (people) are nearly deaf!
Hearing loss by members of bands begins at the high end, accounting for the extremely hot treble at many concerts. Their sound is simply on the edge of feeding back because they are maxing out volume!

They can't hear the music or the on-stage monitors.

These monitors are called the "foldback" monitors or system.
Without a foldback system, the sound that onstage performers would hear from front of house would be the reverberated reflections bouncing from the rear wall of the venue. The naturally reflected sound is delayed and distorted, which could, for example, cause the singer to sing out of time with the band.  A separate mixed signal is often routed to the foldback speakers, because the performers may also need to hear a mix without electronic effects such as echo and reverb (this is called a "dry mix") to stay in time and in tune with each other. In situations with poor or absent foldback mixes, vocalists may end up singing off-tune or out of time with the band.
For live sound reproduction during popular music concerts there are typically two complete loudspeaker systems: the "main" system and the "monitor" system. Each system consists of a mixing board, sound processing equipment, amplifiers, and speakers. The two systems usually share microphones and direct inputs using a splitter microphone snake.

The stage monitors may be part of the problem as well.  More technically progressive bands and artists insist on "ear bud" or "in-the-ear" technology.  Those put the sound right in the artist's ear saving the audience from possibly enduring the issue with "I can't hear my monitor, turn it up!"

So why have sound checks?  It's supposed to be to get the sound perfect before the concert begins.  Right?

The problem is that a venue sounds completely different when empty (when the sound check occurs) than it sounds when full.  So just trying to figure out what sounds good, let alone what sounds good all over the place, is pretty difficult. 

The second problem is, the majority of rock culture is "louder is better".  This problem is the hardest to overcome.  The rock culture has spilled over into the "country" realm, so now every group wants to sound loud.

Sadly, country music should fight this, because country music is all about the lyrics.  If you can't hear the sad, beer drinking, pickup truck driving, dog dying, my girl left me lyrics, then you've lost the whole point of the song in the first place!

True, rock is more about the music, but a good music lyric should never be wasted on an audience.  It should ride above the lead lick, not under it!

After all, I can turn my stereo up to "10" and still hear the lyrics at home!  Why is that?  It's because it's mixed that should never lose an artist's voice in the sound mix!

So why don't artists fight harder to be heard?

It's because they hear themselves in the stage monitor or through their in-the-ear foldback device.  They don't know that granny, sitting out there in the dark, with tissue hanging out of her ears, can't hear anything but the bass thumping her chest, and the lead guitar flapping the legs of her pantsuit, and trying to tear through the tissue paper! 

Management, and/or producers of the event, need to sit down with bands and talk about their sound extensively.  Sadly this is rarely done anywhere.
If not, then as soon as the band cranks it to the nine's, the vocalist will look at you and say "I need more voice in the monitors!"  It shouldn't happen!   They will get angry when they don't get it!  But, all that needs to be done is to oblige them and show them the inevitable screeeeeeeetch!  Oh, feedback!  Told you that you were on the edge out here!

I've written this to future groups and artists coming to the Princess, what about a good ol' acoustic set?  Seriously, if not that, turn it down so we can hear you out here!  You don't need all that sound and equipment at the Princess.  We could hear you quite well in fact!

If we don't get it, more of us need to shout out "turn it down", and keep interrupting them until they get it right.  We don't want our chest thumped, or out pant legs to blow in the wind, UNLESS, we can understand the lead singer!

The Princess Theatre has the best acoustics anywhere!  We've been told that, and we need to pass it on to those performers coming to entertain us, or they're coming for nothing!

Come on event producers, and Princess management, listen up!  Start selling our "acoustics", and asking for acoustic performances!  Or, just don't be afraid to tell them to turn it down!

Here are some basic rules to consider in contract agreements:

1. The sound is for the audience not the band.

2. The sound on stage will feel quiet to the band because it is always louder out front.

3. Other than kick drum most small to medium sized clubs require no drum micing.

4. If you must be loud you do not get stage monitors; period!  If the band exceeds a reasonable volume feedback is unavoidable in vocal monitors and they become a hazard instead of a help.

5. If a band has agreed that they are running a vocal P.A. only, they need to trust the house judgment on volume.

6. The bands volume is based on the vocalists volume; period!  Set up the vocal first then you have a base line volume to measure the rest of the sound levels on.

Okay, I'm off my soapbox now!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Local Talent Opens For 2Steel Girls

2Steel Girls put on a great show Saturday night.  The attendance was not what it should have been for these ladies, but hopefully they will come back before they get too big to perform at the Princess.  They will, get better known and soon.  They are a great country singing duo!

Dennis Willard of WECO interviews the Steel Family before the show.

Krystal, Aaron, and Allison Steel
Allison & Krystal Steel, Allison is the mother, stood out front of the Princess and waved to everyone that passed, gave an interview to WECO's Dennis Willard, and had photos made.  They wanted to be sure and have a photo made in front of our Princess, for their Facebook page.

2Steel Girls, Country Music Duo from NBC’s, The Voice, season 3 team Blake Shelton were born and raised in Jackson County Ohio but now live in Nashville, TN. Most think that Allison & Krystal Steel of 2Steel Girls are sisters, but they are not, they are mother and daughter and the only mother, daughter duo to ever perform on the show.
Inside rehearsals and sound check was going on.  "Stone, Jess and The Rest" were on stage hitting their marks and sounding great.  Stone plays the keyboard.
Next up was Princess Talent Show winner Emery Francis, and her piano.  She is always on her game and her voice was as clear, strong, and confident as ever.  I could hardly wait for her to take the stage later.
So the stage is set, the audience is filing in, the lighting is up, the sound checks have been made.  Now all that remains is THE SHOW!
The local kids were relaxed and joking during during sound check, but soon reality sets in just off stage, and before they know it, it's "Show Time"!  A few nervous looks, bitten lips, and they move to their marks.  Adrenalin soon pushes the stage fright away and the kids begin to show their stuff!
Out on the stage Dennis Willard introduces the Oakdale talent to the audience, which gives them more time to settle down.  It worked!  They gave a great performance and the audience responded with their applause.
Then it was time for 2Steel Girls!

Since their last performance on The Voice in Dec. 2012, they have recorded with Blake Shelton, released their debut CD on the Today Show, Hallmark’s Home & Family among other national television shows. On January 5th, 2014 the girls signed with PCG Nashville, an Artist Development company run by seasoned Nashville executive Bernard Porter. Porter founded PCG Nashville in 2008 and has had a key role in the signings of Jason Aldean and Joe Diffie among others. These girls are rising Country Music stars, definitely ones to watch, and they performed on our stage!
Allison is definitely the inspirational leader of the band.  She bounces around, flips her long blonde hair in time with the music and grabs the point position at center stage. 
Krystal performs as if she's been raised on stage, and she practically has.  Both voices are right on key and blend so well they almost sound as one.

They gave the audience more than $15 worth of entertainment, and so many missed a great opportunity to hear 2Steel Girls perform.  They will live to regret not coming.  These girls are on their way!

Here are more shots for Saturday evening...

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Don't Forget About The Two Steel Girls!

Coming on June 21st is 2Steel Girls, a Country Music Duo from NBC’s, The Voice, team Blake Shelton.  Most think that Allison & Krystal Steel of 2Steel Girls are sisters, but they are really mother and daughter and the only mother, daughter duo to ever compete on the show.
Since their last performance on The Voice in Dec. 2012, they have recorded with Blake Shelton, released their debut CD on the Today Show, Hallmark’s Home & Family and more.
Get you tickets now at!  They will be available soon at the Rocky Top General Store and the Harriman Jewelry Exchange.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

GOLD CITY Inspires A Princess Audience

Playing the Princess Theatre Friday night (June 6th) was Gold City, the standard for male quartets since their inception in 1980.   Many groups have tried to pattern their style and sound, but there’s only one Gold City!  Theirs is a stellar career with numerous number one songs, fan and industry awards, and prestigious honors.  Yet this Gadsden, Alabama-based group remains down-to-earth, grounded in their southern roots, and committed to continuing their mission of delivering power-packed four-part harmonies and singing songs that are meaningful, entertaining, inspiring, and uplifting.
(L-R) Bryan Elliott, Robert Fulton, Chip Pullen, Daniel Riley, and Tim Riley.
Now into their 34th year, legendary bass vocalist, 2013 Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame Inductee, and multi-award-winning Tim Riley continues to anchor the group with his rich, deep, and clear bass voice.  His son, Daniel Riley, bartione, has assumed the management role and leads the group onward into the future.  He provides a smooth baritone vocal that blends perfectly with the other voices in the group, but also has the versatility to step out for a solo with power and soul.  Lead vocalist Chip Pullen follows a long list of dynamic lead vocalist and takes a back seat to no one.  Although the newest member to Gold City’s team, Chip has quickly gained fans with his commanding voice and musical delivery as well as his easy-going personality.  Tenor Robert Fulton puts the top on the sound with his high clear tenor voice and sincere delivery of each song.  Bryan Elliott accompanies the group with his talent and skill on the piano, providing those subtle yet effective musical enhancements for the group’s vocals–as well as shining center stage on instrumental solos.
I had not had the pleasure of hearing this group until Friday night, so to my surprise Tim Riley's deep bass brought back memories of Richard Anthony Sterban's famous "oom-pa-pa-oom-pa-pa-oom-pa-pa-mau-mau" bass solo in the Oak Ridge Boys' 1981 single "Elvira"!  Let me tell you, Tim could give ol' Sterban a run for his bass money!  The speakers vibrated, my chest vibrated, and a big smile came to my face.
In the above photo, Daniel seems to be trying to match his father's deep notes!  Maybe one day he will, but for now, Tim Riley is lead bass in Gold City!
Anyway, the show was good and all the group's favorite were poured out to the Princess audience; an audience that wasn't quite the size you would expect at a Gold City performance!  There should have been more of us there to share in this inspirational performance.  Maybe we'll get better at supporting the Princess, our city, our county, and ourselves.  

See you soon!

Here are more photos from the evening with Gold City:
It was actually Dr. Chris Whaley's request that brought Gold City to Harriman!
Like I said, this is Dr. Whaley's favorite group.  He was a happy camper!
You can see the pride in Daniel Riley's face, as he watches his dad sing!
I cannot post this without expressing my happiness in also seeing two old friends at the Princess Friday night.  One, Gordon Raby (no photo), of Oliver Springs, who did South Central Bell work for me at Y-12 over a decade ago.
The other was Bennie Lowery.  I met Bennie in 1962 and last saw him 50 years ago!  Bennie actually recommended me, nearly 5 years ago, for the photo historian job with the Princess Foundation.  It so good to see him again.

I told him that the only reason I took the assignment was to get to see him again.  Well, it was 5 more years in coming, but I got to see Bennie Friday night.  It was a very good night!
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