I’ve had the great good fortune to attend so, so many notable concerts and live events over the past 20 years. All due to my job, and the fact that so many folks working in professional audio are incredibly gracious in sharing their insights and working knowledge.
One of the most memorable experiences is being at the Houston Livestock & Rodeo (also known as Rodeo Houston and in fact, the world’s largest rodeo event) a dozen or so years ago, where Rob McKinley and his Houston-based LD Systems team took me through the system they’d developed to serve the event, which was then hosted at the Astrodome. At one point we were up in the catwalks checking out the amplifier racks, and then Rob ascended a short ladder, told me to follow, popped a hatch…
And just like that, we were standing on the roof of the Astrodome, known at one point as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” surveying greater Houston on a gorgeous sunny day. Surreal.
Recently, I was invited to come back to Rodeo Houson and to also attend a technology summit being hosted by Electro-Voice at LD Systems headquarters. Another truly memorable experience, all the more so in providing an interesting perspective on just how fast things evolve and develop.
Forty years ago, the Astrodome was a “wonder” of the world; now it’s dwarfed by the adjacent Reliant Stadium, a sparking 73,000-seat sports and concert venue with a retractable roof that opened a few years ago and is now the site of the rodeo.
And 12 or so years ago, the sound reinforcement system for the rodeo was headed by modified (“souped up”) stock loudspeakers that were performing as optimally as technology allowed in the mid-1990s, backed by an early iteration of amplifier control and monitoring. It was all state of the art for the time, and worked well.
LD Systems, which has been a production partner of the event for more than 25 years, was utilizing the latest tools to the highest degree of possible effectiveness. But today, as the saying goes, it’s a whole different ballgame.
Where It Is Now...
The annual Rodeo Houston is attended by at least 1.8 million people annually. It’s held over the course of three weeks every spring, and each night. the event presents a rodeo competition followed by a concert featuring A-list performers, with shows by country stars like Toby Keith, Keith Urban and Rascal Flatts augmented by performances from a wide range of musical styles - for example, Gladys Knight, Jonas Brothers, Hannah Montana & Ramon Ayala were on the bill this year.
LD Systems has superbly managed the transition from the Astrodome to Reliant Stadium, where the roof is closed for the duration of the event. They’ve steadily developed and put into place a host of production elements that serve and enhance the unique goals presented by this unique event.
One of the primary elements has been development of a house sound system capable of delivering concert quality sound to every seat in the venue, with the performances originating from a stage rolled out into the middle of the floor level following the rodeo. The stage rotates during each concert, providing everyone with a variety of views of the performers - front, side, back and every degree in between.
The whole scene is a bit surrealistic. The traditional concert setup at most stadiums has the stage positioned toward one end of the venue, with an array-based system capable of high-level reinforcement on the floor on up through seating levels, but at Reliant Stadium, the stage is smack dab in the middle of the floor with the audience confined to seating all the way around - no crowd is allowed on the floor.
The challenge is how to deliver impactful concert sound to this massive, remote “in the round” configuration, to draw the audience to (and into) a live musical performance happening on a stage that’s rather far away and surrounded by hundreds of yards of darkness all the way around.
How It Works:
Here’s the highly effective approach developed by LD Systems:
The entire system is installed into Reliant Stadium well in advance of the kickoff of the rodeo.
The loudspeaker contingent is comprised of 112 Electro-Voice X-Line modules divided into 12 distributed line arrays made up of eight or ten Xvls (90-degree horizontal dispersion “long throw”) and Xvlt (120-degree horizontal dispersion “medium throw”) boxes.
The arrays are flown in carefully determined positions to cover seating from the front row all the way up, and all the way around, with each array receiving alternating left and right channel output to produce a stereo image around the room. The very top seats in certain regions still served by some of the “high-Q” stock loudspeakers from the previous system serving the Astrodome.
All line arrays and loudspeakers are powered by EV P3000RL and TG-7 remote control amplifiers (located in the catwalks) running IRIS-Net control and supervision software. Specifically, 54 amplifiers per side are racked on two catwalks over 200 feet above the ground, powering 12 eight and ten-box hangs of X-Line Xvls and Xvlt, with each array alternating left and right channel output for a full coverage stereo image around the room.