Cloudy skies and occasional drizzle did little to dampen spirits at this year’s Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival, as legions of music lovers descended on Rose Hall, a historic, 7,000-acre north coast plantation, to see and hear performers ranging from Lionel Richie and British sensation Estelle to the legendary O’Jays and Reggae superstar Maxi Priest.
With nine acts scheduled for the first night and seven each thereafter over the course of the festival’s three days, production manager Robert Stewart reached out to veteran sound engineer Raphael “Raffie” Alkins to take the festival to a different level and help solve the logistical dilemma of managing so many performances in such a short span of time.
“This was an easy one,” Alkins notes, recalling the hectic days on the laid-back island leading up to the event. “I showed the team a flow chart I designed for the show and how to make it happen. The most important part of a plan in these kinds of applications is the microphones. If you have the right quantity at your disposal, you can pre-mic everything for each act ahead of time and have it ready to go.
“Then when the show starts, you literally roll the acts in-and-out almost like they’re going through a revolving door. As one comes on, the other before it has been moved to the side on rolling risers, and that stage is being struck.”
Alkins, who honed his quick-change skills doing shows like the GRAMMYs, Latin GRAMMYs, Latin Billboards, and Latin Video Music Awards, came to the event knowing he’d never be able to find the sheer number of microphones he’d need for the job in Jamaica.
Turning stateside to Tom Krajecki of Shure, who he had met before at a number of awards shows, he ultimately amassed a sizable mic locker shipped to the site from Shure headquarters in Niles, Illinois, and from the manufacturer’s Nashville office.
While the actual performance space onstage at Rose Hall measured only 60 feet 40 feet, Alkins and his crew were fortunate enough to have sizable real estate at his disposal in the wings. It was in this space that the sound team constructed pre-miced drum and keyboard risers on wheels that could be swept onstage, plugged-in, and ready-to-go in a moment’s time.
“Everything functioned flawlessly,” he relates. “Our input lists were all-Shure from snare mics to vocals. We had a number of options available for each act, which worked out nicely for our performers, who all were longtime Shure users for the most part.
“Bands like the O’Jays, who have been using the SM Series for years, had a chance to try newer gear from the KSM line—something they’ve never done before. They appreciated the opportunity. Likewise, members of the local crew were exposed to techniques not commonly employed on the island. It was a learning experience for a lot of people on a lot of different levels.”
Lionel Richie took the stage on the second night with a KSM9. Shure UHF-R wireless was used on all other backing and lead vocals throughout the festival, with a variety of capsules. Working in an environment lacking the support of FCC rules and regulations, Alkins found that his UHF-R systems were nonetheless more than up to the task.
“These Shure systems were so solid that nothing could get in here even if it tried,” he reports. “This is the wireless of choice. There are never any dropouts. Performance is as solid as a rock. Even within this current economic climate, Shure made the commitments necessary to make it all happen.”
Also known for his work with Ricky Martin over the last 11 years, Alkins additionally tours with a number of other top artists. Now sponsored by the Jamaica Tourist Board, which funneled $500,000 into the annual event this year, the 2009 Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival attracted 10,000 people each night, 67percent of that number being visitors to the island.
A cross-cultural collection of Jamaicans and Americans, including Fitztheo Brown, Dwight Bancey, FOH mixer Omatali Beckett, monitor mixer Lorin White, and system tech Neil Rosenstock formed the sound crew working on the project.