With spring quickly moving to summer, music festivals will soon be sprouting up everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. Necessity is the mother of all invention, so they say, so if your summer plans include an outdoor festival, you’ll probably be on a site equipped with a mobile stage.
A mantra of today is “more experiences, less possessions,” so live festival attendance is on the rise. Artists depend on ticket sales and merchandising to boost their bottom line more than ever. Bigger and bigger festivals such as Lollapalooza and Coachella mean that these events are getting more and more elaborate bringing with them new challenges for festival organizers.
Mobile stages have become a part of our culture and are so common that we tend to think they’ve been around forever. The very first mobile stages were probably those of traveling musicians hundreds of years ago, and the caravans with temporary staging were set up at road stops for live shows and demonstrations.
The first modern mobile stages were built simply to provide shade from the sun. Now, as productions expand to include massive video equipment and thousands of pounds of lights, safety concerns must be matched with putting on the best possible show.
Meeting A Need
The first known mobile stage with rigging capacity and curtain walls has been credited to Yvan Miron and his associates from Quebec, Canada in 1982. These first protypes were created to respond to a pressing need for safe and secure performing arts platforms that could be easily moved and that could withstand severe and often unpredictable climatic conditions.
Folk and rock festivals were popular pastimes in the summers of the 1960s and 70s, just as they are today. Providing temporary staging for these concerts at that time, however, was a significant logistical problem.
Initially, stages were built on show sites using laborers and materials that were typically the same for building construction. This type of temporary structure would often take up to two weeks to construct and almost as much time to dismantle, along with the required restoration work to return the grounds (parks, fields, etc.) to their original conditions.
As time went on, this restoration work became part of the contractual obligations to use the land for such events, increasing the complexity and costs for show promoters. Moreover, these stages were composed of hundreds of loose components that had to be assembled and erected from the ground up by workers, using lifts or cranes, then leveled and anchored or ballasted with various mechanical devices, cables, and hardware to ensure a sound structure.
Miron (who would later form the company Stageline) was convinced that there had be a better, safer, and more cost-effective way. A former musician and a festival organizer and promoter, he knew only too well the environmental parameters he would need to overcome to build a robust mobile stage.
Living in Quebec, he’d seen firsthand the ravages of Mother Nature. While he felt he could engineer a mobile stage that could be transported in one piece, his most formidable challenge was how to overcome the effects of the weather on this self-supported structure, and especially the unpredictable high winds that could arrive and change on a whim.
While everything else associated with the performance could be controlled to some extent, the only thing that could not be controlled was the weather.
There was just one issue – there were no construction or building standards available at that time to guide the design and construction work for the type of mobile structures he wanted to build. So, he started to work on his own designs.
The first two mobile stage protypes (one in 1984 and the second in 1985) were built on flatbed structures that could be transported using a truck. These initial structures proved to be invaluable as testbeds, and so Miron set about to improve upon them. He knew that the hydraulic technology existed to design and build a platform that could be raised and lowered.
This search for design and construction standards led him to those of the Canadian Building Code. He determined that the wind resistance used by engineers and architects to design permanent structures would be the basis for his structural calculations, and then used these parameters to design the first mobile stages from the plant in the town of l’Assomption, just north of Montreal.