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Portland Festival Features Hot Christian Music with Meyer Sound
Portland Festival 2000 was a success on all counts, drawing total attendance estimated at over 140,000 for two evenings of free concerts headlining some of contemporary Christian music's hottest acts - Steven Curtis Chapman, Kirk Franklin and Nu Nation, Sixpence None the Richer and Jaci Velasquez, among others. Each evening's festivities also featured an inspirational message from Luis Palau, founder of the sponsoring Luis Palau Evangelistic Association.
The overall success of the event, held August 18 and 19 at the Oregon's city's Tom McCall Waterfront Park, can be credited in no small measure to the quality of the music as heard throughout the park. However, in light of the many logistical and legal restrictions involved, delivering the music to full effect was no small achievement.
Down by the Riverside
At first glance, the basics were simple enough: provide high level concert sound reinforcement suitable for contemporary pop and assertive power rock/alternative music styles to crowds of 50,000-plus at a time. That might not seem particularly difficult, at least until you look at the layout of the festival site. The park is certainly big enough in total acreage, stretching along the Willamette River for over a half mile. But the average width is less than 50 yards, with parallel rows of trees limiting the effective audience area to a strip about 30 yards wide. Further complicating matters, the approach to the Morrison Street bridge neatly bisects the designated concert site, and the commercial area immediately across the street (including one major hotel) is subject to a strict noise variance of 75dB(A).
This daunting assignment landed in the lap of New York-based audio designer Duncan Edwards of Audio Design International. Fortunately, he was intimately familiar with the problems at hand since he also had designed the system for the inaugural Portland Festival last year - an event which was expected to draw perhaps 30,000 over two days but actually pulled attendance exceeding three times that number.
"The unexpectedly large crowds last year left us a bit short on total horsepower," admits Edwards, "so this year we came back prepared for a lot more people."
Working with his partner David Shapiro and Rick Shimer of Nashville-based Blackhawk Audio (the system supplier), Edwards devised a solution employing two back-to-back systems of Meyer Sound self-powered loudspeakers, one deployed on either side of the angled concrete bridge approach.
Main and Mirror Systems
The main stage system faced north, with the flown FOH arrays augmented by five pairs of 16-foot delay towers spaced at intervals of about 170 feet. Facing south, the "mirror" system essentially duplicated the stage FOH array but used only three delay towers to cover a somewhat shorter audience area. Visual interest was provided by three Jumbotron screens: one adjacent to the main stage, one "center stage" for the mirror system, and one about halfway back on the main stage side
The main stage arrays were configured with one long-throw MSL-6, one PSW-6 cardioid subwoofer and pair of MSL-4s on each side. Front fill was provided by two MSL-4s and two CQ-1s, with bass augmentation by ten 650-P subwoofers placed stage front. The mirror stage main arrays basically duplicated the main stage, but without the front fill speakers.
In order to stretch the sound over a long, narrow site, Edwards employed an approach which might be termed "distributed front of house." Instead of using smaller delay speakers to boost only mids and highs, he specified MSL-6 and PSW-6 cabinets on each tower to provide high level - but tightly controlled - full range sound at distances of nearly 1000 feet back from the main stage.
"The idea behind this system was to distribute more of the low frequencies along the length of the park,"Edwards comments, "so everybody would hear basically the same sound as up front, but without exceeding the noise variance. The MSL-6 and the PSW-6 were crucial to making this work. The MSL-6 is amazing. You get thirty degrees off axis and it just drops down to practically nothing. And the PSW-6 allowed us to push full bass clear to the back without getting into trouble across the street."
Drenchings Not a Problem
One further complication for Edwards and the crew from Blackhawk was an unexpected turn in the weather. Despite Portland's generally well-deserved reputation for dampness, significant rainfall in July and August is actually quite rare. Nevertheless, the city received intermittent drenchings on both days of the festival, though fortunately (some might say miraculously) the skies cleared before the concerts started at 3 PM. The rain kept prompted some extra tarp work by the Blackhawk crew and delayed some band sound checks, but the Meyer self-powered cabinets all survived the mini-monsoons none the worse for two days of dousings.
All things considered, Portland festival demonstrated the viability of using larger, full range loudspeaker systems to deliver high level sound and contain it within a narrow strip of parkland. With more and more municipalities clamping down on sound bleed from outdoor concerts, the self-powered Meyer system used in Portland provides a useful template for future applications requiring tightly confined control of high level concert sound.