For the first 3 years the sound at Stage 5 was purely acoustic, then we experimented with a unit made and named by Bob Ennis & Steve Keen, the Oklahoma contingent of the Stage 5 crew. The unit was called the A.I.M. (Acoustic Instrument Megaphone) it was a dual cone looking affair that mounted to a mic stand and the players would step into the A.I.M. for lead rides. It worked amazingly well but was not liked to well by the players.
So the next year a deal was struck with the Walnut Valley Festival and an electrical box was dropped into the Pecan Grove for the very first time (it was attached to the big pecan tree that is located directly north of the stages current location). That year we brought a 4 channel Peavey board and suspended four dynamic mics from the ceiling of the stage and stashed two Peavey speakers under the bed of the truck. This was a good idea .. but did not work very well.
The very next year Bob Dorman brought out his rig and we started mixing vocals, instruments, monitors … everything. There were stacks of speakers on either side of the stage, monitors for the band and an amp rack backstage that would make Ted Nugent drool. There was no problem hearing for the next two or three years .. they even said it sounded pretty good in downtown Winfield. Then we had a 24 channel console in a “sound trailer” out in front of the stage and more speakers, even two-way communication between the stage and the “sound trailer”. Then we decided to run the stage 24 hours a day for 3 days straight. We would set up a new band every 30 minutes, so we would go from a solo fingerpick guitar player to a full blown bluegrass band with five instruments and four vocals. Well, as you can imagine by the final Sunday of the festival our crew hated each other due to lack of sleep and deafness. Not to mention that Sherry finally said “ENOUGH!!! TURN IT DOWN!!!!!” (I’m sure that our neighbors were happy for that too.)
So we spent the next year trying to figure out what we going to do about sound for Stage 5. It just so happened that we started to notice that a lot of bluegrass bands were going back to the one mic set up for performances … so we decided to try to “hot mic” the stage and surround the audience with small speakers. EUREKA!!!!! this was working!!! (so good in fact that we still use this approach today) The microphone set up is two Audio Technica AT-4033’s on stands at the front of the stage, one Audio Technica AT-4033 suspended from the ceiling to pick up the back 1/2 of the stage and a bass amp for electric basses, no monitors. We use a small Yamaha 8 channel powered mixer and an additional amp to power the back set of speakers. We have three sets of JBL speakers, one up front directed out at the audience, one set 1/2 way back and pointing into the audience area from the side, and a final set at the back of the audience pointing toward the stage. We do not use any special outboard equipment or delays. This set up works great, the larger the crowd gets the more speakers we turn on. We use the EQ that is built into the mixer for all of the Equalization.
The additional beauty of this set up is that as soon as one act is finished with their set the next act takes the stage and with minimal or no sound set up they are playing. So there are no long breaks for set up between bands. Plus we don’t need a sound tech and a stage tech, just someone to let the band on stage know they have time for one more song then get the next band started.
There is “harmony” once again in our camp … ahhhhhhhh … 🙂