Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sunnyvale, Texas

After taking in the concert at Aubrey, Texas and watching my friend Doug work his sound magic, while at work, Doug asked me if I had an interest in getting a firsthand look at the world of sound production by helping him on his next gig, the Berean Baptist Church Blast in a town called Sunnyvale, just east of Mesquite, Texas. I agreed (turning 59 next week..my judgment hasn't been the greastest) and on May 26th found myself as a roadie for Doug humping equipment and laying cable for what proved to be a somewhat grueling day at the park.

Now I say grueling because...well, I'm getting old. With all due deference to Doug, who is my senior, this is a young man's game. The work involves a lot of physicality that, in hindsight, was a little more than I anticipated. I had seen all the rocker movies where it was all sex, drugs and rock and roll and had this now-silly concept of moving in a few speakers, hooking up some wire to power the thing like a big stereo system with a Karaoke mike and awaiting the adulation and kudos of the crowd we served. My only real concern was how I was going to ward off all the groupies that were sure to be gathering to hear me name-drop the band members and tell a war story or two about dangling from high above the stage to rewire a bad monitor in the middle of the act without the crowd being the wiser. Turns out I was wrong (Dianna...write this date down).

I didn't know where or if Sunnyvale existed but it has an interesting history none-the-less. In 1821, the town became a possession of Mexico when Mexico received its independence from Spain. After the Texas Revolution, the area once again changed hands, under the Republic of Texas. During this time, settlers migrated to present-day Sunnyvale, naming the hamlet they founded Long Creek appropriately named for the creek that runs through it and the Town Center Park we found ourselves in for the Berean Blast 2013.

In 1845 Texas entered the Union and more settlers migrated to the area. In the 1860s, the town was briefly part of the Confederate States of America (TWONA). As more people arrived, eventually three new towns sprang up in the area: New Hope, Tripp, and Hatterville. New Hope was the most prosperous of these. It had many shops and stores, a fair called Gala Days, and a newspaper, the New Hope News. It was neighboring Mesquite's biggest rival.

This all ended in 1921, when a storm blew the town away. The town and surrounding community was a total loss and the prosperous days were over. All the way into the 1950s, the four towns had no new developments, remaining stagnant. In 1953, the hamlets of Hatterville, New Hope, Long Creek, and Tripp merged under the name Sunnyvale.

In the late 1990's, Sunnyvale, like most small communities just outside the Dallas area, became a bedroom community and attracted new development. The Sunnyvale area is now considered "upscale" with new planned development communities cropping up within its city limits. They are too small to afford their own Police Department and services are provided by the Dallas County Sheriff's Department until they do.

The Berean Baptist Church in Sunnyvale is one of the many flavors of Baptist ministries. They are a diverse flock but they practice a "Historically accurate Baptist doctrine" according to their Statement of Faith. They apparently are a major mover and resource within the City of Sunnyvale and had enough influence to get the Mayor to appear and praise the Berean's support for the community at the Blast.

Doug, another friend Brandon and I arrived at the park around 10 and immediately got to work spreading equipment throughout the central pavilion and green belt in front of the pavilion where all the activities were to be.

We were going to wire up a series of speakers and a bunch of microphones to handle the Dallas Praise Orchestra, a fifty-some piece group conducted by John Vanhook. The Praise is a musical Christian ministry that performs free instrumental concerts/worship services in churches, concert halls, parks and other venues. We also had a trio group called the FourTwelves an up-and-coming band in the Contemporary Christian music industry. Their name comes from the message from key Scriptures (Ecclesiastes 4:12, Acts 4:12, and Hebrews 4:12) and defines their musical artistry.

Ok..a word about Christian Music. CM lyrically is not very challenging or provocative as it tends to mirror scripture or a story based on scripture. It is uplifting and I confess I found myself toe-tapping to the beat and humming along on the reprises. It is more about ideology than sinning if you know what I mean.

After the music, there would be a presentation of the American flag leading up to a fireworks show by Extreme Pyrotechnics combined with a light show presented by Christie Lites of Dallas. Christie brought their own generator to run some really high-performance stage lighting to enhance the fireworks going off above the lake. There were eight of these lights which looked like cannons costing about $50,000 a piece.

We all watched the weather carefully as it had been raining on and off for the past three days. When we got there, as we initially got all the expensive hardware situated, it began to rain. I jumped into weatherman mode and got my weather apps churning on my iPhone and assured Doug and Brandon it was a passing shower and the forecast would turn to sunny and warm by noon. I was right and as we unsheathed the very expensive tower speakers and sub-woofers I was dubbed the units official weather advisor.

Back to my being old. I was tasked to help Brandon erect 100 lb JBL tower speakers on top of 140 lb sub-woofers on top of three foot platforms. This is not light work and if I failed, I could topple a major investment, incurring the wrath of Doug and, more importantly, Dianna's as I lay in the local ER explaining why we were now the proud owners of some really big speakers.

When  you immerse yourself into the world of sound production you will ultimately encounter new terms for stuff you thought you knew. This isn't your Dad's high-fi system. There is nomenclature for cabling, connectors and processes that need explaining to the unsuspecting novice. There were "Speakon" connectors, 1/4 inch plugs,
banana plugs, pig-tails, XLR cables, adapters of all sorts, applying "socks" (wind covers for mic heads) and the mighty "snakehead" which is a central bridge to connect all the various microphone inputs to the back of our PreSonus 24 digital sound controller. Watching Doug insert each input into its rightful place was like watching Perseus subdue Medusa .This is the puppy Doug works with his iPad wirelessly to control the sound while he walks around. There is, as it turns out, a lot of important pointing and gesturing of all kinds to get the job done as well.

I should point out this all requires copious amounts of electricity and we were fortunate enough to have a 55 KW diesel generator donated to the church to help run it all. This required Doug to tie his 200 amp service panel to the generator with a very thick three wire (120 volt per side) cable. This wasn't a household extension cord, each wire had to be threaded and clamped down to terminals with a really big Allen wrench. It was hot, humid and threatened rain but we got distributed and made it happen.

The show was slated to begin at 6 pm and end at 10 pm so once we got set up there was a little down time to relax and people watch as folks drifted in after church. There were even some food vendors in the parking lot and although I tried my best to hold back the demons....the Funnel Cake's siren call (and smell) won out and I had to partake. It was worth the wait.

Doug surprised me with a question. He asked me if I ever worked a follow-spotlight. Little did he know I was an accomplished spotlight guy. I proudly informed him I had done a little stagecraft work in high school (Kearney High School class of 1972 "Go Komets" ) and often was tasked with lighting our stage for the Drama Department. Doug said he needed me to work one of the two spot lights we had set up at the corners of the greenbelt in front of the stage to light up the orchestra, the trio and the presentation of colors just before the fireworks. It was the first time all day I felt I was qualified to do something I was familiar with (thanks Drama and Stagecraft instructor Jack Winans).
After all the musical acts finished, the Flag ceremony was conducted by the Sunnyvale Fire Department. A member of the Fire Department's Honor Guard walked in the flag as another member played taps. I don't know about you, but Taps has always given me pause and I can always depend on a tear forming whenever I hear that somber piece of music. It makes me recall its origins as a memorial to a fallen soldier during the Civil War.

There are several legends concerning the origin of "Taps" (from the Dutch term "taptoe", meaning "close the (beer) taps (and send the troops back to camp"). The most widely circulated one states that a Union Army infantry officer, whose name is often given as Captain Robert Ellicombe, first ordered "Taps" performed at the funeral of his son, a Confederate soldier killed during the Peninsula Campaign. The story goes that Ellicombe found the tune in the pocket of his son's clothing and performed it to honor his memory. But there is no record of any man named Robert Ellicombe holding a commission as captain in the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula Campaign.

The tune is actually a variation of an earlier bugle call known as the "Scott Tattoo" which was used in the U.S. from 1835 until 1860, and was arranged in its present form by the Union Army Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield, an American Civil War general and Medal of Honor recipient, in July 1862 to replace a previous French bugle call used to signal "lights out". Butterfield's bugler, Oliver Wilcox Norton, of Angelica, New York, was the first to sound the new call. Daniel Butterfield, then a Union Captain, composed "Taps" and during a break in fighting, ordered the tune sounded for a deceased soldier in lieu of the more traditional—and much less discreet—three volley tribute. While scholars continue to debate whether or not the tune was original or based on an earlier melody hearing it is always a very moving experience for me.

As the Firefighter walked across the open space, as if on cue, a gust of wind unfurled the flag draped against the staff and it stretched out along its entire length as though a hidden hand had pulled it up and away as we all sang the National Anthem. As the last mournful notes of Taps drew out, the flag holder did an about face as the wind released it to fall to back to the upright staff as he returned the flag to east end of the park.

All the park lights went out as Doug kicked in the prearranged sound tracks to begin the show. The mix of lights and fireworks was impressive. I had a pretty good seat on my platform and don't recall being so close to a fireworks display. I literally had to crane my neck straight up to see some of the higher explosions as they seemed to occur right overhead. Here is the finale:

Once the fireworks ended, everybody made a quick exit leaving us to begin undoing our work, rolling cable, packing up lights and disassembling speakers and platforms to return to Doug’s trailer. It was now close to midnight and I was really feeling spent but the tear down went quickly and Doug and Brandon, with practiced efficiency, got what seemed like an impossible task of stuffing all that equipment back into the confines of that trailer. I, on the other hand, marveled how I was able to work almost continuously for about 14 hours on a protein bar, a really bad Burger King double Whopper with cheese, a Funnel Cake (yes..the whole Funnel Cake), several bottles of water and one Dr. Pepper without dropping anything of value or falling off something. It definitely was an eye-opening experience and I think I rate  "roadie"  status for it.


  1. If the feds lay you off due to Sequestration, you now have a fallback career.

  2. Cool post :)
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