Billy Joel has resumed arena and stadium touring across the US to the delight of fans eager to see his electrifying live performances again. 4Wall Entertainment, the lighting and rigging vendor for the show, is providing two grandMA3 Light consoles running MA3 software as well as two wing extensions and two XL processing units for lighting control and network and data distribution making the show the first North American tour to use MA3 software. ACT Entertainment is the exclusive distributor of MA Lighting products in North America.
Billy Joel kicked off his 2021 dates at Boston’s Fenway Park in August followed by performances in Buffalo and Cincinnati. He’s scheduled to play Austin, Texas before wrapping up the year with three dates at New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
“The entire lighting control infrastructure has changed for this tour,” reports Ian Starner, Electronics Department Lead at 4Wall. “They previously used another brand of console and have switched over to grandMA3 Light running grandMA3 software – the first time they’re using grandMA for his shows and the first time a North American tour has run grandMA3 software on grandMA3 hardware.”
“Billy’s tour is the show that never ends,” notes Mark Foffano, Principal Designer with EMF Lighting and Lighting Director and Programmer for the tour. “We didn’t want to start the new series of shows on old software, so during the pandemic I dove in and figured out how to use grandMA3.”
“This show has been on the road for seven years,” New York and Miami-based Lighting Designer Steven Cohen points out. “We’d been running another console all that time and realized we were coming to the end of its effectiveness. With grandMA3 becoming available during the COVID furlough Mark spent time building the show from cue lists and videos, then I showed up to look at what he’d done. Once you refresh a show after seven years there’s a different look and feel to it. It’s an opportunity to make everything look a little better.”
Cohen has been working with Billy Joel for 47 years, and Foffano has been with Cohen for 22 of them. A self-admitted “old-school lighting designer” who eschews effects, Cohen describes the tour as “a theatrical lighting show featuring well-timed cues with clear and clean composition and emotion precipitated by the songs’ content and music.”
He reports that, “the technicians, the tour guys and the shop are all happy with the stability of the grandMA3 console, which is backed by great support. To run all the new lighting fixtures today you need real high-end computing power, and the grandMA3 is amazing.”
A long-time grandMA user, Foffano is “happy to have the reliability” of the new model console for the tour and considers the grandMA3 to be “farther along in its development than the grandMA2 was when I started using it.”
According to Starner, the show’s lighting previously had “two isolated and unmanaged networks. Now, there are redundant switches in FOH and BOH, and the racks are connected by 10-gigabit redundant fiber so the primary and back up desks have immediate fail-over.”
Foffano enjoys the grandMA3’s ability to react with ease to Billy’s unplanned moments in the show. “Most of Billy’s songs are programmed, but he sometimes likes to pull out something that’s not programmed and busk it on the fly, so it’s nice to be able to use the timing macros in grandMA3 that I never had before,” he says.
“We’ve had no issues with the grandMA3 on these shows – no crashes and no data losses,” Foffano reports. “It’s been great.”