Casestory - Amy Grant and Vince Gill “Simply Christmas” Tour
Amy Grant and Vince Gill “Simply Christmas” Tour
LD Sparky Anderson uses Maxxyz controlled MAC rig on holiday show
Posted: 13/1/2004
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Country music star Vince Gill and Christian singing star, and wife, Amy Grant spread good tidings this Christmas season with a 21-date “Simply Christmas” tour that started in Jacksonville, Florida on November 27th and ran until December 22nd, ending in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The festive Christmas show featured a myriad of old Christmas favorites and sing-a-longs, as well as a set of their own hits. Comedian Henry Cho and the Nashville Chamber Orchestra provided accompaniment for a holiday show that left a joyful audience full of Christmas spirit.

LD Michael “Sparky” Anderson

Lighting and set designer for the tour was long time Vince Gill LD Michael “Sparky” Anderson of SparksArts who also produced and directed the show. Assistant director was Scott Norden, who has worked with Sparky for many years. “For a Christmas show, it’s been doing great,” Sparky stated. “It’s not a country western show, it’s not a pop show, it’s not a Christian show, it’s a Christmas program.”

Sparky created an often stunning and always elegant visual look for the show using a full Martin rig and exclusive video elements that included Lionel Trains, Christopher Raddco ornament designs and Sparky’s own animations. He even acquired some family footage from Amy and Vince’s home and the U.S. Military.

The result was a series of emotion stirring looks for the show’s “tear jerkin” Christmas sounds. “My lighting is currently more television and face oriented which I acquired via my ‘quality’ time spent with Robert W. Peterson. I’m real proud of what we’re showing.”

Creative freedom

Having worked with Vince Gill for a number of years, Sparky enjoys complete creative freedom and full confidence from the two performers. “Vince and Amy have very little influence on any visuals. I’ve completely built this with their blessing and with the knowledge that we do what I feel is best and that they know I won’t embarrass them. I showed them my concepts and renderings and gave them my ideas prior to any bidding. Vince has been that way with me for many years and he knows I won’t make him look bad.”

Sparky planned the lighting looks on the Martin ShowDesigner with rendering help from Dizzy Gosnell. Sparky draws the looks with pencil before they are converted to CAD drawings then to renderings and finally to the actual looks. “Nothing I have here is custom built and what I’m showing here is nothing new,” he states. “I take it and twist it and stress the riggers and then you’ve got a different kind of a show.”

MAC rig

The stage, by Tate Towers, was a complete rolling stage assembled at FOH and rolled to the stage area once the lighting system and the PA had gone up to the trim. That gave everyone an open floor for working and meant work could start from the moment the team got into the building. The lighting rig was supplied by Bandit Lites and was made up of a variety of Martin MACs.

“I came from a school where you get a lot of fixtures delivered and you know what the main concept of the show is and you place them as you need them, as you see them, as you grow with the show,” Sparky commented. “Ninety percent of my floor lights are not where I initially drew them. I drew them to get them in the building and on the plot so everyone knows they’re coming, but once I get here I do my “Mona Lisa” and place them where I get the most bang for my buck. And that sometimes includes even sending lights home that I don’t need”.

Color choice

Sparky’s lighting color choices were based on the custom videos developed by Scott Scoville at MOO TV. “I basically waited until I had video on screen and then lit to video. Scott and I built the video images prior to giving any thought to color, focus, cuing, etc. I built the structure of the system and the set and lighting placement prior to any video, but I actually didn’t even bother thinking about any of that until all the video was finished. Once the video is finished you know what the background colors are, what the heat is, how important it is, etc. ‘Walking in a Winter Wonderland’ for example is not video important but there is video rolling, as opposed to ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ which is very video important. There I back off on lighting.”

Setting the mood

Sparky, who gently tweaks the lighting at each venue to get the quality looks he commands, created a lighting atmosphere even as fans entered the venue. “We don’t have the house lights on and then go to a big lighting black out like a rock n’ roll show,” he explains. “Instead, with the house lights at a low level we used decorative gobo and color projection onto audience truss circles and rotating pattern from MAC 500s onto large triangle “tree” scrims to get the holiday atmosphere started during the audience walk in.”

He then used the cool blues and purples of winter along with the poinsettia reds, whites and greens of Christmas throughout the nearly three hour show to create everything from festive to more sober moods. A particularly special look was created for “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in which Sparky wrapped the stage in a Christmas Poinsettia look using reds and greens.

Lighting placement

Sparky dressed the stage and staircases both right and left with MAC 500 profile spots and 600 washlights. MAC 600s also adorned side circle trusses with sidebar trusses dressed with MAC 2000 Profile and Wash. Three upstage MAC 500s backlit large triangle tree scrims on each side of the stage with one MAC 300 backlighting each of ten smaller triangle tree flats. A large overhead truss was lined with MAC 2000 Profiles and Wash with Par 20’s uplighting a series of red metal screen ‘turkey feathers’. A large star curtain backdrop was powered by Martin FiberSource QFX150.

On the audience truss circles MAC 500s projected crossing gobo patterns while MAC 600s and FOH positioned MAC 2000 Wash added color. Floor positioned MAC 2000 Profiles swept the audience and also projected rotating patterns onto the audience circle scrims.

A central semicircle screen was outlined with MAC 2000 Wash and received effects from MAC 2000 Performance mounted on separate sidebars. “The MAC 2000 Performance I have as front lighting for the whole performance area,” Sparky commented. “On the main screen they do the flame effect and the water effect and are probably one of the neatest effects I’ve seen come out of a moving light. It’s very smooth. We use it to highlight the symphony members, when they do their piece. I gently roll the light past them. You don’t have to make it look like the fixture stops whereas with a regular gobo you have to keep repeating it. And over the prism you lose double your intensity. With these lights you’re getting all the gas out of it.”

“This was really my first experience with Martin lights on this scale. I had 18 fixtures on LeAnn Rimes this last summer. The lighting fixtures are a no brainer. Rarely do you have any technical issues with the lights. Great tour!”


Sparky worked with the new Martin Maxxyz lighting console for the first time on this show. “When we started with moving heads we spent a lot of time creating cues, color chases, effects, but now with the new consoles all that math is done for you and it’s much easier,” he said. “With the effects generator for example, it’s almost so easy now it’s taken away a bit of our brain, the mathematics, but leaves us to concentrate on the creative stuff.”

“I’ve had no significant difficulties with the board. I have a few issues but they could be operator issues, they could be learning curve issues but nothing that’s show shattering by any means. If you can read, you can run this board. I’ve learned to understand the console and I understand that the board has software growth ahead of it. I’m happy to be there learning it when it’s in its baby steps so as the console grows with intelligence, I grow right along with it.

“For many years in my adult life I raced with Ferrari’s and I won and it’s time in my career that I start winning races with a new Porsche. I know I can win with Ferrari. Now it’s time to try something else.”

Pictures: Allstate Arena, Chicago, December 17

Tour Manager: Dan Waters
Production Manager; Brian Leedham
Stage Manager; Ian Tucker
Lighting Programmer: Ken Hudson
MOO TV, Scott Scoville / SparksArts: Live Video / animations / produced and edited all B role footage
Bandit Lites crew and technicians: Crew Chief, T.C. Campbell; Jeff Wilken; Mark “Stinky” Lepetich
Stage Call: trucking company

15 x MAC 500
33 x MAC 600
29 x MAC 2000 Wash
22 x MAC 2000 Profile
6 x MAC 2000 Performance
10 x MAC 300
2 x Maxxyz
QFX150 FiberSource

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