In The Presence of Greatness

It was a pretty normal Friday afternoon when my friend and fellow sound tech, Joel called. He asked if I had anything going on that night. I was free. He told me his son was sick and his wife was going to bail on the concert they had tickets to. He wondered if I would be interested in going to see Allison Kraus. It took me about 10 seconds to decide. If you aren't familiar with her (and Union Station, the band she has been recording and touring with for many years), go buy a CD or download some songs from iTunes. It's OK, we'll wait.

The concert was at our city's performing arts center, an indoor/outdoor facility. We had great seats under the shell. Here are a few of my observations:

  • Allison has an amazing voice. She can run from low to high, from a near whisper to mezo forte with what seemed like effortless ease, and without a trace of harshness or edginess.
  • The guys in the band are amazing musicians.
  • The JBL Ver-Tec line array they played through sounded exceptionally clear and present (with perhaps a little too much emphasis at 1.2 KHz). However even with an amazing sound system, there is no substitute for talent.
  • There is also no substitute for being able to move large quantities of air to properly reproduce a stand-up string bass. Sorry, but two double 18's were not enough.
  • Even without adequate bass, it was the best-sounding concert I've ever heard in my life.
  • Music is worship. God gave us music, an He obviously blessed these musicians with an incredible talent. To be in their presence as they exercised their gifts was to be in God's presence.
  • Most of the set was done with just the bass, fiddle, acoustic guitar (or 2), banjo and a dobro. They did a few songs with a B3 or piano, and the drums. I didn't really miss the drums when they weren't there (and normally I really like drums).
  • Did I mention Allison's voice?

I was a little surprised at how the snare sounded. Normally I go for a really bright, snappy, in-your-face sound on my snares. However, for this show, it was rather muffled; Joel described it as muddy. And you know, I really liked it. It was there, but it was clearly in the background. My guess is the FOH engineer didn't want it to be competing with the sound of the guitars or vocals (which is what we were there to hear anyway). I want to try toning my snare down this weekend and see what happens.

It was also nice to come away from a show without my ears ringing. The concert was a perfect volume—loud enough to hear and feel, but no where near painful. That was refreshing. I spent the first half of the show analyzing the mix, trying to figure out what he was doing. That was highly educational. A big part of learning to mix better is going to listen to people who can mix better than you. This guy was pretty good.

After a while I got wrapped up in the music and was reminded why I love to mix—because I love music. Almost any music. Music is one of God's gifts to us. It is beautiful and points to God as the Creator of beauty. If it's been a while since you have seen a live show (and it has been for me...), go see one. If you have the wherewithal, take the volunteer sound techs in the church. Make it a educational field trip. Honestly, if I had known how good this was going to be, I would have done that. And it was good to get out and spend some non-church time with a friend. Thanks for thinking of me, Joel!