Newport Jazz Festival 2021 Roars Back in a Big (but also small) Way

There are few festivals in the jazz world that have maintained such a fine-tuned balance of honoring the legacy of classic jazz while pushing ahead with the latest innovative genre-bending rosters of artists quite like the Newport Jazz Festival has. Established in 1954, Newport Jazz has hosted a number of breakthrough performances from legendary jazz artists such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday as well as rock acts like The Allman Brothers Band, The Jeff Beck Group, Frank Zappa and a 1969 show from Led Zeppelin which nearly prompted a riot. Certainly not your average jazz festival.

After a pandemic break in the annual event last year, Newport Jazz came back in a big way for 2021 with enthusiastic and engaged fans filling Fort Adams State Park to a carefully managed 50% capacity. Music fans were required to supply proof of vaccination (or negative test results within the previous three days), stages were reduced in number vs. previous years and masks were required in enclosed areas for added safety.

Seemingly keeping with the theme of adapting and striking just the right balance, FOH and monitor world also looked decidedly different in 2021 vs. 2019. While the biggest names in jazz and new music graced the stage, some of the smallest and lightest consoles on the market were now a common sight. For instance, the Allen & Heath dLive CTi1500 and its dLive C1500 stablemate were in use by a diverse range of top Newport Jazz headliners, including superstar R&B vocalist and actress Andra Day, psychedelic dub rock trio Khruangbin, and funk guitar phenom Cory Wong.

Cory Wong was among the “not-quite-jazz” artists that rocked the festival. Photo by Rick Farrell-Mojo Photography

 

Grammy-nominated guitarist and producer Cory Wong (Vulfpeck, Dave Koz, The Fearless Flyers, Ben Rector, etc.) decided to go ultralight with the CTi1500 (25.4lbs) paired to a DM48 MixRack. Outfitted with a Waves 3 card for enhanced virtual soundcheck functionality and a superMADI card for key broadcast sends, the diminutive CTi1500 rig also handled mixing 15 MSI wedges and various comm / production functions as needed—a festival power package, small and light enough to be checked as baggage.

In order to achieve this feat, the Allen & Heath R&D team went to work ruthlessly stripping out as much weight as possible, while maintaining tour-grade structural integrity and an uncompromised user experience. Engineered with titanium side panels, new alloy metalwork and a refreshed chassis design, the CTi1500 enables full access to any dLive MixRack via 12 faders (with 6 layers) along with built-in audio I/O, a 128 channel 96kHz audio networking port, a 12″ capacitive touchscreen, an array of rotary controls and 19 assignable SoftKeys.

“When I was building our touring rig, I was looking for a modular system that would be powerful enough to handle FOH and monitors with sufficient processing options onboard to negate the need for external processing,” says Cory Wong FOH engineer Jake Hartsfield. “dLive is the perfect solution for our needs. On tour, I am mixing FOH and monitors on the same engine, with the channels split between 1-56 for FOH and 57-112 for monitors. Then I’ve got the last 16 channels open for utility needs. 128 channels is more than enough to handle most bands in this configuration. Our entire touring rig (which includes 20 channels of wireless) fits in two Pelicans and two 12-space racks. Insane.”

Hartsfield continues, “At Newport, we brought the CTi1500, which is the lightest, smallest member of the dLive family. I thought the C1500 was tiny, but the CTi is another 14 pounds lighter, making it an ideal fly-date solution. What makes Allen & Heath’s modular ecosystem really shine is the ability to use the same show file on any console in the dLive family. The engine is the same in all models. It truly doesn’t matter which surface is connected. It’s reassuring to know there’s no tricky file conversion going on when switching surfaces. With other consoles, you lose data when you convert your file from one console to another - sometimes you lose entire banks of channels and have to use workarounds to get them back. With dLive, I don’t have to worry about that anymore. It’s hard to take someone’s review at face value when they say ‘this console sounds GREAT.’ I’m a studio mixer as well, and I recently re-mixed a live show recorded on the dLive. Normally I can beat my board mix with a few simple tweaks, but I’ve gotta say, I was actually having a difficult time beating my own board mix from the show. That reinforces to me how great this console sounds.”

Khruangbin FOH engineer Jade Payne

 

Taking the grooves down quite a few BPMs from the hyper-funk Cory Wong setting, Khruangbin (pronounced KRUNG-bin) brought their chilled out and otherworldly musical styles to the Fort Adams crowd via compact dLive rigs as well. Opting to go with the C1500 at monitors, Khruangbin also tapped a CDM32 MixRack, a gigaACE card for a digital split to FOH, a Waves 3 card and Waves Impact Server for additional outboard effects, and Shure PSM1000 IEMs.

Utilizing the Allen & Heath gigaACE protocol for interconnect, a CTi1500 rig was put to use on the other end of the digital snake at FOH. Just as with Cory Wong, the popular Waves 3 card for virtual soundcheck and superMADI for broadcast card combination was loaded into their (DM0) MixRack, this time joined by an additional gigaACE card and two DX168 16 XLR input / 8 XLR output 96kHz Portable DX Expanders.

"My CTi1500 had its outdoor concert debut at Newport Jazz Festival,” noted Khruangbin FOH engineer Jade Payne. “In typical festival fashion, there was no room in the schedule for a soundcheck. However, we were able to run our line check backstage before changeover. This gave me plenty of time to run virtual soundcheck through my IEMs at FOH, make minor adjustments for the setlist, final mix preparations, etc. I was ready to go with plenty of time to enjoy a lobster roll! The festival is situated on a peninsula—with high winds—which I worried would affect the PA response. But MSI did an excellent job with their system deployment and dLive’s fidelity rang through for a successful show.” “The only real issue I’ve run into with the CTi,” Payne continues with a bit of chuckle, “is that the stage hands frequently think the case is empty and they try to strike it before I’ve actually taken the console out.”

Khruangbin monitor engineer Jorge Pardo-Denning chimed in, “Newport as one of the first festivals coming back live from the pandemic was really cool to work. We had rehearsals before to be prepared and we carry our own consoles as that helps a lot—especially doing virtual soundcheck. It was a success and a great ‘welcome back’ to shows again!”

Khruangbin monitor engineer Jorge Pardo-Denning

 

Touted for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in the 2021 biopic ‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday,’ Golden Globe winning Best Actress Andra Day closed out the final day of the festival with a number of stirring renditions of ‘Lady Day’ jazz classics. Her set was mixed by FOH engineer Caleb Morris via a CTi1500 and DM0 MixRack combo, wrapping up the finale of one of the world’s premier jazz festivals on a console that is lighter than just the power supply of analog live desks from a generation ago.

“It was such a great vibe at Newport this year,” notes Allen & Heath USA Live Sound & Touring Manager Mike Bangs. “I had the pleasure of hanging with fellow engineers and a few trends started to show up out there. First off, a lot of engineers are a bit reluctant when they think about doing their shows with ‘only’ 12 faders. But the C1500 and CTi1500 floodgates have opened recently as folks are starting to get back to touring and travel budgets and options are even more restrained. Some engineers are finding that they prefer the focused form factor and fader count. Creative spill group and layer design is important with high channel counts, but with a ton of SoftKeys and scene recallable workflow changes, I have gone over 80 channels on a CTi and navigation was a breeze.”

Bangs adds, “The second recurring theme was a sort of ‘cake and eat it, too’ about the tiny console footprint. There are other sorts of ways you can tackle putting together a hodgepodge of small surfaces and laptops and consumer gear to make what kinda looks like a mixing console. You can gain the ‘compact and lightweight’ benefits by going that route, sure. But you have to sacrifice road-worthiness and the peace of mind that the rig has been designed for the rigors of the road. Folks are stoked that CTi has that cool combination of compact and tough — without sacrificing anything along the way. Small is the new big thing.”