I had the chance to visit with some friends at the American Airlines Center yesterday who are working on the Justin Timberlake tour. This is a large arena tour; it is stuffed into 23 semis and takes up most of the floor of an arena and all of the ceiling.

It’s an in-the-round show with an elaborate moving stage with elevators and hydraulics which the carp crew is responsible for around 120 moves during the performance. My friend Aaron C. and the other world class carps have their hands full.

Sound doesn’t seem to have it much easier. When I arrived they were resetting a lot of wireless channels for ear monitors. I know from experience that when you get up around 5 dozen channels, you will find some places that are no fun at all. It appears Dallas was that way for the Timberlake sound crew (though Monty, they had about 10 guys out there… Glendenning wasn’t alone!)

We often have to wedge our work areas into interesting places like churches, hallways, flatbed trailers, staircases and livestock pens. On this tour the monitor position is in the middle of a V-shaped fully operational bar for VIPS…

And directly behind the mixer’s position is a large laser controller that shoots though a panel on a runway out towards reflectors seemingly everywhere. Watch your friggin’ eyes!

On a tour where the music is heavily effected by Pro Tools in the original recording, some acts are using digital desks with the same plug ins in order to get the effects to happen live. Kevin Glendenning has a Digidesign desk with two sidecars to take care of the artist, the MD and the dancers. Someone else mixes the band somewhere else (hey, I was only there for an hour and a half!)

Man, I heard some numbers thrown around for the cost of a show like this and it really makes you wonder if the music business is going to choke on its own bloat. I know you need to spend money to make money and that the kids need a show to remember, but I am kinda old school in some ways. I like lasers and production values; I love good songs and great performances. What is it going to take to make the next big shift music? Is it going to be a downsizing or a fracturing? Is the next generation of great songwriters ever going to be heard? Are the record companies, Live Nation and the corporate sponsors just going to give us a steady stream of empty Idol-like pap dressed in the Emperor’s new clothes at Broadway prices?

Sigh.

Then I see the buses lined up on the way out and I feel the call of the road, the sound of the genny, the laughs and the blessing of having been able to see the world on someone else’s dime.

Jeez, I’ve been home for a while. Thanks to Prada Glendenning (“Thanks Caller”), Double A Aaron Cass, Lydia, Marcus and Andy for making me feel at home and for taking the time in their busy day for little old me. Be safe out there.