Part 5 -  
This Ain't No Party,
 It's a GIG !

Shortly after our reunion party in 2007, we all came to a mutual conclusion: If the party was that much fun and came off so good without any rehearsal, staging or lighting, imagine what we could do if we really put together a fully rehearsed show!  We chose a date in the  "September to October" timeframe and set to planning. The first concept was to do it right in the same place, the Collingdale Fire Hall. As the summer progressed a few other options came to light. Our buddies at Apollo Artist Attractions offered to book us in a club for a concert. We were also approached directly by the owner of a club that used to book the band. Our planning started, based on the concept of a standard club gig.

Mitch was (is) working with a band called "The Rip Chords" and I ended up doing some lighting work for one of their shows. If I hadn't been bitten by the lighting bug before, this did it! It was in my blood and I decided to build back up my lighting system in anticipation of doing a full blown Witness gig in the fall. 

All the members from the 2007 reunion were on board, as well as Mark Allen and George, who supplied sound for the reunion. What were we all thinking?   Well, it had to be a case of mutual mid life crises, so it was decided early on that we would call the gig the "Mid Life Crisis Tour!"  We resumed our "Steakhouse" meetings to work out the details. As Spring turned to Summer, and then headed into Fall, we ran into our first roadblock. Due to a miscommunication, Steelman would not be able to attend the date selected. We started trying to shuffle the date around as we had really hoped to get as many of the old members involved as we could.  Jimmy suggested we push the date back until we could all work out the logistics. October began to move into November, and as the holidays approached, we realized it just was not going to work. 

Meanwhile, some very interesting things started to happen. Michael LaBuono had joined the Britton Brothers band Hot Ticket. What this meant is that three of the former Witness members would now be playing together on a regular basis!  This would greatly simplify Witness rehearsals. 

We also continued to try to contact all previous members in hopes of bringing them on board for the fun!  My hope had also been to bring on John Brooks for follow spot as his work had been such an important part of the Witness look. No luck! For me, it was plan "B", Sandi, my wife. She hadn't run spot since a "Modern English" gig in the 80's, but the same could be said about me as a board op. 

Pictured at right: Flip and Mark Britton

As Fall turned to Winter, our opportunity to book the gig in one of the clubs slipped by. Winter was a lousy time to try to book a one-shot gig as weather can be so unpredictable!  Who would have known it wasn't going to snow all winter!  We decided to do the gig on April 20. It would almost be an anniversary date from our 2007 April gig.  This one would have to stick or we would start looking a little stupid for announcing and canceling so many times! Rehearsals started up with all of the members from 2007.  I attended, bringing my notepad, which turned into a pile, and ended up filling a three ring binder that contained the show ideas and lighting design. The band sounded great! The tight slick sound of the old Witness was starting to show!  The plan had been to invite Steelman down for the weekend and do some cram rehearsals. At that point he could chose which songs he could work with.  As the date slowly approached we got the news that he probably could not make it.  He put it best: "Hey, sometimes planning things out doesn't work either!"  Steelman runs a dry cleaning business and the crunch from the upcoming Prom season was hitting him hard. We were all sad, and I know I was holding out hope that there would be a break in the action, but it didn't happen.

Still, "The Show Must Go On!"

Things have a way of happening for a reason. As it happened, the Fire Hall was looking for an act to do a charity fund raiser on that date, so back to the hall it was!


In actuality, the Hall was a great venue for a "Witness" style show!  

As there was no way of hiding that we a bit older now, we decided to let that be an asset!  The show would start with a tape of the 2001 Space Odyssey  theme, as the members were moved to the stage in a procession of wheelchairs and walkers! 

This Ain't No Party, It's a GIG !

Although we all knew we would make our fair share of mistakes, this was not going to be a casual "party" like the previous year, this was going to be a gig, show, production, extravaganza, the Big Banana, The _________ (fill in you own adjective here) !!!

Just like last year, we all walked through that "Time Tunnel" and were "Witness" once again! Yea, a few more gray hairs and stuff, but that didn't matter! You know, there's a song by Bruce called "Glory Days." It's about people sitting around and talking about the old days. The way I look at it is, Why talk about it when you can go out and do it!   And yea, before the lights were even cooled down, we were talking about doing it again. Who knows, we may still get a few of our other old members to join in. They are ALWAYS invited! And so are you! 

-JD      Our full album of pictures from the 2008 MLCT show

Over the course of the last two months, we have decided it is just too hard to stay apart!  The band members from the reunion group have decided to start playing as a band on a regular bases, going under the name
Witness Reloaded !

Fun fact-  
Who is this girl that appeared in our 2008 MLCT show playing tambourine? 

Her name is Sam, and it's not the first time she appeared with Witness on stage!
Her first appearance was in 
1991 !!
(At age 12)

2008 !!

A few words about Lighting and Stage design for the 2008 show…..

Those who know the band (or have spent time on the site) know that I did lighting and stage design with Witness from 1979 to 1986. During that time, Witness developed a reputation for having a very extravagant production. One of the goals of the 2008 show was to have it be a full Witness show that was up to the old standards. Sounds nice, but what worked and was spectacular in the mid 80s would seam boring and mundane in 2008 ! 

There have been some big changes in the lighting world in the past 25 years. The biggest is the widespread use of “intelligent” lighting. (Kind of misleading as the lights really are not intelligent.) Although “Intels” (often called Varilites, but that‘s actually a name brand) were around in the early 80s, they were generally only seen at large scale concerts due to the cost. I can remember thinking about how I would use them if I had the chance. The lights are computer controlled and are built around a white hot arc lamp that produces a lot more light per watt than the old par can, which was the mainstay of 80’s Rock and Roll. The net effect is a more bang while actually using less electricity! 

(Click for larger.  Note set-up "cheat sheet on wall")

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Although most arena based shows are well planned out, Intels actually have a creative downside: Since they produce such dramatic effects, lighting designers tend to get lazy and just program out some simple routines and let the lights do the show. I didn’t want to let myself fall into that trap. Lighting Design at its best adds an emotional level to the music that needs to complement what is happening. If it doesn’t, then it is nothing more than a stage full of blinking bulbs!

08_32.jpg (58829 bytes) I went to the rehearsals with a blank pad of paper. On each song, I would listen to the emotion in the music, and try to imagine what lighting would best broadcast that emotion. I quickly discovered that there were songs (such as Suite Judy Blue Eyes) where Intels would play no useful role, or a minimal role at best. Other songs screamed out for full blown usage! That’s the way it would be then. 

I never took equipment down to the rehearsals. Instead, (after a bit of rewiring) I turned my family room into a miniature stage. There I set about the task of programming what amounted to 240 Intel scenes into the computer based controller. These could then be integrated into my analog lighting scenes (par cans!) to produce a greater range of dynamics. (One thing Intels have is a hard time being subtle.) 

The stage was another area that required a lot of thought. After talking it over with the guys, we decided to use the split keyboard / drum arrangement, as compared to the classic “Drums in the center” layout we used last year. Due to the limited ceiling height, a full stage would not be practical. I also decided to not use classic “front of house” lighting as it would restrict the view. Also, FOH lighting is harder on the eyes of the band members who would (and always did) rely on seeing their “Cheat Sheets.” The stage itself would have a floor level, and an elevated keyboard and drum riser.  This was very important as Mitch sits while drumming and was not visible last year! 

The last factor in design was “Staging.” This involved two areas: 

The first was to figure out how to turn a banquette hall into a rock club. To do this, we needed to create a “picture frame” that would set the stage apart, and make it a separate and special world. Here, I used the side lighting to define the front of the stage. (Sorry George Michael!) The sound stacks on the outside would help complete the picture. To add depth and complete the look, the rear of the stage would be topped with a good old “Rock & Roll” truss, and the wall behind would be covered with a black backdrop (My thanks to Mark Allen for obtaining the Drape!)

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Next, the stage area itself would be bathed in black light the whole night. This would give it a look of mystery, as well as provide some form of illumination for the members to see by during “black cues.” ( L Roy remembered that one from the old days and still had his fret markers painted in black light paint!) The look of the stage would be completed by the addition of the old three dimensional “Witness” marquee which had survived the ravages of time! To bring it into the new millennium, it was given a fresh coat of black light paint!

The other aspect of “Staging” is the show itself. This included bringing back some of the special effects we used during the 80’s, like the drum strobes, and adding in the old standards like fog. The bigger part was to bring the old “Characters” back to life! This would be up to the band members themselves. (From props to personas) 

What Witness show would be complete without a little humor! This also came directly from the band members and covered such items as having the band wheeled out in wheelchairs! (LaBuono’s idea… Note, HE got the motorized scooter!) And of course, Cecile! (Flip’s comment- “Hey! I don’t need the fat belt any more!) Of course there were many other routines thrown in, and even some special ones worked out if any of our other members showed up. (We’ll keep those a secret until it happens!)

If we all did our job right, the final result was one where everything blended together and the only thing that really stood out was the smile on your face when you left! 

-JD     More pictures from set up and tear down

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