Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band kick off their 2023 international tour with a show featuring an array of Ayrton lighting fixtures selected by Lighting Designer, Jeff Ravitz. The North American leg of the tour began in February in Tampa and will wrap in December 2023 in San Francisco. It marks the first time since 2017 that Springsteen and the E Street Band have toured together.
Ravitz, who is the founder of Intensity Advisors, LLC – a Los Angeles-based design firm specialising in lighting for entertainment and television – has been designing tours for Springsteen and the E Street Band since the Born in the USA tour in 1984, as well as for all of Springsteen’s solo tours and television and filmed projects since then. Todd Ricci is the Lighting Director on the road with the new tour.
Ravitz is also a long-time user of Ayrton lighting for Springsteen beginning in 2012 with the original WildSun 500C wash light and upgrading to the newer NandoBeam-S9 and the MagicRing-R9 for the 2016 tour. For the current tour he selected 54 Khamsin, six WildSun-S25 and 16 Domino S Profile fixtures provided by Christie Lites.
With Springsteen credits that date back almost 40 years, Ravitz knows the look and feel that work for a Springsteen and the E Street Band show. But for the current show, Tour Director George Travis stressed that when the audience enters the arena or stadium before the show, they should look at the stage and have a sense that something is new and different.
“That’s easier said than done for this show because there are core necessities that don’t change radically from tour to tour,” said Ravitz. “This makes changing it up, in order to make it look different, kind of tricky.”
He explains that “the backbone of the band has remained the same over the years: guitarists, with Bruce anchoring downstage centre, keyboard and piano players flanking the upstage area, the drummer in the upstage centre, and a sax player. Some tours, including this one, have included a horn section, vocalists and a percussion player. Everybody’s always in the same position on stage, so that’s a constant that dictates quite a lot about how the show is lit.”
Ravitz points out that unlike shows in which a ‘star’ gets most of the lighting attention, each player in a Springsteen concert “gets the full treatment of lighting. The band is considered one unified force, and all are fully covered from a lighting standpoint to bring them completely into the action of the show. Over the years, I’ve found a way to light Bruce and the band in a variety of ways that work for the diversity of music and performance styles that are on display during the three-hour-plus show.”
While the new tour has a legacy look based on certain constant elements, it also shows an evolution, just like the music does, he says. “Each show explores Bruce’s broad catalogue that travels through the ages, from the ’70s to the present day, and I think the lighting needs to be in lock-step with the obvious developments in Bruce’s style.”
So the gist of Ravitz’s design was to create a foundation of colour onstage that reflects the emotion of each song, punctuated by patterns and textures that reveal Springsteen and each band member in a way that creates an overall composition. He added nuance and contrast by lighting the background elements like the band platforms and the audience, and cued it all to the pace and tempo of the music.
“The style of the lighting digs back into the earlier days of rock ’n roll concert design but also has its feet firmly planted in a current-day approach with the newest lighting technology that today’s audiences are accustomed to,” he noted. “Thanks to our talented programmer, Mike Appel, and Todd, our extraordinary touring LD, we bring the show through the time machine of lighting.”
He points out that the lighting design is careful to never overtake the music with effects and cues that distract the audience – not that that would be easy to do at a powerhouse Springsteen concert. “We support the show and help deliver the message of the music and lyrics with colours, rhythms, shadows and textures all the way to the back of a huge venue,” Ravitz said. Since “Bruce’s shows are famous for departing from the set list or adding new songs every night, the basic approach is to create maximum power with ultimate flexibility,” he added.
Ayrton Khamsins form the system of hard-edged profiles creating gobo washes that texture the stage and air and backlight each musician. “The Khamsin has a smooth field, bright output and a zoom ratio that allows for very flexible use,” Ravitz said. They are mounted on over-stage trusses from far upstage to downstage as well as on some side ladder positions. During the song “Last Man Standing” the Khamsins are aimed at the audience and lowered in intensity to barely a glow so they create a canopy of 50 amber dots.
The WildSun-S25s fill the dark area between the lighting rig and the stage. Since the audience wraps around the stage 360° and the visual background is open and empty behind the band, Ravitz lowered the six large-format lights on pipes so they are six feet below the far upstage lighting truss.
“That was low enough to see the fixtures as a ‘source’ in that empty area, but not so low as to obstruct the view for the audience behind the stage,” he explained. “I wanted something with some extra-large scale and enough mass to really stand out and deliver a tight brute-force beam of light or a thick layer of backwash. I have used various fixtures [to do this] over the years, including the Ayrton MagicRing-R9, which was developed for us as an LED version of the Morpheus BriteBurst, and now the Ayrton WildSun-S25.”
Ravitz chose the WildSun “because it takes the best of those other lights and brings them into 2023. They do a great job for us with their vivid colour, hefty form factor, massive output and wide-to-narrow zoom.” The WildSuns are used throughout the night as strong accents to emphasise heavy musical crashes and hits, with the songs “Kitty’s Back” and She’s The One serving as particularly good examples.
Ravitz picked Domino S Profiles to round out the Ayrton inventory “first, because they are IP65-rated and second because of their dazzling output and colour. They work the two 70-foot towers at the far front of house that need to be projected over long distances for our stadium shows. We use them as an extension of the Khamsins for audience light and gobo washes that echo gobos used over the stage. They stretch the stage looking way into the deep recesses of the crowd in an arena or stadium.” For one of Springsteen’s most beloved anthems, Badlands, Dominos adds gobo textures and extra light into sections of the audience that don’t often get a lot of coverage.
It’s still early days on the North American leg of the new tour, but Ravitz reports that, “the Ayrton lights are pulling their weight incredibly well. I’m in love with the colours they produce while still kicking out lots of light, even through the deeper colours. They’re super reliable, and their beams have a beautiful, even field. They are definitely fulfilling expectations. I use Ayrton lights frequently for other projects I design – they are clearly part of my repertoire!”
He cites Christie Lites for being “extremely detail-oriented during the system prep process, which was longer than usual due to the size and complexity of the design. We have a lot of fixtures that require special mounting pieces, and they were creative and resourceful in solving those challenges.”
Ravitz also found that “during the year that I was researching equipment a lot of helpful friends at ACT were available all the time to answer questions, direct me to new options, schedule demos and just be a sounding board for ideas. They’re a great resource to a designer, as I’m sure they are to the vendor shops.”
Violet Smith was Ravitz’s Design Assistant for the tour and Brad Brown is the show’s Lighting Electrician/Console Operator. The Christie Lites crew includes Lighting Crew Chief Hadyn Williams, Lighting Lead Tech Kitty Hoffman, Lighting FOH Tech John Hoffman, Lighting Follow Spot/Network Techs Evan Barnes and Sam Blakemore, Lighting Techs Adam Beasley and Evan McElhiney, Lighting Dimmer Tech Paul Gierczak, Lighting Tech/Lead Follow Spot/Network Tech Andy Welch, System Coordinator Russell Benoit and Account Rep Chris McMeen. “Every single one of them was instrumental in the careful pre-tour prep at the shop and at rehearsals, and they keep this train on the tracks during the strenuous setup schedule,” Ravitz declared.
ACT Entertainment is the exclusive distributor of Ayrton products in North America.