If you were on a road trip five years ago, chances are, you might have seen Luke Bryan and his crew in a passenger van pulling a trailer, headed for the next city on a mission to build a bigger fan base. Back then, they were unaware of just how big their fan base would become.
How many artists today are packing stadiums for concerts? You may have enough digits to account for them all. Luke Bryan is, notably, one of the few country artists to accomplish this feat.
FOH Engineer Pete Healey was in that van with Luke back then. Engineers all over the world routinely hop onto a tour hoping it will grow and benefit those who got in early. Pete’s hopes turned into an awesome reality.
Let’s go back to the beginning, with Pete and the van and trailer days.
“I was in between tours, doing some shop work at Clair Nashville,” says Pete. “One of the shop guys came back with a note with a name and phone number. I called the number and the rest is history.” He continues, “It started as a small operation with a van and a trailer. I did that for half the year as they had some spotty dates. I went on to do a few other tours and came back to Luke in 2010, which was the band, me, a monitor engineer and an intern on one bus with a trailer. We were on the support slot for large arena tours. Over the next few years, we moved up in slots on those tours. We ultimately ended up taking out his first headline tour for CMT, which then turned into his first headline tour with Live Nation. Everything skyrocketed from one truck to two trucks to six trucks to twelve trucks to now fifteen trucks, all in a matter of a couple of years.”
Why did Pete stick around in the early days? What was it about Luke that made him believe that this was the tour to be on?
“When I first saw him,” Pete explains,” it was a really interesting experience. He was unsigned or recently had been signed to a development deal. In Georgia, he had already been dominating the club market. A couple busloads of people from his record label came down to the Georgia Theatre in Athens. It was unbelievable. The place was sold out. You couldn’t fit another person in there, and everyone knew every word to every song. I was standing there thinking, What is going on here? I’d never seen anything like that before.
He has that “it” factor everyone wants their artist to have. He’s genuine, he’s engaging. Who he is on stage is who he really is.”
There’s nothing like that feeling you get when you are asked to go check out a hot new artist, and they just blow your mind!
Whenever artists get big, you can be sure there are some forward-thinkers behind them. Pete explains, “Luke and his management are very smart people. They almost held it back and made sure it was a gradual climb until it couldn’t be held back anymore. He probably could have started headlining a year or two before he actually did.”
When it comes to the production of the show, “Luke trusts us. We’ll have a few short meetings during the process to show him the path we are heading down. He trusts us to put together something that represents him well and will have his fans walking away feeling like they spent their money well.”
“When we made the leap from six trucks to twelve trucks, I was pretty worried about whether I had the depth of knowledge to make it happen. A good friend of mine told me, ‘It’s no different, it’s just more trucks.’ That has really rung true. Obviously, there are scenarios and situations that make some days harder than others. Some stadiums are more complicated than others. When we do the stadium shows, including the staging trucks, we are close to forty-five trucks. A long time ago, I learned that you really don’t know how to do everything, so you just have to hire the right people. To me, it’s about having the right people around us to be able to pull off anything we attempt. We’ve built a really strong crew.”
Like Luke’s career, Pete’s role has grown from FOH Engineer to Show Production Designer. As you can imagine, it takes a village to put on a stadium show. When everyone starts to click with each other, band and crew, you stick around for a long time because that kind of chemistry is rare in the music business. Even more rare is a meteoric rise from passenger vans to multiple semi-trucks to load in the show.
Pete discusses what he feels makes a good crew person:
“Someone who can stay level-headed but still get the job done. It’s a fine line. You have to be able to not get walked over, whether it’s local crews or your own crew. I have guys on my crew that have done this longer than I have in their specific roles. We’re very much a family on the road. It’s a lot different than any other organizations I’ve been in where you are just another name or number in the Rolodex. I’ve been in organizations where you make one mistake and you’re gone. It’s not like that with us here at all. We vet everyone a little bit more because of that. Once you are in, it’s pretty hard for you to not be able to keep that job. You would have to demonstrate time and time again that you are not keeping up or not maintaining good people skills. There is definitely a line though.”
Whenever Pete goes to an awards show, he insist that Shure products are all over their stage. That’s what he uses on the road, so he wants to see it everywhere.
“Shure has been the go-to microphone since I’ve started doing this,” Pete affirms. “When I moved to Nashville, a couple of the first artists I worked with were already using Shure. Previous sound companies I’ve worked for, a majority of their inventory was Shure, as with many sound companies. It’s the workhorse of the industry. Anyone I’ve worked with, I’ve always gravitated toward getting them partnered with Shure or at least using Shure products because you know what to expect day to day. People joke that doing audio is like running a MASH unit. It’s meatball audio every day out here. It’s going to be different every day, and the room is different every day. Time and time again, Shure has always been there, consistent and reliable. The service is great, and the staff is great.”