Craig Stahl

Music Maker(s) of the Month

This months "Music Maker(s) of the Month" are all the staff, vendors, musicians, and singers who all worked together to pull off a successful 41st CMA Awards show. A show of this magnitude takes months of pre-planning and weeks of loading in, programming, rehearsal, teching, tweaking and then loading out, to make it happen. I was hired by Chuck Young at Truburn Productions. My title was officially Backline Crew Chief, but I really was "The CMA Riser Wrangler". My job was to interface with the musical acts crew when they arrived and direct them to the proper place and personnel to help them make their artist happy. I made sure the right number of risers or "band carts" were built for each act and that they were built at the right height. When they were built, Jim Whitfield and his ace crew from Soundcheck Studios made sure that each band had the proper backline gear. Jim and his staff supplied amps, drums, pianos, keyboards, guitar cables, music stands, and any other piece of gear needed. Soundcheck in some cases even supplied the guitars. Jim's staff did an awesome job. Terry Fox who gigs with Kenny Chesney handled keyboards and guitars along with Mark Thompson who not only is a great tech but also a world class guitar player and recording studio owner. Mark owns Sweetbriar Recording and Thompson Music Rental in Nashville. Mark played guitar for The Judds and Wynnona as well as picking in the staff band on The Nashville Networks Music City Tonite show. Making sure all the drummers had what they needed was Keith Daniels who tours with Reba McEntire. Helping with great vintage B-3 organs was Murph from Nashville Pro Hammond. 

Eric Rocher with Summit Staging had all the rolling risers built with the assistance of IATSE Stagehands Union
Local # 46
from Nashville. A television show this big takes hundreds of skilled technicians to pull it off. The people who work at an awards show like the CMA Awards are the best at their jobs. They have to be as acts are set and reset in a matter of seconds. All the bands load their gear onto rolling carts so they can be rolled on and off quickly during an awards speech or a commercial break. After the gear is loaded on the carts the audio A-2's put microphones on the gear and wire up all the audio inputs. Old friends Danny Breeden, Mark Bass, and Jackie Brooks were some of the A-2's on this show. Ricky Moeller F.O.H. engineer with Reba McEntire was double dipping on this show. When Reba was onstage he was in the audio truck making sure Reba sounded as great as always, and then he was making sure all the monitor wedge speakers were placed correctly on the carts and that the carts had enough electrical power. ATK audio was contracted to provide audio for the show and did their usual great job. Mike Abbott had the job of Audio Coordinator, a job of monumental proportions that he does very well. Front Of House was manned by Patrick Baltzell and Rick Shimer. Rick had the bands sounding great and Patrick did a masterful job on all the production mic's on the awards podium and the lavalier mic's. Patrick is the best in the biz. You don't know how hard it is to make a podium mic sound good in a hockey arena until you try it. Patrick can also mix music, a few years ago I was with Alan Jackson performing at a T.V. show at the legendary Ford's Theater in Washington D.C. Patrick was mixing the live music with a diverse musical bill. Country, showtunes, comedy, spoken word, poetry, and opera singers. He made them all sound great and the PA was only a couple of speakers on a stick because they couldn't hang a full PA system in the small historic theater. A true pro. 

     I took a real good photo of Patrick and Rick Shimer before the show, but I left the lens cap on, so here is an old photo of Pat and since Rick does not have a photo on his website you will have to hire Blackhawk Audio for a gig to see him.

                Rolling in the Scenery

After the carts are loaded up and wired the crew rolls them onstage for a sound check. Each act gets about an hour onstage to set the sound in their monitors while the art and lighting directors work to make the acts look their best. After the song is rehearsed three or four times, we roll the carts offstage and repeat the process with another act. There are three days of band rehearsals because about 20 acts performed on the show. The production designer was Bruce Rodgers from Tribe Design, he designed the "looks" that each act had. All the staging and scenery you saw on the show went through Bruce with the help of his Art Directors Mai Sakai and Matt Steinbrenner. The scenery was built by Sherbe Green at Green Enterprises in Nashville. The show looked great although I did miss my old CMA pal Andy Akers, who made the CMA's look great for years.

          Building Steps for the front of the stage

                                     Building the Stage

              Really Big Show! Notice steps in front

The show was massive this year. The lighting designed by Bob Dickinson at Full Flood was amazing. There was also a huge amount of video, L.E.D. walls and projectors were brought in by Scott Scovill at Moo T.V. Scott had an ace crew with him this year with a whole lot of gear! They did a great job.
    It is amazing to watch the transformation of the hockey arena  into a big T.V. show. Rigging first, which is the hanging of the lights, sound, video, and scenery. Everything is hung from chain hoists hung from the steel beams in the roof of the arena. After the chain hoist motors are hung the lights, sound, and video crews attach their gear to the chain motors and raise them up, then the lights are focused and programmed, the sound system is tuned, the video panels and projectors are tweaked and all the staging and scenery is hung and built. This process takes place in just a few days and the pace is frantic. When the rehearsals start the Stage Managers take over. The stage managers run the show and direct everybody where they need to be, when they need to be there. Garry Hood was the lead stage manager ably assisted by a full staff, none better than Russell Nunnally. Its always great to work with Russell although since TNN left town we don't see as much of him. He always gets the job done in a very professional manner with a great attitude. 

                         Rigging in the Arena

The show backstage is really a controlled chaos. People running all over to get where they need to be. The rehearsals are really laid back as old friends from the road crews and bands visit backstage and hang out. For the road musicians and crews the awards shows are one of the few times you get to see all your friends. When you are on tour, they are on tour so you rarely cross paths. You see even more friends at the CMA Awards Show because it is in Nashville and everybody from the technical people to the caterers and security people are your friends. I even knew the janitors and some of the homeless folks outside the arena. Backstage during the show you can't always tell what's going on up on the stage because you are trying to set the next act and tear down and load out the act that just finished. I never know who won the awards until I get home and watch the news. This year Kenny Chesney was Entertainer of the Year again. Hard to argue with that considering he sells out football and baseball stadiums. That's where you separate the men from the boys in the music business, who really sells Cd's and concert tickets. Some times the industry tries to create a success and an act gets lots of press, publicity, and a lot of radio play to try and invent a new superstar, but unless the fans really buy the music and go to the concerts the act will disappear soon.
                      Kenny Wins Again

The Male Vocalist of the Year Award went to Brad Paisley.
Brad has really come on strong in the past couple years and has built his career slowly. That is usually the way the acts that have longevity do it. I have observed that the big acts also usually have the best people working with them and Brad is no exception, he has an awesome band and crew. 
                           Clever Cowboy

Carrie Underwood was Female Vocalist of the Year. I think she sings great, but it seems like she is too new to win the big award.  I guess that shows the power of American Idol.
I guess the CMA voters feel like she is the best Nashville has to offer, with her powerhouse voice and her good looks. I guess nobody else in town offers that. I sure wish there was another female artist with a powerhouse voice, good looks, and maybe a little more experience and possibly some stage presence to go with it. Maybe someone who sings their butt off and records great songs too. Oh well I guess that woman just isn't around Nashville right now.................

                           OOOP's maybe she is

                              Martina McBride

The Song of the Year award went to George Strait's hit single "Give It Away". This is really the songwriters award and the writers were "Whisperin" Bill Anderson, Buddy Cannon, and Jamey Johnson. George won Album of the Year for "It Just Comes Natural" George really was the only thing at this show that was really country, besides Whisperin Bill's hair.

                                     Just above a "Whisper"
Whisperin' Bill Anderson

George was a breath of fresh air on the show. Its not that the show was just wasn't that country. The big buzz at the show was the appearance of The Eagles. It was the bands first television         
appearance in years. They really played and sang great.

                            They Still Sound Great 

I was surprised that Brooks & Dunn didn't win duo of the year, I mean how can they not win the award that in the industry is known as the "Brooks & Dunn Award". I know music row is probably sick of them winning every year but they are like the heavyweight champion of the world, until somebody comes in with superior talent and really puts a "whoopin" on them you can't outpoint them. I really don't think anybody named Sugarland could put a "whoopin" on anybody.

                  Brooks & Dunn still own the belt 

I know I might sound like an old fuddy duddy but while some of these acts have promise, they really haven't developed into the type of artists that deserve to win awards. One or two radio hits does not mean you are a superstar caliber act, but this year the CMA really hyped those acts. They did however have a tribute to Porter Wagoner. Porter's type of music doesn't really fit the format anymore, but it was a nice tip of the hat to a real pioneer of modern day country music television. Anybody over 45 years old probably saw an episode or two of The Porter Wagoner Show and maybe even dried off with a bath towel that came free in every box of Breeze laundry detergent, the sponsor of his show. Porter also was a big time recording studio owner and producer, and he helped establish and develop the career of Dolly Parton. Porter ought to get a CMA Award just for that! In fact Porter is a past CMA Award winner. He and Dolly won the "Brooks & Dunn award" three times before it was known as the "Brooks & Dunn award". Porter's hit record of The Carroll County Accident also won a CMA for Song of the Year in 1969.

               Porter Wagoner Tribute

Porter also was the master of ceremonies at The Grand Old Opry. In the years I worked the Opry with various acts he was always gracious and a lot of fun. Nobody in the Opry crowd could miss those sparkly Nudie suits he wore onstage. Anytime I was there with Alan Jackson, we always knew Porter would not let Alan leave without playing "Don't Rock the Jukebox" at least once. Porter made the "recitation" or talking in a song famous. It was kind of a forgotten art, but recently used by Alan in a song called "I'll Go On Loving You" and Kenny Chesney in the song " I'd Done A Lotta Things Different". Porter Wagoner a real legend.

  Stage Plot - This is how I know what size riser to build,
              and where to place them onstage

                                              Mark Thompson
                                  Took care or the guitar players

  Keith Daniels made all the drummers happy

                                   Terry Fox Technical Wiz










      Soundcheck's Jim Whitfield   
     Great Job with all the details   

                      Chuck Young "The brains of the operation"

             Example page of our production schedule


 Technically, this years show went great. It is a testament to the quality of the staff and crew that it goes as well as it does, with the tight timelines, the number of acts, and the rolling onstage, plugging in, unplugging, and rolling off, all in just a matter of seconds. Musically the show didn't seem to match up to the normal high standards of past CMA Awards shows. There was a lack of "magic moments" and seemed a little more "cutesy" and "Hollywood". The ABC Network seemed to be more interested in plugging their stars and shows than in good music. What was with all the Hollywood people as presenters and hosts? The ACM Awards do this at their west coast awards show and its really their shtick of mixing in some Hollywood with country music. Why would ABC and the CMA's copy their format? At times you could have thought you were watching the MTV Awards instead of the CMA's. We could have done without the "Grand Finale" of matching Rascal Flatts with Jamie Foxx. Just because ABC wants to promote their stars and shows does not make it a good musical idea. Rascal Flatts would have been better off just performing their earlier number instead of getting involved with this fiasco. This segment was awful. I'm sure they would rather be known as Rascal Flatts and not Sharps and Flats.

          I could have done with less Flatts and Foxx

                      and more Flatt and Scruggs

    I know the CMA and ABC are trying to appeal to a younger, hipper demographic. While that is probably good strategy for record sales in the short term, they need to throw a few bones to their traditional crowd. I have been through a couple of these cycles where country goes more and more pop and the record sales start to dry up and along comes some young, talented singer with a different, distinctive voice and he sings GREAT songs and the next thing you know all the labels scramble to find other young singers to copy the success of this singer. A hit record beats an L.A. or New York marketing plan every time. Superstars are always different and unique, imitators are rarely superstars. I'm climbing down from my soapbox now! Thanks to all the folks that made the 2007 CMA Awards a success, and congratulations to the winners.

 Young Singer




                      Young Singer             



                             Less of this

                               More of this

               Less of this


                     More Little Big Town 
       They really play and sing  No Karaoke 

                       What is He doing here, again?

         Why is he not here?

               And the winner is, my good buddies.......



 Well the trucks are loaded and another CMA is history.
Thanks to all involved and congratulations to the nominees
and winners.


           For more CMA fun and photos Click Here!

                   Click Here For More Interviews

Website Builder