Tour Director Christian Coffey On Bringing Fest Headliner Childish Gambino’s Creative Vision To Life

Childish Gambino
Greg Noire
– Childish Gambino
Childish Gambino is one of the most in-demand festival headliners of 2019, with appearances including Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Outside Lands. But before even agreeing to play the festivals, the creative genius otherwise known as musician/actor/director/producer/comedian Donald Glover had to talk to his team about the reason for taking the stage.     
“He’s not doing something just for money or exposure,” says tour director Christian Coffey, who also works with artists including Run The Jewels and A$AP Rocky. 
“It’s about only doing something if there’s a purpose, if there’s something to say and if it’s creating that moment. So prior to even confirming Coachella or any other festival there was a discussion of what is that moment or what am I saying? … If there’s not a truth behind it, then it doesn’t need to exist.”
Coffey humbly explains that the actual creative behind the tour’s production design comes from Glover’s vision and collaboration with his managers, Wolf & Rothstein (along with Moment Factory for the “This Is America” tour) and when they have ideas, he’s there to “help execute that vision and bring it to life for them.”
With Coffey handling oversight and logistics, he makes sure everything runs on time, overseeing the tour’s budget, hiring and firing crew, and working with the tour’s partners and vendors. 
“[Donald’s] one of the hardest working and most talented human beings you’ll ever meet in your life,” Coffey says. “He makes you want to work harder and be better … knowing that you have someone who is going to continue to push the envelope and they’re going to challenge themselves to be better and you to be better in only the most positive and reinforcing ways. You come to work excited for that challenge and when you figure out how to make things work that are typically outside the box, it keeps you excited to be a part of the team with him and Wolf & Rothstein.”
For “This Is America Tour,” which began in September and ran through late March, Clair Global provided audio; LMG provided lighting, video and cameras; SGPS did the rigging, All Access Staging & Production handled automation, and Pyrotechnico provided all of the lasers and special effects. Other partners included Lucid, Brain Box, Nite Train Coaches, Senators Coaches, On Tour Trucking, Latitude 45, NPB & Stack Security.
The centerpiece of the tour’s production was two “blades” that were 28 feet tall, 10 feet wide and 2 feet deep, weighing roughly 7,000 pounds each and housing ROE 8mm LED tiles across three sides, as well as 24 MegaPointe lights, lasers and foggers on the other. The blades, which were covered in lexan, were fully automated, turning and moving across the stage with a customized system built by All Access. 
The tour – which Glover has said is the final run for his musical alter-ego – also included some additional 300 lightning fixtures outside of the walls, along with a 6-piece band, 4-person choir and backup dancers.
“As cool as the production is, the show is Gambino,” Coffey says. “Every element of the production is just to enhance and support him. It’s not so that people are looking past him, staring at an LED wall or staring at fire or cryo [effects] or a trick that is masking him. He is a talent unto himself and that is the show.”  
A review of his September Madison Square Garden performance by Variety noted the spareness of the set, which featured Gambino singing, rapping and crooning in falsetto, while showing off his signature dance moves: “It’s a testament to his talent and magnetism that he can not only carry but dazzle throughout a 90-minute concert, on a giant arena stage, mostly by himself (shirtless, no less).”
Glover encourages fans to put their phones down and experience the evening together.As Coffey says, “He believes that it is church. If you’re there just to hear your favorite songs, you should go home and do that. Because you’re there for an experience. It’s about living in the moment, it’s about having a connection, not just living behind a screen for your Instagram followers.” 
While “This Is America” was not your standard arena show, it is still an arena show and Childish Gambino chose to play to that rather than hide it. One of the elements of the tour is having Glover “walk through the guts of the arena” with cameras following him off stage and even exposing the empty seats behind the stage instead of covering them with drape.
“It’s about making it real and letting people have those connections with each other and that connection with the artist,” Coffey says. “So even if he is this musical star, he’s just a guy up there performing. … He goes through the same stuff that everyone goes through. Everybody goes through pain and happiness and heartache and death or sickness or whatever it is. No one is immune to those pieces of life. He’s just trying to say we’re in that together.”  
Asked how Gambino and his team will adapt his “This Is America” arena show to festival stages, Coffey says audiences can expect a whole new production. Of course, he couldn’t spill any secrets. 
“It’s going to be a really unique production,” Coffey says. “We’re trying to, again, create an experience for people. We’re trying to create a moment for people and something that they won’t necessarily have seen at any other festival.”