Outdoor Operations: Stage Managing, Layout & Production (Production Live! Panel Recap)

Justin Dragoo, Steven Q. Evans, Jonathan Gilliam, Dave Frey, Noah Kessler & Elmer Straub appear at Production Live! in Los Angeles on Feb. 6, 2024.

Moderator: Justin Dragoo, BottleRock / Latitude 38 Entertainment
Steven Q. Evans, Show Imaging, Inc.
Jonathan Gilliam, United States Continued Service
Dave Frey, Silent Partner Management
Noah Kessler, AREA15
Elmer Straub, 313 Presents

While outdoor settings for live events can vary greatly and the same can be said for the unique challenges that come along with these shows, panelists on the Production Live! Panel “Outdoor Operations: Stage Managing, Layout & Production” agreed that consistency is key when it comes to putting on safe, fan-friendly events.

“When you get into weather and security, consistency is what we’re looking for. It’s about consistency, getting everyone rowing in the same direction – no matter if its a big stadium or boutique venue,” said Elmer Straub, Senior Vice President of Entertainment Production and Operations for 313 Presents, which promotes and produces events at six venues across southeast Michigan including Little Caesars Arena, Fox Theatre, Comerica Park, Pine Knob Music Theatre, Meadow Brook Amphitheatre and Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre.

Jonathan Gilliam brought an interesting perspective to the panel with his history including serving as a Federal Air Marshal and in the FBI, as well as his current role as the president and CEO of United States Continued Service, a boutique consulting company that focuses on effective crisis management, threat mitigation and the development of safety / security related technologies.

Gilliam emphasized that consistency is really about standardization, starting with making sure that the team you hire has quality experience – whether that’s a consultant or the head of security at the arena. He added that to him, whether a festival takes place on a blacktop or grass, from a security standpoint it doesn’t matter – it’s about looking at the when, why and how and developing standardized procedures.

As an example of standardization you could have at your shows, Gilliam talked about how he was hired on Eric Church’s tour following the Route 91 Harvest shooting in 2017. After interviewing everyone who was there he found out that after the shooting began the house lights were turned on – which allowed the shooter to have an open view of the crowd. Gilliam came up with a policy whereas if an emergency like that ever happened again, the policy would be to evacuate the event while keeping the lights down. Church’s tour also has a policy of no fireworks allowed in response to how many people at the Route 91 Harvest festival initially thought the mass shooting was simply fireworks.

Steven Q. Evans, President & CEO of Show Imaging, Inc., and Dave Frey, owner of Silent Partner Management and the co-owner of Lockn’ Festival, spoke about the importance of making sure your events have an emergency action plan in place.

Frey recalled one event where a food truck caught on fire – “and it could have been a disaster but thanks to the emergency plan we handled it.” On the other hand, there was another incident where two emergency teams almost got in a fist fight arguing over whose responsibly it was to rescue a festivalgoer who had tried a certain drug for the first time and got stuck up in a tree.

“We had a plan, they just didn’t follow it,” Frey said

The discussion came back around to consistency with Noah Kessler, Head of Entertainment and Events at Las Vegas’ AREA15, saying, “The more consistent we are with planning with outdoor venues, the more we allow for the spontaneity and magic of the art to take place.”

Gilliam added, “In the military we say action beats reaction. So when something goes wrong you enact your standardized operating procedures.”

The panel was yet another example of how the live business is all about relationships, including building relationships and trust with everyone from your local sheriff to venue staff.

As Moderator Justin Dragoo, co-Founder of Latitude 38 Entertainment, which produces BottleRock Napa Valley, pointed out “the whole thing is a people business” – all aspects, including security.