The sounds of composer Stephen Foster’s ‘Oh! Susanna’ and ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ are alive again at the J Dan Talbott Amphitheatre in in Bardstown, Kentucky, thanks in part to a new audio blueprint featuring an Allen & Heath dLive C3500 control surface and DM64 MixRack, and Danley Sound Labs sound reinforcement.

J Dan Talbott AmphitheatreThe open-air amphitheatre has hosted The Stephen Foster Story since it opened in 1958 – an outdoor musical known for its elaborate antebellum costuming and performances of Foster’s songs. The show almost went dark in 2017 when the venue faced closure based upon the deteriorating condition of the stage area. But, with a combination of grants and private donations raising the US$1.2m needed for renovation, the it reopened this season with a completely new set and sound, the latter being designed and installed by Louisville-based JCA Media.

‘After the 2017 season, the venue was condemned because the stage, which was open to the elements and many decades old, was literally crumbling,’ explained Alex Peake, Integration Specialist at JCA Media. ‘The county stepped in to help save the show, and they patched things up for the 2018 season and began fundraising for a complete rebuild before the 2019 season. In May 2018, we were asked to quote a new PA system. They were tight on space and budget in the new design but they also had 800 seats that they had to cover with really high intelligibility. Although we had never specified a Danley design before, this seemed like the perfect fit.’

Peake had heard of Danley and already worked with Danley’s Kentucky-area distributor, Bob White Associates. ‘The first time I saw a Danley system, I asked why they hung a bunch of subs up there – but hearing really is believing. Tom Danley’s innovative approach to designing loudspeakers is solid. We only had a 6ftx6ft cavity on either side of the stage to put the loudspeakers in. That’s not enough vertical height for a line array given the raked, fan-shaped seating we had to cover. Moreover, a single Danley box per side could provide all of the coverage, and although a single Danley box isn’t cheap, you would need so many line array elements that an entire line array system would end up being way more expensive.’

Demolition crews took out the old stage just one week after the final 2018 show. Not long after, the amphitheater had a new concrete stage with new drainage and metal buildings with integrated garage doors for protection from the weather. Peake worked with Skip Welch, Danley’s Eastern Regional Sales Manager, on the design. Although the owners weren’t ready to commit to subwoofers – which are really only needed for concerts since the Stephen Foster Story is not bass-heavy – Peake saw to it that the necessary wiring was in place to easily add BC412 or DBH218 subwoofers at a later date. A stereo pair of fully-weatherproof SH96HO full-range loudspeakers serve as mains. In addition, the stage uses six GO2 8CX loudspeakers and four Nanos for monitors, and eight additional Nanos provide coverage on a veranda for background music and announcements.

A four-channel, 20kW Danley DNA 20k4 amplifier powers the mains, and two four-channel, 5kW DNA 5k4c amplifiers power the monitors and veranda loudspeakers. ‘We used the DSP presets for each loudspeaker model that ships with Danley amps,’ Peake says. ‘They were great starting points, and because the amphitheater is outside and reflections aren’t an issue, we didn’t need to make very many changes at all. In fact, I think we only took out a dB or two near 250Hz. Tuning was simple.’

Foster StoryWhile this is a permanent installation, some aspects of the sound system need to be as agile as a touring rig,’ says Peake.

Speedy FOH set-up is facilitated by a custom flip case that allows the theatre’s Allen & Heath dLive C3500 to be rolled out, plugged in, and sees the system up-and running in five minutes. ‘The client wanted to keep the gear minimal and not leave a large footprint,’ Peake says. ‘That’s one of the reasons we chose the dLive. Its compact size offered a lot while taking away little.’

Faced with a need for providing 24 wireless channels onstage, JCA was additionally able to keep the gear list minimal by choosing Shure QLX-D bodypacks and using the dLive C3500 to monitor the systems without the use of any additional hardware. ‘dLive lets engineers monitor supported Shure wireless systems without leaving the mix position,’ Peake explains. ‘All essential wireless information including multiple channels of mutes, signal levels, and battery bars can be viewed right from the C3500.’

An Allen & Heath DX168 expander provides flexible I/O support onstage with its 16 XLR inputs and eight XLR outputs, while an IP8 remote controller was included for times when the system needs to be run without the control surface or additional mixing locations are required. ‘As far as the integration went, everything fit right together,’ Peake adds. ‘They should all be this easy and sound so good.’

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