All systems were go for AEG Live when it made its Middle East debut with rock legends Bon Jovi in May. Kelly Lewis reports.
The much anticipated event was held on the lawns of the renowned Abu Dhabi Emirates Palace, which played host to almost 17,000 concert goers.
"Our debut concert was a huge success and it was the biggest concert ever held in Abu Dhabi and one of the biggest held in the UAE," managing director of AEG Live Middle East Thomas Ovesen says.
"We were very happy with crowd numbers, the organisation of the event went smoothly, it was a hot night, but the band still gave us two full hours of entertainment regardless."
Ovesen said in the lead-up to the event ticket demand was high, which led AEG Live to release an additional 1000 tickets two days prior to the event, expanding crowd capacity to 17,000.
"To pull a capacity crowd in Abu Dhabi on a weeknight was epic. There is a lot of credit to be given to the capital for understanding the need to bring the right act at the right ticket price here," Ovesen says.
AEG Live worked in conjunction with event organiser Mubadala Development Company, which is owned by the Abu Dhabi Government, to bring Bon Jovi to the UAE. AEG Live was hired to facilitate the artist and event management, including media planning and ticketing.
Ovesen said the only thing he would have changed about the event if he could, would have been holding it on a Friday night as opposed to a Tuesday night and scheduling it a month earlier to avoid the heat.
"It was the only time (May 20) we could get Bon Jovi to the UAE to perform as they were starting their European tour in Germany two days later," says Ovesen.
"But, in saying that everything was really well planned for because the band had come off the back of a three-week break, which gave them more time to plan for Abu Dhabi.
"If it had been just another back-to-back show as part of their tour, then they wouldn't have that luxury, so I think that was a big advantage to have.
"It allowed us to have everything in check before the first production personnel arrived, which is a bit unusual, but it gave us time to have the entire setup ready 36 hours before show time.
"There were no traffic issues, no crowd problems or wrist-banding issues that you sometimes hear about for large events in this region, so it was all-in-all a fabulous event," he continues.
"Crowd management was handled extremely well. The car park was approximately 60% full and it only took around 30 minutes to empty the entire car park after the show.
"Being a Tuesday night helped the transit process, but we also employed the help of local police to manage the traffic flow."
Ovesen says while some equipment was brought in from abroad, local suppliers worked hard to accommodate the requirements of the show, providing 90% of the equipment.
"The deal was Bon Jovi could perform if we provided them with most of the equipment required. They couldn't produce the same big production here as they were doing in Europe because logistically we couldn't get the gear back on the touring circuit on time," he explains.
As a result, certain staging elements being utilised by the band on the European leg of its tour had to be left behind.
"In Europe Bon Jovi uses two different productions and we just couldn't get the LED equipment shipped in, just like we didn't have time to have all the staging here, so basically everything had to be managed with what was available locally," says Ovesen.
"Most of the band's shows in Europe will be in venues with capacities of 40,000 to 50,000, which will obviously require a much larger setup."
Ovesen says although it wasn't possible to reproduce the same large-scale production Bon Jovi is touring with in Europe, the Abu Dhabi event proved that locally it was still possible to produce a sophisticated show on a smaller scale.
"Bon Jovi's manager said the venue exceeded expectations and actually boasted it was one of the best set-ups they have performed with on this tour, so that was a great compliment to the local suppliers and to the production manager Lee Charteris for organising it," he states.
With temperatures soaring at this time of year, Ovesen says it was a priority to ensure the site build went to plan and that the equipment withstood the challenging conditions.
"In the lead-up and during the event we didn't lose any equipment or any production facilities because of the extreme heat," he states.
"To compensate for the heat we tried to shade equipment where possible, but because we had ample time to prepare the crew didn't go onsite until overnight the night prior to the show to sound check and organise the lighting set-up.
"Only one sound check was performed with the band and that was done at 5pm, an hour before doors opened, which only took 20 minutes."
Lee Charteris, who project managed Justin Timberlake's performance in Abu Dhabi last December, returned to the capital for Bon Jovi.
Charteris echoes Ovesen's sentiments regarding the show's organisation.
"Everything went really well and we had close to 17,000 fans there. In regards to health and safety we only had a few people treated for the heat, but that was all taken care of on-site; overall the night couldn't have gone smoother for us," Charteris claims.
"While the temperature soared to around 35 degrees on the day of the gig, the effects of the lighting rig meant it was much hotter for the guys onstage.
"However, they still played for just over two hours and were really happy with the response. I have received very positive feedback back from the touring party."
Charteris says because Bon Jovi was a smaller production than Timberlake's it required a smaller crew to put it together.
"We employed around 60 local techs working on sound, lighting and video, while Bon Jovi had their own team of around 30 personnel," he claims.
"We employed a smaller crew than we did for Timberlake because Bon Jovi brought less equipment (just their backline), but we had around 100 technicians working in and around the stage. Including all the side services there would have been around 1000 people working onsite over the course of the day."
Charteris says his crew worked closely with Emirates Palace's engineering department to ensure the production came together without a hitch.
Despite the comparatively smaller scale of the production, Bon Jovi attracted 2000 more punters than Justin Timberlake, which forced Charteris and his team to rethink a number of logistical issues.
"When 17,000 people decide that they are all going to go in the same direction for traffic and footfall you will always face the chance of things going wrong," Charteris says.
"But to avoid that we built a different entrance system for this event and it worked a lot better than the system we used for Justin Timberlake. We will definitely replicate that again for the next event we stage at Emirates Palace.
"We were allowed to use a slightly bigger area of land and we allocated a bigger area for entrances, so we instigated a different kind of security check, ticket/wrist band exchange than what we did for JT's gig."
Charteris said for crowd measures at Justin Timberlake he broke the perimeter fence and put lanes within that area, but for Bon Jovi his crew took the entrance lanes out into the roadway, which provided for a larger area enabling more free-flowing traffic to pass through the gates.
"The build was perfectly on-time and we reduced the lead-in time spent working on the Timberlake gig because we had the experience and we anticipated what time constraints we would face. We started the build on May 10, the show was on the 20th and we were out by the 25th," he says.
With all the gear, including fencing and seating, Charteris said 32 trucks transported the equipment from Dubai.
"We utilised eight trucks for staging equipment, four for production gear and two trucks which transported Bon Jovi's own gear," Charteris states.
"The equipment stood up really well against the weather conditions and I was happily surprised there were no issues with the heat because it was obviously a concern going in.
"All-in-all it's great to be associated with AEG Live because it's helping to mould a market in the region and it's always attractive to touring artists, who want to come to an area like this where they know they can rely on the technical knowledge and expertise of the local industry."
Dubai based Production Technology LLC (Protec) was one of the local suppliers hired to coordinate the event and operations director Rick Wade, says despite the heat the event went smoothly.
"The build was made difficult due to the heat. The site's not floodlit so the build was done during the day," Wade claims.
Notwithstanding the heat, Wade says the conditions did not cause any occupational health and safety issues for his crew, nor was there any equipment breakdowns.
Protec supplied a lighting rig, which consisted of around nine tonnes of gear that increased to 13 tonnes once the LED screens were attached. The latter were built to specifications provided by Bon Jovi's lighting designer, Pat Brannon.
The build took Wade and his 14 strong crew six days to put together and an additional three days to tear it down.
"In all, the event went without a hitch," Wade says.
"The band used Vertec 4889 speakers and the sound quality was excellent, it was the same sound system as used during the Justin Timberlake gig. From all reports, Bon Jovi were all very happy with the result."
Protec provided Bon Jovi with a "first-class PA", which was adjusted to meet the show's specifications.
Only one sound check was performed with the band, but Protec carried out numerous line checks.
"We spent a few hours trimming the system and getting the sound quality right and then the band's sound engineer adjusted it further to get the sound spot-on," he says.
Wade says working with AEG Live was a "very positive experience and in all, it was a very slick production".