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Backstage at OpSail music sites, it's four days of heavy lifting

By Rick Koster
Published on 07/13/2000
Robert Patterson/The Day
Mike Fennel and Dan Goyette set up stage Wednesday at State Pier for the music group Finest Kind.

New London - When Mardi Gras and the Kentucky Derby collided here Wednesday in the shape of OpSail, most of the zillion people or so who had wended their way into the city did so with nothing but fun in mind. But behind the scenes - in the trenches, so to speak - plenty of folks have been working 18-hour days for weeks now.

In that spirit, a backstage crew was busy Wednesday afternoon at OpSail's Celebrate Connecticut Main Entry Stage at State Pier in New London, just one of several entertainment stages running in overdrive for the duration of the festival at State Pier, Fort Trumbull, City Pier, and in Groton. Sound personnel and stage hands worked with good-humored but urgent efficiency to assure that the ebb and flow of performers got on and off stage on time and with a minimum of bother.

"When I first got the job and saw the entertainment schedule, I said, 'You guys are out of your minds,'" said New London's Mark Steinberg, 37, owner of Sounds Good Pro Audio, one of two companies providing sound for the OpSail stages. "I have four stages, and you look at what's ahead of you and think it's basically a nightmare. But once it gets rolling it goes pretty smoothly."

A teenster demon-metal band had just vacated the stage, and the echoes of their closing "Helter Skelter" weren't finished ringing off the majestic bow of the tall ship "Libertad" before the amps and drums were swept free and equipment reconfigured for the folk/sea chantey band Finest Kind. Though the acts for OpSail are by design dissimilar and of largely local notoriety, the process mirrors "roadie duty" since the days of post-Beatles P.A. system sophistication.

"This is actually very similar to doing something like a Rolling Stones show, there's just an overall lesser quantity of stuff, and it goes on a lot longer," said Mike Libera, 30, of New London, a professional stage hand working as stage manager at the Main Entry stage for the duration of OpSail. A member of Local 538, the stage hands' union, Libera and his crew, like the workers across the OpSail sites, have been preparing for the festival for two weeks.

"We have nine acts a day, one act per hour with a 15 minute changeover," he said. "The idea is to get 'em in and out." He excuses himself to handle an electrical power snafu, dodging a gaggle of young girls helping the rock band carry their guitar cases. Onstage, the tuba player from Finest Kind checks his microphone by playing the intro to "If I Only Had a Brain."

To operate the entertainment stages at the festival, OpSail solicited bids from separate companies to handle lighting, stage assembly, sound and, in some cases, supplying instruments for the stages. Certain of those components, such as sound, are divided between more than one business. Besides Steinberg, for example, Snow Sound is also providing audio at the festival

"I've only been running my own business for about a year, But I've been in the entertainment field for about 15 years." says Steinberg, " I thought this job would help to get my name out. It really didn't seem to be intimidating - there's just a lot of it."

Most of the sound and lighting equipment went up Tuesday, and the crews and sound folks had everything ready early Wednesday morning when the first entertainers arrived.

"It's not just four days of fun and sun," says Libera. "The job requirements are long hours and lots of heavy lifting. We'll be extremely busy but we'll have some fun." He points at his stomach and grins. "We eat well, too."


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