This town in Amish country builds all the staging for U2, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift

Amish country in Pennsylvania isn’t exactly the most technologically advanced region of the United States. It’s a place where people eschew modern conveniences like cars and electricity for simple traditional ways. Yet  it’s where acts like U2 go to create their stage show set-ups. Wired (via Michael) has this fascinating story.

In December 2016, designer Ric Lipson was in New York on a conference call with Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. Lipson is a senior associate at London-based design firm Stufish, the company that, along with U2’s set designer Willie Williams, has created all of the band’s tours since 1992’s Zoo TV. In October 2016, U2 had played software giant Salesforce’s annual conference on the site of the old Geneva Drive-In Theatre in Daly City, California. In homage to the Geneva, the stage had a movie screen and little else.

Now, the band wanted something similar for The Joshua Treeanniversary tour in 2017. The four musicians were leafing through proposed designs from Stufish and Williams when Bono grabbed a Sharpie and drew a rough outline of a Joshua tree breaking out through the top of the screen. That’s what should be on the stage, he told Lipson.

It’s always a difficult moment for designers such as Lipson and Williams when rock stars doodle their concepts for stage shows. To get a stadium tour from notion to opening night costs tens of millions. Thousands of people are needed to design, build, assemble, market and sell the show. The technology involved often doesn’t exist yet.

In this case, at first, the set design looked simple – a 61-metre-wide, 14-metre-high 8K LED video screen painted gold with a silhouette of a Joshua tree picked out in silver. During the second half of the show, the screen would show epic high-definition American landscapes shot by photographer and director Anton Corbijn. There would also be a tree-shaped catwalk and satellite stage extending into the audience, plus steel trusses that dangled lights and speakers high above the stage.

To get Bono’s [joshua] tree from sketch to stadium, Stufish and the band decamped to Lititz, a rural town in Pennsylvania. Lititz is home to Tait Towers, the architectural engineering and software company that has built the sets for every one of the ten highest-grossing tours in history using a blend of rock’n’roll engineering, technology – and a little help from the Amish community.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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