Known for its community centric congregation, Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago recently celebrated its 40th anniversary at the 20,500-seat United Center in Chicago on October 18. Willow’s Executive Pastor, Heather Larson said, “While each anniversary is special, the 40th is an opportunity for all campuses to gather in one place to praise God for the incredible grace He has poured on this church.” The celebration creatively combined music, lights, stories, dance, video, and even a little confetti.
Audio production was a major undertaking and was spearheaded by the lighting and sound division of Morris Light & Sound (Nashville, TN) for design and deployment, with the assistance of TC Furlong (Lake Forest, IL, Yamaha Professional Audio, headquartered in Buena Park, CA, and Reach Communications (Champlin, MN). With all of the requirements for this huge task, company crews were on hand to assist, measure, test, and train staff when necessary. Fusion Productions, Inc. of Algonquin, IL, handled the production under the direction of company owner Todd Elliott, who acted as production manager for the anniversary celebration.
“This was by far the largest event that Willow Creek has ever put together outside of their facility, states Elliott. As a result, it was really important to work with companies and vendors with experience doing large arena shows. Willow Creek has had some amazing partnerships with both TC Furlong and Yamaha over the years and really trusted their expertise and their gear to get us to the finish line.”
Since the church was planning to hold this event in the round, they quickly realized that a NEXO STM line array would be the only obvious choice – high-output, relatively light in weight (compared to self-powered solutions) and phenomenal sound. Between the three sound companies involved, 344 STM boxes were deployed, the largest single use of STM in the world to date, with Morris supplying the vast majority of boxes. A total of eight main clusters and four subwoofer clusters were required to reach an audience of over 20,000 worshippers.
“TC Furlong handled much of the audio infrastructure, and once we got into the project more, we couldn’t have chosen a better partner in Morris and their project manager David Graham, Elliott says. They bent over backward to give us the best possible event and they delivered. Their NEXO rig sounded amazing and their system techs really knew their stuff.”
Elliott also reached out to Mike Eiseman, Yamaha commercial audio products regional district manager to explore the possibility of using the new Rivage PM10s for the event. “Willow Creek has traditionally loved innovation, notes Elliott, and the chance to be the first to use the newest Yamaha console seemed like it could be a great experience for both Yamaha and Willow Creek. And, It was.” A CL5 digital console was also on hand to handle a broadcast mix and an all-Dante network for both the NEXO PA and consoles.
“I think the PM10 is great,” said Ron Cook, FOH engineer for the anniversary. I really like Silk, just the smoothness it provides. You turn it on and tweak it a little bit and you feel like you’re 40% there with the source, whatever it is, before you do anything else. I love the faders; they feel so good, so smooth. You can make very subtle adjustments and the reaction of the console is so great. Very intuitive.”
Willow Creek has been a long-time supporter and user of Yamaha mixers – they had the first dual-PM1D system in the U.S. With the anticipated high-channel counts (both input and output) for this event combined with the very tight timeframe of the event day (load-in at midnight, sound check and rehearsals starting at noon with doors at 3:30pm, and event start at 5:00pm), the church audio engineers were looking for a mixing platform that could accommodate 120+ inputs/30+ monitor outputs/numerous sub mixes for broadcast streaming feed/Dante compatibility, etc. all while feeling familiar to their existing workflows.
“Above all else, the Rivage PM10 sounds great, adds monitor engineer Matt “Sators” Satorius. You can tell Yamaha has gone to great lengths taking the audio quality to the next level. Rupert Neve Designs has the Neve signature all throughout, right from the head amp level on every channel and some nice Rupert Neve plug-ins sprinkled in there.” Sators said he was using 120-plus channels and 25 in-ear mixes. “With all that, it’s hard to sit back and listen to audio quality, but when you do, you can truly sense that this is a great sounding desk. With the Selected Channel feature, you’ve pretty much got a knob for any parameter you’d want to adjust, which is great! Very comprehensive and great to work with.”
The NEXO system configuration consisted of 120 STM B112 cabinets, 120 STM M46s, 32 STM M28s, 72 STM S118 cabinets and 12 RS18 Ray Subs. Additionally, 15 M46/B112s with three M28s were used as down fills for the eight hangs, per hang. And 18 S118 subs in cardioid mode were used for four hangs, per hang, while eight M28s were used as front fills at stage level in four groups of two. Also, 12 RS18 Ray Subs were used as under stage extensions in an end fire array in four groups of three.
“Morris was thrilled to step up to the task after TC Furlong reached out to us due to our capability to deploy massive amounts of equipment in a short amount of time,” said Morris project manager David Graham. “We have gone into some of the biggest spaces in the country and delivered the highest quality of products along with a professional and knowledgeable crew. For the Willow Creek celebration, we deployed eight speaker hangs in 10 hours and got the job done with ease.”
“Once everything was fired up, it sounded amazing, adds Elliott. Cook did a great job with the mix, and the NEXO PA responded really well to the content that was happening on the stage. I’ve been to many concerts at the United Center, and I would have to say that this was the best sounding I’ve heard. The collaboration between Willow Creek, Fusion Productions, Yamaha, TC Furlong, Morris Light & Sound, and Reach Communications helped create a great experience for the Willow Creek congregation and one that will be remembered for years to come.”