September 15, 2022
There’s just something special about outdoor music. The positive vibes, the fresh air, the potential for big audiences. There’s nothing like starting when the sun’s out and aligning the perfect intimate moment with sundown or watching kids run around and dance.
Still, outdoor gigs can present challenges that indoor gigs don’t, so it’s best to give a little extra thought to your preparation.
Number one on the list of concerns is the weather. It’s not just the rain delay you need to be prepared for. It’s also heat, wind, or cold. Check the forecast so you know what to be prepared for. If it’s hot, you’ll need to hydrate more. Even if it’s not too hot, too much sun exposure can be unpleasant at best, so find out whether there’s a cover for the stage.
Cold weather is a particular challenge to fingers that need to be nimble and can make it hard to keep instruments in tune. You’ll want to tune up more often. Hand warmers and dressing in layers help – don’t forget in the cold if you’re too bundled up and working hard on stage you could get sweaty which could freeze you out even more. On-stage heaters might be a good option for keeping instruments and players warm, just be careful not to draw too much power.
If it’s windy, you’ll need to manage things like lyric sheets, hats, costuming, and flimsy guitar stands to make sure you’re not blown away or tangled up. And of course, if it rains, you need to be prepared to cover electronics or split quickly. Rain isn’t necessarily a showstopper if the stage is covered, but you’ll need to make sure you’re not in danger. Too much water or lightning are deal breakers.
Finally, make sure weather contingencies are clear in your contract. If you’re rained out, will you still get paid? Do you reschedule the gig or move it inside? Best not to be caught off guard here.
To keep everything running smoothly you’ll want to prepare some extra gear for outdoor gigs. You’ll want tarps in case you need covering from sun or rain, extension cords for far away power, a generator in case of no power (or a battery-powered PA if that’s not possible), and personal care items like sunscreen, extra water, spare clothes, and hand towels.
You might also want a rug or two to help with slippery stages (and one for the drums too) and some fans if it’s hot or space heaters if it’s cold. Extra windscreens for mics might not be a bad idea too if it’s super windy.
As with any gig, you’ll want to communicate ahead of time about power. Don’t assume that because someone is organizing an outdoor event they really know what’s needed on stage. Find if there’s a safety-certified power source, if any generators will be far enough away that they don’t interfere with the sound (they’re noisy after all), and what cable runs will be like. You may have to do some extra work protecting cable runs in an outdoor event, as people will be running all around.
In addition, make sure you’re clear about who’s providing the PA – this is standard for any show, but even more important for an outdoor gig, since “outdoors” may also mean “far away from civilization.” If you need to provide your own PA a powered column array system like the Carvin Audio TRC400A works great for outdoor venues.
Acoustics are much different outdoors, and this can be a big factor in getting your sound right. Generally, it’s easier to get a good mix, but you may need more volume from your PA to reach everyone outside, and you’ll want to use sound check to make sure you can hear yourselves. Since sound isn’t really reflecting back to you from the room, you could be surprised at how different it sounds. You may also be farther apart than you’re used to, so you may need more monitor wedges and a different strategy than you’d use in a small or medium-sized room.
Using in-ear monitors is probably the best way to combat this and things like wind noise. This gives you the opportunity to dial in a stage mix, keep your stage volume tight, and dial up a lot of power for the front-of-house system.
There’s plenty to think about when playing outside, but for the most part, common sense and a little extra preparation are all you need to make sure it all goes well. It’s definitely worth doing.
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"Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all of the earth; make a loud noise and rejoice and sing praises. Sing to the Lord with the harp and the voice of the psalm." - Psalm 98:4-5