Hudson Yards Gala Launch Party and Grand Opening
Hudson Yards, the largest private real estate development in the US by square footage, has opened on Manhattan’s west side. WorldStage provided AV and lighting support for the gala party at the Shops and Restaurants at Hudson Yards and for the following day’s Grand Opening Celebration in front of the monumental Vessel artwork.
Overland Entertainment challenged WorldStage to provide cable-free audio and lighting across five floors of the Shops and Restaurants for the party, which was attended by 14,000 influencers and tastemakers. The location boasts 750,000 square feet of retail space anchored by New York’s first Neiman Marcus department store.
Finding a Wireless Audio Solution
Overland requested a wireless audio solution for performers and background music to preserve the beauty of the brand new space, keep cables from marring pristine surfaces and provide an unimpeded circulation flow for guests in the Grand Hall and the hallways outside the shops.
The size and scope of the space added to the complexity of the challenge. “There were 250 foot hallways on each of the five floors, and we needed to provide complete audio coverage for more than 15 performers across the space,” says WorldStage Project Manager Greg Hodgkins. “From the mix point we had to go out to speakers in some 20 zones, all wirelessly.”
WorldStage RF Engineers Andrew Guberman and David Teufel worked with Overland and Sound Designer Doug Nightwine to brainstorm a solution. “We called manufacturers, we looked at new-to-market solutions. After examining every possibility we decided on a standard RF solution even though it required antenna network cabling,” he reports. “Running a limited amount of cable, which would be invisible to attendees, ensured solid, reliable RF coverage throughout the space.”
WorldStage manned the second floor’s audio master control position, outfitted with a Yamaha CL5 console, which controlled all five floors of the retail space. An additional mix position, with a Yamaha QL1 console, was near the stage on the fourth floor.
Helical antennas were set up in 2 locations on each floor driving the main RF system featuring Shure PSM 1000 IEM transmitters, which pushed audio down each zone. Riedel BOLERO antennas were also used in some of these locations for communications to stage managers, crew and mixers. This new equipment enabled WorldStage to expand coverage with fewer antennas.
“The Shure gear was originally designed to be used by people on stage, and we used it almost in reverse to pump tracks to belt packs on the speakers,” says Hodgkins. “Each speaker connected with three, four or five others in its zone. There were more than 20 zones with 20 transmitters at master control feeding about 60 IEM packs.” This custom system transmitted wireless signals in a hopscotch pattern between islands of speakers across the five-story space.
Performers cycled through the space all evening. Sometimes their audio was confined to the performer’s area; other times audio was pumped up so all five floors could experience the performance.
WorldStage worked out the design of the system during a week of test frequency scans on site. “We drove a receiver in a cart around the five floors to make sure it would pick up all the signal clearly and there would be antenna coverage when 14,000 people showed up along with countless press and TV satellite trucks,” says WorldStage Account Executive Andy Muller.
Meyer and d&b speakers were mounted on stands throughout the five floors of the north, south and west halls and hung in clusters on truss over the Grand Hall. “We originally planned for 75-80 speakers,” notes Hodgkins. “Once the client heard the system they were so impressed with the quality that they wanted more coverage so we increased to 110. We added them to the east hall and had to figure out how to repeat the signal with Sennheiser and Shure retransmit stations.”
He points out that “the industry does this [repeat technique] in a basic way all the time but with a handful of speakers not 110 point source speakers. This system was unique due to the size and scale of the space and the number of signals we were pushing around the space.”
A WorldStage RF team, under Senior RF Specialist Andrew Guberman, was on site during the party to maintain the system. “They scanned frequencies constantly looking for possible issues,” says Hodgkins. “They pulled things off flawlessly.” Guberman and RF Specialist David Teufel, who also worked on the next day’s Grand Opening Celebration, were heavily involved in the RF system design.
Lighting the Retail Experience
Like the WorldStage audio team, the WorldStage lighting department was mindful of maintaining the aesthetic of the retail experience when illuminating the space, the performers, and the food stations and bars scattered across the seven-story structure. “Our goal was to go wireless, but where we couldn’t do that we had to be as clean as possible with no cable swags over the entry ways. All the cable runs were up high or masked along the walls,” explains Terry Jackson, Vice President and Director of Lighting at WorldStage.
Initially, it was estimated that 150-200 wireless fixtures would be required to light the interior, but the final design for the gala evening called for nearly 500 wireless LED PARs and LED tubes, he reports. All of the fixtures were sourced from WorldStage’s inventory.
“The client didn’t want anything that looked like typical bright mall lighting. They wanted theatrical lighting that gave the space a festive, party atmosphere,” says Jackson. “Lighting Designer Christien Methot of design one lighting design created a continuum of light and color tying together the Grand Hall, the performance areas, and the bars and food stations for a very unique guest experience.”
WorldStage positioned lights on stands and on the floor and used about 70 pieces of “super clean and thin” 3-meter tall 4-inch truss around the perimeters of the bars and performance areas for overhead lighting, Jackson notes. Astera AX1 LED PixelTubes and Astera AX5, AX7 and AX10 LED PARs were the primary wireless fixtures for the event.
Wired moving lights served as accents for performance areas and also lit the Grand Hall’s main floor, which turned into a dance floor in the evening. Fixtures included Claypaky Mythos hybrid spot and beam lights, Chauvet MK2 Washes and MK2 Spots plus lightweight SGM G1 Spots.
A control rig with two grandMA2 consoles and NPUs at its heart was required to handle all the LED channels in the rig.
The Grand Opening Celebration at the Vessel
The Grand Opening Celebration for Hudson Yards took place on a stage erected at the foot of the Vessel, Thomas Heatherwick’s monumental interactive artwork of bronzed steel. The 15-story Vessel is comprised of 154 interconnecting flights of stairs, which offer hearty individuals a nearly one-mile vertical climb and the reward of a spectacular view.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper emcee’d the ribbon-cutting event that featured notables from politics, sports, business and the arts – including Sesame Street’s Big Bird.
Since no one had ever done an event at this location, wind blowing off the Hudson River and around large buildings proved to be a major consideration. “Wind gusts there can be upward of 40 mph on any given day,” says Susanna Harris-Rea, WorldStage Project Manager. “So we worked closely with Overland and BNW Rigging on the physical truss and ballast rig, which had to be robust, functional and aesthetically pleasing. We mandated that the rigs be rated for +50 mph wind.”
Two ROE CB5 LED videowalls, with fortified rigging and truss supporting their outer edges, flanked the stage in landscape mode to provide graphic backdrops for the speakers and performers. “Welcome to Hudson Yards” signage appeared on these screens during the gala party the previous night.
“The CB5 walls are an outdoor product and worked well with the audience 35 feet away from the stage,” Boyd says. “They were the perfect choice for this venue.”
Lighting for the celebration, which was recorded for a TV special, “needed to be functional as well as physically complementary to the Hudson Yards plaza and environment,” notes Terry Jackson. WorldStage used Claypaky Scenius fixtures as front wash lights to punch through the natural daylight and illuminate speakers and a performance by singer Andra Day who was accompanied by a choir.
Claypaky A.leda B-EYE K20s were positioned at ground level on the perimeter of the stage as visual elements that looked great on camera. “We also used the tops of the screen structures to mount B-EYEs on each side of the stage as backlights that did not conflict with nor block the Vessel’s physical structure,” Jackson explains.
To meet the event’s audio needs WorldStage furnished an extensive array of speakers, stage monitors and consoles from d&b, Shure, Clearcom, Riedel, DiGiCo and Yamaha.
“You do not often get the opportunity to work on a New York City event of this size and scope,” observes Jackson. “WorldStage loved being part of the launch of this already iconic and fantastic location.”
For the retail space, Greg Hodgkins, Gus Garces and Susanna Harris-Rea were the Project Managers, Tomasz Gajewski was the Key Sound Engineer and Andrew Guberman and David Teufel were the RF Engineers. For the outdoor press conference and vessel launch, Tommy Boyd and Susanna Harris-Rea were the Project Managers, Drew Scott was the Lead Electrician, Jamie Davis the Lead LED and Hubert Kiszniewski the Sound Engineer.