At 6 p.m. Thursday, M and N streets between 14th and 16th streets and Centennial Mall from M to O streets were closed to traffic.
That started the clock — less than 24 hours — until gates were to open for Friday’s Lincoln on the Streets concert — a challenging deadline for crews from the Bourbon Theatre, which presents the downtown concert, and sound and lighting companies charged with setting up the event.
Almost the instant the streets were shut down, trucks pulled into the closed-off areas: one carrying portable toilets, another generators, a semi filled with light and sound equipment, and a Dodge Ram 3500 pulling a trailer.
“There are so many different crews doing stuff,” said Aaron Galvan, the Bourbon's general manager. “It comes together pretty fast. It’s chaotic and amazing.”
By 6:30 p.m., 22 Port-A-Johns were in place along N Street and five more in the grass north of Pershing Center. Fencing surrounded the concert site. Two generators were set up on M Street, and another on N.
The trailer pulled behind the pickup settled in the intersection of M Street and Centennial Mall, quickly evolving into a 32-foot-by-24-foot stage with a roof that lifts hydraulically.
“We set it up in about 30 minutes,” said Andrew Nespor, Event Staging Services general manager. “Once they’re ready, the roof will go up in 5 or 10 minutes.
"In the past, it would have taken an hour or two to build the stage, another four to five hours to build the roof and then they’d have to do the lights and sound.”
The stage crew numbering a couple dozen, and its supervising canine, Galvan’s dog Mindy, rolled cases of speakers and pieces of lighting trusses out of the semi parked 50 feet down the street, pushing some under the stage and lifting the trusses onto the platform.
By 7:20 p.m., light trusses were being hung from the stage roof, which was hanging about 8 feet above the platform.
Twenty minutes later, Nespor flipped switches and pulled levers on each side of the stage.
“Going up,” he said as the roof rose.
By 9 p.m., the setup for Friday night's show was essentially complete. The front-of-house soundboard sat in the center of Centennial Mall. The stage, with speakers in place, was ready for Friday’s load-in.
At 9:30 p.m., the Bourbon's Ian Johnson reported for duty. His job: standing watch on Centennial Mall for the next 12 hours.
“You get a lot of interesting characters through here late,” Johnson said at 9 a.m. Friday. “At night, with a couple drinks, the fence is invisible. They get really confused.”
One of Johnson’s last duties was moving barricades so Aaron Watson’s bus and trailer could park along M Street on what, for about 14 hours, would be the show’s backstage.
At 9:10 a.m., concert headliner Watson’s load-in began.
Road cases filled with amplifiers, microphones, stands and cords, drums and a riser rolled down a ramp from the small, tightly packed trailer, then up another ramp onto the stage. Four large lighting trusses were lifted onto rollers and moved to the back of the stage, while cases of audio equipment rolled to the front-of-house sound position.
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By 9:30, risers had been unfolded and the drum kit set up and the light trusses lifted on the stage and put in their angled position. In front of the stage, a technician on a bucket crane positioned the lights that would spotlight the bands hours later.
At the same time, concession stands were going up — one in front of Pershing, one on N Street, one on Centennial Mall and a new location in the alley between the Lincoln Community Foundation and Windstream buildings.
“The hardest thing about this layout is trying to figure out the spots to put the concessions,” Galvan said. “We need to take care of the people that will be up here, close to the stage, so we’re trying the alley.”
At 11:30 a.m, Chris Eberly’s cellphone alarm sounded.
“Almost time for sound check,” Watson’s audio engineer said. “Got no excuses today.”
Five minutes later, Eberly had music pumping through the speakers — Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again,” which isn’t close to country.
“OK, let’s scramble our brains a little,” Eberly said, dialing in sound frequencies from low to high. “Good P.A. today. I like it when a plan comes together."
He tapped an iPad and Watson’s “Kiss That Girl Goodbye” came booming from the speakers. Eberly began tweaking the sound to get it exactly right.
Later, shortly after noon, the band members piled off the bus and onto the stage for a live sound check.
Clad in T-shirts and shorts, they ran through “Two Tickets to Paradise,” paying tribute to Eddie Money, who died Friday, then worked on a new acoustic guitar-anchored Watson song.
By 12:40 p.m., the sound check was over and, once the lights were dialed in, Watson’s crew was ready to go.
From there, the set-up and sound check process repeated — first for Logan Mize, then for Evan Bartles & the Stoney Lonesomes — wrapping up shortly before gates opened at 5:30 p.m.
The crews made their deadline, relatively easily. “We’ve done three of these now,” Galvan said. “We’re figuring out how to do it.”
The show was scheduled in reverse order from the sound check. Bartles & the Stoney Lonesomes on stage at 6:30 p.m.; Mize at 7:45 p.m. and Watson at 9:30 p.m.
Then the whole works comes down — against another deadline — 9 a.m.
“It takes half the time to take it down than it does to build it,” Nespor said. “If the show’s over at 11, we’ll be rolling out by 1:30 or 2.”
And overnight, the streets will be cleared of concession stands, Port-A-Johns and fencing, so that the thousands of Husker fans who will flood downtown Saturday will have no idea a concert even took place.