Building the Lilith Fair
A feature story by Tom Knapp,
July 1998

John Tshudy laughs long and loud at the question. "Hectic," he says, is an understatement.

Tshudy refers to the hullabaloo preceding a major event at Hersheypark Stadium, in Hershey, Pa. As director of maintenance, he oversees the bustling set-up and tear-down for big-name music tours, like the Lilith Fair on August 10.

Fans of Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant, Emmylou Harris and other singers on the bill will be there to hear the tunes and see performers sweating outside of an MTV video. But Tshudy sees an empty stadium, a sea of grass surrounded by concrete risers, which he must prepare for multiple stages, a village of merchants, and the vast array of lights and electronics accompanying the tour.

It's a fairly standard procedure, he says. Set up the stages. Hang lights and run wiring. Make sure there's enough electricity powering the amps. When the show's over, take it all down again. But sometimes there are surprises.

"We can build just about anything, and we have people who can fix things up for them," Tshudy says. "You never know what kind of requests you might get. Once, I had to fix a broken wire in Liberace's blinking coat."

For the Hersheypark crew, work typically begins at 11 p.m. on the night before an event. Their first priority is protecting the natural grass field from thousands of trampling feet with a temporary, snap-together floor. Trucks packed with touring equipment arrive early the next morning. The performers' teams direct the installation of lights and sound equipment onstage and on a 30-foot-tall tower tractored onto the field. "Basically," Tshudy says, "we're working for them. The requirements might change -- six spotlights or four spotlights -- but from one show to another it's pretty much the same."

Tshudy fields up to 30 workers per event. Some handle individual tasks while others work closely with the traveling road crews. "There are a lot of separate groups working on this," he explains. "Everybody knows their job and they just do it."

By the time Lilith fans stroll through the gates, Tshudy's crew is heading home for an afternoon's exhausted sleep. They'll return that night to begin tear-down immediately following the concert.

"Sometimes they'll come in early to catch the end of the show," Tshudy says. "But that's their sleeping time."

[ by Tom Knapp ]