Behind the Scenes With Ryman Audio Engineer Les Banks

I can’t wait to play the Ryman!”

“I have wanted to play the Ryman all my life!”

“I have dreamed about this day!”

“I have always wanted to do a gig here!”

 

Les at the board. Photo by Steve Lowry.

These are the comments I overhear all the time, from new up-and-coming artists to established veterans.  To the bands and their crews, performing at the Ryman is definitely on their bucket list.

One might wonder why it’s on their bucket list. First, it is the historical significance of the building. Built as a church in 1892 and most famous for being the former home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943-1974, the Ryman is one of the most unique venues a band will come across while on tour.  But truly it’s the vibe of the place — it’s the magic when you walk in and see over a hundred-year-old wooden church pews waiting for folks to file in, sit down to see your show.

Then, of course, there is the sound.

I remember The Rolling Stones guitar player Keith Richards commenting to a fellow band mate: “This place sounds awesome!”  As the Ryman soundman for fifteen years I can definitely say this place does sound awesome. The acoustics of the room provide a great sounding performance, but it is not an easy room to mix. The first thing I always tell bands and sound engineers is to turn down the volume.  They, in turn, will usually ask our dB limit.  “Common sense,” I tell them.  The key to tuning the Ryman is to take a deep breath and be sensitive to the room.  And while they’re upstairs at the soundboard, I’ll take the wireless Dolby Lake tablet and walk downstairs. I’m their assistant for the day, so they don’t have to run around. The best compliment at the end of a sixteen-hour day is for the band’s sound guy to say: “Thanks for making my day easy and enjoyable.”  

 

Les with Ryman General Manager Sally Williams. Photo by Steve Lowry.

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