A Comprehensive Stage Lighting Rig Helps Make Chicago’s Salt Shed a Must
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A Comprehensive Stage Lighting Rig Helps Make Chicago’s Salt Shed a Must

Nov 27, 2023

Elation solutions light up one of Chicago's hottest new live-event venues.

The Morton Salt complex in Chicago had been in operation for nearly a century before it was closed in 2015. Today, the complex has been transformed into a multi-purpose venue for live music and other events named The Salt Shed. A comprehensive Elation stage lighting rig from Upstaging is powering The Salt Shed, allowing it to quickly become one of the hot new performance spaces in Chicago.

The venue spreads over 1.5 acres of land along the Chicago riverfront and can accommodate around 3,300 people indoors and 5,000 at an outdoor performance space, which opened in the summer of 2022. The newly renovated indoor space was previously a storage facility for salt and features a distinctive A-Frame structure. Today, it boasts a performance stage and entertainment lighting system of Elation Artiste Monet, Proteus Lucius, Proteus Rayzor 760, Fuze MAX, Fuze Par Z60 IP, Protron 3K Color, and DTW Blinder 700 IP luminaires.

Director of production Tim Schoen at The Salt Shed was responsible for procuring all the necessary production elements for the venue, including lighting, rigging, audio, staging, and other related equipment. He also oversaw the design of the stage, green room layouts, and docking area, among other aspects.

[Let There Be Light(ing)]

Upstaging was involved in the project from the planning stages, playing a crucial role as systems integrators in ensuring that the lighting system was executed to the highest standard. It also provided the power and controls infrastructure. "At the time we were just coming out of the pandemic and not a lot of companies had the resources to take on a project like this," Schoen said, "but Upstaging did." He added that Upstaging has previous experience working with 16 on Center, the company behind the new space.In the Beginning…

Steve Wojda and Mike Creager of Upstaging visited the site in 2021 when construction of the new facility was just underway. Schoen shared renderings of what the space would look like and asked Upstaging to come up with some lighting concepts. Various options for both the entertainment lighting and the architectural lighting elements were presented and refined over the course of a few months.

"We had more design input and suggestions on this project than we typically do," Wojda commented. "We did most everything from the lighting standpoint–the indoor theatrical lighting plus lit the inside beams, but also lit the outside of the venue and the riverfront area using outdoor-rated fixtures. It's such an interesting space and we wanted to accentuate the architecture and the fact that the space has unique historical value for the city."

[Over 300 Lights Bring Energy to The Venue at Thunder Valley]

Despite the transformation, the restructure has maintained the building's architectural authenticity. "In a lot of ways, it still looks like the Salt Shed that we saw originally, and that was the intent," added Creager. "It's an iconic and beloved building that the people of Chicago know and love and the Morton Salt logo is still around to greet you as you drive along the Kennedy expressway. It's state of the art but has still retained its historic look." Promoted as a mix-use venue, The Salt Shed also hosts private gatherings such as weddings and corporate events.

Wojda worked on the project with Rob Ludwig from Elation rep firm Five Lakes Marketing, who assisted with fixture choice and arranged for demo units. Schoen, who was very familiar with Elation products from having worked in two previous venues with Elation rigs, says he took Steve and Rob's advice as far as fixture types. "I knew that Elation would have the type of instruments we were looking for and at the price point we were looking for," Schoen said. "With Steve and Rob's help we were able to put together a fantastic, thoroughly filled out rig."

The lighting rig consists of seven parallel sticks of truss. Over the 52x32-foot stage are four 46-inch trusses at 19–25-foot trim heights with an additional three trusses suspended in front of house. Because the Salt Shed is a long narrow building some of the lighting positions are up to 100 feet from the stage. On a 20-foot FOH truss furthest from the stage, and working with a followspot system, are four 45,000-lumen strong Artiste Monet LED profile moving heads. "Even though the Monets are almost 100 feet from the stage we get some incredible punch for the follow me system," Schoen said.

[Welcome to the AV Renaissance]

On FOH 2, 76 feet from the stage, are four Proteus Lucius, IP65-rated LED profile moving heads used for front lighting. "They are also incredibly bright," said Schoen. "With their white LED source and CMY with variable CTO, they make for excellent white balancing and getting great skin tone." An additional four Lucius fixtures work from FOH 3, about 20 feet from the stage, with two additional units in the overhead rig and used for side light.

Spread across all four overhead stage trusses are 12 Fuze MAX Profile and 12 Fuze MAX Spot LED moving heads. The Fuze MAX fixtures are full-spectrum LED moving heads with RGBMA LED engine (92 CRI) and 21,000 lumens of power that rivals 1000W/1200W class discharge fixtures. They form the bulk of the overhead lighting system and work with 10 IP65-rated Proteus Rayzor 760 LED wash effect units and a mid-rig cluster of eight IP65 Fuze Par Z60 IP color-changing PAR lights with zoom. Providing high-power, full-color strobe effects are eight Protron 3K Color LED strobes with four IP65-rated DTW Blinder 700 IP as audience blinders.

The lighting plot for The Salt Shed indoor stage was created by in-house lighting designer Joshua Light while Danielle Sanders serving as electrician, both members of IATSE Local 2. The lighting system was hung in February.

The Fairgrounds, a 5000-capacity outdoor performance space at The Salt Shed, holds a summer schedule of concerts and Upstaging will be installing an eight-post outdoor stage for the series. Wojda said that since a portion of the indoor lighting equipment is IP65 rated, it is suitable for outdoor use on the Fairgrounds rig during summer shows. "With the weatherproof lighting, they can move the lights outside and not have to worry about protecting the fixtures. They can do an FOH truss and downstage truss on the outdoor stage with the IP-rated lights and then mix in some of the non-IP fixtures on the upstage." During the summer, the IP-rated gear will work both indoor and outdoor events, depending on the requirements.

[Roller Boogieing in Immersive Video and Light]

The Salt Shed has curated an eclectic mix of acts from EDM to Iggy Pop, Flaming Lips, The Roots, and many more and are selling out most shows. "It's a beautiful space and the rig fits in with every act that has come through," Schoen commented. "Guest LDs come in, fire up the rig and have a lot of fun." He adds that bands typically bring in their own floor package to complement what the venue has in the air, which is why they wanted to make an impressive sky package.

"Our motto from the start has been to make a world-class venue. We want to not only wow the audience, but also the LDs and A1s and everyone else who walks through the door."

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The AVNetwork staff are storytellers focused on the professional audiovisual and technology industry. Their mission is to keep readers up-to-date on the latest AV/IT industry and product news, emerging trends, and inspiring installations.

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[Let There Be Light(ing)] [Over 300 Lights Bring Energy to The Venue at Thunder Valley] [Welcome to the AV Renaissance] [Roller Boogieing in Immersive Video and Light]