18th Annual Parnelli Awards Featured Laughs, Emotions, and Winners
by Kevin M. Mitchell
On Jan. 25, 2019, the 18th annual Parnelli Awards ceremony took place, returning to the Anaheim Hilton during the NAMM exhibition. Along with the three awards for career achievement honoring production manager Chris Adamson (Lifetime Achievement Award), staging innovator Yvan Miron (Visionary Award) and audio genius Brock Adamson (Audio Innovator Award), more than two dozen other awards were bestowed to the people, companies and products voted by PLSN and FOHmagazine subscribers to be tops in their fields. It was a star-studded evening with video congrats for Chris Adamson coming in from Mick Fleetwood and Lenny Kravitz, and Alan Parsons stepping up to present some awards along with host Kenny Aronoff.
“This was probably the best Parnelli Awards ever,” was a common refrain as the show wrapped up in the Hilton Pacific Ballroom. NAMM president/CEO Joe Lamond ran on stage before the show officially started and joked that he was “sneaking on stage before Terry Lowe knows I’m here.” He went on to give a short, heartfelt talk about how the music industry is at the crossroads, and how important it is that the live production world is part of NAMM. Then, being one of at least four drummers that would take the stage this night, he made a drummer joke.
Backbeats and Rim Shots
Host Kenny Aronoff, one of the world’s greatest drummers (John Mellencamp, Bodeans, scores of others) set the show’s tone with a high-energy opening where he shared a deep love of the live event industry people who make people like him look and sound good and shared some mostly NSFW stories from his rock star past. Mellencamp, notoriously difficult, once chided him for being friendly with the crew. “Don’t talk to them — you’re the rock star, they work for you.” Aronoff said he told Mellencamp to “f*** off, because,” pointing to audience, “you guys always have our backs and make us look and sound good.” Aronoff went to say how he makes sure he talks to the stage managers, the sound engineers, and especially the camera people at every gig, because he’s that meticulous — though joking about the latter, “if I’m friendly with the camera people, I find I get more screen time.” Aronoff then gave out some awards including FOH engineer of the year to Kyle Hamilton, who works for Janet Jackson. Hamilton set the tone of acceptance speeches of the evening with a short, heartfelt acceptance speech.
“Host Kenny Aronoff set the tone for an evening of humor, pathos and well-deserved awards,” said Parnelli Awards chairman Marshall Bissett. “Production-wise, the set, lighting, and video met the high standards the audience deserved. My thanks to the sponsors, presenters and tech crew for making the 18th Parnellis one of the best ever.” (Technical Production Inc. of St. Louis provided most of the technical creative crew, with Atomic providing the set under the direction of TPI’s Elizabeth O’Keefe.)
Emotional Moments as Well
Lighting Designer Anne Militello then handed out some awards in what turned out to be one of the two big emotional moments of the evening. “I have to inform you that this year they changed the name of this category from just ‘pyro’ or whatever to ‘Pyro/Special Effects.’ I’m sure you know that fireworks were invented in China. In a new Trump administration trade agreement, we were able to get their pyrotechnics technology in exchange for [designer] Roy Bennett.” But the winner was Strictly FX, who just a few days prior to the show experienced the sudden passing of cofounder Mark Grega. Strictly FX’s David Kennedy was joined on stage by LD Marc Brickman to give an emotional acceptance speech, making it clear that the industry had lost a talented, beloved contributor.
Kiki Ebsen, who returned to the Parnellis as the featured pianist and vocalist, provided music during the dinner hour along with soulful accompaniment to the memorial reel honoring members of the road touring families who we’ve lost in the past year.
Among the distinguished presenters this year, PLSN editor/LD Nook Schoenfeld handing out some awards with fellow lighting maven Michelle Sarrat (who would win a Parnelli for Lighting Director of the Year). “I am humbled and honored that [the Jack White] crew received nine Parnelli nominations for our efforts on the tour this year,” Sarrat said. There were nine nominations for White’s “Boarding House Reach” tour, second only to Taylor Swift’s 11. Sarrat also thanked Parnelli producer and writer Kevin Mitchell “for allowing me to participate in the ceremony — it was a lot of fun!”
FOH editor/guitarist/drummer George Petersen showed up with his friend Alan Parsons and handing out some awards and cracking wise. But it truly was a night of the stars as other presenters included Kevin Lyman of Vans Warped tour fame (and a former host himself) and past Parnelli winners Kevin “Tater” McCarthy, Sara Full, Butch Allen, Stefaan “Smasher” Desmedt, and Marty Hom. (Hom, a protégé of Parnelli cofounder Patrick Stansfield, would take home another Patrick Stansfield’s Tour Manager of the Year as well.)=
A Continuing Tradition
Since early 2002, the Parnelli Awards have honored backstage professionals, turning the spotlight from the live stage to the backstage creators, technicians and management professionals who work as a team to draw gasps of astonishment from audiences with their stagecraft and artistry, then pack everything up and safely recreate the spectacle at the next tour stop on the itinerary.
The awards show is the brainchild of the late production and tour manager Patrick Stansfield, along with Terry Lowe, publisher of PLSN, FOH and Stage Directions magazines. And in addition to talent and innovation, the awards honor the “four H’s” — Humanity, Humility, Honesty and Humor — embodied by the late production manager Rick “Parnelli” O’Brien, the namesake for the awards. There are also four Indispensable Technology (IT) Awards honoring product innovation in lighting, audio, video and staging.
Now in its 18th year, the awards gala is once again entirely dependent on the generosity of the Parnelli Awards sponsors. This year, for a third year in a row, Group One Ltd., which distributes Avolites, DTS and Elektralite, along with a variety of pro audio brands including DiGiCo in North America, returns in the top-tier Platinum spot.
The list of Gold Sponsors includes 4Wall Entertainment, Adamson Systems Engineering, Bandit Lites, Blizzard, Bose, dBTechnologies, G2 Structures, Gallagher Staging, Global Trend Productions, Harman Professional, Maryland Sound, Meyer Sound, Moo TV, NAMM Live!, NovaStar, Pyrotek Special Effects, Rock-It Cargo, Screenworks/NEP, Solotech, Sound Image, Stageline, Strictly FX, Ultratec Special Effects and VUE Audiotechnik. The list of Silver Sponsors includes ACT Lighting, CryoFX, Elation, Hemphill Brothers, On Tour Logistics and See Factor.
McCarthy, handling the duties of introducing self-described curmudgeon Brock Adamson (Audio Innovator honoree) got a big laugh with the observation that anyone who has ever said “’All Canadians are nice’ has obviously never met this man.”
Lyman, who has a long history of working with visionary honoree Yvan Miron, noted, “In the early 90s innovation was the word in our business … but the majority of stages were still built out of scaffolding and required large army of crew to build. The crews were run by people named ‘Hacksaw,’ ‘Sink-eye’ and ‘Cowboy.’ This is when I started to hear about a company out of Montreal called Stageline. With Yvan’s innovations in staging, it would have been impossible to stage and mount a tour like Warped.”
Hom, in introducing Lifetime Achievement Award honoree Chris Adamson [no relation to Brock], made some jokes at his expense before saying: “Chris, I know this [award] is a huge deal for you … but I think that the biggest honor that you can receive is from all those road crews who want to do a ‘Chris Adamson’ tour.”
A Memorable Evening
While keeping to schedule, the evening packed in so many memorable moments, packing in rapid-fire jokes and tributes to the career honorees with touching and funny videos. Chris Adamson closed out the evening on another emotional note, bringing his wife and son to the stage. And when it was all over, there was one more tribute, to the awards program itself.
“We are so incredibly proud to have the Parnelli Awards at NAMM,” said Lamond ,who many years ago was a touring pro himself, supporting Todd Rundgren on the road. “I know first-hand that the demands and pressures of being on the road can be immense, sometimes requiring cyborg like efficiency, making for some tough exteriors. But when honored for their contributions, reflecting on friends and mentors, the emotions flow, and the real humanity emerges. These are the truly priceless Parnelli moments.”
“The show could not have gone better, and I thank my team, especially the TPI people who pulled off a flawless, fast-paced event,” Lowe said, also crediting Access Event Solutions, Atomic and Green Hippo for their support as production partners. Along with the cocktail hour and hors d’oeuvres, provided with support from Chauvet Professional and TLS Productions, “the PyroTek-sponsored after party was a huge success, with many old and new friends sticking around for hours, networking, and have a great time. And somehow,” he added, “next year will be better.”
And the Winners Are…
Lifetime Achievement Award: Chris Adamson
Visionary Award: Yvan Miron
Audio Innovator Award: Brock Adamson
Lighting Company of the Year: Bandit Lites
Lighting Designer of the Year: Bryan Hartley
Lighting Director of the Year: Michelle Sarrat
Hometown Hero Lighting Company of the Year: RZI Lighting
Indispensable Technology/Lighting: Chauvet Professional/Maverick MK Pyxis
Video Production Company of the Year: Solotech
Video Director of the Year: Josh Adams
Indispensable Technology/Video: ROE Visual/Black Marble LED Floor Panels
Sets, Staging, Rigging, FX
Set/Scenic Designer of the Year: Tamlyn Wright
Staging Company of the Year: All Access Staging
Rigging Company of the Year: Atlanta Rigging Systems
Set Construction Company of the Year: TAIT
Pyro/Special Effects Company of the Year: Strictly FX
Indispensable Technology/Staging: Tyler Truss Systems/Centerline Truss
Patrick Stansfield Tour Manager of the Year: Marty Hom
Patrick Stansfield Production Manager of the Year: Mikie Weiss
Coach Company of the Year: Hemphill Brothers
Trucking Company of the Year: Upstaging
Freight Forwarding Company of the Year: Rock-It Cargo
Sound Company of the Year: Clair Global
FOH Mixer of the Year: Kyle Hamilton
Monitor Mixer of the Year: Tony Luna
Audio System Tech of the Year: Taylor Nyquist
Hometown Hero Sound Company of the Year: Brown Note Productions
Indispensable Technology/Audio: L-Acoustics/L-ISA Immersive Audio System