CHEYENNE – It takes roughly an hour and 35-40 people to move the Frontier Nights stage into Frontier Park Arena. And every night of Cheyenne Frontier Days – except for the two days of PBR Last Cowboy Standing, July 26 and 27 – the Contract Acts Committee has it down to a science.
“It’s not just the stage,” said Production Manager Paul Fleming. “There are two extra sound towers that get pulled into place, four video walls that are positioned into place, and then once everything is parked, we have to put up all the barricades and sponsor boxes … which can take another 45 minutes, in addition to the hour to get everything into position.”
The towers, barricades and other pieces accompanying the stage also require another 40 people, so in total, Fleming corrected himself, it actually takes around 80 people to move the stage and everything that comes along with it.
Night show preparation always starts around 8 a.m. the Thursday before CFD begins when lighting, sound and video companies come in to build out the stage and get all other aspects in place. That takes until about 5 p.m., Fleming said, and at that point, rodeo slack is usually just about done, so volunteers hook the stage up to the tractors and drive it into the arena. Once it’s in place, they build all the barricades in preparation for the crowd to come in.
Friday morning, Fleming has semi trucks arrive at 9 a.m. with the headliner’s equipment. Volunteers unload those trucks, bring everything to the stage then build all those required sets for the first Frontier Nights performance. At some point in the mid-afternoon, prior to doors opening, they squeeze in a quick sound check with both artists.
After the show is over around 11 p.m., Fleming’s teams load the trucks back up so the artists can travel to their next gig, and then they hook the stage back onto the tractors and move everything out of the arena and back up to the Contract Acts area so the rodeo can happen until midday the next day. Volunteers park the stage around 1 a.m., and the early crews get in at 7 a.m. the next day to do it all over again.
As for how much help the volunteers get from the performers’ teams, Fleming said it varies.
“It depends on the size of the act and how many people they’re traveling with,” he said. “For example, Garth Brooks was traveling with about 50 people, and of that 50 there are probably 20, 25 of them that are part of that road crew who travel around to instruct on what gets built for that show, and Frontier Days volunteers provide labor to do that.”
Several artists coming this year have sets, Fleming added, which includes pieces such as the risers and platforms they perform on. Several are also traveling with their own video walls, so volunteers put those together and rig the roofs so they can hang things from it. Additional lighting towers are also popular add-on items that acts bring with them.
Asked about times when things have gone wrong, Fleming isn’t phased. He’s had hundreds of incidents related to weather, miscommunications, etc., but he always figures it out. One of the most stressful moments was when Taylor Swift opened for Rascal Flatts in 2008 and the headliners had a “tremendously large” set, complete with its own silo.
“When it came time for Taylor to put things on stage, her manager came to me and said, ‘Paul, there is nothing we can do, there’s no room for her,’ so I said, ‘What if I bring a flatbed semi in and have Taylor perform on that?’”
Even though there was less than an hour before the gates opened, Fleming made a few calls, had a semi brought out, put two ramps on it and made one of the most popular performances in CFD history possible.
“She still has the record for the most ticket sales out of a female performer for all of Frontier Days,” he said. “You have to put out fires when you’re in a position like I have. There are enough trades professionals and guys who want to make something happen, so if we take a minute, we can.”
Fleming’s been doing this professionally for 28 years – he works 30-40 shows a year outside CFD – and many of his volunteers have been with him for a long time. None of the other committee members are professionals, but they’re so good at what they do, Fleming has been asked to take some of them on the road to run stages for events such as the Academy of Country Music Awards Party For A Cause.
“There are 350 or so people on the Contract Acts Committee that provide all those services, and regardless of how tired they are or what the weather is like or if the sun has been beating down on them, they’re out there to do whatever they can to put on the best production possible,” he said.
It’s hard work, Fleming admitted, adding that even though it only takes one summer for new volunteers to get the hang of it, it’s never easy. But it’s always worth it.
“Everyone is beat by the end, but there’s always a bit of sadness that goes around when it’s over,” he said. “Even though you’ve worn yourself out over the course of it, all the fun you’ve had and jokes that have been made, you know you’re not going to see much of it for another year.”