Jerry Johnson DrumsJerry Johnson Drums

American Utopia

David Byrne "American Utopia" Tour Drum Project

In early 2018 I was contacted to work on David Byrnes "American Utopia' world tour.

This tour incorporated 12 musicians all wireless and carrying their instruments while being mobile and dancing the entire show.

Production Manager Mark Edwards contacted me, and together we came up with a game plan.

I mentioned to Mark that we could use Gauger Percussion brand
"RIMS" mounts. I then contacted Gauger Percussion.

Gary and Adam Gauger were terrific, and so are all their products.
The Gaugers sent several mounts to Mark in New York and Mark himself
brought out his drill press and went at it.

With hours of milling, Mark was able to attach the Gauger products to the drums and then to Randall May marching harnesses which worked the entire tour flawlessly. Thanks to the Randall May Company!

Once the tour began, I quickly realized having six drummers each with multiple instruments was going to be a big challenge to lay out in a show ready format, perform maintenance, tune, and pack away after each performance.
Additionally, having to take off all the microphones for the audio crew was a time-consuming process.

As we began the beautiful people at the David Bowie Organization were kind enough to loan us several cases from Mr. Bowie's past tours.

SIDE NOTE: Although I never met David Bowie his music has had a significant impact on my life. He and Mick Ronson were just amazing!

Back to the David Byrne Tour:

We toured for some time, and in my drum world we had 13 cases in two rows
with an additional row on the floor in front.

I was so thankful to have those cases but needed something I hadn't ever seen to pull this project off for the long term.

This project needed something that could be unique, ever-evolving,
and much more compact.

My idea was to create cases which used a series of removable shelves.

The shelves could have various cutouts to support any instruments in current use as well as ANYTHING in the future. With this design, the microphones could also stay on the drums saving even more time.

Although the cases currently hold drums if an art exhibition, book library, and tuba recital were needed, all could be managed by using different cutout configurations and sliding those shelves in place.

After months of brainstorming, measuring, and measuring again
I was able to design 4 cases to replace the previous 13 cases completely.

Once I had the basic designs, I presented them to the incredible José Villarreal of MT CUSTOM Cases in Wood Dale, Illinois.

I had chosen MT CUSTOM CASES as several years ago I had designed some cases for Leroi Moore of The Dave Matthews Band. Features on those cases included plexiglass tops that were lit from underneath to provide lighting during the shows, custom laptop drawers and instrument storage inside which significantly cut down on load out time and show labor.

With MTs brilliant interpretation and ability to take a vision and put it into real-world computer design and manufacturing, I knew they would be the choice for the David Byrne project.

Some of the other features on the David Byrne cases I designed involved using ballistic material and clip straps to keep instruments from shifting from one side of a case to the other.

We were slated to do several multi Artist festival shows, and I knew we would need some lighting for the six drummers to be able to not only see their instruments but also have lighted paths.

Illumination had to happen in a way that did not cause too much distraction from the particular show look.

Additionally, I did have time to run up and down turning lights on and off
while switching instruments for the musicians.

My solution was using a home automation hub, and programming scenes with were the approximate time between songs was programmed.

By hitting a switch one time, eight lights would go on for a preset time and then turn themselves off. The units also have motion-sensing capabilities, and the musicians approaching the cases can trigger that scene.

With these cases, we were able to roll into place and quickly and pull off performances with the precision of a formula one race team.

I am so thankful to be surrounded by so many talented people! My Gratitude to all of them.
You can see photos of the cases HERE