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By Damian Mann
Mail Tribune 
On a floating office dubbed the "Aquatic Command Center," Garon Wells can rock with some satisfaction to the wall of sound pounding out of the Lithia Amphitheater.

"Welcome aboard," says the 38-year-old Applegate resident, as visitors venturing to his houseboat negotiate a narrow, wobbly gangplank that threatens to give way into a pond behind the stage. "This is my home."

As the sound man at the Jackson County Fairgrounds and Expo Park during fair week, Wells sleeps in his small houseboat at night after 17-hour days trying to keep 124 speakers throbbing with 70,000 watts of power.

This is the first time Wells has made use of the houseboat in a business that takes him to such far-flung locations as Europe and India.

The owner of Garon Lee Sound, Wells and his eight-man crew meticulously pore over every aspect of sound, connecting up to 25 miles of wire to their $500,000 worth of equipment, while shaking their heads over an annoying echo off the back wall of the amphitheater.

He contracts with Oregon Stage Lighting for the 150,000 watts of illumination that will provide the flash for bands such as Smash Mouth, which performs tonight.

After fiddling with dials, finding wires that have been installed incorrectly, fine-tuning all the controls, then readjusting everything again once the performers arrive, Wells says he and his technicians have a saying that deflates their obsessive behavior:

"Is the drunk guy in the front row really going to notice?" he says with a wry smile.

Expo Director Chris Borovansky says that before he selected Wells for the $33,000 contract, Wells was pitted against another sound company in a so-called "blind tasting" among Expo officials.

"There wasn't any question who had the better sound," Borovansky says.

As to that annoying echo from the back wall, Borovansky remembers performer Steve Miller last year saying he was "wanting to beat the architect over the head with a guitar."

As it turns out, the echo goes away when the audience fills up the amphitheater.

Wells isn't the only one using a houseboat, or making use of the pond for an afternoon swim or a little fishing. Some of the artists relax in other houseboats floating on the pond before their concerts.

"We've got water out there," says Borovansky. "We've got to take advantage of that."

Borovansky says he had worked with Wells on other community projects in the past and has watched him build up his business over the years. "He stepped up and donated things," he remembers. "He's just a great community member."

A little surprised when Wells asked to bid on the fair job last year, Borovansky says the sound company has more than lived up to expectations.

"He knows enough that when a major producer comes in they have confidence in the guy," he says.

Wells says that with a facility like the new amphitheater, mediocre sound just won't cut it.

"You can't just get the local radiator guy to put in a sound system for a few bucks and some beer," he says.

A sound man since he was 15, Wells has bumped into all the big names in the music business.

As the owner of his own business, he says, "I used to be the floor sweeper, driver and sound guy — a jack of all trades."

Now married with three children, Wells is less enthralled with the traveling and is more than happy to be a leader, delegating to other members of his team.

Even though he puts in long days, Wells says, "A lot of it is hurry up and wait." Waiting for performers, waiting for producers. "It's organized chaos."

Dealing with the egos of big-name performers used to intimidate Wells, but not anymore, he says.

"If someone's nice to me, I'll be your best friend all day long," he says. "If someone's not nice, I'll be their enemy all day long."

He's also got a few tricks up his sleeve to deal with prima donna performers.

A lead singer might want the volume pumped up, but Wells says he often can't because the sound is already approaching levels risking feedback.

He and his crew instead turn the volume down on the instruments so that it appears the sound levels are higher for the singer.

Wells is often baffled by performers who don't like performing. "Some of these guys are so miserable — just quit," he says.

Huge egos abound in the music business, Wells says, making life difficult for the support crews, but he says he just pushes back. "It's, like, what's your problem?" he says.

And while he appreciates the musical abilities of performers, he says, "Yes there's talent, but it's overrated." Musicians get up and perform the same tunes night after night, backed up by huge sound systems, he says.

But what about the glamour? "Try living in a tour bus for two months," Wells says.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.
Copyright © 2006 Mail Tribune, Inc. 

He makes sound decisions 

Photo by Jim Craven

Garon Wells of Garon Lee Sound has mixed 
sound for Bob Dole, Jay Leno -- and the Medford Jazz Jubilee.
Mixmaster makes sure you hear it well



APPLEGATE -- When country-western headliner Chris LeDoux rode across a Klamath Falls stage on a mechanical bull and played a fast-paced concert with flames and explosions, it was a local sound man who created the perfect mix for the audience to hear.

But when the music and pyrotechnics at the Ross Ragland Theater ended, Garon Wells of Garon Lee Sound discovered he had something in common with LeDoux. They both like to escape to the great outdoors, LeDoux to his Wyoming ranch and Wells to his Applegate farm.

Garon Wells has chatted with headline musicians and mixed sound for the likes of Jay Leno, Bob Dole, Martina McBride and Audio Adrenaline. But he's also the man behind the sound at the Bear Creek Park summer concert series, Medford Jazz Jubilee and the Harvest Fair.

"It's my part of the whole production, that everybody hears it clearly and well," Wells says.

"You try to tune the system the way the artist wants it, yet you put a little bit of the way you like to hear music into it. So when it comes out, it does have your personality."

It's the job of the sound man to meld technology with human voice or instruments so the audience can clearly hear the presentation.

"Choosing a sound company is the most important decision to make after selecting the artist," says Tom Olbrich, who hires Garon Lee Sound for half of the shows at Southern Oregon University.

"Sound is the important link between the artist and the audience," says Olbrich, consulting producer of SOU's Program Board.

Wells' sound business takes him as far away as Connecticut, Fort Worth, Texas, and West Palm Beach, Fla.

"Garon has a work ethic, and it's refreshing to find somebody like that," says Marty O'Conner, a technical producer from Michigan who hires Wells for Amber Rose, a traveling Christian conference series.

"With this guy, there's not even a hiccup, no problems, whatsoever. When you find people like Garon, people you can trust, work with, do a good job at a good price, you don't want to lose them.

"With Garon, I don't hear, `Things are busted. There's not enough power. The show runs too long.' Instead, I hear, `It's done, finished, my invoice is in the mail."'

Wells' work at a conference at a five-star hotel on a Florida beach impressed the promoters so much they hired him for other gigs.

"He knows what he's doing," says Patti Bills, president of Medford's Jazz Jubilee, a 10-year-old musical festival.

"The musicians loved him, and if the musicians are happy, then everybody's happy," Bills says.

Mixing sound is only part of Wells' business. He installs custom music systems in homes, theaters and churches. He hung the theater curtain at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Medford. And he free-climbed the 100-foot walls in Compton Arena at the Jackson County Expo Park to hang rigging for a rock concert.

"It's not that expensive to install a custom system in your home, especially if you have it done when the house is in studs," Wells says.

For example, a homeowner can have three rooms wired and flush speakers and volume controls installed in the walls for $2,000, he says.

Wells is somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades. He maintains and repairs his electronic equipment as well as the 18-wheeler that he drives cross country.

Wells carries his tool box, spare parts and extra consoles to each show. He recalls a quick change during a concert at Southern Oregon University.

"One time, right before intermission, I hit a mute button and got a hum in the system. It's the worst nightmare to have to think when everybody's looking at you. But in 15 minutes, we changed the console with another one we brought and we had the whole thing ready to go when intermission was over."

It takes Wells about two hours to prepare for a concert. He sets up cables -- nearly two miles' worth -- 20 to 30 microphones and two dozen monitors. Then he does a sound check, creating a personalized mix for each artist.

And when the concert begins, Wells operates a stage console, mixing sometimes as many as 40 vocals and instruments to create a sound that pleases the audience.

"I try to make eye contact with the artists. I have to be able to read them and know if they want more vocal or more guitar, whatever it may be."

He's also learned to tune out unsolicited advice from audience members who think they are sound experts.

"I like it when people let me do my job," Wells says.

Wells got his start in the business at an early age.

"My mom put me on the television program `Romper Room' when I was a kid. I've been involved in entertainment ever since," he says.

During his teen years, Wells was an audiophile, buying and selling speakers and equipment to get a sound that was "bigger, louder and faster," he says.

His job experience includes working at Channel 10 running television cameras and at South Medford High School as the technical director.

But when the stage pressures and the decibel levels get to him, Wells retreats to his 50-acre farm outside of Jacksonville, where he and his wife, Sara, have a garden, raise cattle and where Wells plays guitar, including a 1953 Guild.

"That's one thing I love about being in the country. It's totally opposite from what I do for a living. You're around these huge crowds. So in the off-time, I like to be out gardening, away from people and away from the phones."

October 24, 2001
 Sound Engineers Study I-5 Noise
 Medford Mail Tribune http://www.mailtribune.com/archive/2001/october/102401n4.htm
Sound engineers study I-5 noise to prepare for construction


How far will sound carry when beeping backhoes, cement trucks and paving rollers start working on the Interstate 5 viaduct that runs through the middle of town?

That's the question acoustical engineers are asking this week as they analyze freeway noise in preparation for a $15 million viaduct project set to begin January 2003.

Sound engineers will determine whether construction equipment will echo into Tripp Street homes, just below the freeway viaduct, or drift to the Rogue Valley Mall several blocks away.

"Because of the way the freeway is raised and the way sound travels, it might be that people closest to the viaduct could be less impacted," said Cory Crebbin, Medford's director of public works. "With the right atmospheric conditions, you can hear things that happen downtown over on the east side."

The state is measuring viaduct traffic to give the city an existing noise level before construction begins. The city is granting the state an exemption to its noise curfew rules so the Oregon Department of Transportation can run 24-hour crews to quickly complete the work on the busy stretch of highway.

From Hawthorne Park, downtown Medford freeway traffic measures between 59 and 69 decibels, about as loud as a conversation between two people standing three feet from each other, said Dave Goodwin, senior acoustical specialist for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

By comparison, the loudest Britt Music Festivals concert last summer was the rock group Huey Lewis and the News, which broke the city of Jacksonville's 92-decibel rule. A lawn mower is almost as loud, 90 decibels, but a chainsaw is louder, 100 decibels.

Engineers gathered data last week and will analyze it and determine how to mitigate the noise before the construction project begins. Crews will work 24 hours a day, seven days a week so the job can be done by June or July.

"We're turning a 11/2-year-project into a six- or seven-month project," said Frank Stevens, project leader for ODOT. "We don't want to have such a vital bridge worked on for so long."

Crews will replace the bridge deck worn after 40 years of studded tires, loaded trucks and 45,000 vehicles passing over it daily. They will repave it with a durable, sand-blasted concrete. They will also reinforce the bridge's 48 beams with concrete to withstand an earthquake and rebuild the bridge rails.

The 3,222-foot bridge over the middle of Medford is the longest in Oregon, not counting the four-mile Astoria span over the Columbia River, Stevens said.

"It's structurally sound," Stevens said. "This project will give this bridge an added life expectancy of 20 years."

But once construction crews start working from the viaduct, which measures between 16 and 30 feet from the ground, the sound challenges will begin. The trees in Hawthorne Park and Medford's taller buildings may help serve to shield the sound away from the ears of the people who live and work downtown, Goodwin said.

But height, along with air temperature, helps determine how far sound travels, said Garon Wells, owner of Garon Lee Sound of Jacksonville.

"In our business, height is everything," Wells said. Sound crews during a concert, for example, elevate speakers so people sitting in the back of the auditorium can hear the musicians on stage, he said.

"Sound is almost like a solid object," Wells explained. "It's like throwing a baseball. If you throw it over somebody's head, you will miss them. But if you're 6 feet tall and you throw it to somebody who is 6 feet tall, you're going to hit them.

"That's like a sound wave," Wells said. "If you're in line with it, it's going to hit you."

Reach reporter Melissa Martin at 776-4497, or e-mail mmartin@mailtribune.com 

Copyright © 2001 Mail Tribune, Inc.