Ice whack: The rig is up at the Pavilion
Raman Pfaff brought his camera to work to capture the first snow of the season December 6. Among the wondrous and beautiful sights, he saw three men on top of the Charlottesville Pavilion canopy shoveling snow.
And he wondered, What's up with that?
"We have a snow management plan that involves riggers– every time it snows, they climb up and knock it off," explains Kirby Hutto, Pavilion general manager. "We want to limit the amount of weight on it."
The riggers are contracted out of Richmond and are on call every time the weather looks bad. And depending upon whether the inclemency is snow or ice, they use shovels, brooms, or snow rakes to clear the canopy.
When music mogul Coran Capshaw inked his deal with the city to build and run the amphitheater, the contract called for taking down the fabric canopy every winter. Once up, however, that plan changed.
"Taking it up and down every year is costly and shortens the life of the fabric," says Hutto. "Our preference is to keep it up."
Certainly after a freak storm went insane on the membrane in July and ripped the canopy during the tight installation schedule, resulting in the Pavilion's Loretta Lynn debut without the rear panel, the Capshaw camp could understandably want to minimize those ups and downs.
Another benefit to leaving it up, Hutto notes, is that it provides a covered area downtown during the winter for events like the Holiday Market.
Reports of accumulation in December weren't the first time men in ropes have been called to scale the "music mountain," as Pfaff calls it. "Every show we did, we hired riggers for the lights or PA system suspended from the arch," says Hutto. "The key is that they're insured."
Snow brings dangers beyond ripped fabric or plummeting workers: tumbling icechunks, which could take out unsuspecting pedestrians below. That's why covered scaffolding has been added over the staircase behind the City Hall Annex and the tunnel entrance to Lexis-Nexus.
When bad weather is called for, the upriggers can stay warm or nap in the dressing rooms behind the stage, says Hutto.
"The key thing is we don't want there to be a big accumulation of snow and ice," he says. "If they have to get up there at 3am and remove it, they will."
The Pavilion picks up the tab for keeping the canopy cleared. During the winter, Charlottesville's parks and recreation department maintains the amphitheater. "It is a public park" in the off-season, explains Hutto.
A public park with some good arch-climbing action. "I'm amazed at how comfortable they are even with ice," marvels Hutto. "They know what they're doing."
And that skill set holds special importance to Hutto. "I was adamant," he declares, "I would not be the person climbing up there in the ice."
Kids– don't try this when you think no one is looking.
PHOTO BY RAMAN PFAFF