Rockin’ the River Valley

February 1, 2010 | By More

Getting paid to be part of exciting events, from tail gate parties and Bluegrass festivals to black tie galas and wedding receptions, is just part of the job for one Clarksville couple. Sounds glamorous, but it takes hard work, long hours and often, more than a little luck.

Our motto is “It’s not just an event, it’s an adventure!” agree event producers Robbin Roble and Tammy Morris, partners in Rockin’ Robbin DJ service and So-Lite Productions of Clarksville. With nearly 60 years combined experience in special events, Roble said each event has its own special needs and requirements, but it’s a new, one-time experience everytime.

Roble grew up in Hartman, Ark., and while attending the University of the Ozarks he discovered his love of theater/stage lighting. After receiving a degree in business administration and moving to Little Rock in the 1970’s, he began supplying sound, lights and special effect equipment to radio DJ’s for parties and has worked with 20- plus radio personalities.

Craig O’Neill was one of the first, and was instrumental in getting me in the loop. After 32 years, we still get to do some events together.”

When Roble started to DJ parties, he took the name Rockin’ Robbin and later hatched So-Lite Productions. The company includes a variety of creative business ventures such as landscape lighting, stage lighting for bands, special event/décor lighting and props, power distribution and tech support.

“I started out with a few homemade lights and a couple of turn tables and speakers. Now we have a 10 x 20 ft lighted truss with colored lights, mirror ball and over 30 moving lights, and a sound system that will rival any in the state,” said Roble.

About 12 years ago, while working in special events in Little Rock, he teamed up with Morris, a fellow event planner and long-time balloon artist. The duo was a good match, and has been doing events all over the state together since.

“It’s a wild ride, but we love it,” said Morris, who along with Roble does balloon drops and launches and builds huge balloon arches used at the starting and/or finish line of races for many area fund raisers.

As charity runs or walks are held in the morning, Morris starts assembling her huge balloon creations well before sunrise the day of the event. She and her crew often blow up and mount several thousand balloons in the time span of a few hours. Depending on the facilities and the weather, this can be quite a challenge, particularly on a windy or cold day. Things can get pretty “hairy”, particularly when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, said Morris.

“From back stage dramas to bad weather, the show must go on. The people who hire us are counting on us to make sure everything goes smoothly no matter what the obstacles,” said Roble, whose van is usually packed with a ton of heavy sound and lighting equipment.

“We always have plan A, plan B and sometimes have to use plan C as we never know what’s going to happen until the event is over and the equipment safely packed up.”

To supply sound for the Komen Race for the Cure Ozark, in NW Arkansas, it takes five truckloads of equipment and six people, working 24-30 hours straight, to pull it off.

“We put together a crew of people, that are willing to stay up all night and the next day, to shove and tote sound equipment, says Roble.

“We get paid, but, there is something else money can’t buy. It’s the satisfaction of being a part of a big event that thousands of people participate in, and to know that your job is crucial to the success of the event.”

Speaking of job perks, what could be more exciting than doing the official University of Arkansas Razorback tailgate party? The couple has been “Rockin the Razorbacks”, each football season, in the “Trough” for more than 10 years, supplying sound equipment and playing music in the Trough for three hours before each home game. Right after the team walk, the cheerleaders and pom-pom squad do the pep rally, explained Roble.

“The fans love it! The pep rally always draws a huge crowd, standing room only. The team, the fans, the food and fun, it’s just a great atmosphere!”

While providing sound and music for huge crowds is a feat in itself, a fascination with special effects keeps the couple on the lookout for new techniques, and led them to take a pyrotechnics class, said Morris. Now, besides the usual smoke machines and special effects lighting, they have confetti cannons, t-shirt launchers and a snow machine added to their arsenal of “fun weapons”.

Special effects really do have an “affect”on people’s perceptions, said Roble. At the Governors Christmas Ball one year, the team had the entrance decorated with trees and park benches, an outdoor snowy park setting. The snow machine was in the ceiling, on a timer, and every couple of minutes it went off and snowed on the guests.

“This lady comes in with her fur coat on while the snow was falling thru the lights and trees and says, ‘They must have cut a hole in the roof! I didn’t think it was cold enough to snow!’ What a delight to make an adult ‘believe’ if only for a moment,“ said Roble.

Music is another universal magic maker, but choosing the right music for an event is a time consuming and often, touchy, behind the scenes business.

“There are some songs that have universal appeal, but most venues have a specific type of music in mind, from classical, to hip-hop, we try to accommodate their requests when possible, said Roble.

“The music we play at a Junior High School dance will be a lot different then what we play at a wedding, a black-tie gala or college Frat party,” said Morris, who combs their extensive music collection before each event to assure the music is appropriate

“With today’s music, you have to be extra careful when choosing songs. For school functions you have to make sure you have the radio-edited version.”

Although the couple usually gets paid for hours worked while the event is happening, as in a three-hour party gig, it often takes them 10 to 15 hours of non-stop work on one event from start to finish.

“Some people think we get paid a lot for what we do, but this isn’t true,” said Morris. “First we choose the music, which can take hours to assemble, then get the lighting and music equipment checked and ready, then pack up the van and sometimes drive for hours to reach our destination.”

“Next, we have to unpack and set up everything, including 100 pound speakers, lighting trusses and complicated wiring, all before the event starts. Afterward, we have to reverse the process. We aren’t paid for most of our time, but we love it anyway.”

“When everything goes well, we have such a good time,” said Roble. “How could we not love our jobs? We get to into some of the best events in Arkansas, and then someone comes up and pays us for doing what we love!”

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