JBL Pro weathers the storm at Vanderbilt University’s Class of 2023 celebration

To provide this year’s commencement celebration at Vanderbilt University with reliable and versatile audio even in the face of inclement weather, CTS AVL, a Nashville-based live production and AVL integration company, deployed several rigs featuring JBL Professional VTX Series solutions.

Held in Spring 2023, Vanderbilt University celebrated the Class of 2023 with a wide array of events and smaller gatherings ahead of the main Commencement Ceremony. While the Undergraduate Commencement was scheduled to take place on the campus’ Alumni Lawn, poor weather conditions forced the ceremony to be moved to Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena less than 24 hours before the event.

This change meant that the CTS team had to install an indoor audio rig on short notice after already assembling rigs for the Alumni and Commons Lawns. The JBL VTX Series speakers provided the team with the versatility, power and ease-of-use needed to smoothly transition the ceremony to its new venue.

“This was our third year in a row that we've done the graduation ceremonies for Vanderbilt,” said Mike Taylor, vice president at CTS AVL.

“We have typically done this in their football stadium and in their basketball gym, but both of those venues were not available this year because they're both under construction. So the university planned to host the ceremonies in Alumni Lawn and the Commons Lawn. And, well, weather happens – when the weather was coming down the pike as a potential problem for the day of the Undergrad Commencement, we started to functionally work on a plan a few days out, but the university did not want to make the call to move locations until the morning before.

“Sure enough, they made the call the day before at 10:00 AM. The graduation started at 8:00 AM the following day, so we had to basically put together a third system at Bridgestone Arena in 22 hours.”

For the main Commencement ceremony, both the audio rig for Bridgestone Arena and original rig at the Alumni Lawn primarily utilised JBL VTX V20 line array elements as the main PA, wing and delay speakers.

Built as a compact version of the industry standard V25, the VTX V20 features a high power density three-way system and horizontal coverage up to 105 degrees in a compact and lightweight enclosure. Additionally, like the rest of the VTX Series, the V20 utilises a specially designed suspension and rigging system for easy assembly and take-down—a particularly useful feature for the CTS team to meet the ceremony’s tight turnaround.

we had to put together a third system in 22 hours.

“The V20 has been really successful for us overall,” said Taylor. “When it first came out, we adopted it early and bought over 140 of the boxes. We think the mid-sized box is better tuned for vocals, which is a lot of what we do as a company. Vocal clarity is more important to us than loudness, but the V20 luckily has both. It’s basically a staple of all of our instals at this point.”

Other speakers in the rig included JBL VTX G28 subwoofers, which provided low end and impact for videos and music cues without causing excessive distortion or muddiness. JBL VTX F12 multipurpose speakers, equipped with a D2430K D2 Dual Diaphragm Dual Driver and a bi-amplified two-way system for maximum flexibility, served as wedges for clear and consistent onstage sound, while JBL VRX932 line arrays completed the front fill sections.

“There wasn’t a lot in the ceremony that needed a ton of low-end out in the arena,” added Taylor. “It was just for some walkup music and things of that nature when you just need a little extra low-end. The G28 is great because I could take six of them where I might need eight to 10 of another type of sub. As for the F12, it’s got the same high-end dual differential drive as the V20, so they’re voiced the same. It creates a nice, seamless transition when you're moving from mains to wedges.”

The Commons Lawn, which was used for Graduates Day festivities the day before the Commencement ceremony, utilised a smaller but similar rig that included JBL VTX F12 and G28 speakers.

The main difference was the use of the JBL VTX A8 line arrays, which provides optimal output and horizontal coverage up to 110 degrees in a compact enclosure.

Equipped with two 8-inch woofers, four 3.5-inch midrange drivers, and two 2-inch high-frequency drivers in a single low-profile cabinet, the A8 provides an impressive frequency spectrum compared to similar-sized speakers, making it ideal for a wide variety of events and locations.

“The Commons Lawn was a little bit smaller of an area, with probably about a 2,000-person capacity,” explained Taylor. “The A8 makes sense for this kind of setup since weight was a big concern. We couldn't put very much weight on the rig and V20s were going to push it over the limit, so the A8 proved really useful.”

Despite the weather, the Vanderbilt Commencement successfully sent off the Class of 2023 with a memorable ceremony powered by JBL speakers.

“Through the years of working with Harman, we've always had wonderful support,” said Taylor. “We've always had a direct line to anyone we needed to call. They have a great network of users in case we need to find a product to match with a certain installation, in case we need to go deeper into our inventory. And our customers have always been very happy to let us use the tools we want to use to achieve the goal they need. Harman just lines up very well with that.”

The G28 is great because I could take six of them where I might need eight to 10 of another type of sub.