The Salt Shed

ProjectThe Salt ShedLocationChicago, USAArchitectLJC; original architectural design by Graham, Anderson, Probst & WhiteLighting DesignerSteve Wojda, Tim SchoenInstallerUpstaging, USASubmitted byElation Professional

The Morton Salt complex in Chicago had been in operation for nearly a century before it was closed down in 2015. Today, the complex has been transformed into a multi-purpose venue for live music and other events named The Salt Shed.

Boasting state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems, including a comprehensive Elation stage lighting rig from Upstaging, The Salt Shed is quickly becoming the hot new performance space in Chicago.

The venue spreads over 1.5 acres of land along the Chicago riverfront and can accommodate around 3,300 people indoors and 5,000 at an outdoor performance space, which opened in the summer of 2022. The newly renovated indoor space was previously a storage facility for salt and features a distinctive A-Frame structure.

Today, it boasts a performance stage and a cutting-edge entertainment lighting system of Elation Artiste Monet, Proteus Lucius, Proteus Rayzor 760, Fuze MAX, Fuze Par Z60 IP, Protron 3K Color, and DTW Blinder 700 IP luminaires.

Director of Production Tim Schoen at The Salt Shed was responsible for procuring all the necessary production elements for the venue, including lighting, rigging, audio, staging, and other related equipment. He also oversaw the design of the stage, green room layouts, and docking area, among other aspects.

Schoen ultimately chose locally-based Upstaging to handle the lighting for the venue due to their excellent reputation in the industry. Upstaging was involved in the project from the planning stages, playing a crucial role as systems integrator in ensuring that the lighting system was executed to the highest standard. It also provided the power and controls infrastructure.

Steve Wodja and Mike Creager of Upstaging visited the site in 2021 when construction of the new facility was just underway. Schoen shared renderings of what the space would look like and asked Upstaging to come up with some lighting concepts. Various options for both the entertainment lighting and the architectural lighting elements were presented and refined over a few months. Ultimately, the design of the theatrical lighting system was a collaborative effort between Steve Wojda and Schoen.

The lighting rig consists of seven parallel sticks of truss. Over the 52ft wide by 32ft deep stage are four 46-inch trusses at 19–25ft trim heights with an additional three trusses suspended in FOH. Because the Salt Shed is a long narrow building some of the lighting positions are up to 100ft from the stage. On a 20-inch FOH truss furthest from the stage, and working with a follow-spot system, are four 45,000-lumen strong Artiste Monet LED profile moving heads. “Even though the Monets are almost 100 feet from the stage we get some incredible punch for the follow-me system,” Schoen said.

On FOH 2, 76 feet from the stage, are four Proteus Lucius, IP65-rated LED profile moving heads used for front lighting. “They are also incredibly bright,” said Schoen. “With their white LED source and CMY with variable CTO, they make for excellent white balancing and getting great skin tone.” An additional four Lucius fixtures work from FOH 3, about 20ft from the stage, with two additional units in the overhead rig and used for side light.

Spread across all four overhead stage trusses are 12 Fuze MAX Profile and 12 Fuze MAX Spot LED moving heads. The Fuze MAX fixtures are 21,000-lumen full-spectrum LED moving heads with an RGBMA LED engine (92 CRI) that rivals 1000W/1200W class discharge fixtures. They form the bulk of the overhead lighting system and work with 10 IP65-rated Proteus Rayzor 760 LED wash effect units and a mid-rig cluster of 8 IP65 Fuze Par Z60 IP colour-changing PAR lights with zoom. Providing high power, full-colour strobe effects are 8 Protron 3K Color LED strobes with four IP65-rated DTW Blinder 700 IP as audience blinders.

“We had more design input and suggestions on this project than we typically do,” Wojda commented. “We did most everything from the lighting standpoint – the indoor theatrical lighting plus lit the inside beams, but also lit the outside of the venue and the riverfront area using outdoor-rated fixtures. It’s such an interesting space and we wanted to accentuate the architecture and the fact that the space has unique historical value for the city.”

Despite the transformation, the restructure has maintained the building’s architectural authenticity. “In a lot of ways it still looks like the Salt Shed that we saw originally, and that was the intent,” added Mike Creager. “It’s an iconic and beloved building that the people of Chicago know and love and the Morton Salt logo is still around to greet you as you drive along the Kennedy Expressway. It’s state of the art but has still retained its historic look.” Promoted as a mix use venue, The Salt Shed also hosts private gatherings such as weddings and corporate events.

“The whole package melded together nicely,” remarks Wojda. In-house lighting designer Joshua Light created the lighting plot for The Salt Shed indoor stage while Danielle Sanders served as Electrician, both being members of IATSE Local 2. The lighting system was hung in February.

The Fairgrounds, a 5,000-capacity outdoor performance space at The Salt Shed, holds a summer schedule of concerts and Upstaging will be installing an eight-post outdoor stage for the series. Wojda says that since a portion of the indoor lighting equipment is IP65 rated, it is suitable for outdoor use on the Fairgrounds rig during summer shows. During the summer, the IP-rated gear will work for both indoor and outdoor events, depending on the requirements.

“It’s a beautiful space and the rig fits in with every act that has come through,” Schoen commented. “Guest LDs come in, fire up the rig and have a lot of fun. Our motto from the start has been to make a world-class venue,” Schoen concluded. “We want to not only wow the audience, but also the LDs and A1s and everyone else who walks.”