The Force is with him

By on December 13, 2017

Local sound man goes on Galactic tour

The Star Wars-inspired rock band Galactic Empire lists their hometown as “a galaxy far, far away.” In actuality, some of the members live locally.

The band’s sound technician, Roger Fitzwater Jr., lives in Ephrata and owns Woodcrest Audio. Locals will recognize his work with the Concerts by the Creek music series, the Ephrata Brewfest, and the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, which Fitzwater has overseen for 12 years. His association with Galactic Empire, which started in January, recently sent him to countries far, far away.

Fitzwater headed to JFK airport in New York Oct. 3 to board a flight to meet the band in Spain.

“Getting to JFK, the realization set in. I was going to be gone for two weeks seeing multiple countries,” said Fitzwater, now back in Ephrata.

Star Wars-themed rock band Galactic Empire recently returned from a European tour, which was a memorable experience for local sound technician Roger Fitzwater Jr. (Photos provided by Galactic Empire)

His first experience at international travel with sound equipment was smooth, but full of precautions. His equipment needed to be disassembled, and his bags were packed with cables and other equipment, which drew the attention of security screeners.

“There was a note inside the bag upon landing saying they did inspect it,” said Fitzwater. “So, if the TSA opens your bag and inspects it they will leave a note saying they did so. A few things were out of place, but nothing was damaged.”

He didn’t get much sleep on the plane, but he couldn’t let the six-hour time difference affect him, as he needed to get straight to work setting up for a show at the Caracol, a club in Madrid. Some of the work he could do in the hotel room and a van ferried the band and crew to the venue.

“There was no time to stop and see the city,” he said. “It was exciting. It’s an older city. The traffic is different. The signs are different. The people are different. Everyone was very helpful, very generous.”

People were as excited to have the band in Madrid as the band was to be in Madrid.

“Every show was like that. Here was a Star Wars band coming from the United States and we got a feeling that some of the people were working the gig just to be at the show,” said Fitzwater. “Overseas, there is a certain courtesy level that is really eye-opening and really assuring.”

Galactic Empire recreates songs from the popular movie franchise in a heavy metal fashion. Comprised of Boba Sett on drums, Bass Commander, Dark Vader on lead guitar, Shadow Ranger on guitar, and Red Guard on guitar, the aliases require the band to dress in full Star Wars uniforms.

“Since the band has costumes they have extra cases. It makes checking in at the airport a very interesting process, to say the least,” said Fitzwater. “You get a lot of questions.”

Throughout Europe, Fitzwater had to answer questions about his equipment. Luckily, he didn’t have to bring along too much. All of the European venues had in-house sound systems and he relied heavily on his iPad.

“When you do have a case full of electronics, it does raise some suspicions anywhere you go,” he said.

The next morning the band and Fitzwater flew to London to play The Dome in Tufnell Park. Then traveling to France, Switzerland, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, and The Netherlands, Galactic Empire played seven more shows in seven days.

“We did get a few hours to walk around Vienna, Austria. Very beautiful place. We saw the house where Mozart lived for a while,” he said.

The band took a day off in Amsterdam and enjoyed the culture and food. After an Oct. 13 show in Belgium, the band and Fitzwater headed back to the U.S.

“Every venue is different, and we were in a different country every day,” he said.

Customs at each country was a different process. The language barrier also presented challenges.

“Thank goodness the majority of the world can speak English. But, in places like Prague there were only one or two people that were translatable. There were a lot of hand gestures and pointing,” he said.

The language sound engineers speak is technical, and little things like specific cables can go as different names in different places. It slowed the setup process down, but Fitzwater said the universality of music helped bridge any gaps.

Galactic Empire in Paris, sans their iconic costumes. (Left to right) drummer Grant McFarland, Europe tech Ben Gaines, guitarist Chris Kelly, audio engineer and Ephrata resident Roger Fitzwater Jr., bass player Carson James Slovak, and guitarist CJ Masciantonio.

“We are all in it for the same reason. We all wanted to put on a good show. And we all wanted to stick to a schedule,” he said.

With the release of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” set for this Friday, Dec. 15, the Galactic Empire is poised to attract more fans. Fans across The Pond can rejoice as the band recently announced its inclusion in this summer’s Download Festival Madrid and subsequent European tour.

“We are most pleased to announce that we have been welcomed among the first confirmed acts for the 2018 Download Festival Madrid! It is a great honor to be among such an incredible lineup,” wrote the band in a Facebook post on Nov. 6.

The three-day fest in June 2018 will attract more than 80,000 people, and this year’s lineup stars Ozzy Osbourne, Guns N’ Roses, and Marilyn Manson. The band will also play in Israel and Finland in 2018. Fitzwater hopes to take his family along this time.

“I owe the family a vacation after this,” he said.

Michael C. Upton is a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure. He welcomes comments at somepromcu@gmail.com and facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.

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