How to Pull Off a Concert at Sea

U.S. Coast Guard jurisdiction and a raw barge venue made Toyota's San Diego tour stop a logistically complex feat.

By Alesandra Dubin October 8, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT

A barge served as a floating venue for the Toyota Sessions Powered by Pandora tour stop in San Diego.

Photo: Ryan Elliott

By the time it wraps for its second year, the “Toyota Sessions Powered by Pandora” concert series will have hit three markets this year. But the only iteration to take over a barge was the San Diego stop, the first location on this year’s tour, which was a logistical challenge for the production team.

The September 21 event featured a performance by Little Hurricane just as the sun set over the San Diego Bay. Producer Pen & Public worked closely with Pandora event manager Colleen Finnegan on the concept, design, and execution.

The campaign taglines—“Let’s go places” for Toyota and “Let’s make today fun” for its RAV4 vehicle—served as inspiration for the concept. “What we landed on was a fully outfitted barge with whimsical nautical branding and a sea container painted Toyota red,” said Pen & Public president and creative director Liam Smith.

The event featured a RAV4 with a built-in video booth. Chroma key fabric—the stuff of green screens—wrapped the windows and made it appear as if guests were driving through a computer-generated land that featured campaign artwork.

Other elements included an Instagram printer, which Pen & Public designed and developed in-house,10-foot branded balloons overhead, and a photo frame that used the San Diego Bay as a backdrop. Guests also scooped up so-called “adventure packs” as they boarded the barge. The branded backpacks included a phone charger, a portable speaker, sunglasses, sunscreen, and lip balm.

For the difficult project, Pen & Public worked closely with Christian Bosley from the U.S. Coast Guard, who helped the team obtain a Moored Attraction Vessel permit. “It took reviewing the marine inspection code and finding similar cases to push this through,” Smith said of the first-of-its-kind project in San Diego.

Pen & Public built everything for the event at the shipyard, then used a tugboat to push the barge to the event site. “Keep in mind, when we got the barge it was essentially a flat floating platform. Every element of the event had to be welded or secured to the deck—including the RAV4,” Smith said. “We had to bring in life-saving equipment, handrails, fire equipment, rope ladders, and nautical lights.”

Because the barge event was under the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard—not the fire department—it fell under a completely different set of rules.

For example, “We were required to run man-overboard drills in order to obtain our permit,” Smith said. The team also wrote an extensive operations manual for the barge that included evacuation plans and fire drills.

Smith described the project as highly unusual and the most logically complicated in the company’s history, but said, “There's always a way, and we always find it.”

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