When artists, designers and musicians blend the look of Victorian England during the age of the steam engine with machines rooted in science fiction and fantasy, the result is called steam punk and the visual impact is stunning. When Nashville country duo Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush (aka Sugarland) wanted a set for their “Incredible Machine” tour, set design firms Atomic Design and Tait Towers, Lititz, Pa., created a steam punk wonderland. “It is very brave for country artists to go with a set that is so stylized,” says designer Steve Cohen, “but they recognize the audience appetite for this type of fantasy-laced reality.”
Cohen integrated gear and tube stanchions, an arched bridge, surrounds that looked like brass and wood, curved chandeliers and a sound system embellished with Victrola horns to create a feeling made up of equal parts Charles Dickens and H.G. Wells. The set has a 24-foot-diameter circular video screen surrounded by what appear to be brass and wood mirror frames. A floating bridge connects the keyboard and drum risers, which are decorated with railings, levers, gears and painted artwork used frequently by Sugarland. Aluminum, plywood, plastic and foam became old contraptions and antique floorboards, while 8,000 LED lights were formed to resemble 19th century incandescent lighting. The soft goods and painted scenery approach included kabuki cloth with mesh screen openings, sewn as the show’s front curtain to impart a sense of the gritty steam power period.