The second day of this past summer’s Dead & Company tour also represented a first for the band’s front of house audio engineer Derek Featherstone. While he was in the midst of a line check at the venue before the show, his lawyers were closing a deal thatwould enable him to become CEO of UltraSound, the California-based sound provider where he had been employed for the previous 30 years.
Featherstone, who grew up in New Jersey, began working on production for school plays in the sixth grade. When he was 18, he relocated to Northern California and during a 12-month stint while he established the in-state residency that would allow him toattend UC Berkeley at a reduced rate, he connected with some local bands. Then, while still an undergrad, he took to road with The Looters, a politically charged reggae-funk collective, who were starting to gain an international following. He ended upgraduating from college as an English major—the quickest path to a degree, even though his initial studies were in engineering and physics—and started the next phase of his career at UltraSound.
That’s one of the reasons I stay working with these guys. It’s a crazy environment, it’s complicated, but they have a similar drive to make it better every day.Derek Featherstone
Over the years to follow, he traveled with Primus, Tracy Chapman and Dave Matthews Band, while also running sound for a series of one-off clients. Featherstone eventually took on duties for the Grateful Dead’s family of bands and will continue in this rolefor the foreseeable future. However, a new opportunity presented itself in 2017 when UltraSound owner Drew Serb decided to retire, enabling Featherstone and fellow industry vet Ralph Mastrangelo to purchase the enterprise. (Mastrangelo will serve as COO.)
Moving forward, they will continue to take inspiration from Dead & Company, which decided— just a few days before the close of summer tour—to switch Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti’s spots on stage in order to facilitate musical connections, whichnecessitated some nimble thinking by the crew.
Featherstone acknowledges, “That’s one of the reasons I stay working with these guys. It’s a crazy environment, it’s complicated, but they have a similar drive to make it better every day.”
Source: Relix 44