That Won’t Fly Now!: Touring Production 30 Years On

Shared some amusing anecdotes during Production Live
Gideon Gottfried
– Shared some amusing anecdotes during Production Live
From left: Charlie Hernandez, Ron Stern and Mary Lou Figley

The last panel of Production Live 2019 explored how far touring production has come over the past 30 years.
Charlie Hernandez, President, QED Productions, Co-Founder, JUSTABUNCHOFROADIES.ORG
Jake Berry, CEO, Jake Berry Productions
Mary Lou Figley

Dale “Opie” Skjerseth

Ron Stern, Jam Productions

Marty Hom, tour manager
“You can’t do that anymore,” could be heard in response to more or less every anecdote the panelists shared. A selection:
Hom recalled a tour with Paula Abdul in 1990/1991. Abdul wanted to fly. What that meant back then was “two guys standing on the stage’s left and two guys with ropes standing to the right. One rope made the person fly up and down, and the other rope made the person fly on and off stage.”
Berry joked that a manual system like that at least didn’t produce excuses like “my navigator systems broke down or I got a problem with the control unit. Just pull the bloody rope.”
Which reminded Berry of a tour with a British artist called Murray Head. “He wanted to fly from the stage to the B stage. We thought we’d do it manually. We practiced once. I jumped off a deck six feet high, pulled [the rope] down, and it would take him forward. You let go of the rope when you wanted him to land on the stage. Totally hit and miss.”
Berry got lucky and managed to actually land Head on the B stage as planned. However, the artist insisted on being flown back to the main stage again. “Lightning never strikes twice,” Berry joked, before proceeding to describe the head and arm wounds, which Head had carried away from colliding with the main stage during the return flight.
Mary Lou Figley revealed how every agreement that led to the legendary “U2 Live At Red Rocks” concert film was based on a phone call and a handshake. “You can’t do that now,” she said.
The directives regarding looming bad whether basically shifted 180-degrees over the years – from “just play through” to “evacuate”. Hom remembered how he was confronted with the choice to evacuate for the first time during Beyoncé’s “Formation” tour.
“I think it was [Live Nation’s] Wilson Howard who said: ‘You can either be on national news or on the local news’,” which was all the help Hom needed to make a decision.
But even in the early days – when there was no business to speak of and the first generation of tour producers created and invented on the fly, with hardly any sleep but in many cases on a lot of drugs – the safety aspect was extraordinary, according to Hernandez. He admitted, however, that he wasn’t sure “if we were just arrogant.”
“Or just high,” Skjerseth added.
“If you want to split hairs,” Hernandez replied, and referring to the safety, professionalism and especially money that was now involved in the production business, he said: “You can’t compare how great it was back then to how great it is now. It’s so much better today for everyone involved.”
Which chimed with Hom, who added: “The biggest change is that you can now live off this job.”
When a student in the audience half-jokingly asked the panel, “Would you hire me,” Hernandez responded: “Are you ready to leave home, compromise everything you care for, turn your back on your family, completely destroy your personal life, fall down and have a friend fix you? You’re ready to do all of that? Then we’ve got something to talk about.”