Jim Trocchio – Dan O”Neil
Dan O’Neil is but one of thousands of crew members and other independent contractors impacted by the touring shutdown caused by COVID and who found themselves with few resources to tap while waiting for shows to return.
Dan O’Neil has been in some dark places over the last 10 months since his work as a guitar tech dried up, but none as much as when one of his colleagues in the industry “lost everything,” including his home, he says.
“He packed up his stuff in two totes and labeled them as to they should go to, and then committed suicide.”
O’Neil says while he’s not become that despondent, he’s living month to month not knowing how to keep up his mortgage and car payment.
“It’s a vicious circle,” he says of the experience. “You can get those bills paid and then the next month’s start piling up and you start all over.”
O’Neil has worked with a number of artists in a number of roles including production and stage manager over some 35 years, including Matchbox Twenty and Rob Thomas (solo) for the last 16, The Moody Blues, All-American Rejects, Cyndi Lauper, REO Speedwagon, Slayer and others.
Since the live industry shut down in March, O’Neil says, “I blew through my savings, had to empty out my 401k and whatever stocks I had to pay my bills, and it sucks. My retirement’s gone. There’s nothing left.”
He received a much-needed lifeline during the holidays from Roadiecare, a non-profit founded by audio and production vet Sandy Espinoza. Unlike other programs, Roadiecare operates by donations of cash and electronic gift cards or certificates. Recipients are identified through either the Roadiecare.com website or personal referral.
Recipients can then redeem the gift cards through Walmart, Target or Amazon (whose Whole Foods subsidiary delivers groceries) to provide essential basics like food and clothing.
Despite the euphoria in the live business over the recent passage of a second federal stimulus package and $15 billion to provide assistance to various sectors of the live business, many remain unable to access sufficient assistance to sustain themselves and their families during the prolonged lockout caused by the COVID pandemic.
The money goes largely to businesses, not individuals. And even industry-supported funds often have exclusions preventing many from accessing desperately needed help. Roadies, production and tour managers, crews and others who make the stages possible are often independent contractors and, in some cases, were hired by larger touring companies thus ineligible in some cases.
Espinoza has worked in many facets of the music business for more than 30 years, including for a period as the late, legendary agent Jerry Heller’s executive assistant. She’s made contacts and friendships throughout the business but her focus has lately been on production crews who have suffered the most through the live shutdown.
She saw a need for immediate relief among the thousands of independent workers not included in other support programs, contacted an attorney and started the process of filing for nonprofit status in March, and Roadiecare was born.
Of larger, established crew support programs, Espinoza says, “I think they’re phenomenal and I love them and what they do; I’ve got nothing but respect. But I saw a different need, which is that people need to eat right now in places that may not have a food bank or a food pantry. I reached out to friends, that had companies to begin with, and asked them to adopt a roadie, or contribute any amount they could.”
The response has been “generous,” she says, and Roadiecare has expanded to include referral assistance for those in need of mental health, legal, medical, dental and other services. Donations can be made through the Roadiecare website, and workers in need can sign up for more information at the site as well.
O’Neil says he, like many others in his shoes, have never asked for help in their lives and when he had an opportunity to give out gift cards to colleagues at Thanksgiving, he gave back. “It’s major, [Roadiecare] stepped up and was able to be there for my family” O’Neil says. “Right now, there are thousands of people in our industry who aren’t this lucky.”