From Pearl Jam To The Beastie Boys To Kenny Chesney: Malchijah Bailey On The Vibe & Art Of Artist Security

Malchijah Bailey
(Photo by Kenny Chesney)

The Glamorous Life: Malchijah Bailey on a tour bus, where many untold hours are spent for any major trek.

“Everybody wants the same thing. It’s how we go about doing it,” says 25-plus year veteran risk assessment and security specialist Malchijah (pronounced: mah-KI-yah) Bailey of the guiding principles of his craft. “No matter your style, no matter your outlook, we all want everybody to come out to the show, have a great time – and then everybody get home safely.” Having broken into live music working with a management and booking agency during his junior and senior years at Clark College in Atlanta, the outgoing young man found himself drafted by AD Entertainment. Laughing, he says, “I learned from the OGs: AD Entertainment.” Cutting his teeth as one of the teams doing risk management for the Lollapalooza and Smoking Grooves tours, the self-employed Bailey also worked with single clients including Van Halen and Michael Jackson.

When Pete Beedle started NPB, his first client was Pearl Jam. The man who answers to “Bailey” was right there. “It was 1998’s Yield Tour, which was so much more than a tour, it was a vibe – and a moment. You could just feel it.”

Defining the job as everything from risk management, venue strategy, artist transport and safety, minimizing lawsuits, team integration to “making sure the doors get open, and people get in safely,” Bailey has watched the touring/artist security industry grow, evolve and reach new heights. The go-to guy for Foo Fighters, Ziggy Marley and Kenny Chesney, his career is impressive.

Beastie Boys. Outkast. Rage Against The Machine. Christina Aguilera. Blink-182. Limp Bizkit. Usher. Queens of the Stone Age. Linkin Park. He’s done massive tours with them all, recognizing both the similarities and varying needs across genres.

“Ultimately, you’ve got to be buttoned-up, and the best people care about the fans and their teams. Pop requires all the shiny things, so from a security perspective, it’s very formal. Reggae crowds are slow-motion, what you’d expect: smoking weed and chillin’. With country, especially the big shows, you’ve got tailgating and it starts early, they’re heavy drinking crowds, so how you get those people into the venue is a big deal.

“Rock and alternative can have a bit of a dark edge, not in a bad way, just you know once the music starts, you’re in a risk management head – scanning the crowd, looking for ways people can get hurt, or harm each other. It’s a lot of energy being pushed out there…

Malchijah Bailey  Kenny Chesney
Photo by Jill Trunnell

Malchijah Bailey with client Kenny Chesney coming off stage.

“Back in the day, the grunge bands would do shows, and kids would get hurt. Nobody wants that for their fans. So, they’d bring in people like us (to assess what was there) and make sure everyone got home safe,” he offers. “We were in Korea with Christina, there were people climbing on the buses, singing her songs outside the hotel all night…

“How you manage that is a lot about how you handle people who’re so overexcited, and every situation has to be taken on its own variables.” Ultimately, the Dayton, Ohio-born and -raised security expert, who started “playing bodyguard for one of my really good-looking friends in 6th grade,” believes it comes down to attitude. Whether he’s managing stadium shows or a theater/club tour, it starts long before the trucks and buses hit town. He reasons, “You can have a good vibe, or a bad vibe, and we lean hard to the good vibe. You’re trying to set up a sense of we’re doing this together, it’s not just ‘Give me,’ ‘Give me,’ Give me’…

“The local teams are really important. And you need all of them,” he says. “As unsophisticated as this may sound, how you listen to people you’re dealing with is critical. They may know things about the city, the building, what’s going on in the community you should be aware of… Working with local police teams can be super-technical and specific, working with local security crews can be super-technical and specific. It’s not just a bunch of guys in a circle in T-shirts, going, ‘We’re bad ass.’

“To me, it’s less like they’re working for us, and we’re all working together. So when we open doors in Chesney world, especially at the stadiums, it feels like it’s happening because we’re all part of it. All the emails, the meetings, the work, suddenly, it’s happening.”

Malchijah Bailey
Photo by Jill Trunnell

First Class: Malchijah Bailey and his million watt smile.

It’s also understanding clients’ preferred dynamics. While the now Atlanta-based practitioner loves music, laughing about saving his money to go to his first concert at 15 (Beastie Boys at Dayton’s HARA Arena), he knows the show is not for him.

“We play shows for money. People forget that. This is a business – basically – of one-offs. We show up, give, receive, people have fun. That’s the easy part. How we carry ourselves determines what people say when we leave, and they talk about the shows that come through, and also how excited they are to see you next time.

“When you care about the people in a city, the fans and people working with you, they can tell. That respect and a good vibe can go a long way if you’ve done proper walk-throughs, know what to do if something does go wrong.”

Laughing, he admits most people in his line of work have had that moment where everything goes off the rails. In Mexico City with Rage Against the Machine, the alt/rap activist band with loose ties to the Zapatistas, the government began warning the band weeks ahead what would happen if they evoked the insurrectionists. Or in Greece with the Beastie Boys for the riot so infamous it’s immortalized in their “Beastie Boys Book.”

“If you’ve ever been around bad shit, it either makes you real shaky, or you figure it out and it stops fazing you,” he begins. “It helps how you approach it. In Greece, once they breached the fences, we knew it was gonna be rough. I remember telling everybody, ‘Whatever you got, put it in the vans before you go onstage.’

“Once they were playing, it was watching the fights and the fires on the perimeters starting to spread, seeing people throwing the substacks in the middle of the crowd at each other. You never want to stop a show, but there’s a point when you know… I went to the lighting director and tour manager, gave them the plan. ‘When the song’s done, bring the stage lights down and leave’em ‘til I get the boys offstage.’

“Once we were moving, it was total chaos. People had broken backstage in motorcycle helmets with bats smashing everything. We got out, but it’s not something you want to have to do.”

He says it so smoothly, you almost think he wasn’t torqued. For Bailey, though, flexing torque is the last thing he seeks. Whether running a media tour for an artist or a series of stadium shows, it comes back to vibe – and keeping the profile low.

“It’s not about the presence, but what we get accomplished,” he advises. “This isn’t the car pulls in and the big guy gets out, we’re more the pull in and slip out under the building. People don’t even think about our being there.

“When the level of your touring has increased to where you need someone like me, there’s a lot of factors – including there’s no playbook for fame. That level of celebrity, especially when you’re dealing with really young fans, that’s a whole lot of energy that doesn’t always channel in the most rational ways. Most times, they just love the artist and have no idea how crazy they’re being, or how caught up a group of them can get.

“And it’s not always the fans, either. We’re all humans, and the artist, the people around the artist can get caught up in the life. So, in this job, you have to toe the line of being the caregiver and non-enabler; if you can help them navigate all of it without too much harm, that’s part of it, too.”

Seeing himself as “a caregiver who here’s to keep people safe, who can kick as ass if it’s needed,” his role has extended to full-on tour management when required. “I just like to help, like to work – and being integrated into everything that’s going on is kind of the reality of doing security, so yes, I’ve also taken on tour management when asked.”

Malchijah Bailey

Photo by Jill Trunnell

In a career that’s completely behind the scenes, Bailey’s witnessed so many musical highlights across most of the major music festivals, artists who’ve defined our time and the differences between genres. But it was as tour manager on the Beastie’s last tour “kind of a Rock the Boat thing where they hit a lot of those smaller markets people forget about” that it all came full circle.

Intensely private, he’d told the band and crew when they rolled up about going by himself to the “License to Ill Tour” at 15, his very first concert. He confesses, “I was so overwhelmed when we were loading in; it was so heavy. I could probably still walk right to the seat I was in.”

That night, the kid who’d fallen in love with live music in that very arena to this very act was a grown man watching his artist from sidestage. Suddenly the risk assessor got assessed. “The band actually called me out onstage. They said, ‘Our tour manager is from Dayton, Ohio – and we wanna bring him out for all you guys…’ The place went wild, and you know, it was about the most full circle thing I could’ve ever imagined.”

With COVID keeping tours off the road, Bailey’s had plenty of time to think about what the future holds. “In this post-COVID world, so many things are changing. It’s mostly local stuff, how every community has different protocols and procedures, the ordinances of how local police are handling things, and it’s going to be a matter of being really plugged in before you roll in, how you listen.

“But I think people are so hungry for live music, hungrier than even the artists, so it’s going to get figured out. When? We don’t know. How? Remains to be seen. The only constant I think there is, is the thing I’ve always gone by: When you’re looking for people to help with your tours and your artists, hopefully you’re hiring people who care. If they care about the artist, they’re gonna go that extra mile, make sure what needs to get done happens and ask the question that needs asking along the way.”