READY FOR EVERYTHING: Moderator: David ‘5-1’ Norman of Tour Forensics, left, moderated the panel on subverting Murphy’s Law that also included Angie Chamberland of I.M.P., Randy Hutson of PRG, Wayne Linder of Pioneer Coach, John Lunio of SGPS ShowRig and Bridget Ann Fitzpatrick of Rock-It Cargo. (OVG photo)
Anticipating issues that could cripple a concert tour might sound like a skill better left to Kreskin, but according to a panel of industry experts who kicked off the Production Live! portion of the annual Pollstar Live! conference on. Tuesday, there are steps that can be taken in advance to avert a possible disaster.
“We know that regardless (of what arises), the show must go on at all times,” said David ‘5-1’ Norman of Tour Forensics, who moderated the panel, “Crisis Averted: The Art & Craft of Subverting Murphy’s Law.” He then asked how the panelists, in light of heavy personnel turnover through and after the pandemic, their companies have come through.
“Taking the time to step back and really educating ourselves and implementing these new practices, now that we are busy again, has really panned out and really benefited us as a whole,” said Angie Chamberland, I.M.P.’s general manager of the 9:30 club in Washington, while noting that the industry lost a lot of institutional knowledge.
Bridget Ann Fitzpatrick of Rock-It Cargo said she also found new ways of doing things.
“To make it a positive, we found new creative solutions that we’re using today, things that we wouldn’t have tried doing before, because we had established protocols and processes. And then when you have to move off of Plan A to B to C; you find yourself doing things in a different way, and maybe even a better way. Anecdotally, I moved Gaga and Beyoncé into Toronto. Traditionally, breaking down pallets and loading trucks at the airport and delivery to the venue (was the norm). That changed slightly because delivering pellets and dropping them in centerfield was just the smarter choice and usual not the way we do it. But it worked out and those are the kind of challenges that bring opportunities. I felt okay about where we are now, coming out of the pandemic seems like a conversation of last year’s conference.”
“We had challenges,” said Bridget Ann Fitzpatrick of Rock-It Cargo. “Ocean freight was stuck out on the water, airports were severely understaffed. But, to make it a positive we found new creative solutions that we’re using today, things that we wouldn’t have tried doing before, because we had established protocols and processes. And then when you have to move off of Plan A to B to C, you find yourself doing things in a different way, and maybe even a better way.”
Fitzpatrick said she moved Lady Gaga and Beyoncé into Toronto and traditionally, breaking down pallets and loading trucks at the airport would precede delivery to the venue.
Noting that 30% of production crew personnel did not return to the industry after the pandemic subsided, PRG’s Randy Hutson said those that did return were not always in the same mode as before.
“Companies are struggling to be compliant, which is a new word you’re gonna start hearing on and on going forward,” Hutson said. “That is a constant battle, training people.”
Hutson said experienced production people still in the game are willing to train a new generation, but it’s an ongoing effort to bring up the new crop of professional touring crews.
“Without those opportunities, the industry will not exist and grow and be a trade for all of us that we enjoy working,” he said. “I’m passionate about this business and I want it to survive, so we have to continue to train.”
John Lunio of SGPS ShowRig, said the companies he worked for were not the same as U.S. companies, because “everybody did everything.”
“There was no, this is my job. This is the only thing I could do. If you wanted to get into the industry, you didn’t have to be good at one thing. You had to be good at everything. So, you start off being the Joe Schmo on the crew as a stagehand, lighting guy who also had to do the rigging, who would then have to learn about production because well, you’re filling in for three other people anyway.”
“We’re at a new phase in the industry, and this is going to be a tough year for a lot of people, everybody thought 2024 would be nice and easy, I got some bad news. It’s gonna be tougher in ‘24 because a lot of people are still trying to pay off what they lost during pandemic,” said Hutson.
Asked to compare the touring concert business now, as opposed to 20 years ago, Wayne Linder of Pioneer Coach said the industry is “exponentially safer and exponentially more professional.”
“As a young bus driver, I would be on a tour and when something would happen in the middle of the night, you just grabbed your toolbox and you started working, or you ran to a phone,” he said. “You were pretty much on your own; you’re an island. As this industry has evolved, and as companies have learned to support drivers and tours more, we have 24/7 support for anything that can happen on the road. The drivers and tours are supported, ultimately making things a lot safer. The department of Transportation laws that have always been around are now actually followed. And we’re doing things like flying drivers in and out. We have we have drivers that do nothing but co-drives. And that seems like a cool thing to do.”
Linder urged young people with interest to pick out what they want to do in the industry.
“There’s plenty of things to do in rock and roll that you don’t have to be an artist or manage transportation to get what you want to do,: he said. “Just go out there and learn to respectfully not take no for an answer.”
Lunio said that 20 years ago, “we had thousands more mentors.“
“Everybody wanted to train someone else. Everybody wanted to share knowledge because, well, then they didn’t have to do it,” he said. “Now, all I get is it’s not my job, or hey, that’s going to be this person and this person and this person. I wholeheartedly believe that everybody should be accountable, but the industry on the whole needs to be responsible in the fact that we need to train people, we need to start physically mentoring those people, again, because nobody’s aspiring to do anything but (get) a paycheck.”
Fitzpatrick of Rock-It Cargo said tracking cargo can be facilitated more easily by far than 20 years ago, when she would be on her phone at 3:30 in the morning.”
“But looking to technology and the younger generation, they may just want to go into a tracking site and not call me and talk to me, they just want to look on a website for tracking,” she said. “The speed in which we can communicate through texts and things like that, you jump from email to text, because that’s more urgent. The other part of technology is, my watch is now a phone, not like an extension of my phone. Technology that allows for us to work on the road is great.”
Hutson said the industry moves a lot faster now, “but the technology has kept up with that.”
“But I’m at the point where I’m trying to teach my people to pick up the phone and call and talk to somebody. There’s nothing like having a good conversation to be clear on things. ‘Yes, you’d have to put it in writing, blah, blah, blah.’ But, you know, communication is the key for all of this.”