The monster stage set up for Foo Fighters in Adelaide
Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and Bon Jovi, in a week… not bad….
It might sound like an exciting life. Being labelled as a roady has that mystical cool feel to it. Far from the truth.
There’s really nothing glamorous in working as a roady. We are part of the team. The singers draw in the crowd, and we set up the stage and lighting. That’s why Taylor came up to us to say thanks. It’s show business, and without grunters like us, the show won’t go on.
You get to meet the movers and shakers of the music industry. Even walk past a super star and say g’day. “Hi Taylor.” She comes up to the crew at the back of the concert. “Thanks for all the great work guys.” There are a few girls among the crew who have come tonight to do a load out. But it’s a predominately male territory where flesh is used and abused in the name of entertainment. Burn outs are a common occurrence.
A roady is a glorified labourer. The more you grunt and carry your weight, the more gigs you are invited to set up and pack up. There’s lots of trucks to load and tight dead lines to meet. Equipment needs to be moved interstate or be flown overseas to another destination. There’s no room for slackers
The perks of roadying. I got a Taylor Swift t-shirt for the load out (the Miley Cyrus I got three years ago was more funky and colourful!) — green and with BHP on the back. Nothing to do with the mining company. You also pick up gossip from the official roady crew. They are usually tight-lipped. The last song of Taylor Swift, while waiting to pack up the show, the security guy made sure we didn’t take any photos or videos.
Taylor Swift’s Red tour, which started in New Zealand, and ended in Perth, had the crew pretty stressed.
We had to pack up the stage, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. Pure steel. I didn’t want to go near it. This meant real work, something I”m very averse to. Too late, the crew boss had called me. “Ok everyone, out to the torture racks.” EPA, who I work for, had an A team, and they were burnt out doing round the clock shifts setting up the stage. Now the D and E teams were called up for the grunt work. B and C crew weren’t any where in sight. They knew better.
The stage was far from complete. They needed workers. I managed to get 8 strong workers from my backpackers. If the stage wasn’t complete on time, Taylor’s management team had threatened to cancel the concert. I heard this same story from three people in the know in the industry. Our claim to fame at the backpackers is that we saved the Taylor Swift concert from cancellation.
I met a security guy with a mohawk and tatts on his arm and neck. A naga dragon body with a celtic head design wound around his neck, ears and up onto his temples. This guy usually acts as security for the stars. But Taylor Swift’s mother didn’t like the look of his blonde mohawk. “She makes all the decisions,” he says. So today he was making sure we had tags on. I didn’t so he asked me nicely to get in at the back entrance.
Last song of the night for Taylor Swift, I get asked to go the front of the stage to pull up a ladder when the song is over. Taylor is on a moveable platform and is being guided over the crowds. I’ve got front stage views for the last song. I got my hard had on. I’m as close to show business as I’ll ever be. I go out the back. Taylor is making her way to the VIP room to unwind. “Hi Taylor, ” say the Roadys. “She’s really friendly,” said another. Her right hand roady crew, an Irish lad, who has worked for her for the last six years says she is really blossoming. “She used to be really skinny when I started out with her.”
He’s signed a confidentiality agreement. But another guy I worked at the Perth Arena hadn’t. He says he saw Taylor nude, during a costume change, at the Burswood Dome, three years ago. I don’t question the validity of it for a moment. “She had all the turf in the right places.” The security gave him a hard time. “It was a matter of being at the wrong place at the right time,” he said.
Sometimes the gossip can get salacious. At the Justin Beiber concert in the Perth Arena it was alleged that a bevy of beauties were going in out and of his s change room for a smoke. What else was going on there wasn’t disclosed. “He’s a pig,” adds my source. “He threw corn chips all over the floor and rubbed lollies into the carpet with the heals of his feet. ” He is only a teenager after all, I say in his defence.
At the Ricky Martin concert his crew called him Charles. The crew boss shook my hand for working hard. I paid for it with fever and a bad neck for the next six weeks. Six weeks later I’m here doing a Taylor Swift concert. I’ve fared well over the year. At one concert, part of a small stage fell on my foot. I hobbled a week after that. It comes with the territory.
Roadies are always on the hunt for rock and roll paraphernalia. At the Bieber concert, one roady found a pair of nickers thrown at the Stage. “Inside it, she wrote down her phone number,” he said, adding he was tempted to give her a call. At the Swift concert, many letters and cards were thrown on the stage. I found one good wish card, that said he’d left two surf boards for her to pick up. Another letter written by high school fans, said that they loved her and would love to hear from her.” “It would be awesome if you contacted us.”
They had photocopied the letter and through multiple copies on stage. Another roady finds a guitar pick. I pull off the song roll taped to the key board stage. Another guy asked me for it. “I’ve got them from all the concerts. The missus loves them.” So I handed him mine. He was so grateful. I even gave him one of the fan cards that Taylor never received. “The missus will love reading that!” Other roady crew pick up stubs of tickets or sell their All Access cards on eBay and make money.
That’s the glamour of roadying. The rest of the time is filled with hard work, long hours and flared tempers. Most times we never see the concert. We are too busy preparing for the quick load out.
A week later and three concerts, I’ve made some coin. The big talk is Justin Beiber is pissing off everyone and is on the way out. He called someone a fat old cow and suggested she go on the Biggest Loser TV show. Isn’t he a product of social media and reality TV? I don’t condemn him.
KC, the crew boss of the Beiber Believe Tour, had me set up the piano for the concert. “Now this is the art and craft session.” We decorated the piano with flags that raised up onto the stage where Bieber played a few songs. According to one of the stage hands, he did lots of lip syncing, “and he couldn’t play piano for shit.”
I said to him that there would be a lot of wet nickers at the concert tonight. “Yes, so it would do a single man well to come along and pick up the excessive chicks.” Wise words from the roady from New Jersey.
Back is hurting. I’ve lost some serious kilograms, and I still have my fingers. We were putting away some steel panels in the rack. “Watch your fingers,” says the foreman. “Two guys lost their fingers last week.” At least he had the courtesy of telling us — while we were stacking the 100 kilogram steel frames onto it.
That steel can get very hot. We are in 40 degree heat, and the stage must come down. There’s a big test match at the NIB here in Perth. “Take your shirts off,” says the crew boss to those who don’t have gloves. Then we lug the steel. A pin is hammered out the frame and just misses someone’s head. Another 50 kg base falls, and just misses a head of a worker.
“Are you fresh,” says the crew boss, before I started my shift. I was. The next day they ran us into the ground. They needed to get the steel off the lawn so that it could be watered. The groundsman put on the sprinklers to cool off the steel. We cooled off too. The Gatorade came, and new gloves, a good five hours too late. I got off at 4 pm. A good eight hours of steel.
The Captain, one of the steel crew bosses, comes up to me and says thanks for working hard. His crew has one of the toughest jobs in the game and have their fair share of humour. They reward the hard workers and curse the lazy slobs. “Get your fucking arse over here cunt.” Or a nod of recognition, if you are doing the job right. That’s the recognition I needed more than a hello from a super star. You are working with the best in the world here.
“They hate us,” says Captain, “But without us the show doesn’t go on. ” Earlier in the previous evening on our break I heard a loud bird noise. It was a magpie caught in tree. Captain got a cherry picker and retrieved it high from the tree. He untangled the string wrapped around its claws. It was hanging upside down. After cutting away the string from it’s claws, he released it. United back with its family. “Even boguns have a heart,”he says.
There’s an art form to be being a roady. One guy was very busy. He was darting around like a reef shark. Whenever anything light had to be lifted, he was there. When ever there was something heavy to lift, he was finding rubbish to pick up. I observed him. “I know what you are up to!”
We exchanged stories on how to appear busy when you aren’t. “You got to hump it sometimes,” he says. ” It’s a percentage game,” he explained. “You can’t do light duties all the time.” He said I was the first person to pick up on his 101 manual of light work the 25 years he’s been working as a roady. I said I’d be keeping a close eye on him in the future. “It’s all about pacing yourself, this is hard work and you need to last another day.”
Bon Jovi was a small concert. An easy load out. “He’s getting old,” said one of the crew bosses. “When you start handing out the microphone and say sing along with Living on a Prayer, I think that’s when it’s time to retire. ” I said maybe he was maturing. The crew boss’s response was a grunt. He wasn’t convinced.
Everyone is cashing on the celebrities, it seems. I don’t. I’m just here for the money and some light exercise. I grunt more than most – its all an illusion.
Steel packed away. Been a long day and night. The turf is clear now. The cartons of beer come out. This is where the comradeship begins. Captain’s right hand man comes back. He threw a hissy fit earlier in the day. “That’s Frank for you. We call him the two-third man. Like clock work he says things are getting too hard, and he throws in the towel. It’s always after load out, the third that’s not that important!”
Frank cracks open another beer. All the tension and pain and fuck ups have been forgotten. They’ll be on the road soon setting up the monster stage.