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Roadies, The Unsung Heros Of Rock & Roll

Alison Krauss and Union Station Stage Set-Up Closer
I have a Rolling Stones DVD that starts out with a roadie running through crowds of people going to the concert. It seems like he is running late, and finally out of breath, he stops at a generator, turns it on, then sits back in a lawn chair to watch the chicks go by. I’ve got news for ya..it ain’t like that..

Over more years than I care to mention, I’ve met more than a few roadies, in fact I have a couple former roadies as friends. Former is the key word here because simply put..they don’t last long. At first glance it seems like a great job doesn’t it? Travelling with the band, chicks, booze, music, money, and all that goes with the typical rock & roll lifestyle. Actually, none of that is true.

Here’s a typical day in the life of a roadie preparing for an evening show:

Get to the event by noon, and start unloading the staging from the semi trailers, then assemble the staging. Next unload all the band equipment, amps, wiring, keyboards, guitars, hundreds of feet of cords, mikes, drum sets, lighting, generators from the trailers,  and place all in the appropriate spots on stage. Plug everything in, lighting  included, and make sure everything has power and is functioning correctly. Most roadies also double as technicians, soundmen, etc. Tune all the guitars, test the keyboard, drum sets, amps, lighting, etc. and get everything set for the band’s soundcheck.

A soundcheck is more often that not a very slow and tedious process. The band knows the sound they want, the techs/roadies job is to make sure they get it. When all is done, the roadies may get a few hours off, unless they also double as part of the bands security which is fairly common.

When the show is over, the whole process is reversed. Roadies take down and pack up all the band equipment, then load it into the trailers. Then they take down the staging, loading it into more trailers. This process is continued until every last item is put in it’s correct place and properly loaded, readily available for tomorrow night’s unloading in another town. They arrived at the gig at noon, it’s now one or two in the morning, just enough time to get a few hours sleep, then repeat the whole process again tomorrow.

Doing this once or twice I’m sure is fun and exciting, however many groups tour up to three hundred times a year, so you can well imagine the physical demands of a roadie. Couple that with lack of sleep, very little money, no insurance benefits, and little or no time off and you quickly realize it’s not a fun gig..in fact it’s downright greuling.

I have a friend who worked outdoor venues only, the big concerts. He was the dude that climbed the towers and attached the massive speakers hauled up to him by a crane. Extremely dangerous work, and he’s been doing it for ten years. He finally had to take a leave of five years to get his nerves under control. Another roadie friend of mine was loading huge speakers into a semi with a specially made dolly. He lost control going down the ramp to the trailer, and crashed into the speaker breaking both his wrists, fingers, and arms. He no longer has use of his hands.

Next time you and a friend attend a concert, remember the guys that assemble it all. Believe me, they don’t get the credit they deserve. If it weren’t for them, and their predecessors, rock and roll would never have achieved the popularity we enjoy today. In other words, the bands wouldn’t be “coming to your town.” anymore. Roadies really are the unsung heros of Rock & Roll.

 

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