Have you ever wanted to know what it would be like to be on tour with an up and coming rock band? Well, I’m a lucky one who happened to be in the right place at the right time, so for me, it was meant to be. It was the most challenging time of my life and yet somehow, through all the sacrifice and frustration, I found an inner strength that helped get me through to the end.
There are many stories about being a Road Manager that I could write (some I can’t because they’d be too risqué for this blog – hehehe), but today I’m just going to focus on the beginning of the first tour. This was the very first experience I ever had with being a roadie, I made a mountain of mistakes, and everything that could’ve gone wrong, did. It was amazing that way.
It was about ten years ago now, when five young and edgy band members (who had garnered a lot of attention for themselves) piled into a large van with the band Manager and myself. It was the middle of the night, so we were all tired as hell, but we took off with cheers and huge amounts of optimism about all the good things to come while we were out on the road.
Now while I won’t say exactly who the band is (a girl has just got to keep an air of mystery sometimes), I will say that their Jim Morrison look-a-like lead singer and cheeky song lyrics made them stand out in every city we visited.
Our first stop was supposed to be in Camrose, Alberta because we had made arrangements to be attending Stage 13. In case you’ve not heard about it, Stage 13 was a huge Rock festival which (at the time), hosted up to 30,000 fans over four days. The festival boasted bands like Our Lady Peace, Theory of a Deadman, and Everclear, to name just a few.
I’m not sure if the festival still exists today, but the lack of information on the internet leads me to believe it’s no longer running. Anyways, there was a film crew preparing for us in town because the band was being followed for a documentary and we heard the city was full of drunken half-naked twenty-somethings, so we couldn’t wait to get there and begin our adventure!!
Driving to our destination turned out to be trickier than expected, though. We were about 4 hours away and I’m behind the wheel , eagerly bombing down the highway. I gotta say, we were all singing cheerfully at the time, when out of nowhere, we hear a loud ‘BANG!!’ The van suddenly jerks, and the trailer behind us gives a groan of distress at the same time. Shit… I had no choice but to pull over.
Now, if you’ve not managed a rock band for yourself, you’ll not truly appreciate the intense frustration of having five young men shouting excitedly at you on the side of a strange highway, but I have to say; it was extremely loud and maddeningly chaotic. It took a crazy amount of effort to work out the logistics of it all. We were thrown completely off course and had no choice but to think of a way out of it, so that’s what we did.
A mind-blowing six hours later, I find myself separated from the group while I wait with our towed van and trailer at a local Canadian Tire. Because we all spent the previous evening packing and loading, I was exhausted and was napping in the sun on the open pavement in the parking lot (you do a ton of ‘strange sleeping’ while on tour, by the way, so it was ok). That’s when I’m finally picked up by the band in our two new rental cars.
We hooked up the trailer to our larger vehicle, said goodbye to the totaled old van (yep, a flying timing belt killed it for good), and we had no choice but to spend the night in Calgary instead. Dying for sleep and knowing we had a big day ahead of us the next day, the managers are going straight to bed, but the band guys still have a job to do, so they were heading out on the town.
Since we were due to come back to in a few days for a gig anyways, the band chose to go over to Cowboys Bar to gain some attention for their upcoming show. From the moment they stepped in, people were clearly noticing them. Their rock vibe was huge and there was a big buzz all around. There were tons of girls throwing themselves on the band members right away and (I think) this was the particular catalyst to what happened next.
Not even two hours into my sleep, we get a panicked call from the bass player who was talking so fast, he wasn’t making much sense. We knew immediately that something was wrong but we could only make out that there had been some kind of accident. Panicked and flying on adrenaline, we got up and rushed over to the bar to find out what was really going on.
When we get there, we find out that it was so much worse than we ever even imagined. Apparently, there was a group of local guys who just couldn’t handle the level of attention the band was receiving, so they started a very serious fight with the band in the parking lot.
Things had escalated so quickly, that these local hoods took their effing belts off and used them to whip at the band leaving large welts all over each of their backs, arms, and legs. The lead singer was bleeding quite profusely from the head and there were puffy, black eyes coming up for sure. The band was caught off guard and unprepared for this kind attack. It was a real mess.
The Cowboys’ security team finally managed to get our band safely back inside and away from further threat, but the local crazies were still out in the parking lot raging around and causing a scene. At some point, these assholes called their friends who eventually came in multiple vehicles , wielding bats and machetes. Yep. You heard me right. Bats and machetes, belts and maglites… That’s about the time when their fun with our rental car began.
Now, due to a police incident in another part of town, they were unable to respond to the bands 911 call for just over two hours. This left these local idiots alone to damage our rental car for as long as they wanted. It was effing insane!
Basically, they smashed everything. And I mean EVERYTHING! What was a brand new car sat in front of me like a giant wrinkled raisin and I just knew it was over. TOTALLED, no question, by a group of local weapon wielding jackasses!!! I couldn’t believe my eyes! Baseball bat sticking out from the windshield, spray paint on what was left of the ‘carcass’, it was the second vehicle we managed to total in less than 24 hours. Damn!!!
After a long, weary night recounting the events over and over for the police and our rental car company, a wounded band and their exhausted entourage head to Denny’s for a pancake breakfast. Once again we have received a new rental vehicle and are dying to get to Camrose to begin the documentary at Stage 13.
Sidenote: None of us had slept yet and the guys were in rough shape, so we were all starting to get pretty silly, but the mood was surprisingly excitable and we were eager to keep moving on despite it all.
Finally arriving at the festival, we were dying to get to our reserved camping spot and our passes into the festival and filming areas. Excitable and yet slightly grumpy, we were speaking with one of the organizers at the entrance gate when we get the news that the producer of the show failed to make the proper arrangements. To add insult to injury, the camping in the area was all sold out, so this meant that we now had no place to stay and no way to get into the area with the film crew either.
There couldn’t have been a bigger disappointment to us ever. Now we’ve got to get back on the phones and figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. Scouring the city for hotels turned into a nightmare itself because everything was booked solid for weeks before we even got there.
We ended up having to drive 45 minutes out of the city to find a campground we could stay at and it didn’t even have running water. It had a well with a handle to pump and a hole in the ground for a bathroom instead. All I’m going to say about this is, “I’m no survivor, ok? I’m a luxury camping in heels kind of girl!” so this would normally not work for me at all.
At this point though, none of us had slept in 48 hours or more, the guys were bruised and battered, and we were desperate as hell, so we set up camp and (for the first time) relaxed just a little before finally collapsing to sleep.
The day after all these crazy things happened, it seemed as if the band’s notoriety had kicked up notch. All of a sudden, everyone was buzzing about our story and it was unexpectedly creating all kinds of opportunity for us. Things turned around on a dime and the next day I found myself with a backstage pass to the restricted zone at Stage 13. Yay!! The documentary crew caught up with us and the band now had a great story to tell, so it was starting to feel as if the air was alive with electricity. Finally we were shining like stars once again. THANK GOD!
Because of these experiences, we were noticed by a very influential rock music mogul who attended our show the next night, but that’s another story for another time. I’ve only talked about the first two days on tour and I still had another 3 weeks to go. With each venue that passed, our story got crazier and more incredible. I can’t deny it. Tornadoes; lost drunken band members; impromptu gigs in the middle of the Rockies; communal showers; and getting kicked out of hotels are just a slice of the highlights I could touch upon coming up.
Looking back, I can see that surviving the challenges of this job was extremely difficult, but it was a huge learning experience. It was something I found that I was able to handle because I was stronger than I expected myself to be. I surprised myself. 🙂
Because of that, I will never forget any of these road memories I have. The worse things got, the sweeter the reward that followed. It was amazing! It kept me on my toes and forced me to push forward even when I felt like giving up. It was a real test of character that provided me with a new level of confidence in my abilities through the face of adversity. Wow.
Upon reflection, I guess I was pretty lucky after all. 🙂
Do you believe that bad things happen for good reason sometimes? I’d love to hear from you.