On The Road (from left to right): Tre Williams, Mark Farner, Warren Hayes, and Ray Waddell. (Photo: Michael Seto)
For the Touring Conference's final presentation of Day 1 (Nov. 7), it was time to get out from behind the desks and see what things look like from the stage. Billboard's Ray Waddell led a lighthearted conversation with artists/road warriors Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad), Warren Haynes(Gov't Mule, Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead) and Tre Williams on the highlights and challenges of being a successful professional musician.
| "I get a lot of 'Hardest Working Man' and that kind of stuff. My response to that is that housewives work harder than I do...."
- Warren Haynes
Waddell kicked things off by asking the panelists about their career beginnings, which Williams summed up well with a highly quotable anecdote. "There's no promise that a new artist won't hear. One day I was walking around and got a phone call, and the guy said 'Hey Tre, I'm a rep for Nas, and Nas wants you to join his label.' I hung up the phone immediately, because if it was real he'd call back. And he called right back. 'No, seriously, [Nas] wants you. He wants to meet you right now.' So I ask where he is. 'He's outside your house right now.' I told my wife 'I'm not going to work tomorrow.' That's what you need at that stage, confirmation."
While the three artists are rather pragmatic regarding the hardships of their lives, they came across here as endearing, down-to-earth and grateful for the chances they were given. "Traveling and eating bad food,and being away from our families... the payoff is walking on stage and playing music," said Haynes.
"I feel, whether its for 5 or 5,000, I'm going to do the same show. My problems are not your concern. I look at it as 'go out there and do the job,'" said Williams.
Haynes continued on that tack when asked about his prolificacy, balancing his time between the Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers Band, and Gov't Mule, among others. "I get a lot of 'Hardest Working Man' and that kind of stuff. My response to that is that housewives work harder than I do. I don't consider what I do work. Doing what I do intensely is not an issue," he said. "No matter how bad you feel or what problems anybody in the band may have, at showtime people don't want to hear that. They paid money, they came a long way, and you have to deliver. There's something that happens when you walk on stage, and you're able to give it your best. I think that's something that drives all of us," he added.
"You put on your stage face. I don't are how sick you are, whatever. It's in our heart... there's something bigger than all of us that takes over," said Farner.
All Smiles: The discussion (featuring Williams, Farner, and Hayes) was an enjoyable ending to Day 1 of the conference. (Photo: Michael Seto)
The conversation wasn't all reminiscence and funny tales, however. Waddell urged Haynes to elaborate on an aside he made that was critical of the current, generally arena-located, upward trend in ticket prices. "It doesn't have to be that way. I think we've reached a point, it's the same with sports, that the average person you want to appeal to can't afford to come to your show. We try to keep the cost down as much as possible. We'd rather have more people paying less than less people paying more. It's been an avalanche, a snowball effect, and it's kind of ridiculous."
Waddell then asked "What would you want venues promoters to know?" To which Farner offered, "I think, for me personally, I see class war going on in our country. I think it's horseshit. People are people. Kick us out into the street with no clothes on and we'll look the same. Music is for everybody; it's for the person who don't have a dime. It's going to bring that person up. They aren't gonna have to pay $150-200 to come and see me."
Closing the conversation, Haynes offered his advice for aspiring careerists in the music business. "Don't. What I tell people, and it may seem a little grim, is that if you're obsessed with it and you know that's what you want to do, then give it 110%. If you're not, then music is a great hobby, but don't depend on it to pay your bills. If you're not sure, then don't do it. The people that do it for the rest of their lives are the people who are driven to do it for the rest of their lives. Being a part of the actual music business is not for the lighthearted. I think that having music as part of your life is so wonderful, so why turn it into responsibility and pressure?"