The first of the academy's semiannual classes kicked off last June and features specialists in how to deal with the physical nuances of an entertainment bus, including electrical systems, Internet setups and overall repairs. Along with the basics of the business, revolving panels of veteran drivers and tour managers provide insight into the transition from the usually solo experience of driving an 18-wheeler to becoming part of an entertainer's extended road family-without becoming too star-struck along the way.
"You don't get to necessarily hang out with [the artists]," says Michael Brame, 57. He participated in the academy's inaugural class and, since completing the course, has spent time on the road with B.o.B, Salt-N-Pepa and BlackHawk. "Sometimes you get to go to shows or . . . eat a meal with them. I just want to deliver them as safe as I can, and do it again tomorrow."
Instead of operating the Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy out of a centralized office, Huffman and Rice run the class out of the Nashville headquarters of Prevost, the Quebec-based motorcoach manufacturer that signed on as a sponsor last spring. Prevost also provides "shells" of entertainment coaches for the students to train with and technicians to assist in the interactive sessions.
Rice says the academy has already received a number of applications for its upcoming course, although he and Huffman aren't currently looking to expand past 15-20 students per session. That way, the co-founders can continue personally helping participants find driving employment after completing the academy by recommending them to touring managers as driving assistants.
The academy's goal is simple: set an education precedent for the chauffeurs of major tours. "Anybody who is putting together a tour," Rice says, "would be remiss if they didn't have a graduate of our academy ready to go out with them."
••••The Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy's next session begins April 20. For more information, go to huffman-rice.com/driver-school.