What’s it like to be a modern-day roadie? Showtime took over Austin’s Clive Bar during SXSW to not only sponsor a stage that rocked for three days with acts including the Head and the Heart, Ra Ra Riot and Borns, but also to provide food, drink and even complimentary massages for anyone with a working crew badge.
It’s all part of the ramp-up to new scripted series Roadies, created and directed by Cameron Crowe, starring Luke Wilson and Carla Gugino and premiering on the network June 26. “It’s kind of a rock’n’roll love story,” Don Buckley, Showtime head of marketing, tells Billboard. “You really get to experience the family of these crew members who are the unsung heroes of rock.”
Showtime invited Billboard in to talk with some of the real road warriors. If you’re tethered to an old-school vision of a big-bellied stoner, think again. These guys are health-conscious, tech-savvy, and many are multi-tasking in their own in bands or music production. Here’s what they had to say:
* Gigs are fluid, loyalty is strong
“The coolest thing is I’ve never had a resume,” says Max Terlecki, who loads for Borns and also works with Transviolet and Milo Greene. “You just work with a ton of people, doing one-offs until you get referred and a band picks you up. It’s all freelance.”
Word of mouth brought Carson Milican on the road with Bronze Radio Return. He’d just been fired from his bartending and pondering next steps when his phone lit up. “I was laying out formal wear and ready to go do some job interviews, and I got a text and it said, How’d you like to go see the country?” he says.
Being a member of the crew still often means wearing a few hats. Erin Hinojos, who’s been working consistently as a roadie for three years, also does double-duty as tour manager for Hey Marseilles. “It’s all under the same umbrella,” he says. “When you’re out in the road, you’re all roadies. I’ve been tour manger, done merch, management.”
Milican’s duties include loading, residuals and merch. “He makes it easy for us because the industry average is four to five bucks a head, merchandise-wise,” says Bronze Radio Return vocalist Bob Tanen says. “This guy has been doing upwards of 10 to 12. That’s dollars a head."
Contracts are signed for most roadie positions, but the scope of work varies. “You’ve got to work the deal. Some guys get paid a weekly salary. I’ve got buddies who are on a retainer and they get paid a certain amount and if there’s a show they get an extra, say, $400 a day,” says TJ Elias, who travels with Jamestown Revival.
Elias says pay schedules are determined band by band. “There are guys who get a daily rate and get a certain amount of money for days there’s a show and less money on off days. Some guys get set amount per week, some get a set amount per year. Some bands will keep crew members on retainer all year. I’ve been paid a couple hundred dollars a month just to keep my schedule open for them.”
Still, there always seems to be some wiggle room. Although Elias says he recently “locked out everything else to do front of house for Jamestown Revival,” he picked up an extra gig during a night off during SX working for Cypress Hill. “They asked and I said sure, I’ve got nothing going on, may as well make a little extra cash.”
* Not your father’s roadies
One common thread running among the crew members Billboard spoke with is a desire to put a little distance between themselves and their predecessors.
“When I hear roadie, I think of some burly dude on the Metallica tour in the ‘80s,” says Terlecki, who’s 26. “Maybe a lot of people still think that but that’s definitely not the case today.”
“You meet some of the older guys. They party harder than us young guys do and want to,” says Elias, 28, who got to know some of veteran roadies while touring with Thievery Corp. “The old mentality of let’s do as many drugs and drink as much as we can and it’s all going to be great has changed. Nowadays, you can’t do that. You have to work. Because there’s going to be some other guys who’s going to cost half as much as you and do it just as well and he’ll take your job real fast.”
Acknowledging “the older guys have a whole different mentality,” 27-year-old Hinojos says they can also be valuable mentors. “With some guys it’s great because they’ll show you how to make your deal better, they put a little less fear in you. If you have to travel and fly out and you have to check your bag, they’re the ones who are saying, 'Don’t be scared to send the bill for checking your bags.'
“It’s a double-edged thing,” he adds. “I think roadie is a bad word nowadays because a roadie is the crusty old guy who is partying, following the tour in his van because he really likes the band and is bringing them sweaty towels. And now you’re really more like the tech, or the engineer.”
* Tales from the road are still stranger than fiction
Whatever the semantics, some things haven’t changed a bit. There’s still lots of time clocked in sweaty vans and busses, occasional confusion over the city and state they wake up in, and a general feeling of familial love.
“Sleeping in bed with another guy was definitely different,” Milican says. “Mark, the sound engineer… I’d known him for two hours and that night I was snuggling with him.”
The strangest times “are when you’re in some f--king weird-ass place like in Oklahoma, maybe a little off the beat and path and you end up in a random situation,” says Terlecki. “One time we were in Nashville and all the bars were closed and we ended up going with some of the locals to an American Legion lodge. They stay open for the members and me and one of the other dudes became official members of the American Legion that night.”
Generally, venues are good to band crews these days, Milican says. “Every single venue has been super awesome. I think they are now understanding we’re sick of being on the road and we’re tired of eating at McDonald’s. So they stock up with bananas and avocados, sometimes oranges. They feed us well, but it’s usually limited, so it’s all about who’s grabbing it first.”
“Everyone’s got to work, whether it’s playing music or working at Liberty Mutual in finance,” Terlecki says. “And this has got to be one of the greatest jobs. You travel and make these surrogate families.”
And about the upcoming series? “I think it’ll be kind cool in the sense that people who have no idea there is a working crew behind a tour will realize, Oh shit, there’s an army of people that make these shows happen,” Elias says. “It’s not just the artist showing up and f--king killing it with bad-ass lights and pyro.”