For the first time in 15 months, live music is returning nationwide after the global coronavirus pandemic ravaged the industry. Billboard’s “My First Show Back” is a series dedicated to sharing stories from throughout the touring ecosystem about what’s happening now, what has been forever altered and what will never change.
In this installment, Ground Branch Touring’s Henry Bordeaux talks about helping Tyler, the Creator return to the stage for three surprise shows in Los Angeles, Dallas and New York (June 29-July 1). As tour manager for Tyler (as well as Olivia Rodrigo), Bordeaux discusses reopening venues, the unmistakable roar of a live crowd and what he is doing to help students who lost out on a year of learning the live music business.
We did three shows in three days. All of them were secret shows — all of them were underplays. We did The Roxy on Sunset with a capacity of 500. Trees in Dallas was at 750-capacity and then Music Hall of Williamsburg at about 600-capacity. In each city, the fans didn’t know what was going on until a certain time of day. They got a text that said, “You’ve been chosen for a special event. Bring your vaccination card and an ID.” The fans got there and they checked IDs and vaccination cards, the fans got wristbands. A couple hours went by and then they got another text with the location and when to be there.
It was a well-thought-out plan to make sure that Tyler’s biggest fans got to see him, but we mitigated any risk of pandemonium hitting the front doors of these venues and potentially shutting down the shows. We wanted to create the right amount of chaos without causing any concern.
We started with The Roxy and I realized how poetic it was for Tyler, given that the last time he played The Roxy, the night ended with him in handcuffs in the middle of Sunset Blvd with helicopters swarming. It was a full circle moment, especially given the guest artists who were there. Domo Genesis, Brent Faiyaz, Fana Hues and Daisy World were the ones who performed that night but there was a who’s-who in the audience like Drake to support an old-school hip-hop show.
As I was putting this together, I was like, “Tyler, what do you want this to look like on stage?” and he was like, “Nothing. I didn’t have all that back then. These are old-school rap shows. Just use house lights and a microphone. Clear deck.” It was easy to understand and it was a great way to show that live events are back and you don’t need these big productions.
That’s the magic of Tyler. He’s an artist that is willing to put himself out there like that. It was a very raw show. He forgot the lyrics to some of his older songs. It was amazing to see that there is a human on stage and you’ve got to forgive him for forgetting lyrics because he hasn’t performed in two years. He could still just jump into it and freestyle and command the stage.
Knowing this was also the Roxy’s first show back, that was a very special moment, not just for us but for the whole venue and their house staff. I went into it so appreciative and thankful to everybody like, “Welcome back to your venue.” New York was a similar situation where it was their first show back and to see the lights turned on again and to see everybody dust themselves off — it felt like riding a bike. At the same time, we can all admit like, “Are we forgetting something?”
When Tyler did his first song and we got to raise the curtain, you could hear the roar. The beat drops and the fans knew what song it was and it was a song he had never performed. The crowd just started to move as one with Tyler instantly. It makes your hair stand up on your arms. This is why we do this.
Every event that Tyler just did, we had a student volunteer that was like an intern we specifically brought in. We wanted to pull back the curtain and show that student what it was like to put on a show. It was great to use these shows to teach and mentor a new generation of students in the music industry.
During COVID when shows weren’t happening, myself and six other tour managers got together and started our own school for the music industry called Tour Management 101. We’ve been teaching tour management skills for 80 lessons on YouTube for free. We’ve been able to pull our lessons from amazing individuals from all over the industry, from booking agents to venues to artists and such, to teach the way the music industry works. There is no class for this. Even if you went to college, I guarantee you didn’t really learn what the industry is like.
There is a new culture and a new generation of students that want to get into the live music industry. The pandemic robbed these students of a first year at a record label or as an intern for CAA or something. I’ve spent the last year teaching and mentoring so many students — we’ve grown to over 3,000 students worldwide on our platform. I know the touring industry will grow and be stronger because of this.
As told to Taylor Mims