When I was in college, to earn extra money I worked as a stagehand for the Coliseum, USC’s public arena used for basketball, other sporting events, and concerts. Well, it used to be. It has now been supplanted by a newer, larger complex. But the Coliseum still stands and is used to some degree.
Do not confuse stage hands with Roadies. They both do pretty much the same things, building stages and sets, setting up lighting and running cables, but Roadies travel with the show whereas stage hands are locals. I talked a bit about some of the shows that I worked when I told you about The Albino Skunk Groupie. This is another tale about a show.
This was a big combination show. It had LTD and The Parliament Funkadelics, Earth, Wind and Fire, and The Commodores. Earth, Wind and Fire would have been a big show all on its own, and the same could be said for The Commodores or LTD and The Parliament Funkadelics. The three bands combined created a huge show, and a huge night.
The setup was fairly uneventful. These bands and their Roadies had their acts together. They knew what needed to be done, where everything was, where it was suppose to go, and in what sequence. It was a massive jigsaw puzzle, stored in several semi-tractor trailer trucks, which they had put together and taken apart dozens of times, so they worked like a well-oiled machine. During my basic grunt work, lugging items here and there as instructed, there came a break while the lighting guys started aiming some light grids. I wandered over to the monitor mixing board and looked it over.
In a show of this size, there are two very important people that the audience is hardly aware of. There is the key mixer. He or she generally sits way out in front of the stage behind a mixing console. They control the sound as the audience hears it, turning on and off microphones, adjusting volumes to create the proper mix, firing up any tape or echo effects or other sound devices that are needed.
In addition to the key mixer there is the monitor mixer. This person sits behind a mixing console that is usually stationed on one of the wings of the stage. They do essentially the same thing as the key mixer, but they do it for the monitor system that allow the musicians and performers to hear what they need to hear. Some performers have their monitor mix sent to earplugs, some rely on monitor speakers that are either at the stage footlights’ area, or sometimes under the stage itself, playing through grids in the flooring.
Often each performer wants a different mix. The bass player may want to hear more bass and drum to help keep time. The lead singer may be more interested in the lead guitar or horns or other instruments that help them stay in touch with the melody. The monitor mixer is often creating several different mixes at once. It is a tough job and so often goes unsung.
As I looked at the console, which was a very nice piece of equipment to say the least, one of the Roadies came over and said, “That is the monitor console.” I replied that I knew that, and then asked him some technical question about it, though I don’t remember what it was. He seemed a bit surprised, answered my question and then asked if I knew about that sort of stuff. I explained that I was studying audio recording and engineering, and hoped to be an audio engineer someday.
He was surprised and started talking with me, asking me questions. He turned out to be the monitor mixer second, basically the monitor mixer’s backup as well as the second pair of hands that is always required on something as complex as that. He said he would tag me to work with the monitor crew for the remainder of the show and tear down. There really was not much set up left to do, though I did run a few microphone cables, then it was show time.
The show was a big, funky splash, and great fun. I was able to attend from the sidelines and stage wings, and just enjoyed the amazing spectacle of it all. LTD and The Parliament Funkadelics put on a really wild show, as did The Commodores. Earth, Wind and Fire were less about the show and more about the music. There was something for everyone.
After the show, I met up with the Roadie and worked with him and his team during the entire tear down, dealing mostly with the microphones, audio cables, and monitor systems. As things were winding down, he came over to me and asked, “Hey, why don’t you come out to the bus once we get this last bit loaded? We’ll party a bit and we can talk about sound work.” How could I refuse?
Adult Material Alert
Once the last truck was loaded, of which there were several, I wandered toward the busses, of which there were also several. I stood there for a moment and suddenly the Roadie came walking out of the loading docks. He spotted me, greeted me happily, and inviting me on one of the busses.
These were custom road busses. There was a small section with benches and tables, two benches per table. The back half of the buss was walled off and stacked with bunks. There was a wall with a built in cassette deck, a built in reel-to-reel deck, a built in tv and radio, and I am sure in the very back there was some sort of restroom facility. The Roadie, I seem to remember his name was Mike, and I sat at one of the tables and began chatting. He was from Ireland or Scotland, I don’t remember which. He asked me about my studies and plans and suggested that I just come with them. He said he could get me a job working the show. It would have been a good learning experience, but I am not the type to just pick up and run like that. But it was intriguing.
As we talked, there seemed to be a bustle among some of the crew. There were lots of questions about, ‘Did you find any?’ and replies like, ‘Yeah, I’ve got a guy coming.’ Then one Roadie came aboard the buss. All eyes turned to him. He responded with a huge smile and thumbs up, and a small cheer went up among the five or so folk there. The guy left and came back a few minutes later with another guy in tow. This second guy had a large, brown paper shopping bag with him. He sat down at one of the tables, and sure enough a dope deal began.
Mike told me to hang around and party with them. The dealer pulled out about a quarter of a pound of pot. Several people in the crew smelled it and looked it over. Everyone seemed happy, they paid the dealer and he left. Mike and I kept talking about sound and mixing, recording and recording versus live sound. I noticed that one of the crew across from us had pulled out a box of Zig-Zag papers and was carefully licking and gluing a bunch of them together. He eventually crafted this super sized rolling paper, about eight inches long and four inches wide.
He pulled out of the quarter pound of weed what would have been a month’s worth of reefer for a smoker like me, and I was no light weight back then, and rolled a joint about the size of one of a small baby’s arm. Then he sat back, lit it up and puffed away. He did not make any move to pass it. Mike informed me, “We smoke our fill and then pass it. It just makes it easier when we are on the road, rather than trying to keep everyone in a tight group.”
Mike and I continued to talk. The buss began filling with that pungent smell. For me, at that time in my life it was a wonderful aroma. The mood began to mellow as people began to relax from the work and the buss began to feel the buzz. Mike asked me if I did coke. I told him, ‘No.’ He asked if I would like to try a little. I gave him a sort of half answer, not saying yes or no. Pot was my thing. I didn’t have any burning desire to try anything else, but I also was not completely opposed to experimentation and seeing what else was out there.
About that time the buss driver climbed onboard. People were starting to settle in. Mike kept looking for someone who wasn’t on the buss yet. The buss driver was checking things, and asking one of the key Roadies if everyone was onboard, which they were not. The driver was anxious and began to talk about the need to roll to keep up with the gear trucks, which had already left.
The buss driver cranked up the buss and blew the horn, which I took as an ‘all aboard’ signal. I realized that also meant, ‘all ashore that’s going ashore,’ so I started to say my goodbyes and got ready to leave. I had been eyeing the massive joint, but it had not yet left the grasp of the guy who had rolled it. Mike held me back a bit, saying, “Wait just a moment.” He then asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to come along with us? Really, I can get you a job on the show.”
A few people were dashing toward the buss. Onboard, people were starting to settle into their personal spaces. The buss driver was antsy and pushing to get everyone on. I was trying to get up to leave in the middle of the hustle. As the last guy came onboard, Mike grabbed him and whispered in his ear. The guy handed Mike something and then Mike sat down in front of me. He had a small vial, and a small coke spoon. He scooped out a tiny bit and told me to snort it, which I did.
The buss driver revved the engine and began to close the door and release the air brakes, “Kowissh.” Mike yelled over his shoulder, “Hold on a sec.” The driver yelled back, “Time to go.” Mike scooped out another little bit of the white powder and lifted it to my nose. I snorted it up and then said, “I need to go.” Mike asked again, “Are you sure?” I tried to quickly explain that I am enrolled at the university. I can’t just up and leave and do that to my folks. Mike understood and wished me well. He asked the driver to open the door and let me off, which he did. No sooner than I was off the buss the door closed and the buss began to roll.
I walked to my car, well, my folk’s car, got in and started on my way home. Home was about a forty minute drive from downtown. It entailed about five minutes of city driving, thirty minutes on the interstate, and another five minutes of country roads. The coke really hit on the interstate. I felt good. I felt light. I felt energized. Lights were bright, my mind was working in a fine-tuned fashion, attention to what I was doing was easy. It was a wonderfully energizing affect. However, as I was about to get off the interstate, it was gone. As quickly as it came over me, it was gone.
In a good way, I am glad for Mike and that experience. The high was so short lived that I immediately realized that I had no further interest in blow. There was no way I would want to spend that much for so little, not to mention the addiction risk.
I drove the last few miles down those back country roads, thankful for the experience. I had gotten a behind the scene’s look at monitor systems, Roadie work, and an unexpected experience with a narcotic that almost destroyed the 1980’s. All in all, I had a great time towing the line with LTD.