Backstage-Blog Classics - My Day As A Rock Star
It’s closing time. The people around the table in the restaurant are rather quiet. The main act’s manager, crew and the band members have been going over what happened tonight. This was the first night of their current tour, and not everybody is satisfied. Finally somebody gets to the point: “I think we should get another support band!” This isn’t a decision taken lightly, especially by the headlining band’s guitarist, whose friends the support act’s members are.
In the end the crew’s decision is unanimous – this support band isn’t fit for a professional tour. The headliners’ guitarist sums it up well:
“What a shame! They’re a great band with good songs, but they’re just not up to the job. Let’s get in touch with the next possible choice as quickly as we can. Who’s going to tell the guys the bad news? I think they’re still backstage.”
“I’ll do it gladly” the production manager grins.
How did we get to this point?
What has happened?
Let’s rewind, and start our story the day before in a suburb of the Finnish capital.
I slowly open my eyes, not exactly sure where I am. Slowly the pieces start falling into place. I remember I’ve been partying late
last night, celebrating my band’s spot as the warm-up act for one of this country’s biggest metal bands. If tonight’s try-out gig goes well, we might get the support slot on the band’s upcoming tours of Finland and, later, Europe.
My bandmates and I had agreed to meet in front of the venue at 2 o’clock sharp. I look at my watch, and notice that I’ve only one hour left to get there. I’m still not dressed and in a neighbouring town, which means I’m late
. Well, probably the meeting time isn’t such an important issue. After all, I’m the band’s guitar god, one of the songwriters, and I also do harmony vocals, so the other guys can be a little flexible. “I won’t get sacked from the band; hey, I practically am the band” I mutter to myself while putting on my army boots in the hall of a nice suburban house. I bid farewell to last night’s conquest, and set off for the bus stop.
On the bus I suddenly remember that it had been my responsibility to check if the headliners’ FOH mixer and their lighting technician could also take care of our part of the show
. Pulling my phone out I notice that its battery is empty. I try to stay calm by convincing myself that everything will be OK – after all, the guys get paid to do their job
. For some strange reason a whole row of things left undone suddenly rises on the horizon like a convoy of ships. Somehow all these things lost their importance after downing the first couple of beers at the pub yesterday evening.
Ah, bugger, my amp had started making strange noises during yesterday’s rehearsals. Surely I will be able to borrow an amp from the headliners’ backline, won’t I? We’re about to tour the world together, and bands on tour share their equipment all the time
. You have to help a friend in need.
While the bus crawls ever closer to the city centre, I try to recall if I did pack enough picks and strings along for the show
. I hop off early and rush to a music store to buy three picks and a set of strings
. I know this will make me run even later, but after all I’m late for a good reason
. I also pop into a burger restaurant, as I haven’t had any breakfast so far. “A minute or two won’t make any difference” I think to myself.
I arrive at the venue, and find my bandmates waiting nervously outside. I give them my usual excuse: “Sorry that I’m a bit late, guys! I had to buy some strings and picks. Otherwise I would have been on time
The headlining band are currently doing their soundcheck. Our drummer tells me: “We have already put up all our equipment, so we’re ready to go on stage, as soon as you’re ready. You still have enough time to set up your gear behind the stage
, while they’re playing.”
I step into the venue – our nation’s most famous Temple of Rock – and hear the headliners doing their soundcheck. I give them the sign of the beast, when I notice our band’s drum kit at the side of the stage. Cool, I can join the fun! I jump onto the stage and start banging the drums along to the main act’s soundcheck
. “Hey, let me throw in some syncopations for good measure!” I think.
For some reason this stops the band right in their tracks. This is the first time I get to meet my new friend. A bearded guy – about six feet four – clad in trousers with thigh pockets and a worker shirt, turns up next to me, signalling in no uncertain terms that my drumming skills are not appreciated.
Maybe I should introduce myself
, but this is only some overeager buffoon of a roadie paid to work for us. I quit drumming and try to concentrate on the important things in life – where to find the next bevvy. Backstage I find the headliners’ dressing room
. I look inside their fridge, and, voilà, the jackpot, a beer tray. I take a bottle of beer from the fridge
and open it with the opener hanging from the fridge’s side. The cap flies across the dressing room. “Aaah, this is the life” I smile to myself. The beer reminds me that this also might be just the right time for a ciggie.
I smoke outside, daydreaming about our upcoming fantastic set, when I feel someone nudging my shoulder. It’s our drummer.
“We can go on now. I’ve already taken my kit onstage, where’s your gear?”
“Uh, shucks, let me just finish this fag!
“Come on, man, we’re pressed for time, you should come right now!”
“How much time have we got?”
“About half an hour…”
“What the f***
? We were supposed to rehearse our new song’s bridge modulation
; it sounded crap yesterday.”
“Hurry up. There’s not much time!”
“This stinks! A support band should get to do a thorough soundcheck, too.
I finish my ciggie, and then take my time in joining the others.
I start searching for my equipment. I remember that I didn’t get my pedalboard finished during yesterday’s rehearsals
, like I planned. I find one of our suitcases – hm, there’s something rattling inside. I take a peek and then turn to our drummer:
“Did you see that yellow plastic bag that was parked in front of my amp? My leads and my pedals should be in there.”
“Uh, yeah, I think I’ve seen it somewhere around here.”
Yes, there it is. I throw the heap on stage, and start hooking everything up. One of the cables had a loose connection, causing my signal to drop out, but I can’t remember which. These leads look different from the ones I used yesterday, which is strange.
At the same time I become aware of the fact that the right side of the stage feels kind of cramped. Some “stupid speaker cabinet” has been parked there. I get a little worked up and look for that damn “roadie” I had met before. I demand the bass cabinet be moved.
Nobody seems the least bit interested. “F***ing wankers!” I think to myself, and start moving the cabinet myself
to get a little more space on stage. All of a sudden my bearded friend turns up like the wind, looks me in the eyes and says: “The cab will stay put. Set up your own amp next to it!”
Resigned to my fate I notice how hot you can get when setting up your gear with the stage lights on. I take off my coat and find a suitable spot for it on the drum riser. “This is a great spot” I think. “Nobody is going to need this kit before the headlining act.” I hang my coat neatly on the main band’s ride cymbal stand
I’m forced to keep my amp in a different place than usual, and the stage is quite large too. The amp is too far away from my pedals. I have to concede that my cables are too short
. This way the leads are like tripwires, but there’s no time to sort things out now. It doesn’t take long, though, and I hear someone cursing loudly, right behind me. It’s my friend, the mountain of a roadie, who’s just tripped on my cables
. If looks could kill…
I’ve brought the power brick for my pedals, which is why I ask for an AC outlet at the front of the stage. The technicians tell me there is no outlet at the front, because the headlining band doesn’t require any power there. I tell them to hurry up, because my pedals need power right now!
The band technician conjures up a white extension cord with three Schuko outlets. My pedals buzz like hell, but at least I’ve got a signal coming through.
The remaining pair of Schukos is left unused. I kick the end of the extension cable to the front between two floor monitors. “Now it’s out of the way” I think to myself.
I want to give my setup the finishing touch by taping my cables to the stage floor. “Oi! Where’s the gaffer tape?” I shout across the stage. Nobody seems to listen, but then I spot a roll of tape on the monitor desk on the other side of the stage. There’s nobody there, so I simply snatch the gaffer tape
and tape my leads to the floor. After I’m done I put the roll of tape on top of my amp
, where I can find it easily.
Despite being a little late we finally get our soundcheck done. I lean my guitar against the headlining act’s bass cabinet
, and make for the dressing room to get myself another beer. I manage to open the door of the fridge, when a large hand slams it shut right in front of my face.
A familiar voice announces: “All the drinks in here are reserved for the headliners!”
“So where the f*** are our beverages?”
“I’d check with the production office, if I were you. You did send your rider to our management or the venue, didn’t you?”
“Of course…” I reply, when in fact I just remembered that this was the item on my to-do list I couldn’t remember in the morning.
“And by the way: Your dressing room is on the upper floor at the other side of the venue. This dressing room is reserved for the headliners!”
“This stinks! I’m going to complain about this shabby treatment to the headlining band’s guitarist
. He’s a good friend of mine – he’s going to set you straight!”
“The stage has to be cleared now. It’s time for the first warm-up band, who will open the show.”
“You’ve got to be kidding! We’ve only just set up, and I’ve even taped my cables to the floor.”
“Shut the f*** up! Get the stage cleared right now, if you want to play tonight!”
It seems there’s a genuine bromance beginning to blossom between the production manager – aka “the bearded roadie” – and me.
Our drummer looks at me pleadingly, so I turn around and grudgingly remove my pedals and cables from the stage. “Just when I had taped it all so neatly…” I grumble to myself.
I notice that the bearded roadie struggles to get the openers’ guitar rig on stage through a narrow corridor. He seems to have a really difficult time, which amuses me greatly. “Serves him right!” I think. You can be sure that I won’t help him
After a short breather and the compulsory bottle of beer, we’re informed that our catering is provided by the house. We make our way to the kitchen, and load heaps of food onto our plates. We take over two tables in the venue’s bar and tuck into our food. After this scrumptious dinner we leave our plates on the table
and go outside for a smoke.
Outside we run into three chicks, and I start a conversation. Buoyed by the brew I have downed a few minutes before, I attempt a little flirting. I tell the girls that I’m in the band. I also tell them about the girl I shagged last night in the posh house. These girls seem the inhibited, shoegazing type, and clearly seem embarrassed. A door opens and out steps the headlining band’s singer. He puts his arm around his girlfriend, who still looks a bit confused
, and makes for the hotel.
I coax my drummer to follow me to a nearby pub, so we can take care of our fluid intake. We run into a group of other musicians we know at the pub. We talk about all sorts of things, when we touch on the subject of sound engineers. This reminds me of the way I have just been treated, so I tell everybody in the pub
what a stupid piece of sh*t the headliners’ production manager is.
Back at the venue I make myself comfortable in our dressing room above the bar. The room is nice and large, there are drinks in the fridge, and everything seems hunky dory. After a while our drummer notices that the hard liquor
we had on our rider hasn’t been supplied. The restaurant is quite crowded, which makes a trip from our dressing room to the production office too hard to face
. Our drummer finds a solution:
“Hey, why don’t we go downstairs to the bar
to claim our liquor?”
We all trek downstairs to the bar, where a nice looking girl tries to keep up with all the orders. We try to demand our bottle of schnapps
, but our demands fall on deaf ears. I hurl a little additional abuse at the girl
, when I notice by looking at a clock on the wall, that the set of the first warm-up band must have come to a close already
“We should get going and set up our stuff!
” the drummer suggests.
“I’m going to pop out for a fag first. See you on stage…” I reply, and start pushing through the crowd.
As I arrive backstage I’m met by a familiar figure:
“Hurry up, man, and get your backline ready. The linecheck will start the moment you’re set.”
So I grab my plastic bag and extract the cables and the pedals I had already set up and disassembled once before
. This seems to take ages. The extension cord I had asked for during soundcheck seems to have gone awol.
The clock is ticking, and my new friend parks himself beside me. “Geez, what’s taking you so long? Your set starts in ten minutes!” I look at the mess of pedals and leads in front of me. I haven’t had time to check my guitar, yet. I start sweating and my vision gets blurred, but in the end I get my pedals powered up, with a signal coming through. Only five minutes to go.
I almost forgot – the set is going to take half an hour, I will need a few bottles of beer on stage
! I run over to the headliners’ dressing room and get myself a few bottles from their fridge
; then I rush back to the stage.
Our set starts a couple of minutes late, but we’re feeling great, rocking hard. The first song goes by in a rush. Because our linecheck was incomplete
the mixing engineer is still working on the sound, and my adrenaline rush doesn’t necessarily come across to the audience yet. Our sound is a bit of a muddy mess.
During the second song my signal starts to cut out. I guess my dodgy looking, kinked guitar lead might be the culprit. I notice a neatly coiled up cable on the amp next to mine, and use it as my spare. “Great, somebody’s left a spare cable lying around!
The third song is a ballad, all romantic and cozy. Annoyingly, my pedals buzz like hell
, which takes away from the warm glow of the song. Even though I have bought one of the best delay pedals only recently, the noise seems to prevent the pedal from shining.
Our fourth number is a high-octane rocker, and the audience goes apeshit. Our singer runs across the stage, but trips over the AC extension cord in front of my pedals
. Doesn’t matter – the show must go on! Oh no, some dork in the front row loses grip of his lager, and the fluid spills all over said extension cable’s unused sockets
I clench my teeth in fear of an electric shock. I run over to the main act’s drum riser and snatch one of the towels lying there
. I throw the towel over the extension cable soak up the beer. There’s no fatal short, so our set continues.
Our set turns into the home straight, and our fifth song is almost over. I see the production manager at the side of the stage signalling that our time is nearly up. A string breaks. I should have remembered to change the strings before our gig – the fresh set is still in my gigbag. Luckily it’s only the treble e.
When the song is finished I can hear somebody in the audience call my band’s name and shouting “Encore!”. My brain is buzzing from endorphin and alcohol. I shout to the guys: “They want to hear more!”
The bearded roadie rolls off a whole dance of different hand signals and grimaces at the side of the stage, making it very clear he wants us to stop.
We’ve already gone overtime
, but I only stare back at him and start playing the opening riff to our encore
. My band and I rock like there’s no tomorrow. The audience loves us. What a great gig! Yes!
As a fitting finishing touch I kick all the microphone stands at the front of the stage
. They all fall over and the mikes hit the stage with loud “thunks”. One of them also hits the two full bottles of beer
I had taken on stage. I make the sign of the beast, shout “Rock ‘n’ Roll”, and get off the stage.
What a great gig! In the backstage area I notice a beverage tray filled with beer and water bottles. There’s a stack of neatly folded towels on top of the bottles. I grab myself a beer and a couple of towels
. I use one towel to dry my armpits and upper body, and the other for my face and hair. I drape the towels across my shoulders and sit down in satisfaction
A door is thrown open, and my nemesis rushes towards me. “Get the f*** off your arse and clear the stage! Now!”
Like a hunted animal I run to the stage, and right into a chaotic scene. Where are my things? I can’t find my plastic bag. I don’t know where the lid of my pedalboard is
. I try to grab and lift all my pedals and cables, so I can carry them to safety, but some of my pedals slip and fall to the ground. I only hope that the expensive new delay pedal isn’t one of them.
I find a plastic bag in the backstage area, and start packing my equipment. Some of my cables are missing, I can’t find my power supply, and I notice my nice guitar lead must have been run over by some heavy equipment. I’m also still one effect pedal short. I make for the stage to check if the pedal is still there. I hope nobody’s nicked it!
But the production manager steps in my way and prevents me from going on:
“OK, we need to clear the backstage area. Everybody out!”
“But I still have a pedal and some cables somewhere on the stage…”
“You will get them after the show is over. I promise to go looking for your stuff.”
“You’ve already been given a lot of leeway today. Now, get out!”
Seems all I can do now is wait for the show to end. This leaves me ample time to worry over my missing equipment. Some wanker has probably stolen my pedal, and is now happily fondling it on a commuter train.
This is so frustrating. I’m so cheesed off, I seriously consider leaving the bloody pedals behind. I catch myself thinking that the new delay pedal isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I could do without it, and maybe I don’t even need my phaser…
I drink at the bar and tell everybody that my guitar tone comes from my fingers. “I don’t need no stupid pedals. They’re more trouble than what they’re worth!”
The headlining band has finished. The show is over. The backstage area is very crowded, but because the end of the working day is in sight, everybody seems more relaxed. The production manager is busy, and doesn’t seem to care anymore who’s hanging around backstage. There’s lots of laughter and cheerful banter. I’m sitting on a sofa nursing my beer, while holding a spliff in the other hand. I seem my friend the roadie come over with a neatly packed bundle.
“What’s this?” I ask a bit surprised.“The pedals and cables I found on stage.”
“Ah, yeah,” I laugh “I’d already forgotten about them!”
”, he says with a disappointed look on his face.
Instead of thanking him, I make sure the woodbine finds its way to the musician sitting next to me. I start chatting to the ladies: “Oh, those roadies! What a strange bunch, eh?”
Somehow it’s cute to see a plastic bag carrying support act, who haven’t yet found out how these things work. Some new bands can be clueless, but trying to do their best and willing to learn. No need to behave like an arse when dealing with them, only because you are on the famous headliners’ payroll.
If you’re ever invited to be a support band, make sure you’re on time, take care of your side of the show professionally, and try not to get in the way. As a support act you’re guests of the headlining band, and guests should know how to behave.
Shit has a tendency to trickle down, as we all know. If the headliners have had a bad night, they will often take it out on their technicians, who in turn might take it out on the support act.
If you want to make a living out of teching for touring bands you should always remember, that somewhere along the line one of the young hopefuls may become your employer.
To paraphrase famous Finnish athlete Matti Nykänen:
“Be humble on your way up, because you will meet the same people again on your way down.”
19.6.2018 Kimmo Aroluoma
The writer is the owner of Custom Boards Finland. He is a veteran guitar tech who has toured for years with Finnish bands HIM, Amorphis, Michael Monroe, The Rasmus and Von Hertzen Brothers. Today he designs pedalboards and runs his own web shop in Helsinki, Finland.