Multiband Shows are all about Organization and Teamwork
Multi-band shows on any level, be it a national act with a local opener in a concert hall, a battle of the bands at a local high school, or the Bonnaroo Festival, can be a great musical experience for both the performers, and audience. They can also be a logistical nightmare for event organizers, production companies, crew members, and the musicians. The key to these kinds of events running smoothly is highly organized and coordinated advanced planning and an overall spirit of teamwork.
Typically, the most well run multi-band shows have a designated stage manager, usually hired by the event, the production company, or the headlining act. In the days and weeks prior to the event, the stage manager will coordinate between the event buyer, the production company, local crew, and the tour managers of the bands and artists involved. In a perfect world, the proper planning and effort will result in a painless day of load-ins and load-outs, sound checks, line checks, and performances, all happening glitch free and on-time. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.
Some of the problems that can arise might range from performers and equipment arriving late, bad weather, equipment problems, a shortage of stagehands, ineffective communication, and often, just poor planning. I was recently involved in a show that suffered from literally all of these problems.
At any multi-band show, especially on a national level, there are some unspoken rules and protocols that come into play. If the event has hired a national act, they probably signed a contract and agreed to the terms of that acts rider. Usually these riders will provide very specific guidelines regarding all of the details pertaining to the daily activities and performance requirements of that artist or band. In many situations, it also gives the artist and tour manager final say regarding opening acts, set lengths, backstage traffic, etc. All of this must be mutually agreeable in advance, but after both parties have signed off on the rider, each will have specific responsibilities and expectations. In short, the tour manager of the headlining act and the event buyer will have complete authority over the performance related events of a given show day.
If there is more than one national act, the other acts tour managers will also have a big say, but all in accordance to each acts specific rider and the agreements made when the show was advanced. This is where it can get a little grey as some artists riders might conflict with another’s. In these situations an unspoken rule comes into play, that being that the headliner has the ultimate say, followed by the artist with the second billing, followed by third billing, etc. if there are two or more acts that each receive equal billing (co-headliners), there is usually a mutual decision making between tour managers and the event buyer. The lines can become greatly blurred on a smaller scale, such as local bands performing together in a nightclub, or regional festivals, as these situations seldom have signed contracts.
Regardless of a given events level of profile, or organizational efficiency, being a team player is of utmost importance for all involved, especially the musicians.
On a recent Rhett Akins show I worked, we were co-headlining with another national artist, Ashton Shepherd. Several days prior to the show, the events stage manager contacted me and asked if our drummer would be willing to use Ashton’s drummers kit, both to save time, and much-needed stage space. After checking with our drummer, I agreed to this request, as did the band scheduled to play before us, Matt Stillwell. The event had four bands total, and the first band scheduled to play, a regional act, would be setting up their drums in front of the other drum kit. The sound checks were scheduled to take place in reverse order of the performances, and would be starting at 1:00 PM on the day of show for a 4:00 PM showtime. Sounds simple enough, right?
Not. The first thing to throw the schedule off was bad weather, as it rained in the morning pushing back the production set up. Ashton’s band began their set up at 2:00, and it was understood and accepted that the show would probably not start on time. About a half-hour into their set up, I walked out to the stage to discover the openers enormous eight piece drum kit being constructed in the middle of the undersized stage. When I asked the drum tech why he was setting up these drums before the other bands had sound checked, he replied “The stage manager said I have to have these setup by 4:00 no matter what.” I told him that the stage manager was wrong to request this, as there was simply not enough space on the tiny stage for three other bands to set up their backline and sound check. This resulted in a big argument between me and the unyielding drum tech, which resulted in another big argument with the stage manager.
The stage manager didn’t want to budge on his decision, despite the fact that he had discussed none of this with me in advance. Of course he was wrong in his actions, as this kind of decision-making was a complete breach of our rider, in addition to being just plain stupid. So rather than continue with the stalemate, I suggested asking Ashton’s drummer, Brian, if he would be willing to share the use of his kit with one more band. Brian agreed, asking simply that the positioning of his drums not be altered, a request that both Rhett and Matt Stillwell’s drummers had both previously agreed to. Perfect. Problem solved, right?
Nope. When the openers drummer was presented with this option, he said “I can’t play these drums without moving them. I need to change a few things. The height of the symbols, the height and angle of the toms, I need to move the hi hat cymbal stand so I can replace your kick pedal with my double kick pedal.” The look on Brian’s face was that of “you’ve got some nerve, kid”, but in the spirit of making this all work out, he agreed to let this unenlightened fellow make some of these changes.
In the end, it all worked out. The show started late, but all four bands play their shows to an enthusiastic crowd. This story underscores a few great points. Ashton’s drummer presented a grand gesture of goodwill will by offering to share the use of his drum kit. This is not expected in these kinds of situations, and is actually quite rare, but when it is offered, it’s another unspoken rule to simply not move the positioning of the drums, especially when specifically requested. His initial generosity, and his willingness to budge on his own principles for the common good, exemplify the meaning of the phrase ‘team player’. On the contrary, the opening band’s drummer and his tech acted in poor taste. They created an unnecessary tension between musicians and crew members and “took” something that was not offered. They created a feeling of ill will. They were essentially, a stick in the mud.
Every event contains two drastically different groups of people. The people that go to the show, and the people that are working the show. If you’re part of a band and performing at an event that has multiple bands, try to think of yourself as part of a team. A team of musicians, stagehands, crew members, and event staff all working together to present one great day or night of musical performances. You’re all on the same team, and need to work in harmony. You need to watch each other’s backs, protect each other’s gear, and work in a spirit of cooperation, not competition. No matter where you fall in the pecking order, being a team player and working towards the common good of all involved is ultimately what makes a great show. And being organized doesn’t hurt either.