Classic movies like Almost Famous and our society’s general obsession with fame and the rock and roll lifestyle has given us an impression of the roadie life. It’s considered glamorous, thrilling and a constant adventure. We picture people partying hard with rock stars. We imagine them jet setting around the world in luxury, mingling with the rich and famous.
Of course, the truth is a little different. Real life roadies — tour managers, instrument techs, merch managers, light technicians, sound engineers, and more — work hard, sleep little, and spend many decidedly un-glamorous days out on the road. But, like anything, the touring life has its ups and downs. Touring professionals get to see the world. They learn the ins and outs of the music business and experience a lifestyle most people only dream about.
With the help of some real-life roadies, we’ll tackle the most common myths about the gig.
Roadies don’t get to travel from show to show in a private jet. Usually they don’t even get to travel on a tricked-out tour bus. The road crew commonly travels around in a van hauling a trailer with equipment and luggage. It’s cramped with tight schedules meaning there’s not much time available to take breaks. Lots of eating on the go and occasionally peeing into a water bottle when there’s no time for a bathroom break, on top of that.
As for accommodations, when not sleeping in the van, the crew crams into a hotel room (with many crashing on the floor). A total lack of privacy and forced intimacy with all your crewmates, adds to that. Those are two things you’ll have to get used to right away if you want a touring gig.
Partying like rockstars
It depends which tour and who you ask, but in general, it’s not accurate to say tours are non-stop ragers. There’s little time for sleep and a lot of work to be done. Sometimes the band doesn’t stop playing until 1 am. You still need to spend an hour or two tearing down and loading out the gear only to hit the road a few hours later. Many times the night’s shift isn’t over until the early morning hours. Oftentimes there won’t be any free time for partying, or for dealing with a debilitating hangover the next day.
But it can be said most stereotypes have a grain of truth in them, and that’s the case here too. There are many long stretches of constant travel and lots of hard work. Days off provide an opportunity to blow off steam and get a little wild. Buy a current or former roadie a drink or two, and you’re likely to hear some crazy stories of their time on the road. The bottom line is, like with any job, work comes first. The priority of any touring professional is to make sure that they pull off every show without a hitch.
When it comes to this one, pop culture largely gets it right. Every touring professional can tell you the job has a way of consuming you. You’re on the road for weeks at a time. Keeping up with loved ones back home can be tough. You’ll be in a different time zone, working totally different hours than friends, family, and significant others. Most who have 9-to-5 schedules and normal lives.
Maintaining long-distance relationships can be tough, and the job requires making all kinds of sacrifices. But most roadies will tell you without hesitation that the adventure and experience are worth it.