By Debi Moen
Road and Tour Manager Over-Delivers
In PLSN’s continuing quest to find the next shining star in the live event industry, we were introduced to Atlanta-based road manager/tour manager Aaron Adams. Please welcome our newest Parnelli NextGen candidate.
Born With a Gift
Aaron was born with the gift of song. His high school music teacher recognized his talents as a tenor and hired him as a background vocalist for his shows around New York City. Attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, he envisioned a future with a record label or recording studio. Studying psychology would help a career dealing with human behavior, but it also led him to understand himself. Because along with his vocal abilities, Adams was born with a disability called Incomplete Simple Syndactyly. In his case, his index finger and ring finger were webbed together on his right hand. Surgery detached the connecting skin, but it left him without a middle finger. “There were insurmountable amounts of rejection I had to face,” he shares.
Singing tuned out the teasing and taunting. But thinking that he had to do more to compensate for his condition, he put his passion and dedication into serving others.
“I have a personality that is helpful. I am the helper. But when I jump into a situation, I tend to over-serve and over-deliver because formerly I attached my value to what I was doing for others.” But being a helper is exactly what one needs to be a personal assistant to a celebrity, a road manager, a tour manager. He would find his way to being all of those.
A Helper Finds Opportunities
After graduating in 2007, Adams continued to find ways to help. In 2009, he assisted and then began producing events for Rachel James, whose organization, Bridge Hooks & Stuff Entertainment, auditions and sources background vocalists for studio sessions and live performances. Those skills led him to BET Networks in New York. From 2011-2012 he served as an executive assistant to two senior VP’s. Duties included vendor payments, talent per diems, departmental contracts, press events and managing executive travel plans.
All through this, he still kept singing. In 2012, he auditioned over the phone for the Glory Gospel Singers’ three-months’ gig in Germany. While preparing to leave for the following six-week tour of France, the CEO asked the young singer if he would also be interested in acting as assistant tour manager. “I just wanted to sing and make money, but I had all the foundational skills, so I challenged myself,” Adams explains.
Within weeks, his ability to work through a logistical crisis led to his promotion to tour manager. Later that year, he was not only vocalist and tour manager but also musical director. From 2012-2014, he managed schedules and logistics, dealt with payroll and press, and still managed to sing throughout Europe. “Those were the most intense tours,” he says. “But through them, I fell in love with touring.”
His helper instincts kicked in again, this time at a friend’s wedding. The bride’s brother — Christian rapper Trip Lee — showed up missing clothing from his travel mishaps. “He needed socks, a dress shirt, a few other items,” Adams explains, “so I grabbed somebody’s rental car, went to the store and bought what he needed.” So impressed, Trip brought Aaron on board at Trip Lee Ministries.
From 2015-2018, Adams served as Trip’s assistant and road manager. Trip records on the label owned by the artist Lecrae. On Trip’s recommendation, Lecrae’s tour manager, Derek Arms, hired Aaron to advance Lecrae’s shows in 2018, a task he still maintains. Soon, Derek was consulted by a colleague who needed a tour manager for another artist: Anita Baker. Hearing about what was needed for the role, Derek’s response was simply, “It has to be Aaron.”
Pictured with Ms. Anita Baker, Aaron Adams arranged a post-concert birthday celebration for one of her background vocalists at the MGM National Harbor in Dec. 2018.
“The King of Hospitality” for Anita Baker
This was Aaron’s big break. In 2018, he hit the road as tour manager for Anita Baker’s Farewell Concert Series. “Anita Baker is a living legend, an icon,” he says. “She has built a successful career by creating the energy and space and music that she wants and feels in her soul. What made our relationship work was that I allowed her to dictate what she wanted and needed in her space and whatever it was, I delivered.”
Anita appreciated his helper instincts. Beyond the usual tour-managing duties, Aaron over-delivered. Whether it was throwing rose petals at her feet on her way to the stage or organizing a surprise birthday party, Aaron earned the title, “The King of Hospitality,” in Anita’s eyes. “I was doing things that let her know I understood her contributions to the industry, to the black community and the world,” Adams explains. “That’s what made our relationship so strong.”
Aaron on the job
Discovering Roadies of Color United
In January 2020, mentor/industry veteran Jini Thornton mentioned her upcoming speaking engagement at the Roadies of Color United (ROCU) conference. Another mentor, Ronnie Stephenson, (Cardi B, Jay-Z, Ne-Yo, TLC) had mentioned the organization to him previously. Googling, Aaron discovered that one of the founders (along with tour/production manager Bill Reeves) was Lance “KC” Jackson. Aaron had recently worked with this production/stage manager for Earth, Wind & Fire on an MTV show in New York.
Aaron texted Jackson and joined the planning committee for ROCU’s first annual conference in February in Stone Mountain, GA. “ROCU was a life changing moment,” he says. “The opportunity to connect with roadies who have worked, served and toured with iconic artists was one of the best times I’ve ever had.”
That’s where he met a new mentor and ROCU organizer, tour manager/accountant David “5-1” Norman (Earth, Wind & Fire). Says Aaron, “We exchanged stories and resources. I’ve learned so much over the last six months.” Says Norman, “In the brief time that I’ve known Aaron I’ve found him to be a go-getter, accommodating, willing to learn, share info as well as jumping in when anyone needs a helping hand. He’s definitely going to be a game-changer moving forward.”
Moving forward during the pandemic, his company, Accessible LLC, serves clients’ needs ranging from social media, to producing virtual events and helping young artists and entrepreneurs develop their brand. His apprenticeship program identifies aspiring industry professionals, trains them, and connects them to opportunities. “I’m not only opening the door for them,” says Adams, “I’m hoping to give them the keys to unlock every door they come to in the pursuit of their dreams, and in so doing, inspire them to do the same for all who follow.”