Production Live! Roadies of Color/Inclusivity on the road
As the live industry figures out the best way to safely return to in-person shows after COVID-19 halted the entire business in its tracks for more than a year, we must look at how to do the business we all love even better than before – for all of us, regardless of one’s gender, sexual orientation or the color of one’s skin. And so there may have been no better panel to kick off Production Live! with than “Roadies Of Color/Inclusivity On The Road and The Show.”
Production Manager Bill Reeves explained that he and production stage manager Lance “KC” Jackson founded Roadies Of Color 12 years ago after realizing that whenever industry publications showed photos of conferences like Pollstar Live! or ran feature stories, it was “always the same group of white guys.”
He adds, “There’s a whole ecosystem of roadies of color who have been working 30, 40 years who are as experienced and talented as the white guys who get mentioned. We thought we should put together an organization that addressed that disparity. It was clear to us there wasn’t an awareness that there were roadies of color, women, and LGBTQ+ people who work on the road; nobody knew that we were there. That was the genesis. Our mission statement is to promote diversity and inclusion, particularly hiring.”
Moderator Charlie Hernandez, president of QED Productions and co-founder of JustABunchofRoadies, began the session by reflecting on a quote from W. E. B. Du Bois’ 1903 novel “The Souls of Black Folk” is about how people of color always find themselves in a state of “double-consciousness.” Du Bois explains the feeling as a “sense of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness ….”
Jackson recalls working in the audio department of a company and, after someone cracked an N-word joke, laughing until he looked around the room and realized he was the only Black guy in the room. He notes that it reminded him of being young and watching “Tarzan,” watching this white guy beat up the African natives. Or the idea that the good guy wears the white hat, the bad guy wears the black hat, and Africa is referred to as the dark continent.
“This industry is a microcosm of the country … so all the problems in this country you see in this business,” Jackson said. “Roadies of Color isn’t a Black/white thing. It’s for all people. It’s forward-thinking … [about] the next generation, innovation. Hopefully, one day won’t be a need for Roadies of Color.”
David “5-1” Norman, tour director/tour accounting with Tour Forensics, shared that he didn’t want to be pigeonholed into only working on R and or hip-hop tours when he was starting in the business. He also shared his experience with people on the road, assuming he was the bus driver rather than the tour director.
“We have Malcolm, Tina, Rebekah. We’ve all worked on different genres of tours. Don’t just look at the color of our skin – we can kick ass and slay, just like everyone else in this industry,” Norman said.
Rebekah Foster, the owner of Ujima Sound Productions Ltd., spoke about her early years in the business working on hip-hop tours in Europe and how they respected the genre and Foster as a tour manager compared to negative connotations about hip-hop tours in the U.S.
“My crews are always diverse because that’s society; I hire the best for the job. … We’re all good at what we do. There are plenty of people for you to hire. There should be no reason that there are 150 people on tour and 148 are white men and white women; it doesn’t make sense and doesn’t reflect society,” Foster said. “In every other part of society, there’s HR, but not in rock ‘n’ roll; you can discriminate all you want, but that needs to stop.”
Malcolm Weldon, production manager of Just A Guy Pushing Boxes, notes that if you’re a person of color or a woman, you’ll have to work twice as hard and twice as long to prove yourself – “you have to show up early and stay late.”
Tina Farris, CEO/Owner of Tina Farris Tours, added, “Just listening to everyone, we work twice as hard … Can you imagine how exhausting that is to compare yourself to mediocre people?”
Weldon agreed with the Roadies of Color founders that the key is to get young people involved in the business.
“When I started, there was nobody to ask ‘How do you do that? What’s the path? It was a long road to get to this position, and I’m doing my best to reach back and bring other people along,” Weldon said.
Reeves said, “We’re all old guys, although we’ll probably die on the back of the bus. … We need young people to come behind us, and we need to give them training and mentoring – here’s a likely lad, here’s a likely lass, why don’t you hire them?”