Q’s With Tour & Production Manager Bill Reeves On The Great Return’s Challenges
By: Andy Gensler
At the end of the year, Pollstar caught up with veteran tour and production manager Bill Reeves, who’s worked on tours with Prince, Anita Baker, Maxwell, D’Angelo and Anthony Hamilton. Reeves well knows many of the challenges currently facing the live industry, including inflation, labor shortages, supply chain hold-ups and this constantly morphing pandemic. Here, Reeves, who also co-founded Roadies of Color, an organization focused on bringing greater diversity and equity to the live industry, discusses what he’s currently seeing out there, including constant COVID testing, a lack of backstage workers turning up for calls, no room service and why, after more than 40 years in the business, he has no intention of changing careers (unless, of course, he hits the numbers).
Pollstar: What are you seeing out there on the road these days in terms of inflation, labor shortages, supply chain challenges, the pandemic, etc.?
Bill Reeves: The work that I’ve been doing in the last six or seven months since we kind of woke up out of the pandemic days has been a lot of corporate stuff. One of the things that’s really obvious now is testing, testing, testing, testing, whether you’re vaccinated or not. We recently did something with an orchestra in Miami and had a couple of days of rehearsals with the orchestra before we actually did the show and we all had to get tested every day. In some cases, it’s a real cost where we’re having to do a lot of testing.
What I’ve also noticed, and I’m sure everybody notices, is the increase in costs of everything. I’m currently booking buses for our tour in the spring. And the average bus rental now is $700 to $750 a day compensation, whereas it used to be $450 to $500 a day compensation. So, a pretty significant jump in the cost of buses.
Another thing is not having the proper amount of workers or stagehands for a call. In one instance, I think it was someplace in Texas calling for 32 guys, and you got 15. I heard from a friend on the J. Cole tour that they had massive issues with staffing from local crews. It was the same sort of thing, you call in for 30 or 40 guys and you’re getting 10 or 15 guys. I mean, not just missing one or two, but missing a significant percentage of the call. As we know, there’s a worker shortage in America in general and that’s certainly bled into our little corner of the world. Places that have strong unions, not a problem; places that are right-to-work or don’t have a union or a strong union, they’re having difficulty finding people to come in and build trusses and unload trucks and do all the stuff you need local crews to do. That’s an issue.
Burger places are now paying close to $20 an hour, what do some of these people make, especially in the right-to-work states?
Bill Reeves: What I heard recently from someone on tour who asked the crew chief, “Where is everybody?” The crew chief or the promoter rep or whoever said, “Well, in this particular jurisdiction, we pay 10 bucks an hour.” Nobody wants to work for 10 bucks an hour anymore. Everybody wants $15, $20, $25 an hour. And that’s a problem, not only in the entertainment business but in America in general.
How do you think it will play out?
Bill Reeves: People sat home for a year or so during the pandemic and realized that they weren’t able to sustain themselves on what they had been making and are now looking to make more money or they’ll just continue to sit home. My personal opinion is the worker shortage will slowly become a non-issue because people who are living on unemployment and stimulus checks, etc., will eventually have to go back to work. Concurrently with that, pay is generally rising because there is a shortage. Amazon is raising their base rate to $15 and more in higher cost of living places like New York or L.A., where they’re giving up $17, $18, $19 an hour. I think we will see a leveling off over the next few months where employers are going to have to offer more money to get workers. Eventually, it’ll be enough money that workers will start coming back. But right now, it’s a tough call.
We just did our Q4 numbers, and revenues were strong but there’s also inflation. Ticket prices will likely be higher because of the rising costs with labor shortages, gas prices, safety and security, how do you think it will pencil out?
Bill Reeves: I think what’s going to happen is that artists and promoters will end up getting a little more money, but they’re also going to spend more money. So at the end of the day, I think everybody at the top end of the food chain ends up making about what they were making before, but there will be a little bump in the revenue for the people at the bottom of the food chain, the casual workers.