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A day in the life ... of a roadie

Before you decide the backstage life is glamorous, you might want to rethink running away with the band.

Dave Gardner
Roadie (lighting and technical)
Majestic Production
$1,500 -- $2,000 per week and says he works 250-300 days per year; so if you do your math, that's $53,500 -- 85,700 per year.

Next time you attend a summer concert like Woodstock 99 or even a Broadway show, consider the work of the professionals not only on stage, but also those hanging from the rafters, planning the lighting, tuning the guitars and cleaning up the equipment after the crowds are gone. You may think that a roadie's life is spent hanging out with the band, hitting on hot chicks and being called onstage occasionally to sing a rendition of your favorite tune. Think again. Roadies work hard day in and day out as they tour around the country making the big productions the spectacles they are.

Dave Gardner, a roadie from Salt Lake City, knows about the work that goes into these shows. He's worked as a roadie on the electric rigging and staging end for 12 years.

On the road again

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Gardner grew up next to a lighting company as a child. He got a job pushing a broom for the company and eventually moved up to "working the box" (for sound and light equipment), running cable and finally onto the road working live shows. Now, he says he spends 250 to 300 days a year on the road working for "Broadway shows, rock 'n' roll shows, and even Christian rock shows. Whoever pays the most."

He says he's worked on some big concert tours, televisions shows and movie sets, but as a roadie, he's forced to sign a confidentiality agreement.

It's no wonder. It takes a lot to get a job as a roadie. You can't just walk in off the street and flash a grin. These guys spend years developing their skills. "You'll never see these jobs in the newspaper," Gardner says.

And don't think your shiny résumé and college degree will get you on stage with Aerosmith or the Foo Fighters. Gardner doesn't have a degree. "They'll turn down people with a master's degree. This isn't something that you can learn in school. You have to learn by doing. It's a classic case of 'it's not what you know. It's who you know,'" he says.

Besides, he stresses that in show business, the operative word is "business." "I wouldn't choose this as a career choice if I knew better," he says. "It's really hard work. When the band's done and out partying, you're tearing down (the rigging) and you sleep on the bus until you go to the next show and have to put it all back up."

It's noon, do you know where your parents are?

Even worse than the hard work (and lack of sleep) is the toll his life on the road takes on his family. "When you're on the road most of the year, it's hard to be away from your family, especially as my children get older. When I am home, it's like everyone has their own routine and you're trying to find where you fit in," he says. A phone call to his home was answered by a young person with a little voice who had to question whether dad was there or not. "No, he's not here. Wait a minute, maybe he is, let me check."

However, for what he's missing of his family at home, Gardner adds that there is a family on the road as well. "When you travel with people and work hard together, they are your friends and family. There is a great camaraderie," he says.

Before you think that the chance to work with big stars would outweigh the hard work, Gardner tells me that once the excitement of working with the stars wears off, it's down to business. "It's fun for a while, but then it just becomes a job. When you work on the set, you realize that they [stars] are normal people just like us. There is a manufactured persona," he says of the glamour of Hollywood. Gardner has never asked a star for an autograph.

In addition to putting your autograph book aside, Gardner says that you have to be really diligent in his business. "It can be very stressful when you think that a 29 cent part can screw up your entire show. And when people say 'you'll never work in this town again,' they mean it," he warns.

-- Posted: June 24, 1999


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