This happened in 2014 when we were back in the States visiting family and friends. My son Joel, who is a video engineer for Moo says, “I have to go to work for four days, you want to come along?” Zac Brown band was one of their clients and Joel was assigned to the team handling their video needs. So naturally, I said, “sure! That sounds like fun!”
Bus call, what a kush ride! Joel introduced me around to everybody and soon we loaded ourselves, our bags and we were off! Not much to do except hang out, watch movies and get to know the other guys on the bus… it was great. Number one rule… no crap in the toilet. It’s a long ride to New Jersey and since there would be no work that night the whiskey, beers and stories began to flow. It would help for the sleep. The bus is well stocked with munchies and anything that anyone would need to make the riders comfortable.
As dinner time approached they began to google locations of potential places to eat along the way and landed on a Ruby Tuesday. The 45 min stop was just enough time for everybody to order something to go. I followed Joel’s lead and got the salad bar that we could eat while waiting… he’s experienced.
Back on the bus, we ate, watched a movie and things quickly wound down and we retired to the bunks. There are 12 bed cubicles stacked 3 on top of each other, each with a rolling curtain for privacy, a very comfortable mattress, ventilation, a place to put a few small things and an iPad mounted in the ceiling! The guys referred to them as ‘coffins’ and size wise, I could certainly agree as the ceiling was just enough to put my knees up but long enough to stretch out.
This sleeping bus was way more comfy than the one we took to Vientiane in Laos!
There was some trouble with the other bus, so we had to stop in the night to wait for it. By the morning we finally arrived in Holmdel, New Jersey and found our way to the venue. Our busses were late due to the problems on the road. Apparently, the runner lights on the sister bus went out, which is ironic, as that bus was carrying the lighting crew.
Joel and I waited for the trucks to be unloaded of all the gear it takes to put on this show so he introduced me to more people that are part of this extravaganza. Unloading the trucks was like a strange game of tetris because there was just not enough room. Hundreds of trusses, cases for rigging, lights, and racks forThey the video wall. One driver I talked with told me there are 13 trucks and 8 busses on this tour! One bus is a portable “gym” with a treadmill, weights, and other workout gear. The driver had a stage pass for Lyle Lovet, so I asked if he knew my old friend John Richards. “Yeah! J. R.! Sure I know him!” So he tried to call him up but no answer. We figure there are about 60 people involved in putting on this show, not counting musicians and local help. Finally, the video gear was unloaded and Joel went to work putting the control room together while my newfound friends “Whore” and “Limey” built the massive video wall that went across the entire back of the stage. They call him “Whore” because his last name, although not spelled the same, sounds like that. “Limey” is an Englishman that came to Nashville with his award-winning band many long years ago to “make it”. I’ve heard recordings, they were really great, but Nashville is Nashville!
The backline (amps, keys, etc.) couldn’t be constructed until the lights were up and the lighting guys were late due to bus problems. Everything was late, and there wasn’t much room to store the cases let alone get the rest of things off the trucks so what is normally finished by 1:00 PM wasn’t finished until around 4:00 PM. But when it was fished there was room enough for everything even if it had to be stacked. An organized chaos of a show on the road. Then it was shower time. Two showers to be shared between the 60 or so people. The crew room was tiny but everybody worked around each other and before long it was dinner time for many. Others had to just squeeze in grabbing a plate from the caterer when they could.
Speaking of catering, Joel had been raving for years about how good the food was and they certainly lived up to his claims! Every meal had three choices of meat and plenty of wonderful vegetarian dishes! I won’t even talk about the homemade chocolate chip cookies or the four or five choices of pies and cakes. You have to practice some self-restraint to not overdo it. Plus a “make your own” juicer with about anything you could imagine. They also keep the busses well stocked with about anything the road warriors may need or desire from drinks to munchies of all kinds. Roadie life has its perks.
The warmup act turned out to be someone I had only just heard of from a friend in Germany. Fabien sent me a message telling me about a fellow named Sturgill Simpson. I listened to him and really enjoyed it. Kind of psychedelic country. Then I find out… he’s the opening act!
The video contract doesn’t really pay for him to be filmed and put on the side projection, but the company is there already and just do it. So they asked if I wanted to operate one of the cameras. “Sure, why not!” I said. So, Joel gave me a little lesson on operation and what to expect. “Limey” ran the other. “Number one,” (that was me) “Zoom in on the guitar. Focus” “Two, wide pan.” One, bassplayer, head with guitar” “Two, lead guitar.” One, singer, pull in from wide.” and it went on… as the director called the shots from the control room. Joel’s job seems to be, although I’m sure I’m simplifying it, controlling 4 robot cams and adjusting tone and color so that everything is uniform and as true to life as possible. He helps make it look good!
Although Sturgill played longer than was programmed the time just whizzed by.
I didn’t do too badly, or so they told me. Then the break came and I went backstage to “Video World” to see Joel at work.
It was really very involved between monitoring and adjusting the light and color balances and operating the robot cameras while Jeff directed and mixed the changes. Everything video that the show required. It really is an amazing performance on every level.
Tomorrow night I will go out front to see the whole spectacle!
Since they play two shows here in New Jersey they left everything right where it is, no teardown. It’s all guarded and no-one touches anything. We figured that the showers would be crowded so we bided our time. So we headed back to the busses and began to party. Most of the guys here on tour are musicians. Not everyone gets to be the star although many here have been very close to being “discovered”. I mentioned that I had some of Joel’s recordings from his band and everybody here in the bus wanted hear it! So, I played it. Then we heard some of Jeff’s and some of mine and Donna’s. We tried to get “Limey’s” iPhone to connect by way of the airfoil connection but it was proving to be impossible some we played some “Nosirrah Ecnal” and then we noticed the USB connection. Duh! Of course! So, we hooked it up direct and listened for some long time to some better than original covers of older songs.
Joel took off for a few minutes and returned to tell us the crews were out by the loading dock playing whiffle ball! This at 3:00 AM in the morning. So we went down to watch. There I met up with Daniel, the percussionist for the band and we talked until 4:ish about health and other things, getting to know each other. Nice.
Joel and I went for showers and the came back to the bus to go to bed. Of course, the guys were still up partying and although we didn’t continue with them, they apparently continued on until long after the sun came up. I slept… or perhaps, passed out into bed would be more accurate.
Most everybody slept. I woke up and couldn’t find my stage pass to get in the building. I went to the building anyway thinking maybe I left it in the shower. No one was there to stop me. Even if I had been seen, they saw me around the day before. Not there in the shower! Uh oh! I decided to look again in the bed where all my thing were. Yes… under the pillow, but now I was really awake. So I got up and started writing. Slowly the place started to come alive.
Nothing really happened during the day other than extraordinary food.
Joel had to work on some technical things and I just kind of hung out.
People continued to wake up. Movies. More food. Then Daniel grabbed me and said, “Come with me.” ‘Great!’ I thought as we went into the bands dressing room.
It was a room like you would imagine with a big mirror surrounded by light bulbs at a table ledge around half of the small dressing room. He introduced me to his Cuban uncle Félix who also happened to be his dentist. Félix was also a dancer and ladies’ man. With one foot, knee bent, off the floor, he did a little toe swivel with the foot on the floor that kind of moonwalked. He almost floated. He also informed us that when you compliment a woman, don’t just say, ‘you’re pretty.’ No. You must say, ‘You should thank God for giving you such a breathtaking beauty that you are.”, and more… many more!
Daniel was having his uncle do a casting of his teeth and was filming it on his GoPro. He wants to have his teeth beautiful for his fans.
After the casting, we talk a little and we leave together. In the hallway and entering backstage left Félix explains how to talk sweet to the girls and does another impossibly tight, low grooving swivel dance, like the twist, that would put some 20-year-olds to shame.
“I’m 83!” he proclaims.
“I’m 35 and I can’t do it.” one guard says.
After that, Joel gave me his computer to watch a video of the Dave Grohl sessions of Zac Brown Band recording the album. At first I was watching it in “Video World” but then the guitar techs were bashing out stuff playing with effects settings. Too loud to watch, so I took it to the bus where I could watch it. Pretty darned good stuff!
Shortly it was time for… dinner. Egg rolls, rice, Korean barbecue, baked cauliflower, greens, two really nice salads, Keylime chocolate crumble, that’s just what I had! It just went on… cheeses, bagels, bean salads, etc.
After an internet chat with Donna, a little rest, and then… the show! I head in through the back doors but the bay doors are closed inside to keep the sound down in “Video World” so they can communicate. After I touch base with Joel I head back outside and back in through the dining room. I pass through and onto backstage, slip deep stage left and out the door to the door that leads to the side audience.
I made my way around and found a vacant seat, not too close, not too far. With the all access stage pass I can go to any level, sit, anywhere that’s not occupied. So I checked it all out from many places at the ampitheater. 20,000 people each night!
I have to say that they really rocked it! The lights were awesome, the big screen and skrim visuals were awesome, and the band kicked ass! These are some serious hot musicians! They surprised me with not only playing their big tunes but some Led Zeppelin (Whole Lota Love), Aerosmith (Sweet Emotion), Billy Joel (Piano Man) and some others. Their own songs where well thought out and beautifully directed. The solos all smoked it! Two people took selfies with me, one agrees to link it on Facebook. A funny thing to an old fart like me, I remember when the dark moment at the end of the show, the calling for the encore… lighters creating a universe of stars over the audience. Now I looked back… iPhones. It’s just not the same, but I had to laugh.
After the show I made my way back towards the bus because I know that I could only be in their way for load out. Unfolding all of this with another giant tetris game because there is only one loading dock for the 13 trucks on this tour at this venue.
Folks are coming in from the loading and the wind down begins. Some visits from the other busses prior to leaving.
Daniel comes over and introduces me to his road tech Sean. I had met Sean in passing but now was the time to get to know him better. Daniel said, “He has a story to tell.” Boy did he!
One night Sean was riding his motorcycle when he was T-boned by a driver in a van. Slammed directly from the side. He was knocked off, flying over 30 feet! She was looking at her phone and texting. He was broken over half his body. He died. The doctors said so. He told me that he heard the doctors say this and made his way back through the light, that he wasn’t ready to leave yet! That happened last October. After a lot of surgery, a titanium shoulder and therapy he came back to work. I would never have guessed that he had ever been injured! Sean is such a gentle soul. Called me sir all the time. He’s also a martial arts expert, which surprised me, but somehow doesn’t. Daniel calls him his ‘angel’ because he takes such good care of him.
Then it came time to get on the busses and leave. I’ve met so many incredible people out here on this tour. Everybody works together and there is no self made stress, no drama. As the bus pulls out the crew watched some TV and the ate some sandwiches. Early evening and off to bed. This night we all slept soundly.
I woke up just after the bus pulled into it’s place, our next stop, Burgettstown, PA. It looks like a nice set up, big dock, each truck has it’s own bay so unloading and loading should be much easier than the last venue. Big dressing rooms with several sofas. Joel and I go to get some breakfast. Bacon, egg and cheese croissants… Joel opts for cereal as he’s doing the vegan thing right now. We wander around and meet some of the other people chipping golf balls at a small island in the middle of a small lake. twelve balls for $5.
Impressions of the wait time; Hanging out. Riding Joels push scooter. Talking with Daniel the truck driver (drove for Little Feat). Met Clay the guitar/keys/slide/steel player… talked about maybe jamming a bit. We’ll see.
Ate some lunch; schnitzel with a beautiful mushroom sauce, sweet potato bisque, just a little something so I have room for dinner which I know will be amazing.
The various stage crews work setting it all up and ironing out any troubles. the video wall is having a few intermittent problems so Jeff is working at chasing it down. He’s a little frustrated.
I got a tour of the kitchen truck. Wow! It’s an old race car shop/ car storage truck, which was amazing enough, but now converted into as beautiful kitchen any chef would love. Tomorrow I have a reservation to dine at the special “Eat and Greet” with food that is told to be even more amazing than the ‘regular’ tour food. I really can’t imagine that it could be any better!
I wandered around trying to stay out of trouble, rode Joel’s push scooter, hung out around the stage for sound checks of the instruments. Met a luthier pitching one of his new guitars to Clay & Coy. A really pretty gold glitter tele with pin stripe hot rod detail. Then I listened to the Sturgill Simpson sound check and hung out with them a bit. Nice guys.
Finally it was showtime! I watched some of it with Joel in Video World, some from out front. Joel suggested that if I wanted a shower today… now was the time, after the truckers (who have been in during the day) and before the crews.
“Rusty” is a self studied chef from New Orleans that has traveled the world to learn from the culinary masters of each of the countries he’s visited. He didn’t want to be “Just a cajun chef”. He now has a restaurant
As Joel and I started to walk back to the bus we see a quite large red haired Cajun sitting close to Zac’s bus. Joel introduces me to “Rusty” and I sit down and talk with him while Joel gets his stuff from the bus and takes a shower.
“Rusty” is a self studied chef from New Orleans that has traveled the world to learn from the culinary masters of each of the countries he’s visited. He didn’t want to be “Just a cajun chef”. He now has a really high class restaurant in Atlanta, is on tour with his best friend, Zac, for half of the year and A&E is about to make a on the road with Zac cook show! We talk for a while when the bus door opens and Daniel comes out with a nice, well trained dog. We all talk and pet on the dog. Shortly, the bus door opens again and a crutch appears, then a splinted foot, then Zac himself comes out. He sprained his foot pretty badly the night before, sports taped it and did the show tonight. You would have never known by watching him run around the stage! I’m introduced to him and he says’ “I wondered who this was wandering around here these last few days!” We hit it off. He’s a really intense and friendly person. He asks, “So, how did you end up in Laos!?” So, I tell him a compressed version of the Lance and Donna story. We hang out with some other folks and crack jokes and generally have a great time. He finds a bracelet in his drink cup (an American flag), everyone laughs because it’s strange. He turns and gives it to me, “here, I want you to have this.” Someone hands him a guitar and he plays two of his new unrecorded songs. Beautiful, positive songs that inspire hope and… I think these are two more hits! He asks my opinion on the words, if this or that works. I think they are brilliant! Then he hands me the guitar. So, I play him “The Sun Will Shine”… he’s singing with me by the end! He liked the words, chord changes and the song!
I look up and notice most of the busses have already pulled out, only ours and his remaining. We have to go!
I get in the bus and everybody high fives me! YOU jammed with the Boss! That just doesn’t happen out here! We wind down, tuck in, and they all go to sleep. I try to go to sleep, and eventually do… with a big smile on my face.
I wake up just about the time the bus parks up, sit in the “living room” and the room starts to expand! No, it wasn’t an illusion, the room was expanding… it just felt weird to see without warning first thing. Then the driver informs me that we all almost were involved in a big accident last night! One semi-trailer truck clipped a Greyhound bus that went in the median and another truck hit that truck and flew off across the median and missed us by…FIVE INCHES!!! We are all relieved. Here’s a link from FOX2 to an article about the accident.
It is evening already. Today I bought a couple of Zac tour shirts and a ball cap. At 5:30 I went to the “Eat & Greet” which is where the VIP high pay guests are served a special, 5 star, blow out dinner by Chef Rusty served by the band. These people also get to hang out for a few minutes with Zac. It’s quite the big deal! I helped serve so they gave me a t-shirt and the meal. OMG! Special green beans, ho cakes, pork cutlets in a mushroom sauce, little tasty breads, watermelon cucumber scallion salad, beef tenderloin grilled in a raw sugar and chili rub that literally melted in my mouth all followed by fresh homemade cherry cobbler. I think I may have forgotten something. After I helped serve this up to the people the band got served then another server and I got plates. It was so good that when it was all finish I went back to the crew room and saw Joel. I felt buzzed and a bit sweaty so Ii took a shower, sat down on the sofa and passed out in a food coma! The crew folks were watching “300, The Building of an Empire” fight scene at ear rattling volume. It didn’t phase me, or wake me. When I did wake up I had missed the support act. I told Chef Rusty how amazing the food was and that I passed out on the sofa from it. He said, “That’s the best compliment you could give me!”
I went out and caught the Zac Brown show, which changes up a bit every night. Always good! I guess I’m a fan!
Load out should be a little easier tonight as it’s a “smaller” venue than the others they had played.
Zac’s bus was gone right after the show so I guess there won’t be another chance on this tour to hang out or play anymore.
The Bus ride back was relatively uneventful. It was Limey’s last night as he’s retiring. The driver tells us that when the bus gets in at 6 am we all need to clear out as the bus has a quick turnaround. Hank III is going out on tour and has had this one for a few weeks. So, when we hit Nashville we all wake up and clear out… everything. The beers, the whiskey, the food, the… everything turnaround! Lottery style on who gets items under contention. Joel gets the exotic beers. Jeff gets the whiskey. I got the Cran-Apple juice. Everybody says their goodbyes and ‘see ya laters’. Joel and I head back to Chanda’s in the ‘Boro.
What a great tour!