As a classical pianist, who has never had to carry around much apart from some sheet music and a pair of gloves to a performance, I had never been quite familiar with the concept of a ‘roadie’. Not until I decided to join the band.
Urban Dictionary defines a roadie as ‘an individual who travels to gigs with a band and assists with setup and organization’. According to The Free Dictionary a roadie is ‘a person who loads, unloads and sets up equipment, and often runs errands for musicians on tour’. Roadies are usually recruited from friends of the band who are eager to help, and are not always paid for their services. They range from manual labour (carrying around stuff) to skilled technicians operating the sound equipment. The website HowStuffWorks contains a comprehensive article by Tim Crosby called ‘How Becoming a Roadie Works’, and gives sound advice for those wanting to choose roadie-hood as a career path. It details the different functions performed by roadies, which additionally include operating and maintaining equipment, security, driving and being a personal assistant. The article also describes a 1977 pop song by Jackson Browne called ‘The Load Out’, which was written as a tribute to roadies, who work behind the scenes to make a performance a success (“They’re the first to come and the last to leave, workin’ for that minimum wage…”).
Roadies are normally observed at gigs busily running around and setting up on stage, sitting at the sound desk, or at the door, and running errands for band members. The roadie will also organise food and drinks for the band at a gig, and communicate the musicians’ needs to organisers and sound engineers. It can be quite a demanding job at times, often needing a combination of qualities such as physical fitness, good communication and organisational skills, musical knowledge and the ability to multitask (not to mention the ability to work with crazy musician types). In addition to these generally accepted roadie duties, I have observed a number of extra tasks performed, especially by our very own roadie (who the band lovingly refers to as ‘Roadie’. Actually, this is such an endearing nickname that the said roadie has even added it as his middle name on Facebook.). And just for the record, we do pay him, sometimes as much as we pay ourselves (which is normally when we get paid really badly, then it doesn’t make a difference and nobody cares).
These are a few extra duties expected of the roadie of The Real Signature:
- I think it goes without saying that the name Roadie suggests that he should know the roads. When the band is out-of-town and/or terribly drunk, Roadie always knows how to get us home safely. He remembers directions extremely well and always knows how to transport us successfully between accommodation – gig – dodgy bars – shops – MacDonald’s – bank – petrol station – tourist attractions. I have also learnt from this that most South African towns have a strategically positioned Adult World, which, if you locate and remember, will NEVER get you lost. Actually, the only way we made it from our little flat in Oudtshoorn to our relevant stage at the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) and back everyday is because Roadie told us to turn left at Adult World from the main road.
- Talking about being terribly drunk, you can always count on Roadie to hold your hand (literally) and help you walk through the club so that the band doesn’t lose you and have to return home without a keyboard player. He also held my hands and tried to get me to dance when I was just standing on the dance floor and staring ahead blankly. The flashing lights were too bright for me to function in my drunken state, so he also gave me a useful piece of advice and told me to dance with my eyes closed. And Roadie always stays sober enough to drive us home, and to recognise the red and yellow neon signage of Adult World.
- While out at a festival or in a club, Roadie is always available to photograph band members when we bump into local celebrities (normally 7de Laan and Isidingo actors, and Afrikaans pop singers). Although he normally makes do quite happily with just having his picture taken with us.
- Having the misfortune (in this case) of being rather good-looking, Roadie is also often interrupted from his roadie duties during a party gig, and dragged onto the dance floor by single, desperate, usually heavily intoxicated by this stage, women in need of someone to dance with. We don’t really mind him leaving the sound desk for short moments to entertain the guests. We find this quite entertaining ourselves, depending on the level of crazy of the women encountered at each particular gig. It also prevents (to a certain extent) the drunken grabbing of any of the musicians (normally Paul, the lead singer/rhythm guitarist).
- Roadie normally does quite a good job at keeping weirdos away from me, the only female in the band, mostly by having long, seemingly deep conversations with them (about what, I have no idea).
- Also, just having a roadie makes us feel cool and important. Like a real band.
These are just a few of the many functions of a roadie in a still relatively unknown South African contemporary jazz band, according to my observations. Although I haven’t seen these documented elsewhere, I am sure Roadie is not the only roadie to which they apply. Power to the roadies!