Moving big music

| December 07, 2005

Country Superstars use small fleets to haul their shows.

Thank heavens for the T-shirt truck.

When you have a fleet of trucks rolling through the night from one major music concert to the next, and something goes wrong, it can a be a lifesaver.

“The tickets have been sold; there’s no excuse for not getting everything there,” says Jim Freuck, a lead driver for a major country superstar who has been in just that position. “And you must get there on time.”

This summer, Freuck, in a gorgeous Pete 379 with a 600 Cummins and an 18-speed gearbox, was lead driver in command of 17 tractor-trailers hauling everything country star Kenny Chesney used in the monster concerts on his summer tour. In effect Freuck is a sort of fleet manager/driver on the road.

Chesney, born and raised in Luttrell, Tenn., has sold more concert tickets than any other country music act this year and was the ticket sales leader last year, too. In fact, only rock megastar band U2 has outsold him this year. Chesney is also the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year and made last year’s CMA Album of the Year When the Sun Goes Down.

And he has a lot of fans waiting at each venue. His drivers are responsible for getting the complicated concert equipment there.

All but one of Freuck’s trucks is part of a sophisticated blueprint that lets them pack up the show’s equipment as soon as the show ends, drive through the night to the next venue and be ready to unload when most people are finishing breakfast.

But the T-shirt truck, which also carries other merchandise, doesn’t have to be there until later in the day. So when a transmission drops or some other mishap occurs, Freuck calls the T-shirt truck into service and begins to juggle his fleet.

“When we lost the transmission, we had to do some fast changes to the order of things,” says Freuck, who lives in the country north of Knoxville, Tenn. “One tractor dropped its trailer and went back and because the T-shirt trailer doesn’t have to be at the next venue until early afternoon, he dropped his trailer and went and picked up the first dropped trailer. Then all we had to do was go back for the T-shirt trailer. It does get exciting sometimes.”

Superstar artists still roll with a fleet of big rigs and buses. Freuck has been in charge of as many as 25 big rigs on a tour, in that case for the boy band Back Street Boys. In addition to the 17 tractor-trailers, Chesney’s tour uses 11 buses.

Freuck is a former truck mechanic, shop foreman and service manager at a trucking company, but he jumped at the chance to drive for a Kenny Rogers tour in 1980. “I had a friend who was driving at the time for the Allman Brothers’ “Eat a Peach” tour, and he asked me if I’d like to ride along. Later, the chance came up to drive for Kenny Chesney. It suited my lifestyle at the time, so I grabbed it.”

After a couple of years on the job, his employers, Upstaging – a Mundelein, Ill., company that is one of the leading players in the music tour business – discovered Freuck’s management skills and made him a lead driver, the man in charge of the fleet on the road.

“Funny thing, back then people were telling us that MTV would put live tours out of business and that I was making a mistake,” says Freuck.

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