Moving big music

| December 07, 2005

When Freuck took over as lead driver for The Eagles’s fall and winter tour, it was his l00th tour that has included driving for such stars as Michael Jackson, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Simon and Garfunklel, Tom Petty and AC/DC. Sometimes the stars hire an experienced, specialist company like Upstaging; other times they lease the trucks and hire the drivers under their own company name.

Country star Toby Keith, born and raised in Oklahoma, leases his own fleet of eight Internationals. Driver Robert Law, 52, piloted one of them this summer, hauling equipment that made up Keith’s spectacular show.

Law, based in Wichita, Kan., has been driving since 1976. Law’s father drove a dump truck and when he died, Law took over. Soon he was working big rigs, end dumps hauling road construction materials, rock, sand and bulks such as grains. In the early ’90s he met Keith, who was then touring as an opening act. But Keith’s star was about to explode, and he was getting ready to tour as a headliner. “You’ll need more trucks when you do,” Law told him, “so call me when you’re ready to go.” Keith said he would and kept his word.

The prime concern of a music tour’s truckers, Law says, is “tight schedules with no room for mistakes. Sound check will be about 4 p.m. If we aren’t there at 8, it can’t happen at 4. With 300 miles maybe you have a little leeway, but 350 or 400 miles and it can get tight, so you want to get away on time. If it takes until 2 a.m. to load, that could be getting tight.

“With a produce truck or a truck with a regular load, being late might mean getting to the back of the line or being rejected, but we can’t be late. Period.”

Freuck’s blueprints for a show are as perfectly worked out as a battle plan and require just as much good timing and juggling when the unexpected arises. Each driver has a copy and knows when to be where.

When a Chesney show ends, usually somewhere around 11 p.m., 17 trucks are ready to load, waiting somewhere in the dark near the concert venue to come in according to their place in the lineup. By 8 a.m. they will be in place to unload, also in a strict order.

In addition to knowing every route to get to the next venue and every way in and out of it, lead drivers for big shows know they have no margin for error.

Not only have thousands of people bought tickets for the show, local crews have been hired to unload the trucks, and they will be waiting at 8 a.m. For big shows like Keith and Chesney, that could be as many as 100 people.

“Hours before the show you might have a few thousand people lined up waiting to get in,” says Freuck. “You’ve also got people inside the building waiting to start selling at the concession stands. You can’t be late.”

Being on time is essential for another reason. The star of the show puts his/her reputation on the line at each concert. If there’s not enough time to set up and check everything, the tour manager may have to cut some songs or some special effects. Perhaps sound or lighting setups won’t be competed and the show must change on the fly. The show might not be all that it could be. Audience expectations have to be met, says drivers, so they must give crews and entertainers the time they need to do it right.

But things don’t always go as planned. Traffic or highway repairs, a wreck or weather can bring the trucks to the new venue later in the morning. Then the unloading must be done as quickly as possible, and even then the tour manager may have no choice but to cut some parts of the show.

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