Moving big music
Tours are planned down to the smallest detail before they begin. Usually a group of two or three shows will be planned with a gap between. The grouped shows will be about 300 miles apart – 450 miles is a stretch – and the break allows people to rest and trucks to roll to where the tour resumes, maybe across country. Shows are also rehearsed before the tour starts, sometimes for weeks. It’s not only a chance for the artist to fine tune the show, it’s a chance for the people who set up and break down the equipment to work out how they will do it.
Lead drivers commonly turn up toward the end of rehearsal and work with the show’s production manager to find out how the equipment can be best loaded and unloaded, says Freuck. Even then it might take two or three stops on the concert tour to fine tune just how the convoy will work (although the trucks rarely roll as a convoy).
“When Kenny walks off the stage at the end of his show, the drivers are in their seats and we consider ourselves not working on this show but working on the next one,” says Freuck. “I can get 15 trucks loaded in maybe two and three-quarters hours, maybe three hours if there are only two loading docks. That means we’re loaded and on the road by 1 a.m or 1:30 a.m. (on the Back Street Boys tour, Freuck loaded 24 semis in under four hours).
Drivers on trucks waiting to load become helpers, and drivers on loaded trucks waiting to move out also help drivers backing and loading. The people who bring the equipment out to the trucks are also highly coordinated. Loaders pushing sound equipment to a trailer may have red T-shirts, the lighting equipment haulers heading to another trailer, yellow, or sometimes arm bands will be used. When four, five or more trucks are loading at once, it avoids confusion.
Most of the equipment is rented, and reps of the renting company go with big tours and supervise the installation and breaking down of their equipment. This is easier than it sounds as trailers usually carry a single kind of equipment – a sound truck, a lighting truck, a rigging truck and so on.
Loading or unloading, trucks roll in a set order because the show is “built” in a set order each time and taken down in reverse order when the show ends. “The crews that build the shows might finish the rigging then the stage gets moved into place in some cases, then the lighting guys can get to work, then the sound guys and so on,” Freuck says. “It takes them about six hours to build Kenny’s show and be ready for sound check.”
Last equipment on at end-of-show loading is first off next morning. And that is always the rigging truck, which is also the heaviest, often coming close to the maximum. The rigging is the scaffolding that will hold lights and motors over the stage, and sometimes over the audience, and raise and lower lights and other special effects.
“The rigging truck will weight out at close to the maximum,” says Law, “but most of the equipment in the other trailers is light. It makes it easier on the tractors, too.”
On Chesney’s summer tour as many as 85 motors were rigged. “Kenny does a lot of stuff,” says Freuck. “He’ll swing out over the audience from one end of the arena to the other, and that takes a lot of motor power.”
Local crews bring the equipment to the trailer on casters, and it is rolled onboard or rolled off at the other end. Each driver is responsible for making sure it is strapped down. Trailers are not packed to the doors. In fact, most tours could go with less trucks, says Freuck, but it is simpler to roll on and roll off equipment – and not have to stack it to the roof line as he did in his early days on tour. “We used to have drop deck frames so we could fill trailers up and that meant stacking,” he says. “Now we go for speed and efficiency; it saves time and money.”
Once the trailer doors are shut, the driver is responsible for the equipment. The equipment is held firmly with bars and ratchet straps, but it can shift. “There’s no room for cowboys driving this stuff. If a driver throws the truck around, the crews can always tell in the morning. I think maybe the best haulers are old bull haulers; they know how to keep it smooth,” says Law.
Food and drinks are waiting for the drivers as they load. Law says drivers load up with enough for the trip and put drinks in the cab fridge. “That way we don’t have to stop for food or drink on the road,” he says. “If we go to the truckstop, it’s just to gas and go.”