Moving big music
Freuck says his Upstaging crew is “usually made up of core guys, drivers with a lot of experience, but we’ll always have a couple of new guys coming along. The first thing I do is impress on them that we are 100 percent professional all the time. I take them into the show first night out and show them the people enjoying the show. That’s what we do; we help make them happy, and we don’t disappoint them or the people behind the lights.”
Freuck’s wife Kathleen says the drivers seldom receive the praise they deserve.
“If not for them, the show would not happen,” she says. “I was impressed by the fact that during his acceptance speech at the CMA Awards, Kenny Chesney even gave thanks to the truck drivers!”
Professionals, Not Buddies or Fans
Drivers on big tours are not encouraged to hang out with the stars of the tour. But they do get close enough to become workplace colleagues.
Lead driver Jim Freuck says Kenny Chesney threw a party for all the behind-the-scenes people on his tour on a free night, and Robert Law says Toby Keith rented a building in California for a closed-door party for the support staff on his current tour.
Law says the stars of the shows are easy to get along with, and Toby Keith will sit and eat with everyone else on the tour. “It’s really a tight-knit family on the road, and I see Toby a lot at catering or he’ll be out playing basketball,” Law says. “You get a lot of chances to talk when things are slow. Everyday stuff, you know; you don’t talk about the show or ask for autographs for friends. In the morning at breakfast or in the production office it’s easy to chat, but you don’t bother an artist before a show when they are trying to focus.”
Freuck’s wife Kathleen says, “A lot of people think that it must be a glamorous job and that Jim is out there having a great time, seeing the shows, hobnobbing with the stars, etc., but in reality he rarely ever gets to see the show, unless they are in a city for multiple nights.”
It’s clear the drivers like and respect the people they’re hauling for, but, says Freuck, when you get a chance to stop and talk, you take it, but don’t abuse your access.
The occasional star-struck driver will want to hang out with the band back stage, but it’s frowned upon.
“Someone who goes to every show and hangs out back stage is not concentrating on his job,” Freuck says. “They tend to get weeded out or not asked back. We’re professionals, not fans.”
Big Ticket Items
How do the big touring acts pay for the traveling show that rolls with them in buses and big trucks?
Concerts are big business, very big. And Kenny Chesney is the best seller of all.
According to Pollstar, in the first half of this year the top 100 touring acts sold 14.5 millions tickets at an average price of $50.27, bringing in $731 million.
Chesney sold 610,000 tickets at an average price of $57.39. While the Irish rock band U2 grossed more money than any other act, Chesney was by far the biggest ticket seller. Chesney’s 610,000 tickets so far this year compared to the Irish band’s total of nearly 500,000.