When my younger daughter Jesse was in the fifth grade, her class at Thornhill Elementary in Oakland, Calif., put on an original musical based on Aesop’s Fables. Two moms had written it, one directing the action, the other playing piano and coaching the singers. I was asked to be the Tech Parent. We put four mics on the stage, with two speakers on sticks and a simple Mackie board at the rear of the cafeteria; my daughter was to be lighting director, running her own board on a riser. At the final rehearsal, I reminded the backstage team to show up dressed all in black.
On opening night, I surprised the four-member tech crew (stage manager, sound, lights, student director) with All Access laminates prepared by my art director and four headsets donated by the good folks at Clear-Com, located down the street from the Mix offices in Emeryville. The kids were wide-eyed and thrilled; suddenly, they were the stars. At one point, the lead missed a cue because he was playing with the stage manager’s push-to-talk! Crew was cool. Later, back at home eating pizza, my daughter remarked, “You know, dad, the stars got all the applause, but they couldn’t even do the play without us.” I was dying inside, holding back my laughter; they learn so early.
I was reminded of that story this month because of two pieces we have inside this Live Sound issue of Mix. The first involves our cover story on James Taylor, the return of “The Mix Interview.” James, one of the real gentleman talents in our industry, is a true road warrior, with more than 40 years in buses and hotels and waking up in new towns and still loving it. The past two years, whether sharing the bill with Carole King, bringing up his son, Ben, or going it alone at Carnegie Hall, just might have been his most successful run in a long and successful career. When we asked him for the interview, his one condition was that we also talk to his crew. It seems that much of the appeal of the road to JT is the camaraderie of the people around him, the way all the parts mesh together to bring a total experience to the audience. So you’ll find some words from his longtime monitor engineer, Rachel Adkins, who worked her way up through the ranks to become his anchor onstage; some more from Dave Morgan, his front-of-house engineer these past six years, who brought his sensibilities to that amazing acoustic guitar and velvet baritone voice; and even more from guitar tech Jon Prince, who used to climb up in the rigging and now keeps James’ Olson and Telecaster guitars primed and ready.
The second story involved the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, now entering its 15th year on the road. I can recall its maiden voyage when it pulled into Ex’pression College for Digital Arts as a songwriter’s bus, promoting the contest. Then I continued to see it over the years, each time seemingly more impressive, with more sponsors, more technology, the addition of video and a few high-profile, high-press appearances with celebrities at events like the Black Eyed Peas Tour and Coachella. But then when I sat down to talk with the principals, I found out how much the young engineers on The Bus really do behind the scenes, every day, in towns across the country, many of them underserved communities. Waking up at dawn to greet a new bunch of kids, many of whom had never touched a musical instrument or computer. Completing a project a day, song or video. Chief engineer Jeff Sobel summed it up nicely when he said, “When people first come onboard, they are impressed by The Bus; but when they leave at the end of the day, all they can talk about is the crew.”
So engineers, producers and artists, please take a moment at the start of 2012 to turn around and thank your crew. The show doesn’t go on without them.