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Mix Live Blog: Where Have All the Workers Gone?

The unemployment rate has been 3.5 percent for months, causing job vacancies everywhere—and that in turn is affecting every part of touring.

This past weekend, I worked a show at a casino we’ve played dozens of times dating back more than 20 years, the last time being 2019. Our date scheduled for 2020 was postponed until 2021 due to Covid, and then again until 2022 pending completion of a new showroom.

The showroom was part of a $400-million construction project that also included a new gaming floor with 2,100 slot machines and more than 60 table games, six dining venues, a 250-seat sports bar and 155 hotel rooms. Clearly, I’m in the wrong business, but that’s a topic for another blog.

When I advanced the date, I was a little surprised to learn that our rooms would be at a nearby hotel, as they had been in the past—not in the newly constructed hotel. That’s a bit of a drag because one of the perks about playing a casino is that the hotel rooms are usually on premises, making it easy to get the band back and forth between their rooms and the venue. Most of the time, it’s a short walk from the hotel to the showroom, as opposed to a trip requiring ground transportation—though finding your way through some casinos can be akin to navigating the Labyrinth of Crete.

When I spoke with the promoter, he told me a little about the new construction and mentioned that he couldn’t get us rooms in the hotel because they were sold out. But they really weren’t. The hotel had booked the maximum number of rooms that their staff could support. The hotel administration simply can’t find enough workers to clean the rooms and meet the turnover.

This is not the first time I’ve heard this. Our travel agent recently told me that he’s running into similar situations across the country, where hotels are “at capacity” but booked at around 60 percent because they can’t find enough support staff. It appears that the job is available, but people don’t want to work.

This seems to be a recurring theme, not so much in the touring industry per se, but in the satellite industries. We waited almost an hour to pick up two rental cars from the Portland airport last week. Why? The rental car company doesn’t have enough people to clean the vehicles in a timely fashion upon their return. Ridiculous.

As most bands do, we sell merch at our shows, but we don’t have the luxury of a merch person on the tour, so we either rely upon the venue’s in-house vending or we hire a seller—which lately has been next to impossible. Finding a merch seller for a date in California a few weeks ago was more time-consuming than advancing the entire show.

We’ve heard similar stories from promoters who, after going through a tough time sourcing passenger vans for carting artists and their crews between airport, venue and hotel, can’t find people to drive those vehicles.

It’s insane, disturbing and comforting, all at the same time. It makes you wonder if we’re living in an episode of the Twilight Zone. But at the same time, if you were raised with a strong work ethic, you’ll have no worries about finding employment.