The road show
Most of the several thousand people who will cheer wildly at the next Rascal Flatts concert will undoubtedly be mesmerized by the sheer showmanship of the experience. The lights, the giant video screens, the stage props and special effects, and of course, the band itself, all of it will combine for an unforgettable experience.
Very few people, however, have any real idea what goes into making that zero hour dreamscape become reality.
“They come to the show and all they see is the glitz and glamour,” Robert “Dr. Bob” Schor, a retired dentist turned professional stagehand with the North Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center said Thursday. Schor was one of some 70 local stagehands and production workers helping set up the Rascal Flatts Feb. 14 show. “They don’t have any idea how any of it gets set up or taken down. When the show’s over there’s at least another three hours, minimum, of work we’ll put in after everyone leaves.”
In fact, those 2-3 hours of magic the band seemingly weaves on stage was preceded by many hours of intense, meticulous work.
Those huge video screens? They were shipped, unpacked, set up, and put in working order that morning – the amazing light show as well. Banks of speakers, monitors, literally miles of cables, all of that was put into place only a few hours before the band took the stage.
A young woman directs local workers as they roll pallet after pallet of speakers to her side of the stage floor.
“Right there, gentlemen,” she says, pointing to the exact spot to which they have been mapped for that particular set up for this particular venue.
“The size of the room usually determines the configuration of the monitors,” she says. “We like to really rock the house.”
Up on the large stage, a dozen or so workers are busy marking spots on stage for more hands high up in the rafters to install and spot their cables to hoist lights, video screens, and other such stage properties.
And all of it will come down, quickly, in order, and by perfected plan, to be taken to the next gig, in this case Greensboro, North Carolina, for a show two nights later.
Casey Vreeland, lead driver for the fleet of trucks that works with country music stars Rascal Flatts, is essentially a field marshal when it comes to coordinating this massive logistical effort. He and his drivers will transport some nine tractor-trailers full of stage equipment from town to town and venue to venue, day after day, night after night, for the next several months. The logistics of this are formidable, sometimes challenging, but the crew knows what it has to do and the operations, while herculean, are well planned and fairly routine.
“It’s an interesting line of work,” he said. “The main difference between drivers in the entertainment business and other over-the road truck drivers are that we travel mostly at night – and we almost never get home.”
Vreeland and his crew all work for Stagecall, a premiere entertainment transportation company; they have been working with Rascal Flatts since the band hit it big and started touring some 13 years ago, he said. The tours will last months at a time, night after night, until the band breaks for a few weeks before picking up the next leg of the tour.
“We try to avoid downtown areas and tight spaces, but sometimes that’s where we have to go, so you learn to be really good at maneuvering these rigs,” driver Turk Krause said. “Sometimes we put trucks in places they’re just not meant to go,” he said. “It becomes a real team effort – you have to know what you’re doing and you have to trust that whoever is guiding you in knows what they’re doing.”
Virtually all of the equipment, from the most ornate rack of lights and largest video screen to the tiniest cable, is rented, Vreeland said.
“The band owns their musical equipment and that’s about it,” he noted. “Everything else is rented – it’s just easier and less expensive that way.”
Interestingly enough, while working in the business does bring certain privileges, it is very, very rare for crewmembers – at least long term crewmembers – to meet, much less get to know the performers, Vreeland said.
“A lot of people come into this job with stars in their eyes, like they’re going to hang out with rock stars,” Vreeland said. “It doesn’t work that way.”
But getting the equipment transported from venue to venue on time is only a part of the mammoth endeavor of putting on a Rascal Flatts concert – or any show, for that matter. Once the trucks arrive at the venue, ground crews are in place to start the next phase.
“We have our people that travel on the tour, but we also use a lot of local labor,” Vreeland said.
In this case, the North Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center employs a large group of laborers who specialize in these types of shows. They come from all walks of life and all over the Lowcountry, but they all have one thing in common – they enjoy what they do.
“This is a great second income,” “Kirky” Kirkland said. “A lot of us do it part time – they’re not making a living from it – but you can make some pretty good extra money doing it, and you get to see a lot of great shows.”
The amount of money and time spent on preparing for a show is significant, but on the other hand, the facility does generate significant revenues for the area, he said.