Roadie’s Diary #1 – Foo Fighters, Prague, O2 Arena 2017
If you have ever worked as a roadie, you will understand. If you have not, please take my invitation into a behind the scenes of Foo Fighters show.
I haven’t work as a roadie for years. Practically since my college days. But on 27th of June 2017 it all came back to me, when I got to O2 arena in Prague, Czech Republic to start building a stage for Foo Fighters. It was 5am, when I arrived to entrance 31, which I usually use to pick up press accreditation. But I always used other entrances to get into the venue. So where to go next?
Part time worker, who was checking my bag, gave me instructions: “down/left/down/right” which were more confusing then useful. Therefore I was glad, two future colleagues of mine arrived shortly and told me, I can follow them. I actually saw them first at a subway, but their image gave me an impression, they are not going to work, but to join those homeless guys around, finishing a cheap wine night shift. One of them, having a red nose and dressed in military surprised me with his work ethics, as he had a shot of cheap vodka in a dressing room, before we went to build a stage.
As we arrived about ten minutes late, I did my best to infiltrate as invisibly as possible. Our crew just started to build base on the stage. I didn’t work as a roadie nor build a stage for few years, so I tried not to bring any attention, learn quickly and try to be helpful as much as possible. Especially, when I first heard the boss Vojta Parák, whose recommendations were loud and clear. “Fucking hell, where are you putting this? Guys, how many times, did I tell you, you should place that shit out to the front?! “
It was truly unique management approach, but when I looked around and saw my colleagues, I understood it well. It was a mix of students, which were enjoying backstage access and some good money, same as those who needed money a bit more desperately. If I say it nicely, some of them seemed to be looking for a second life chance. You know what I mean, weird scars on their hands and dental misery. Our superior soon became a feared dictator, as well as stand-up comedian during meetings. „Get out of here and get some sleep! I will pick you up later in the dressing room,“ he yelled on young Slovakian, who was sleeping on the edge of stage. Luckily, he was part of the core crew. Rather than having hangover, he must have worked few days in a row. Therefore Vojta was surprisingly “gentle” on him: „For Christ sake, fuck off. Don’t worry, you are not in trouble. Just get some sleep and I will pick you up.” However, he was not so nice on the others: „Shit, the stage is not straight. Are you blind or are you doing it on purpose?”
There were experts for each activity. Therefore, if you are not into learning anything new, it is very simple to get lost in the crowd. But beware, big brother’s eye is sharp. Let say, once I looked for a second on the floor, where I heard him yelling: “Where the hell are you looking at? Are you looking for guitar picks?” Stage base was built on the schedule, but trucks with the rest of the equipment were late. Therefore, we were called out to dressing room, where we were given more instructions from the boss: “Guys, it will be crazy. Therefore, I don’t want to see any of you going for smoke breaks and be careful with cases. Push them with control and don’t get hurt! Because it will piss me off the most!”
Suddenly doors opened with a scream: “Trucks are here!” We took our spots in the garage and were waiting for the main challenge of the day, which was unloading. Luckily the biggest of us took the positions in the first line. It is extremely helpful, when you have “bears” in the team, which are more than two meters tall. Raising cases weighting few hundreds of kilos from insane heights, in a perfectly packed truck, is really a massacre.
How to survive?
If you want to work on your muscles, go to the first line. There will be always a job for you. I knew well, there is still a very long shift ahead of me and I will be finishing in about hundred hours. Therefore I decided to spread my work well. I would get to the first line in a truck, once in a while, but there was just so many of us, that I rather enjoyed jumping between activities. I felt like an Alice in Wonderland but I enjoyed the journey. Here is an example. Ok, so I took the case down from the truck and enjoyed a ride with it at reasonable speed to the stage. But before I could do the same thing again, I would get another instruction: „Guys, I need few hands for the lights.” I didn’t know shit, but the instructions were so clear and tasks so simply, we could enjoy our tempo. You could even get lost if you wanted. There was simply too many of us that nobody could take any control. On the other hand, extensive toilet break was a last ace up in my sleeve. There was naturally some of us, who would spice up this ride their way. A perfectly rolled and professionally hidden “tobacco” under a hat could be great enhancement, but when they let you handle and move expensive equipment on the edges of the stage, it is bloody risky business. You know what is also risky? When you can speak English well! Suddenly you become somebody else’s slave and asshole for non-English speakers. Joking, it might not be that tough. However, there was not many of us with solid English and Foo Fighters technician would keep their translators close. Main award would be interesting and often meaningful job.
Each band brings their team of technicians and veteran roadies, which know the whole process well. Compared to local superiors, who were often swearing and nervous, English speaking Foo Fighters’ crew was amazing. Whether they were from England, Scotland, United States or Holland, they could delegate tasks perfectly. They were available for advice and especially, everything went in peace and cool tempo. There was even enough time for chit chat and South Park jokes. I managed to try out setting up the lights, proper cable connection as well some of the craziest stage logistic I ever seen. Everything which was not needed at the moment was taken from stage by a forklift. There was naturally ant business under the stage, in the sound section or back at the backstage, but I simply didn’t have time to enjoy the view. I fully concentrated to have my light sector working and that nothing would fall on the band during a show. Talking about falling, I almost shitted my pants, when we were pushing a trolley with complete band’s gear behind the LED screens. On one side there were cables hanging, where on the other there was an edge of the stage. There were only few centimeters on each side and as the edge was squeaking quite loud, I was praying, nobody did scamp his task, while building it based on Vojta’s instructions. I heard just too many stories about accidents, during a shift to be calm.
In the final phase before the show, it was amazing to watch technicians unpacking, tuning and setting up instruments all around. There was even a chance to get a guitar pick from the night before. You just have to watch well, when a carpet is getting rolled out. Those little bastards are just popping out like popcorn. Not mentioning last night’s setlist still cell taped to a carpet.
As it was getting close to 3pm, we were tactically walking around Vojta, to see if he could let some of us go. Unfortunately, there was always somebody who needed something and always found some job for us, whether it was building fences or some help in the backstage. They were really creative, but soon there was nothing to do, so Vojta let most of us go and kept only few for stage hand. However, in order not to leave so peacefully, he blew his whole day frustration on a guy, who came very late in the morning, always made jokes during meetings and right before Vojta let us go, he was eating. “Are you fucking joking? I am chasing you down like an asshole and then you even eat in front of everybody. You know what, after tonight, this partnership is over,” he screamed. If I heard well, this guy got so drunk during the afternoon break, Vojta didn’t even let him in the building afterwards for after show shift.
To be honest, I wanted to use my six hours break between 4 and 10 pm, before I should get break valuably. At home, I made myself a British breakfast for dinner, drank a dark beer and slept for few hours. When I got back, I was glad there was a chance to watch the show for few minutes. However, we were brought together very quickly and sat behind the stage. We got our instructions, positions and kept relaxing until the right moment comes. Waiting was getting longer and longer, as the band kept adding songs. It was not worth it to get yelled from watching few seconds of the show from the side. So, it was really cool, we could watch a show, over the shoulder of a video technician. However it was just few of us. There were actually plenty of people sleeping and getting ready for what they like to call “Much bigger madness than unloading”.
After a second the band left the stage, we took our positions and normally-relaxed-Englishmen took a mental tempo. Afternoon experience was very useful, as stuff, which we unpacked few hours ago, had to be packed three times faster. When I managed to finish my afternoon tasks, I wanted to take some more relaxed spot. However, a technician picked me up from a crowd and ordered me and a friend to roll in cables placed between stage and a sound guy. On one side, it was practically impossible to get them stuck in one case. On the other hand, we could take our tempo and close it eventually by sitting on it as if it was suitcase before winter vacation. But it was just a sunrise before a storm, which was truck loading. There was no space for standing around. Huge truck drivers knew how to organize their people and they gave everybody a chance to enjoy some case picking into insane heights. Not talking about sauna inside a truck. On the hand, when you are done with it, it’s an incredible sense of accomplishment. Loaded trucks were getting lost in the distance, but then I heard a voice in my head saying: “Shit, there is still a stage base from the local crew!” To be honest, I was not looking forward for more quotes as “Which dumbass tighten this up?”, “I’m sick of this shit!” or “I am doing this crap for the last time!” I was even getting cramp in my jaw from all of the yawning. But I was still enjoying this whole experience anyway and ended up laughing from those quotes. I tried to switch between tasks to stay awake and possibly even learn something.
But when Vojta was letting first wave of people go who “need to go to the work”, I kindly volunteered. We even managed to catch a night tram with a buddy after a short sprint. When I went to bed at 4:30 am and had to wake up before 8 am for work, I was really glad this was just a rare thing.