Roadie’s Diary #2 – Guns N’ Roses, Prague, Letňany airport, 4th of July 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 Guns N’ Roses show.
Main difference between working as a roadie for Foo Fighters show in O2 Arena and for Guns N’ Roses show on Letňany airport was the fact that everything was three times bigger. Whole show was massive and needed hundreds of people. I was a part of the roadies crew during first two July weekend days and also from morning on the 4th July until next day’s afternoon, practically nonstop.
Whole area was getting ready from the end of June. Base of the stage was getting done from the Saturday morning on 1st of July when people were separated into „steel“ group, which was building the stage and „site“, which was providing a support. Members of the first group naturally earned about 25% more money as members of the second group which sometimes had nothing to do. They were apparently even watching porn the day before.
Therefore I decided to join the steel team on Sunday to kill time faster and also to earn more money. However, there was a small problem. Our boss Vojta Parák warned us in SMS upfront: „Those who want to work as steel tomorrow on Guns N’ Roses should bring proper shoes.“ I really didn’t have my winter shoes in Prague so I was hoping that my Adidas Superstar will do the job and fortunately they did.
On Sunday we were building everything above the first level of the stage. Before lunch the main task was stretching the sails between the towers. It was quite a misery, as it had to be done simultaneously. Main problem was that sails were pulled unequally on the sides. It was mainly because of the wind which was shaking the whole construction quite intensively. In such conditions it was crucial to watch every piece of the equipment and not to leave anything hanging unattended.
It became almost fatal to one of the technicians who was wearing a helmet in the shape of a cowboy hat. At one point we were arranging side part of the stage and stretching quite naughty sail. Even though there was at least dozen of us it was still a big challenge. In that crazy wind a three meters pipe with a spike on top, which somebody had left leaning on the tower, suddenly moved. We realized it too late when it was already falling on the “cowboy”. It hit him on the backside of the neck right under his fancy helmet. He fell on the ground but he managed to shake off his injury which might have easily ended up as a paralysis quite fast. He said few swears in Dutch I guess and went back to work.
On the other hand he had really bad day and he received few more scratches that day. His bloody bandages were actually laying all over the stage. We became friends and towards the end of the day he gave to me and a friend of mine quite easy and lazy task. We were asked to drill metal bars on the edge of the stage. It was supposed to take an hour or two but instructions were often changed based on his bosses or how his injuries were affecting his head. We didn’t mind to do it longer not because it was easy but as we wanted to do it right. None of us wanted Axl or Slash to stumble over to the first line because of us.
Day of the show
The beginning of my shift on 4th of July was at 5am but the first subway to Letňany station was late. Unfortunately everybody left by that time so I had to wait until 6am by the gate. Stage was practically done and since morning main tasks were in the backstage. During separation into groups I joined “power” team which was taking care of cables. As a first task we arranged yellow plastic barriers over cables between the stage and the soundman. I mean those things which are very helpful for ladies to get few more centimeters of the view but limits those having fun in a mosh pit. Afterwards we did the same thing behind the stage as well as laying down cables which were later on connected to generators in the trucks. During a connection one of my colleagues almost shit his pants as he brushed against something under a truck and massive wave of steam came out. Luckily it didn’t harm him.
When we were done it was cleaning time! At least we supported our “colleagues” in the next location. We were working with three technicians from US with Hispanic origin. They brought us bunch of metal boxes with cables, which should be taken out, cleaned and nicely placed back. They gave us very clear instructions and were not rushing us. There was even space for some South Park & Family Guy jokes and teasing. When we were done one of them called Steve Herrera asked us, if we could stay in this team also for an evening shift. He said evening schedule would be even harder and there is simply no time to educate newcomers. Technicians went into the backstage to get some sleep and we went back to join “Stage work” group as one of the few. Others went to the entrance to help with the wristbands.
In the backstage we had quite relaxing tempo while bringing instruments from the trucks. During the free time we had great discussions about rock music as well as checking technicians while there were arranging drums for example. In the case of support bands Jesse Jo Stark and Biffy Clyro everything went really fast. I even managed to take a quick picture while Biffy Clyro were entering a stage. However one of my colleagues gave me a friendly tip: „Dude, don’t do it so noticeably!“
I had plenty of pictures already so I decided to follow his recommendation and not to take any more photos. Biffy Clyro were great but at one point it seemed they have even more gear than Guns N’ Roses. Luckily there was plenty of time to unload and load back into the trucks. Whenever we were entering the stage to take away the gear, we enjoyed the amazing view of the crowd.
When Guns N’ Roses were coming on the stage, we were just in the middle of loading Biffy Clyro’s gear into the trucks. I don’t know how but at the time Guns N’ Roses were leaving the backstage I was almost at the beginning of the route. Band’s security asked us to stop all of our activities, move cases away from the corridor and step away on the sides. They managed to create an atmosphere as if Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Madonna were supposed to show up at the same time. Guns N’ Roses were leaving the backstage and one could easily recognize familiar faces. As well as typical haircuts, jewelry and Slash’s hat. I took a spot on the edge of the corridor next to number of cases. I took out my iPhone and unnoticeably took a photo just in the moment Axl Rose and Richard Fortus were passing.
Slash followed them shortly and we exchanged a look. That’s me on the right side at 1:02.
Luckily for me nobody from the Guns N’ Roses security saw me taking a photo. However, few seconds later I heard a voice from one of the local Czech bosses few meters behind me: „Dude, are you fucking joking? You are damn lucky nobody saw you because you would be in a big trouble!” I haven’t heard any of the local bosses telling me I should not do anything like this but I had a feeling it’s not allowed. In any case I quickly and politely apologized. I forwarded the pic on my email and deleted it fast, in the case somebody came and asked me to erase it.
On the half way up Live Nation guy told us: “Guys, one more member of the band is coming. Get behind the cases!” I didn’t understand this level of security at all, as if their look would turn us into stone. It was ridiculous. On the other hand, I played with fire already, so I stood behind the cases and swear to God, I didn’t look at Duff McKagan for a single second.
When we finished up loading the last Biffy Clyro truck, I met once again a colleague of mine who warned me already when I took that Biffy Clyro coming-to-the-stage pic: “Dude, what the hell? Didn’t I warn you? Our boss just screamed at us not to take any pics and promised to have a word with you!” I apologized to him as well: “I am really sorry he yelled at you because of me. I know why I did it and I will take full responsibility for it.”
Showtime of Guns N’ Roses
We were all really disappointed Live Nation guys didn’t let us to take look at the show at least for few minutes. We were trying to convince them throughout the whole day but their reply was clear and understandable in a way: „I would love to, but I had problems doing it before. There is always somebody who takes it for granted, comes back late and we are all in trouble.” We spent most of the time of the show sitting behind of the trucks. To be honest I dreamed of working for Live Nation as a teenager but I when I saw their tired faces I was glad they didn’t pass my application further. Their daily tasks are far from dream rock’n’roll job. They couldn’t enjoy anything from the unique shows, they were constantly under the stress and dealing with stupid comments from roadies all the time.
As we were sick of sitting behind the truck, we got in front of the stage through the back entrance for VIP and technicians. To be honest I never looked at the stage so carefully in my life because this time I knew practically every component which was used. We also had time to say hi to some of the technicians and especially Steve whom I dared to ask: „Sorry if it is a stupid question but would it be possible to get for our power team some guitar pics? In my case it will be for my father-in-law and we would really not like to look around and search for pics on the floor.” He replied: „Don’t worry about it. I will see what I can do,” he replied and we ran for the meeting.
Back to the jungle
As soon as the last track finished madness was ready to start. At first we were picking up the good old plastic yellow covers for the cables. They were quite heavy fellows and they had to be aligned very precisely in order to fit. There was some reorganizing as well so no wonder we were sweating like pigs after just fifteen minutes.
Before we did the same thing behind the stage we had to unplug, align and pack the cables. We took spots all over the cables length and were holding them so Steve could be rolling them in the boxes. He did it so fast and vigorously that we couldn’t believe our eyes. Those who had their minds wondering somewhere else got sometimes pulled and even fell on the ground. The cables were also quite heavy and if you imagine Steve is doing that every day, no wonder he had bodyguard physique.
While we were finalizing last boxes with cables and packing the last plastic covers other teams were also finalizing their tasks. When you are busy you simply don’t realize that three hours have passed. When we were all done Steve called us and thanked us. He left me for the end so he could give me a bro shake and left two guitar pics in my hand, as if he was giving a tip at a fancy hotel parking lot and said: „Sorry I could get only two. Be cool. All the best and big thank you!”
Another Guns N’ Roses souvenir was in the backstage where we got next to a schnitzel also a „Guns N’ Roses Prague Crew“ t-shirt. Unfortunately our bosses didn’t care too much so they gave to us all size XL. Therefore teenagers could use it only as a sleeping dress and big guys couldn’t even put it on. You know what, good night!
When I tried to fall asleep it was worse than I expected. For about another half an hour there were people moving around in our room. The discussion in the “dinning” room lasted for another two hours and counting of the merchandising leftovers in another room took even longer. Next to that it was quite cold on the concrete floor even though I brought solid sleeping bag and placed under two layers of cardboard.
Light above us was also quite annoying but nothing could compare to the sound when one of the “bears” started to snore. It was a death metal chain saw! Therefore I had small shot, placed headphones in my ears and prayed to fall asleep at least for few hours. My Walkman died during the night so I got awaken by insane snoring. Anyway it was close to 8AM so we were supposed to get back into action
The last day
After quick breakfast we were heading to the stage while “zombies” were returning from the night shift. All the happy faces from yesterday were gone and nobody was into making jokes. They were praying for their beds and they didn’t give a damn about Guns N’ Roses. Few of them actually said: „So much bullsh*t for two hours of music! “
Our morning crew was quite fresh. When one of the Dutch bosses saw our smiling faces he called us into action. He was tough, straight forward but fair as well. Mainly he wanted to get the hell out of here ASAP. Main part of the stage was already gone and everything which was left was central and side parts. Therefore our first task was to dismount as much as we can from the sides and place the parts into the boxes. Nicely packed metal or wooden parts were then transported by literally “flying” Dutchman in a forklift into remaining trucks. He gave us clear instructions and was setting an example by carrying four pipes at the same time. He had a physique to do so and he was quite unpleasant if you didn’t carry at least two at a time.
When we were practically done with our part and we were just arranging pile of fabric locks as bunch of needlewomen I was screwed up again by knowing some English. An older Belgian guy asked me to help him with dismounting and packing the electric chain motors under the stage. I got carefully under the stage and suddenly heard him saying: „I will turn it on now! Make sure to have get no knobs and lock the last part please. Yeah and watch your fingers. You won’t be the first and the last to lose them doing this.” Luckily when I returned to my crew, I had all ten of them.
Everybody was dismounting everything above the first floor of the stage. Cowboy hat dude showed up out of nowhere and asked us, with a friend of mine to connect the parts together with fabric locks. However they were so huge we couldn’t get between them and we also had only few locks available. We were having really sh*tty time and comments from one of the truck guys “to check that chick over there” didn’t help either. Especially as he had pretty evil chubby taste. I rather went around to look for more locks.
First of all I went to truck guys who were supposed to drive finished products away. They said they had just the right numbers. I tried the same with two or three more crews but no success either. There was a last chance – lonely truck close to roadies’ base. I was quite polite and I asked a driver of a truck close to it if he might know who owns the truck. I didn’t even manage to finish my ultra-polite sentence while I heard behind the back: “Hey!” There was a giant bold trucker standing behind me which said: “That’s my truck. What do you want?!” I told him the whole story and luckily he didn’t kill me and gave me few extra locks.
When I got back hat-guy said: “Great job getting more locks. However you are late and these constructions were already supposed to be on the truck.” It was too much for me. I told him with a decent amount of politeness that he was supposed to get us suitable tools and actually show us how to get those locks through. It took him another twenty minutes of trying to do it while hitting his head in the sensitive spots after he admitted he’s giving up. We respected his determination so we helped him and we found some alternative solution. Luckily few minutes later we heard the lord’s blessing: “LUNCH!”
Last Pieces Of The Stage
As we did our tasks for the cowboy-hat-guy we did our best to keep ourselves invisible to him and joined the rest of the crew after the lunch. Rest of the army was just dismounting the last parts of the stage and putting everything into suitable boxes. Dutch guy driving the forklift and loading boxes in the trucks was getting to the Mad Max level. Boxes on the forklift were often picked wrong and things were sometimes even falling out. He was just too tired to care. We could even hear bunch of explosions. Those were tens of small plastics bottles he ran over.
The Last Piece Of The Guns N’ Roses Stage
When we took out the last parts of the stage, somebody brought a box with ice. We felt like kings. Even better than the guys on the roof in The Shawshank Redemption. Throwing ice at each other, drinking fresh water and enjoy the view on drifting Mad Max.
When we got back to the base we heard two options how to end this day: “Guys, it is 3:30 but we will pay you as it was 4. However there is bunch of food on the way. Who stays until 4:20 and eats his lunch will be paid as it was 5. Try to stay please in as big number as possible so we don’t look as a bunch of assholes.“ Hungry kids around the world would not like us but we were so damn tired we didn’t care about one extra hour of money and bloody goulash. Only few stayed because the main part was dreaming about cold beer.
Guns N’ Roses Roadie Wristbands