Backstage Stories Exhibit Retrospective
Let the Rock Hall take you to the holiest of grails, the most hallowed of halls, the obscure venue that all music fans are clamoring to get into: backstage.
It’s the inner workings, a place shrouded in mystery and tripping hazards. This is where your favorite rock star works out the nerves, stretches and squeezes into a tight leather/spandex/rhinestone-encrusted contraption soon to be burned in fans’ collective memory. It’s the gritty underside of the glamour of the stage, and it’s forbidden. Until now.
The first thing to know about the behind the scenes of rock and roll is that the ultimate VIPs are the crew. If you won’t take it from us, take it from the crew of the Zac Brown Band.
On video we have a loop of both bandmembers and crew testifying to the hard work of the people backstage. There are people who wake up at the crack of dawn to make food, people delicately balancing the sound system so no one instrument or voice is overpowered. It’s not an exaggeration when the band says their show wouldn’t be possible without them.
Even the quality of the music depends on the crew. For instance, we have an effects pedal invented by sound engineer Bob Heil. With a background as a musician, Heil made new, innovative sound systems for the Who and Grateful Dead. Whenever Jerry Garcia played a lick reminiscent of Hendrix, that was thanks to an effects pedal of Heil’s invention.
Sometimes, rock and roll is just a dreamer and their guitar. Other times, it’s sound, lights, video, dressing rooms, catering, power, fifty-two semis and a dozen tour buses. At least for the Rolling Stones.
Tour is intense, as is prepping for it. Just look at the production crew only sign from Vans Warped Tour that reads: “If I find you in here, I reserve the right to light you on fire. Thank you!”
As much as a concert feels like some god of music has taken your favorite band and placed them onstage, instruments perfectly tuned and amplified, that isn’t the case. Not even Parliament Funkadelic’s Mothership, for which we have design sketches, just descended from the sky. There are contracts, stage designs and riders.
See for yourself who is a diva, who’s not and who requested, among other things, a six foot couch, one liter of fresh-squeezed orange juice, two large flower arrangements of high-quality white flowers and drapes to cover any lockers or exposed bricks.
Long-time roadie Jef Hickey said, “If you were to poll a hundred roadies on why they chose to spend life living out of a suitcase…being the unsung hero of that big rock show that entertains billions—never truly getting the accolades they so richly deserve—you’ll get a hundred different answers.” We can’t speak for everyone, but we would venture a guess that making the show happen is pretty sweet.
Showtime. It’s a long time coming, and it’s the reason that we’re all there—the band, the fans, the crew. It’s the reason for twenty-hour days and cheerfully threatening to light people on fire.
You can still feel a bit of the concert magic when you look at Jerry Garcia’s setlist, the last song marked as “??.” It’s more than a piece of paper glanced at between sets; it’s a split-second decision, a rock icon’s acknowledgement that after all that planning, sometimes you just have to feel it out. When you look at the duct tape guitar strap that Stevie Ray Vaughan made for bassist Tommy Shannon (labeled in marker with “S Ray Accessories – Chief”), that’s a joke between bandmates, a jump in concert so wild it snapped a guitar strap. These artifacts are more than relics—they’re stories, memories, the moments that fans like us live for.
Of course, the day doesn’t end after the show. Tour manager William Pepple’s schedule marks 3 a.m. as the time to find missing band members. But that’s a different exhibit.