The Band Venue Backstage: Bane of Bands

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Who doesn’t love a fun night on the town, capped off by a great show by one of your favourite bands? After attending a few gigs, we quickly learn what venues are actually “great”. Fans figure out pretty quickly what venue has the worst sound system and most expensive drinks, and which building has the best acoustics and the best food. They know which venues have parking, which ones can be accessed by public transportation. We all know cabs won’t pick up in certain parts of certain towns. How far from the venue do you have to travel to get a good meal before a show? Is it an all ages venue, and how lousy is the coat check? Well, all the things that the fans consider, must be considered by the band’s management, too. That, and the size of the venue, and if it’s an all ages venue etc.

The Band Venue Backstage: Bane of Bands

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I’ve seen my fair share of backstages. On occasion, you could add “unfortunately” to that sentence. Some of the backstage facilities I’ve been to have been just atrocious. They’re the kinds of places where I don’t think people ought to eat, where the bathroom is ready to walk away on its own. The toilet looks like it’s not been cleaned for years, and it doesn’t flush right, if at all.  If these places were computer programs, they’d have been labeled “non-user friendly.” I’ve watched band members have to enter the stage from the floor, through crowds of fans. Right through the mosh pit, actually. That was within a week after Dimebag Darrel was stabbed during a show. It makes my heart sink every time I see it. It’s bad enough if you’re the lead act and everybody loves you. Even worse if you’re an unknown opening act.

The Slippery Slope of Overheated Venues

In a venue like that, the band can’t actually exit the stage for a short water break. Dehydration becomes an issue then. Some venues (no names named) don’t have air conditioning. Stage lights are hot; very hot. I’ve seen band members sweat to the point where they slip in their own sweat puddles on stage, because of inadequate air circulation. One time I watched a lead singer’s microphone repeatedly slip out of his wet hand like a slippery soap. Eventually the mike gave out, because his sweat from his forehead dripped into it and the electrical fried. I wish that were only once, but unfortunately, I’ve seen that in more than one show. I’ve also passed out from heat exhaustion just standing back stage. Imagine what band members go through in overheated, overcrowded venues during gigs that last 90 minutes or more.

A Funny Thing Happened on my Way Home Today

To add insult to injury, the band then has to exit the stage, through the crowd again. Then they must climb two flights of stairs to get to the backstage. Midway up the stairs, on the second floor, are the public washrooms. That means trying to gracefully sneak past 50 to 100 fans lined up to go pee. Depending on the show, sometimes half of those fans are drunk and/or high. Some want to touch the band members, talk to them, or have their autographs. Once band members get to the relative safety of the backstage, half the time, there are no showers. A beer fridge, yes. Showers or access to running water not so much. And let’s not forget that the band now has to pack up all their equipment and get it down those stairs, and to a bus, the same way they got in.

Back Alley Blues

And yup, the same way you got in means down the stairs, through the bathroom line again. If you’re the last band on stage, you also have to cross the coat check line. All while still soaked in sweat. If you’re lucky, there is a back door. If you’re really lucky, there’s room to park a tour bus in the alley behind said back door. In Vancouver, you hope there are no dead bodies to step over as you load the bus in said alley. You really don’t want to have to walk down that alley for any reason, even in daylight. That back alley is where fans gather after the gig if they want your autograph. Welcome to signing autographs for 45 minutes in snow, wind and rain. All in a dark back alley in the worst part of town.

Exiting the Backstage to Enter the Freeway

You do that with your heart in your throat, because you love your fans. You don’t want them getting hurt because they want your autograph. And you don’t want your crew to get hurt either, for that matter. Back alleys are one thing, but they also have to navigate getting the equipment from the venue to the buses. If you’re super lucky, you can get all the soundboards, guitars, drum kits, backdrops etc. out the back door.  When I say “super lucky”, it’s because stairs are a thing. Stairs versus hundreds of pounds of equipment that roadies and band members have to schlep. In and out of venues, and fast, because you can’t be late to the next one. It’s two states over, you see, so you have to be quick. Hurry up and wait. You need to get to the next place on time for sound check.

Bedbugs and Hobbit Beds

If there are no showers at the venue, you have to rent a hotel room so you can shower. Then you quickly get back on the bus and off you go to the next venue. Oh, wait. You have to eat, too? What do you mean you have to find a place to eat at 2:30 in the morning? Pizza, again, in other words. Then sleep on the bus, in an alcove made for hobbits. Repeat. But hey, it’s a step up from when the band had to drive their own rented van between venues. You know you’ve made the Billboard Top 20 when you don’t have to drive your own tour bus. Top 20, however, does not imply you get a clean venue with a shower. Or a place to sit that’s not got bed bugs or rats in/on it. It’s a glamorous lifestyle, folks.

Give ’em some Love

So what can fans do to give the band some love? Here are some suggestions: Don’t rush the stage. Don’t hurt other fans on purpose. Don’t bring your infants to a rock and roll concert. Don’t pull, push, grab or otherwise touch crew or band members without consent. Let them eat in peace before and after shows.  Don’t buy counterfeit merchandise. Don’t share links to counterfeit merchandise on social media.  Instead, buy the band’s merchandise at the venue. And yes, the band’s crew has to pack and unpack that, too. Respect the crew. The majority of them are awfully good at what they do. The band cannot provide you with as good a show if they are not. They have to put up with the same back stage, only worse, because they’re crew, not stars. In other words, while you’re at it, give them some respect, too!

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