Roadies Of Color United – End Of The Year Reflection
By Liam Klenk
I don’t think anyone will look back and forget the year of 2020. For Roadies Of Color United or R. O. C. U. Pronounced “Rock-U” Twenty Twenty started out with so much energy and optimism. We began the year finalizing our plans for the 10th anniversary celebration of Our Social Network and Our first Annual Conference. This event will stand out to be one of the most positive memories for many who attended when looking back at 2020.
The conference welcoming address was presented by R. O. C. U. Co Founder Bill Reeves:
“This conference is the end result of a conversation that began 10 years ago between me and my good friend and colleague, Lance “KC” Jackson.”
“We have known and worked with each other in the touring business for better than 30 years. One day, he and I had a conversation about the lack of representation in industry media of roadies of color.”
“Over the years, R&B and Hip-Hop acts have become increasingly staffed by roadies of color at all levels from tour manager to third carpenter. Concurrently, R&B and Hip-Hop acts have come to represent a significant percentage of revenue generated and audience played to in the concert touring business as a whole.”
“And yet, a perusal of industry media, (articles, periodicals, online newsletters), never seemed to reflect this fact.”
“What we saw depicted was an industry filled with a non-diverse workforce of professionals. This was not reflective of what we knew to be true from our own personal experience.”
“So, we decided to address this situation by establishing an informal online association of touring professionals of color. This association was to be a place for the exchange of ideas and information. And, most importantly, to foster a sense of community amongst the touring professionals we knew and worked with.”
“And so, in March of 2009 Roadies of Color United went online.”
“About a year ago KC and I had another conversation about the proliferation of conferences and conventions dedicated to the touring industry. And although the intervening 10 years since the inception of Roadies of Color United has seen the general industry media evolve a somewhat better sense of the diverse makeup of touring professionals working today, we are still under-represented.”
“So, we thought, wouldn’t it be cool to gather the people we’ve worked with and known from our years of touring. Get them in one place – not at a gig – to be able to talk, laugh, exchange information, enjoy some fellowship and in general take another step on the road to fostering a sense of community?”
“Coincidentally with this conversation we looked at the calendar and realized that Roadies of Color was coming up on 10 years of existence. Seemed like a no brainer!”
“We gathered a committee of like-minded professionals who volunteered their time and expertise to help organize and make this conference a reality.”
“It’s our hope that this will be the first of many annual conventions. As stated above we want to help develop a sense of identity within our segment of the larger touring professional’s community.”
“It is also our hope that the information you receive from various panels and discussions we have organized will help you in your craft and in general, to be a complete and more qualified professional in this business.”
“We are also instituting the first annual Lenny Awards for excellence, named for our dear departed irrepressible brother Lenny Guice.”
“Nominated by industry peers the recipients represent the best of us in their categories.”
“We want you to have a good time, gather useful information, network and make new friends so that we can go forth and prosper in this industry that we not only make our living in but also love.”
The conference was overall a great success, bringing like-minded professionals together in an exchange of knowledge and solidarity.
It was such a success, in fact, that plans are currently under way for a R. O. C. U. virtual conference in 2021.
Reeves acknowledges the challenge created by the misperception that people of color can do R&B, but not rock or country tours.
“The real fact is, if you have a certain amount of talent and depth of experience, you can apply anywhere. It doesn’t matter who you are shining that light on or mixing. I haven’t spent the last 45 years successfully in this business, because I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Pretty much all the Who’s Who of R&B were represented at the conference. “That is a powerful statement for me,” smiles Jackson, “the fact they were willing to come. When Alan Floyd walked in the door, I was floored. I knew Alan when he was the photographer for Destiny’s Child, and now he is the tour director for Beyoncé. I love how this conference has let me see the growth and success in people.”
The conference offered roundtable discussions and forums led by industry professionals. All focused upon exchanging information and building a sense of professionalism.
Individual sessions were staggered in such a timely way as to provide time for one to attend with ease. Lighting, Media Servers, Audio, and Tour Logistics started the day. The Mentorship forum was clearly one of the cornerstones to the conference.
Joining Jackson and Reeves at the mentorship moderators table were Victor Reed, CEO of Global Events Productions, industry veterans of 50 years Joseph Schaffner Production Manager for Aretha Franklin and Curtis Vannoy Carpenter for Reba, Swing Tech for both Brooks & Dunn and Rascal Flatts, to name a few.
Curtis started out in the business working for NASCAR. Their backgrounds and experience was the key for many of the questions posed at the conference.
“This business is a relationship business,” Lance “KC” Jackson told the audience. “To some extent, competitiveness is a bit of a detriment. Some guys do not want to share their experience for fear of losing a gig. We have to change our mindset about that.”
“So this conference is a launch pad for sharing experience.”
“As we deepen our relationships with people and vendors that’s how we all get gigs and do them successfully,” added Reeves. “This is basically a handshake business. Sure, there are contracts and invoices, but at the end of the day its one guy calling another.”
The idea behind the roundtables is that a bunch of techs get together and talk about their technical expertise. One technician has a problem with a particular console or piece of gear. Another technician has the answer and can offer the solution because he ran into this exact issue somewhere else. Thus the exchange begins.
The afternoon agenda centered around Venue Safety, The Business of Music, Insurance and a presentation on Independent Contractor vs. Employee.
“Sure, it’s a calling, it’s fun and all and it’s not for everybody, but after all is said and done, it is a business.” noted Reeves.
The round tables were followed in the evening with a banquet and awards dinner.
After the superb dinner, Stuart Gray led a memorial presentation celebrating the lives of those no longer with us. He began the honorarium acknowledging “Uncle” Joe Schaffner’s presence at the banquet, who was attending despite health problems.
Now 79 years old, Joe Schaffner started in the 1950’s and at least two generations of roadies in the room could trace their start in the business back to him.
Afterwards, in introducing the Lenny Awards, Gray spoke about his personal connection and depth of gratitude for Lenny Guice. His godfather, who managed the Commodores, took him one summer to Tuskegee, AL and introduced Stuart to Guice with the simple introduction of, “This is my boy, show him what to do and take care of him.” Lenny, at that time was the lighting director for the Commodores.
Asked about the future visions of R. O. C. U., Reeves said, “We want to continue to evolve as a community. This is not a racial thing, not a demographics thing. It’s a community of touring professionals who deepen their knowledge, their experience, and their qualifications.”
“We want to foster that exchange of information for technicians, engineers and managers.”
With its commitment to supporting diversity, Roadies of Color United accepts people of any color as members. Please see the link at the bottom of the article if you’d like to join.
“At some point we think we want to get to where we can be a resource for staffing tours,” Reeves continues. “Not, by any means as a labor company. There are plenty of good ones already out there.”
“We want to rather be a place where people look for recommendations of people. What we would like to do is send out several candidates. It will not be in our purview to find work for guys but more a resource. Do you know of any good… whatever? Our answer is, sure, here are some names and resumes.”
Another goal is to become a little more formalized and offer services to people on the road who may need insurance or get their money managed because they have no one at home to do it.
Toward that goal, Lance “KC” Jackson is working on giving the group a 501 C (6) classification, which would allow the non-profit organization to advocate and provide the aforementioned services.
At the conference, Jackson voiced his desire to give something back to an industry that he loves so much by sharing his knowledge, wisdom and experience with others – especially the next generation. “Ultimately, my hope and desire is to help pave the way for a more diverse and inclusive industry.”
Original article by Lance “KC” Jackson, co-founder of R. O. C. U.
R. O. C. U. Facebook Group https://m.facebook.com/roadiesofcolorunited/
R. O. C. U. Twitter https://mobile.twitter.com/ROCU_2016
More from Liam Klenk:
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