This summer feels a little weird, and something is very different. For the first time since the late 1980’s I will not be part of the production crew for the Newport Music Festival in Newport, RI. For some reason it is just now starting to completely sink in. My July will be free of stress (right…), free of 17 hour work days, free of sweating my butt off in a giant tent, free of sleeping in a dorm room bed (built for humans half my size), free of being called subhuman by the occasional subhuman artist, and free of the week-long post festival my body and mind hate me recovery period.
When I started I was just a freshman in high school, and it was my first real job, outside of paperboy (and I was a horrible paperboy.) I started with setting up chairs, moving and setting up stages, learning about lighting and audio, and spending every minute of my work and free time surrounded by production people and incredible artists. Heavy lifting for a 110 pound stick figure was definitely a painful adventure.
29 years later, I ended my time with the festival running the production; the guy in charge of the stages, the lighting, the audio, the chairs (I have chair nightmares), and more! It has been a journey I never expected to take, but it was a journey that made me who I am today, and placed me where I am today, doing what I do.
I had three excellent bosses who taught me everything I needed to be successful at a job I had no training for outside of real world experience. My classes were the day to day goings on at the festival. My musical training was taking the time to listen to unbelievable performances (Probably over 1500 concerts), and the time I spent living in the dorms with the artists, hearing them rehearse and getting to know them. We worked hard, and we partied hard. There were nights we went to bed after the sun rose, and then 2 hours later were at work for a 3 concert day. It is just what you did. You powered through and slept when it was all over. (I am talking about the 90s. If I tried that these days, it would be game over.)
I learned how to manage people, hopefully effectively, through trial and error. Over the years in charge of production I worked with a very diverse group of people. It was a rocky start with my first crew almost revolting on me, but I learned, and adapted, and got better. Well, maybe my crew never thought so, but the job did get easier. I learned what it is like to be back stage, and to this day feel that every person who spends even one minute on stage, should spend at least that amount of time behind stage making a show happen. There was the occasional show I dreaded, with the artist that tortured the crew. “You obviously have no idea how hard it is to be on this stage or be a musician” I would hear, as my crew silently laughed in the background. We were called hacks, useless, and more, but powered through. This was the extreme minority!!!! 99.99% of the artists were exceptional people. They were one of the main reasons I came back year after year.
Over the years, the festival created lasting relationships and probably ruined a few relationships. I stepped on a nail and totaled my car, left crew wounded, physically lost crew, woke up on a boat in the middle of Newport harbor after a night of dancing with artists and crew, reluctantly turned pages, performed some Poulenc at the Elms, fell off a stage while moving a piano, and so many more stories I can tell, and many more stories I could never tell in public. What happens at the festival stays at the festival?
I spent a lot of time in trucks, vans, and storage units, and learned to take a nap pretty much anywhere at any time, a skill I still master to this day.
I started off by talking about all of the things I won’t miss. There really is only one thing I will miss, and that is the people. 29 years worth of friends, some gone from this earth, and most living all over the world. To them I say thank you. Thank you for making me the person I am today. This July I will raise a pint to all of you and smile thinking about the times I spent with you behind the stage, on the porch at Narragansett, and occasionally on the stage.