There was a time, until very recently, when a crucial but largely unspoken part of the road crew’s job involved… how to say it? “Groupie procurement” for the band. There are tales everywhere of what went on backstage in the 20th century, much of which is deplorable by today’s standards. Led Zeppelin and the mud shark; Van Halen’s sex tent under the stage; Mötley Crüe… and well, pretty much exactly what you’d expect.
In a somewhat more enlightened age, though, where musicians are rightly being taken to task on an entire spectrum of harassment and abuse, has any of this been communicated to the guys whose literal jobs used to be to usher women backstage for the band? We asked three young roadies who — on the condition of anonymity — told us what life is like backstage during the #MeToo era.
Roadie 1, 29: I’ve worked in indie rock, EDM, rock, singer-songwriter, country, hip-hop… a little bit of everything, honestly. I feel like it’s a lot different. I’ve only been touring since 2013 — I haven’t been in it really long. But just from stories I’ve heard from other touring professionals and artists, it’s a lot different than it was in the 1980s.
I spent a couple years touring with deejays in the EDM circuit, and I certainly saw it way more in that world. There was a tour I did when I was a tour manager that, a couple times, the artist I was out with would see a girl in the crowd that he’d want to meet. He’d be like, “Hey, go give her and her friends backstage passes.” I did as they asked — it’s my job as the tour manager to get the artist whatever they ask for, whether it’s another bottle of alcohol, more food, more snacks or inviting a group of girls backstage after the show. The girls were always very excited.
I’ve never been one of the guys who’s trying to meet girls out on the road, so it was interesting for me to be put in that position. I get it — this artist wanted to meet girls. Luckily for me there were never any negative instances that happened from it that were controversial or whatever. It was literally just them wanting to meet people while they’re touring.
I think the #MeToo movement helped out a lot — more women are becoming comfortable and confident enough to come forward and call people out who are being sketchy and doing shady things. Nowadays everybody’s got phones and social media at their fingertips — there’s more likelihood of someone’s shitty behavior being uploaded for anyone and everyone to see.
I’ll be honest with you, I feel I’ve been personally very lucky with the artists and people and humans I’ve toured with. I don’t feel like I’ve toured with many disrespectful humans. I have fun stories, but a lot of the time it’s like, we do our shows, we go back to the hotel or the bus and we go to fuckin’ bed because we’re tired — we don’t want to hang out with anybody! We want to just get a good night’s rest and be ready for the show tomorrow.
Roadie 2, 29: There’s not the same budgets going around in the music business nowadays, so everything’s a little tighter. If you really want to succeed in something, it’s best to be a little more focused on the work and what you’re trying to get done. I’m not saying that things don’t happen, but for the bands I work with, it’s a little less of an issue — plus, most I work with are married and have families at home. There’s still partying and having fun and getting into minor trouble, but there’s less emphasis on that side of it.
I mostly work in rock and Americana, bands that play in 2,000- to 10,000-capacity venues. Females still find their way backstage sometimes, but most of the time, they’re just so drunk and annoying that we want them out of there. Also, it’s a lot more difficult to get backstage — it’s not like what you see on TV, talking to the security guard and blowing your way through!
If I’ve got guys in the band that are single and they meet a girl that they think is cool, they’re gonna try to go hang out if it’s possible, but there isn’t the budget for, “Oh I missed last call,” or, “I missed the flight, I’ll see you guys later tonight.” So without the monetary cushion, it’s not as easy for guys to go out when they have somewhere to be the next day.
I’ve never been asked to round up groupies. It’s mostly been the party thing, and just making sure that’s all gravy — lining up drinks and preferred substances. Some of the older road crew I’ve toured with, they have this party-oriented vibe, whereas nowadays it’s a lot less about that and more about being really good at your job. And to me, you can’t be good at your job if you’re hungover and worried about chasing tail.
Since the #MeToo movement, everyone keeps to themselves a little more. We talk about it a lot too when we’re out, and it’s like, you just wanna make sure nothing stupid’s gonna happen to your future. We’ve had a lot of friends’ bands that have had these issues, and some really major bands that have been fully taken down because of something dumb that’s happened. I’ve had friends who are on flights to Europe who landed, then were put back on a plane to go home because the tour got canceled due to something that happened in a band member’s past. They’ve got family at home that they’ve got to take care of and they’ve planned their whole year around this tour, so it affects a lot more than just that one person, you know?
We’ve come a long way since Mötley Crüe, that’s definitely a thing of the past. I think that’s just a little more the vibe of how people look at things in the world — back then, the music business was more a business of excess. The producers and engineers I came up under told me stories about working on some of the biggest records in the 1980s and into the 1990s, some of which had million-dollar budgets, and it was always a party. Now there’s not that — you have to be smart with everything. The whole way of rock-star partying, that’s what a lot of the rappers are doing now. They’re the ones with the budgets for partying, so now they act like that. A lot of the rock bands that would normally be that way, aren’t.
Roadie 3, 25: I don’t think groupie culture really exists anymore — I’ve done a lot of tours, and the backstage is kind of a bunch of dudes hanging out like, eating hummus. There’s a bottle of whisky and some beer, but we’re working, so that doesn’t really get touched till after the show. Then we have to load out. If we have an off night, we all go out together, or meet up with old friends in different cities. But still, there usually isn’t a slew of women — or men — waiting idly by. I don’t think that the bands I’ve worked with would even be comfortable with that — they’re all in partnerships and they’re very serious about that, and they don’t bend just ’cause they’re on the road.
Where’d the groupies go? I dunno. I wouldn’t be surprised if they still existed in huge acts. But at the same time, those huge acts are really old now. Could you picture Keith Richards actually being able to have sex at this point in his life?
I think that the #MeToo movement has been happening, at least at my age, for a really long time. I was raised by my mother, and basically learned that you don’t be a piece of shit, and everything’s good in the world. But I haven’t really even heard crazy stories. As an entertainer, people are automatically attracted to you because of your confidence, but I think that what people are doing with that confidence now is maybe creating more, or settling down in a different way. When I was 21 I was like, “I’m going on the road, I’m gonna be partying so hard, I’m gonna be meeting all these people, I’m single, I’m gonna have random interactions,” but no, it’s really hard work actually. It was basically two months alone with a bunch of dudes. Which was great too, just a different kind of great.
The people that we give backstage passes to are the ones who are going to further the band’s career. You give them to writers or producers. When we’re in Nashville or L.A., the guest list is long, and none of them are 22-year-old females. They’re, like, 52-year-old writers. And to be honest, I’m in the same boat — I’d rather someone come out that I can work with further.
I was talking about this to my girlfriend a bit, and I was like, “Growing up, you probably had crushes on musicians, right?” She’s like, “Yeah, but it’s not really the same thing anymore.” Maybe it’s like, there’s so many bands out there at your fingertips now with the internet that nothing stands out as much.
It’s not because of money, because at the end of the day, every show I’ve worked with, there are still fans that are really, really wanting to meet the band. I think that a level of professionalism has happened, for the better, where there’s just mutual respect for the fact that the fan is a fan, and it’s basically someone coming and supporting you, and the band relies on that. Bands that are massive will always have a following of people who want to do something with them sexually — people will always be attracted to people with a microphone. But I don’t think that it’s the way it was 20 years ago. I could only imagine what Kid Rock was doing. I bet he’s still doing the same shit! But I think that a level of professionalism has kind of naturally occurred.
Even bands I work with that are on the up, whose members are in very serious partnerships, they really respect them. If there are three girls after a show saying, “We should hang out,” they’re like, “Oh cool, let me call my girlfriend first and then we can hang out,” and then the immediate shutdown happens; it becomes an actual hangout. That’s for the better, because it makes it more of an inclusive scene all across the board. No one’s getting used — that I’ve seen.
Even when there’s a couple dozen people waiting at the tour bus, it’s mostly selfies and small talk. There’s been number slips and things like that, but I’ve never seen girls, like, throwing their underwear onstage.