A Look Back

Interview with the Co Founders Of Roadies Of Color United

DEBBIE SPEER 8:00 AM, MONDAY, 05/17/2021 IMPACT 50IMPACT50 2021

Long before their professional lives would intersect as co-founders of Roadies of Color United International, production and tour manager Bill Reeves and stage manager Lance “KC” Jackson came into their professional callings by following very different roads. 

Reeves, 74, became enchanted with the stage when his mother took him to see a touring Broadway production of “Peter Pan” as a child in Los Angeles. While in graduate school in 1971-72, Reeves took a job at Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe, Calif., where he was pressed into service as a stagehand for a performance of “The Lawrence Welk Show.” He was asked to stay on.

For Jackson, 64, it was seeing The Supremes at the old Steel Pier in Atlantic City, N.J., in 1965. “I think the thing that really fascinated me with seeing The Supremes was not so much the production,” Jackson says. “I was trying to figure out how they get that sound? What kind of magic is this?” 

Reeves became lighting director/production manager for Teddy Pendergrass and has worked for Luther Vandross, Prince, Anita Baker, Maxwell, D’Angelo and is most recently tour manager for Anthony Hamilton. 

Jackson worked for artists as diverse as Luther Vandross to New Kids On The Block to Justin Bieber. He’s currently production stage manager for Earth, Wind & Fire. 

Reeves and Jackson in 2009 started their own social media platform, Roadies of Color United International, to give professionals in the live industry the chance to “unite, network, promote each other and collaborate in order to help promote a more diverse and inclusive industry.” It’s now an international professional association and on the leading edge of diversity efforts in the live business, presciently helping to usher in the change we so very much need. 

Here, the two veteran touring professionals interview each other to help explain how this crucial cause and organization came into being, and what lies ahead. 

Rainer Hosch – ROCU conference
Bill Reeves and Lance “KC” Jackson at 2020 Roadies of Color United International conference in Atlanta

Rainer Hosch – ROCU conference
Bill Reeves and Lance “KC” Jackson at 2020 Roadies of Color United International conference in Atlanta

Lance “KC” Jackson: For me, it was pretty simple. There were the trade magazines like PLSN, but social media was something in 2009 that was relatively new to the industry. We were talking and we noticed that there was only a smattering of people of color in those groups. And we both agreed that there was a need to create a place where people of color could be welcome. 

BR: My route was slightly different. You mentioned the trade magazines of the day, and that’s what turned a light on for me. I realized that every time I saw pictures in the trade publications of people doing things, getting awards and being highlighted for their career achievements, it was always the same fairly small group of white guys.

We knew that there was a bunch of us. That’s why we decided that there needed to be some kind of an organization or some way of gathering these people of color in the industry together. We thought there was a need for something like it, because it didn’t exist. 

BR: For me, the shining highlight of Roadies of Color thus far was the success of our conference. You should relate the story about meeting at Lenny Guice’s funeral and getting the idea of  putting a conference together. 

LJ: I met Lenny Guice when he was lighting director on the Commodores’ “Platinum” tour in 1978, which was a huge, huge tour. He was the guy that held that tour up. He eventually found a home with Earth, Wind and Fire until he passed away in about 2011. I had this thought that Roadies of Color could put together some type of award and, at Lenny’s funeral, it popped into my head that we should call them the Lennys. I spoke to his wife and son and told him my idea because I wanted permission to use Lenny’s name and story so that his legacy could live on through promoting excellence.

BR: I remember because it was the same group of guys at [production manager] Alan Thompson’s funeral, and we thought we’d better do it sooner rather than later. 

LJ: We started exploring the possibilities for what was initially going to be just a get-together. It coincidentally turned out that the 10th anniversary of Roadies of Color was rolling around. It actually would have been 2019, but we weren’t able to do the actual conference until February 2020. 

It couldn’t have been any better than what happened. We elicited the support of some major players as sponsors, including Christie Lites, Gallagher Staging, Rock-It Cargo, Ozark Mountain Trucking, ACES (Air Cargo), Ascot Travel Services, TOURTech and others. Then we put together a planning committee and a team to tighten up all the loose ends. We had a great, great conference and celebration. Then COVID happened. We came out of our conference, which was February 2020, full of hope and positivity. Little did we know we were dancing at the edge of the abyss.  

LJ: And I think that the industry, during this pause and with the George Floyd murder, had a sense of awakening. 

BR: When the pandemic shut us completely down, coinciding with the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, we were in the right place at the right time. Unfortunately, the right time was the shutdown of the industry and the murder of a Black man on video which occasioned the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

I think the industry as a whole has had this moment to pause and reflect on not only issues of race but issues of safety, issues of health. Our industry has never done this because we live at such a frenetic pace in our lives. The industry has not had this opportunity to pause and reflect and and think about who and what and why and where we are.

LJ: A question we were hearing that changed our directory from one of minority-owned businesses to adding a listing of vetted, qualified professionals is, “We would love to hire more people of color if we knew where to find more qualified people of color.”

People have to take into account that segregation wasn’t just outside of the venue. It was inside of the venue. The journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step. Quite a few people have stepped up. I think part of the recognition that you and I are receiving right now with Pollstar, with the Impact 50, the upcoming Production Live! and the subsequent articles about inclusivity is that it’s now expanded to Rolling Stone, Front of House and other magazines. 

BR: I certainly can’t complain about lack of representation in the media anymore. So my initial complaint from 10 or 12 years ago is one I no longer can make.  

LJ: To be included in the dialogue is positive progress and helps integration with some of these other organizations, the sponsors for the conference, the support from some of the sponsors for our fundraising efforts. We have, over the past year, raised over $30,000 to be able to give grants to people who were having financial difficulty. In no way are we at the level of MusiCares or Crew Nation, but we’re giving out a significant amount of money.

LJ: Let’s jump into the idea of feeding the pipeline and what we can do for the next generation, which I think is now a big part of what Roadies of Color is. 

Lance “KC” Jackson

BR: One of the things we realized is that to effect permanent change, you need to have an ongoing process. And we’ve now reached a point with the industry that people are aware that there’s a need for inclusion and diversity, but we’re not going to be around for that. We have established careers and managed to make a life. There needs to be younger people coming into the industry so that when we are telling vendors and tour managers, “You need to hire more people of color,” there are more people of color to hire. So we need to feed the pipeline of young blood coming in so that there is. 

LJ: One of the core missions for Roadies of Color is to feed that pipeline. Start programs that will interest younger people in this industry and give them access to resources, training and mentorship so that when somebody is looking to hire staff, there’ll be a pool of young talent to choose from. We also want to start developing a pool of young, unseasoned, green talent that can be the second carpenters or the third audio guy or the groundbreaker or whatever, so that we can keep this momentum moving forward. 

BR: Not just in the case of diversity, but just in general, what do you think we’re going to look like when we get back to some kind of normal operation?

LJ: It’s going to be changed, in the new normal. We’re talking with managers, production managers, about mitigation and compliance with opening back up. Getting different perspectives on what they see when we open up: mask or no mask policy, mandatory vaccinations, etc. What if you’re working and you’re not vaccinated? What is the testing protocol? 

BR: In my mind, it’s going to become mandatory to be vaccinated if you want to work.

LJ: Here’s a double-edged sword. If you’re a manager, you can make it mandatory for your production to be vaccinated. But maybe the artist has this favorite music director and this music director decides that he’s not getting vaccinated. 

BR: Then he ain’t working. 

LJ: But that’s the part where we don’t know that there’s possibly going to be some exceptions made. We’re looking at a lot of differences coming back out. A lot of people are not aware of the fact that all four of the vaccines in the primary conversation and the three that are currently in use have an emergency use authorization. While it’s a fact that there is emergency use authorization, a person federally could refuse to get vaccinated and, if they were to lose their job, they could legally fight that in court. If this was actually FDA-approved, you know, like the flu vaccines and the other vaccines that are commonly used, it makes a difference. 

BR: I get it. But here’s what I think: It becomes a condition of employment. If you want to work on this tour, you must be vaccinated. If you don’t want to be vaccinated, you can go work someplace else. 

LJ: I’m sure that that’s going to probably be the prerequisite for most acts. 

BR: I don’t see a way around it, to be honest. I did live on a bus with 12 other people. 

LJ: I totally get all of that. But I think that the business is going to be changed. What are the policies when you go into the building? Because where you have control over your production, and everybody on your bus is vaccinated, you have some kind of plan in place. Once you’re in the building with the actual building staff, there’s a lot of COVID-related variables. 

LJ: The other thing coming back, is a lot of people had to pivot and left the touring industry and got other jobs. 

BR: Yeah. We’ll be seeing a lot of new faces. It’ll be interesting and, unfortunately, the industry doesn’t have the kind of infrastructure to track this stuff to find out how many people left and didn’t come back as opposed to people who will. 

LJ: The other part of the new normal is a shortage of qualified people, not necessarily people of color, but qualified people, period. The trucking companies have pivoted pretty much back to straight freight hauling, they’re not going to be so bad. The bus companies, the custom coaches, the ones you can’t put seats back in and run them, they’re going to have a shortage. 

So the pipeline is going to become critical. People need to be a little kinder, gentler, a little patient when you come out, because some people really are not going to know what they’re doing. They’re actually going to be new;  we’ll be seeing a lot of new faces. 

Bill Reeves

BR: So where do you think we want Roadies of Color to be a year from now and then five years from now? 

LJ: We should have some entry level criteria for the next generation coming into the business. We are collaborating and creating strategic alliances with organizations. Some people on our advisory board have companies to institute certification and training for individuals coming into our professional association. 

There’s two levels:  there’s a professional level, which is for people who have a cumulative two years or more of road experience and then an associate level for people who have less than two years of cumulative experience.We’re going to try to direct these associate level members, based on what their craft is, to certifications that we’re going to recommend that they will increase their opportunities or potential to get hired. 

We’re collaborating or have some strategic alliances with vendors and companies that are going to assist us in developing a syllabus for this training in these various stagecrafts, so when somebody does look at their resume, it’s a little bit more attractive. 

This is for the immediate future. Five years from now is really simple – hopefully there won’t be a need for Roadies of Color, that the business will wake up and the hiring process will be more based on ability. 

BR: There would still be a Roadies of Color. We’ll still have a conference. The social aspects will still exist. I think our continuing core mission of feeding the pipeline should continue at least five years into the future. I hope that five years from now, Roadies of Color is considered like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval for young people coming in. I hope our conference is as well-attended as Tour Link or Pollstar’s Production Live!, that Roadies of Color will have that cachet, and expand our purview and vision to include a lot of other things that we don’t even know about now. 

I hope that the need for inclusive activity and diversity would have diminished so that we would not have to be so strident in that particular arena. Maybe we could be offering our own insurance plans and things like that. 

That’s my hope for five years from now; that there wouldn’t be the need to be so focused on diversity, but there would still be a reason to exist, if only to get together every year and sit at the bar, tell war stories and lie to each other about all the cool shit that we did

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