Unsung heroes get a hand

Roady4Roadies raises awareness of roadies doing it tough


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FUN ON THE ROAD: Howard Freeman, right, packs a truck Harry Highpants style with his long-time mate and rigger Jason Bond in 2014.

FUN ON THE ROAD: Howard Freeman, right, packs a truck Harry Highpants style with his long-time mate and rigger Jason Bond in 2014.

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Colossus of roadies tells of good times and bad in a hard-living industry.

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From taking tickets at his dad’s ballroom business to working with mega-acts like the Rolling Stones and Andre Rieu, Howard Freeman has spent a lifetime working behind the scenes in the music business. 

Now 69, he says it’s been a blast but he knows more than most the pressures and temptations roadies face. 

Howard is one of the forces behind Roady4Roadies, a series of walks taking place in five state capitals in March to increase awareness of what crews do and to raise funds to help those in crisis.

Studies have revealed appalling rates of mental health problems within the entertainment industry. One found that roadies considered taking their lives nearly nine times more than the general population. Another revealed one in six commit suicide –  more than eight times the national average.

“The problem is that a lot of the people who work in the industry are cannon fodder,” Howard said. “And when their bodies break, they have nothing to sell. With no physicality to sell you can’t do the work you’re used to and are expected to do.” 

That pressure to deliver can be intense. Howard said that if the doors aren’t open in time for 65,000 fans outside waiting to see AC/DC, he says, “you don’t have a problem – you have a riot”.

Touring can be relentless. In the old days, he said, crews travelled all night to set up. After the show, they would climb in a truck – three in the front seat and one wedged behind sleeping – and drive to the next city, “possibly assisted by pharmaceuticals”. 

Being away for so long also puts pressure on relationships. And of course life on the road was famously wild.

ANOTHER DAY ON THE ROAD: Howard in 1976. He has worked with a who's who of rock acts. To read more about Roady4Roadies, click on the photo or go to www.roady4roadies.com

ANOTHER DAY ON THE ROAD: Howard in 1976. He has worked with a who's who of rock acts. To read more about Roady4Roadies, click on the photo or go to www.roady4roadies.com

All of it can take a heavy toll. “The older roadies are the demographic that is fractured. I’ve got torn bursas in both shoulders, a titanium ankle, I don’t walk well. But I’m 69 years old and still get away with it. Others haven’t worked for 30 years because they can’t.”

It was after the Sunbury Festival that Sherbert asked him to be their tour manager, “before anyone knew what a tour manager did”. Since then, he says, “I’ve flown 6½ million miles, done 6300 individual shows, toured with 700 different acts and spent two years of my life in airport terminals”.

Howard said that in terms of production and the number of “toys”, his biggest show was Andre Rieu. “That involved 125 semi-trailers. We were feeding 1000 people at lunch but he had a cast of thousands. In his stage set-up there were ice-skating rinks, an orchestra, dancers, ballets, a gold coach, horses, handlers”. But other acts like U2 and AC/DC can draw 60,000-70,000 fans per show – for five shows, that’s up to 3½ million people.

Still he’s loved every minute of it. “It’s a Peter Pan lifestyle where the realities are bright lights. I’ve always said there is nothing on this earth that can be injected into me, ingested by me or thrown into my body that would give me a greater charge than watching the house lights go on and watching the band go onto the stage.”

Roady4Roadies is based on the theory that everyone who works backstage deserves help. “We’re aligning ourselves 100 per cent with Support Act, the only wellbeing and assistance association in Australia... We also want to start things like Partners in Peril, to help families while on the road.”

Things kick off in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth on March 10 and in Adelaide on March 24. The day begins  with the Roady4Roadies Walk (a leisurely 4-5km), culminating in a variety of family activities and performances at well-known entertainment precincts.  All walk participants receive a free T-shirt and crew laminate – with sunscreen and bottled water available along the route. 

Then there's the Crewathlon, a fun competition for teams of roadies, with events including the Cable Comp, Stage Manager Sprint, Lighting Crew Limbo and Sound Crew Shimmy! There'll be food, awards, speeches and prizes. The day concludes with live entertainment from some of the country's top artists.

The days are open to the public, with all profits going to Support Act.  For tickets and information, go to www.roady4roadies.com/event-registration

The days are open to the public, with all profits going to Support Act.  For tickets and information, go to www.roady4roadies.com/event-registration

Howard on Roadies

"When you, as a paying  patron, inhabit the world of magic, illusion, fantasy and power that is a live music event, consider the people that made this happen under all working conditions, never opening the doors late and holding up your adventure.

When you're in that crap seat in the back of the bleachers and you CAN hear and see the show - these people make it happen!

Riggers, truck drivers, runners, scaffers, site crew, pyro crew, audio crew, lighting crew, staging crew, video crew, flooring protection crew, security team, catering people, ticketing crew, accounting team, OH&S team, fork driver, loaders, engineering crew, set design and build crew, seating crew, barrier crew, camera crew… the list goes on.

Who gives them applause?

Who gives them consideration?

Who ensures their rent is paid?

Who cares for them when their bodies are broken?

Who helps them with emotional issues?

Who provides them financial assistance?

Support Act actually do give these humans support - it’s no act"

Details – https://supportact.org.au/wellbeinghelpline

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