There is very little the local roadie won’t do. It’s a major part of why I like doing it: you can never tell what the next thing is they will ask of you. One day you’re securing a roof structure, while the next you will be painting the floor of a concert hall or moving its owner’s furniture. The jobs we get can be divided into 4 major categories, though:
From shovelling debris to cutting passes, this is as random as it gets. Often certain companies or individuals will be appealed by the low cost of our company and think they can recruit us for whatever little job they have. Not my favorite.
Rock ‘n Roll, or at least what’s left of it. Very long days, divided into Load-in and Load-out (LI & LO in text messages) with several hours in between. I rather like these, they turn the venue in one big playground with plenty of things to do and Americans/Brits/Canadians to annoy. Because I understand and speak English quite well, I can usually make myself pretty useful and manage to help my appointed technician well. Plus, I get to sleep in between!
To me, theater equals impossibly huge set pieces, made from cheap wood and needing to last the whole tour, resulting is stressed out, rude staff. They are Belgian or Dutch and had to get up obscenely early to make it there, since they go home every night. The whole gig is constructed pretty much “a l’improvisoire” and those 5 meter tall panels aren’t really made to be heaved upright with just the four of you. Small sets can take frustratingly long, and in my case, since the personal interest is limited at best, motivation is low. On the positive side: Female technicians, they’re a welcome change from beer-bellied, rude, smelly guys.
Or ‘”Scaff” in short. As my colleague put it on a newbie’s first job: “This is steel. It will not yield to flesh. Get that.” You won’t go home without bruises or something to tell the wife starting with “You will never guess what happened today.” Impressions vary from “boring, tedious and pointless” to “fucking apeshit”. These jobs usually last a few days and make for standard nine-to-five working hours, except they’re eight to six. Stress tends to peak here and there, resulting in interesting reactions from individuals you thought you knew, and a strong bond with whom ever you’re sharing the tower with. You get paid extra if you are asked to climb, but in return this tends to make people expect more from you.
This week, the only job I could get my claws on was one of the latter. Festival season has started again, and the very first in line was a punk festival named Groezrock. I lost track of what counts as punk these days, and frankly I don’t care much for it. In other words, to me it was two days of routine ledger hammering. Oh, and agony. Did I mention agony?
Due to major shifts within the involved companies, scaff jobs are relatively scarce these days. As a result, my employer hasn’t bothered with the annual scaff course in several years, and we are very slow on climbers. From the top of my head, I can name five and I think that’s all. What’s more, only two of us actually took the course, the others were simply crazy enough to go without.
Before I started working with Roadrunner, I had a profound fear of heights. The course I took were three days of purgatory, and still overshadowed by my first climbing job, which was a month on the stage of U2: How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb tour.
After four years, this rational fear still bothers me. Phobias tend to grow back if you aren’t continuously confronted with them, and mine is no different. There are no festivals in the winter, so every spring I have to go through that same shit.
Being afraid has become something I’m rather used to. It sticks to the inside of my skin for months and only fades by the end of the summer, annoying me terribly each day from the second I am asked to put on my harness. This week were the first days, and the “pro’s” would probably laugh their asses off but I thought it was quite intense, and a fucking tough bastard as the first job of the year. However I know that I’ve done pretty much anything they would ask me before, and I just need to suck it up in order to do it. This helps to ignore my initial reluctance and fucking do it anyway.
It is one thing to climb a standard eight meters up, it is another to start construction on that level. When you manage to shove the next two meter standard over the pin in front of you (using both hands of course), resulting in a wobbly but technically secure pole, you are then expected to climb it and attach a two meter, horizontal ledger at the top. Having done this, you then have to repeat this on the next square, where the far end of your ledger now freely hangs. What do you do? Do you trust this shaky thing enough to hang on to it while crossing, or do you climb down a level and up again? It all depends on how afraid you are, and this makes me a poor scaffer, especially on the first couple jobs.
Luckily, we work for a company that uses a unique system for its larger structures, referred to as “black steel”. Prefabricated truss towers are put in place with a crane and only need to be pinned together, redefining scaffolding and the work involved. Rather than working with individual pipes, all of which have to be pinned and secured individually and can be overlooked, you’re dealing with sound, solid towers that won’t do more than wobble a little whatever you do with them (resulting in the unnerving sight of the tower bending beneath you). I prefer that system, it may be tougher to deal with when something is off, but at least you don’t have to double-check every step you take when crossing the stage through the roof.