Lessons learned during a day as a music fest ‘roadie’

The Great American Irish Festival beckoned again this year, so I figured I’d spend a day as a volunteer stagehand, or “roadie,” for some very high-energy Celtic Rock bands.

Ah, the lessons learned …


The Young Dubliners perform during Great American Irish Festival 2013.

Lesson No. 1: When a band finishes a set, it’s “All liquids off the stage.”

This primarily means cups of beer the performers have at their feet — or on top of expensive amplifiers. It would be an expensive headache indeed if a cup of beer or bottle of water were dumped into the circuitry. And with a new band coming on stage every 90 minutes, it’s best to remember not to trip over the maze of wires on stage while retrieving liquids.

Another lesson, learned the hard way: bring earplugs. Even if the music is terrific — which it was, by the way, at the 10th annual G.A.I.F. in Central New York — it can get incredibly loud next to the stage.

Other lessons learned:

Bottled water and bags of ice are priceless when the temperature on stage is even higher than the 80 degrees outside the tent. Many of the performers had soaked through their clothes after a set (see “All liquids off the stage” above). Putting towels with their reach is clutch, as well.

Elders Irish rock group

“The Elders” band members meet with some of their fans before a performance.

Loyal fans — I think “groupies” is too pejorative a term — are dedicated to the point of baking homemade goodies for their favorite performers. They also know how to jockey for position for photo ops at “meet and greet” sessions before the show.

This revelation came too late in life, but I should have gone into the tattoo business. They’re everywhere, on just about every body part — band members and audience members alike. 

The most important thing I learned as a roadie, however, is this: the passion that these musicians have for their art is undeniable. I can appreciate the thousands of hours they practice on their own and rehearse as a group, with the inevitable false starts and failures along the way. 

The groups I saw at the Great American Irish Fest were ridiculously good, popular in the Celtic Rock realm yet still unknown to many outside of that (a shame). But there are enough intrinsic and extrinsic rewards to keep these artists going, and their fans are most grateful for that.


Seven Nations performing at Great American Irish Festival 2013.

And you know what? They’re good people to work with. During the set by Seven Nations, there was a brief power outage. No one on stage threw a fit or showed any inkling of being annoyed.

What did the band do? They improvised with a brief acoustic set with two of their members, and it was outstanding. The audience was happy, power was restored, and the show went on.

These talented artists are just so happy to perform their art in front of an appreciative audience, the conditions don’t matter too much. They live a life ruled by passion, and while it’s a hard life — and some of these folks appear to live it to the hilt — I admire the hell out of them for doing it this way.

A fan of the band Enter the Haggis (ETH) showed her appreciation with a donation of baked goods.

A fan of the band Enter the Haggis (ETH) showed her appreciation with a donation of baked goods.

Another observation: it takes an incredible amount of work, organization and volunteers to put on a festival the right way, and the Great American Irish Festival certainly does that.  


About Jim McKeever

Writer, father, runner, advocate based in Central New York.
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1 Response to Lessons learned during a day as a music fest ‘roadie’

  1. markbialczak says:

    Ah, the rules of the roadie. Be there when the musicians need you. Be out of the way when they don’t. Don’t let the fans out front see you sweat. Don’t sing along too loudly near a live mike. Glad to hear you had fun, sir. And as loud as the music was, I never felt comfortable wearing those earplugs.


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