Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For 'Tour Tales,' we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it's still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on 'Tour Tales.'
Twenty-six-year-old Alex Rivas went to the school of Carlos Santana and Ms. Lauryn Hill. When most people her age were figuring out which post-graduate internship they were going to willfully not get paid for, Rivas had already been touring parts of the world with the two music titans. After four years, she took the reins on tours for up-and-coming, Grammy-nominated artists Chloe and Halle, as well as Chronixx, in 2016.
On this week's installment of Tour Tales, Rivas details what it was like being Ms. Hill's assistant tour manager at the age of 21, her aspirations to have live reggae shows run smoother, and how she helped turn Chloe and Halle into the Grammy-nominated stars they are today.
You first started working on tour with Carlos Santana for his residency in Las Vegas back in February 2012. What was that like?
That was a band I was first introduced to, overall, in music. So, getting a chance to work with them, and be a part of those shows I did, was amazing. It benefited me that I knew the music because the first show I worked, Bob Higgins, the video director, said, 'Do you know the music? The show starts in a few hours. He ran through the show once. Then, I went to dinner, came back, and did the show (laughs).
From a creative standpoint, knowing the music really helps. I hire people sometimes for lighting, or video, or whatever, and it helps to knows the music for certain cues, or when an artist gets on and off. I just worked a couple shows with Tinashe. I was on a flight to the east coast and I listened to her music because I wasn't super familiar [with her music]. I maybe only knew a couple of songs.
How did you get on the team for Ms. Lauryn Hill at the age of 21 for her "Homecoming Tour" in 2014?
The lead tour and production manager at the time, Doug Hobson, had just been hired. He called me saying he needed an assistant, and that he wasn’t going to take no for an answer! I had just started working at The Observatory venue and doing west coast gigs with various artists. I sort of fought him [from] going out on tour. He, then, convinced me it was perfect for me, due to the team and how he thought I’d mesh well with them. He was a mentor, so I trusted his judgement. I remember going to Santana’s team actually and they gave me that extra push I needed to do it. I did a trial show in L.A. and that was that. I was assistant tour manager and never looked back.
You were there when Ms. Hill was the surprise guest at Drake’s OVO Fest in 2014. How did that come together? How long in advance did you know it was happening?
I maybe knew two to three days prior! We had just finished an extensive few months touring and had to do this before going home. Doug and I went to the venue the night before to meet with Drake’s management team and mapped out the whole surprise performance. Some moments are better off with short notice and quick planning. It was a special day for hip hop.
What's something Ms. Hill does on tour that fans may not know?
Something that she really does is reward [people] after long legs of tours, or [throw] end of tour parties. For instance, last year on the 'Powernomics Tour' with Nas and Chronixx, she took everybody laser-tagging. It's more so to be a family. That keeps it going. It makes everyone work harder when you're close.
What are Ms. Hill's lasertag skills like? She strikes me as the sniper type.
She can be a sniper (laughs). I was on Ms. Hill's team, and I remember all of Chronixx's team... I felt torn because if I go on Chronixx's team, her team is going to call me traitor because I was with them first. But, Chronixx's team was booing me and calling me a traitor (laughs). I think we did it in Seattle, a couple days before our last show. It was fun. You don't want to go up against Ms. Hill. I did OK. But, I was supposed to be someone who protected her. Then, Chronixx's team did two cheap shots and got us. It was intense. We were all drenched. I was drenched in sweat. It was fun, though.
What was the most impressive show you've seen from Ms. Hill?
She did two back-to-back nights at the Brooklyn Bowl [in London] in September 2014. It was the last two nights on our Europe tour. We had just done a straight month and a half run, and she performed for over two hours. She did a lot of Bob Marley covers, 'Bang Bang' by Nancy Sinatra, 'Never Loved A Man' by Aretha, and she did a new song. My favorite song she performs is actually a cover. It's 'Zimbabwe' by Bob Marley. She does a great cover of that.
When did you get with Chloe and Halle?
I got with them in spring 2016. I remember I met them a couple of times, and they had me do their first official show, which was at The Echo. That was about May 2016. After the BET Awards, it took off like a rocket ship. It was really cool for me because I had just come from all those other gigs; where sometimes I was the youngest one, or everyone knew how to tour on crew, on stage. So, [Chloe and Halle] were looking at me when I was handing them day sheets and stuff like, 'What's this?' I had to teach them and show them like they were my little sisters.
They're Grammy-nominated stars now. But, what were somethings, back then, that you had to teach them about touring that you've seen them get better at over the years?
I think their show, overall. The show is so good. It used to just be them two onstage, and now they're starting to use a full band. The audiences are bigger and bigger every time. The audiences know all their songs now. They grew in every way. I remember on tour, they were really good absorbers of everything. They really enjoy touring. They did the Andra Day tour, and she was the perfect person for them to be a supporting act for because she was someone that just kind of took them under her wing. Everyday, she would wish them good luck before the show. Everyday, the headlining act, giving them a little motivation. That tour was a good tour for them to grow on.
They sound like really hard workers.
We were on the Europe leg of 'The Formation Tour,' and it was super hot in Paris. I remember that day, they did their Paper Magazine cover for the September 2016 issue. We were running around all day; until the evening doing different press outlets, interviews, and shoots. I fell asleep. I knocked out on the couch. I woke up and they were still going. They were still doing an interview. The next day, we had a show and I was so exhausted, and they just did a whole eight-hour press day. No complaining. The project manager, Sophie Ash, and I -- at like 1:00 a.m. -- took them out to go and get ice cream. They're vegan, so gelato was something they could have. Or sorbet. Whichever one is just ice or whatever. We were blown away by how well they handled it. We were like, 'OK, we have to take them to go get dessert or something.'
You're an experienced tour manager. But, you're someone under 30 who's telling people, who have been touring for decades, what to do. What was a situation where you had to prove you can do this, regardless of your age?
This past summer, Chronixx did his first show in Ireland, right outside Dublin. The next morning, we had to fly to Morocco because we did the big Mawazine Festival with Bruno Mars and other people. We were performing the day before Mars. The way it lined up was, we had to fly that morning. But, we didn't go on until midnight. So, it was OK. We had a ton of time. So, we fly in, and I had my little folder full of everyone's visas and certificate letters of entry, and all that. I go up to the customs officer, and he has none of our info in the system that we were arriving. So, we were stuck in an airport for a few hours, sitting on the floor. They had sent the info to the wrong airport, or something.
I was trying to keep 13, 14 people calm and cool. There's Moroccan officers waiting for you to say something. They ended up getting everything fixed. It took a while, and our soundcheck was happening in 30 minutes, and we still had to load up and go across town. We made it work, did the soundcheck, did the show, and everything was cool. But, that moment could've went really bad, really quickly.
What was it like on Chronixx's 'Chronology Tour' in 2017?
That tour was really, really special. It [is] really important to me to help structure the way reggae tours run at a certain level, and help run [that concert] like a well oiled machine. A lot of people in the industry look at him as a crossover artist and he has a lot of respect from other artists. I knew I wanted to change the way that the promoters out there thought about reggae [artists]. They assume they always go on late or they go on island time. There would be lots of days where I'll call the venue like, 'We're here. We're pulling up with the bus.' They're like, 'Oh shit, you are? We assumed you wouldn't get here until later.'
There was one show that sticks out. Chronixx and Jah9 performed. It was in Kansas, and we sold out the show. We pulled up that day and saw the marquee. I was like, 'That 'sold out' is for us? Oh shit, it's snowing out here. It's Kansas.'
What is it like putting on a show in other parts of the African Diaspora besides the United States?
They're honestly my favorite. The people of those regions don't get to attend concerts like us in the states. I've had people tell me, it was the first concert they've ever attended. When I'm home in L.A., I'm sometimes at shows twice a week! We're extremely spoiled. I just did shows in Africa with Chronixx this past summer. At the show in Nairobi [and] Kenya, I had to be in the audience helping cue lights and video. I've never experienced a show like that. The people were so happy and knew every word to every song. Same thing with the Caribbean.
What is the one thing about what you do that you are the most confident, borderline cocky, about?
I play a game with venue reps sometimes when I'm at a big show in L.A., NYC, etc. It's the 'Let's see how many passes Alex has left at the end of the night' game. I just did a Chronixx show in London and there were 10,000 people. It was sold out with 250+ on the guest list. I had about eight backstage passes left over. Finesse!
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