Roadies, Cameron Crowe’s new rock-centric drama for Showtime, has made a big deal out of the fact that it tries to get road life right. The show was hyped at SXSW, with actual, real-life roadies receiving complementary booze and massages, and multiple music industry professionals were brought on by the show to act as technical consultants.
All that being said, a television drama is still just that. It’s not a documentary, and, given that Roadies is a Crowe vehicle, there’s bound to be a little romanticism applied. To test that theory—and to check out the veracity of the show’s look at life on the rock ’n’ roll road—we sent the show’s premiere to two actual roadies: Gus Brandt, who’s tour-managed Foo Fighters since their inception and has spent time on the road with Pharrell, Nine Inch Nails, Blink-182, Conan O’Brien, Steve Martin, and Tenacious D; and Rachel Demy, who’s been out on the road with St. Vincent, The National, and Death Cab For Cutie. While both were quick to note that the show is the most accurate depiction of tour life that’s existed thus far, they also noted that Roadies does take quite a bit of artistic license, especially where backstage dalliances are concerned. Their thoughts on the show—and on life on the road—are below.
A note: It’s helpful if you’ve watched the first episode of Roadies before you read this story, and it is conveniently streaming online.
The A.V. Club: How accurate do you think Roadies is?
Rachel Demy: I’m not interested in putting out a bunch of negative stuff on the internet. That’s not my deal. I came into this actually really wanting to like it and really ready to defend the whole thing. That said, I did not enjoy it.
Gus Brandt: It’s the most accurate depiction I’ve seen but I kind of agree with Rachel. There’s some schlock in there. For example, I’ve never considered what we do noble or romantic.
RD: Totally. I think that’s the biggest thing.
GB: It’s not sexy. Like, I’ve never held hands with everyone on tour.
RD: That scene almost killed me. Everybody walks into the venue together and doesn’t immediately disperse to do their jobs? The fact that they even had a moment to stand around and look at each other and get centered in the day was immediately like, “Wow, that never happened to me on tour.”
GB: Exactly. And everyone’s clean and showered.
RD: Totally. Everyone has makeup on.
GB: I haven’t been in the same hotel as people I’ve toured with in like five years. I’m with the band, so we stay at different hotels. I would never go to the production manager’s room across the hall.
It’s dumb stuff like that. No one goes around and crosses out the day on a sheet on the wall. There’s no time. You just look at your phone and try to make it to the end.
RD: Nope. And there are basic inaccuracies like how the front-of-house engineer is setting up their own console. A normal lighting engineer is not hanging from a truss.
I have heard that there were actually a lot of legit consultants on this thing so I was really excited to see some of this stuff. I don’t know what the writing process was like for Cameron Crowe, but I have to wonder if he got a lot of good advice and then just wrote the thing that he wanted to write anyway.
GB: The guys I know who worked on the show wouldn’t have told them, “My crew guys ride around on skateboards.” I mean, some of them ride around on skateboards but they’re all 65-year-old men.
RD: I think The Head And The Heart was the most redeeming thing about the whole show, actually.
GB: Yeah. That was cool. But [a band’s] management would never have the crew onstage being told, “Okay, there are going to be changes.”
RD: Talking about financials onstage?
GB: Yeah. With roadies?
GB: I just wouldn’t see that.
You know, if you don’t take it too lightly and you’re not Rachel or myself, then it was probably okay.
I always complain that on Almost Famous I wanted to help. I would’ve liked to have said, “No, this goes this way and that goes that way.”
RD: I really enjoyed Almost Famous, but I think that’s because it was entertaining.
The balance of this particular show got caught in this really murky water of it either needing to be more real or needing to be more entertaining. I had a hard time sussing what the plot was of the pilot episode. Someone wants to leave the tour and she’s breaking out of the family and then this other British guy is coming in and trying to throw the financial smackdown on everyone? That’s basically a story that could be written into any kind of grouping or any other kind of job. It’s not necessarily specific to touring.
GB: We can all sit here and slice this thing up, but for our business it’s probably good. It’s cool for people to know what roadies do or what it really is. And Almost Famous was a different time than our time, Rachel.
RD: Exactly. Totally.
GB: It was, “Take the big bag of money and go do a bunch of drugs.” With the business we’re in now, there are still characters like that Phil guy. Or there have been, in recent times. The cool thing [about being on the road] is that the characters are all weird. On the show, you’ve got the guy with the fake British accent and the precocious girl who wants to go to film school. There’s also a romantic thing. It’s going to boil down to Luke Wilson and Carla Gugino doing the whole Ross-and-Rachel will-they-or-won’t-they thing. Plus however the lighting girl is going to evolve.
It’s got that Cameron Crowe thing where everything’s romantic. Everything.
RD: My takeaway from the whole thing is that it feels like Cameron Crowe’s Band-Aids from Almost Famous basically grew up and got jobs. It’s still all about the music, man, and it’s all about the love of the bands. In real life, there is that, and it’s definitely an element to what we do, but it’s a lot more subtle usually than that. People also just like their jobs and this is just a job in many ways for some people.
There are times you do leave the band you’re touring with because you need to go do something else, though. That’s real.
GB: That happens. That totally happens.
I love my job. I love the Foo Fighters. I’ve been with them 20 years. I wouldn’t let it go. We frequently talk about how it is about the kids, how the fans keep our houses in order and keep us in shoes and food. It’s about the music. With the Foos—just as an example, not to keep throwing that around—whenever the band is tired of playing shows and it’s not as much fun as it was 10 months before, he stops and goes home. And that’s always been good for me. Like, “You know what? I don’t have to do this to death.” But we’re lucky.
RD: [Grohl’s] very unique that way. He’s amazing in that sense.
GB: Rachel, we’re lucky to be at that level where someone from The A.V. Club says, “Hey, do you want to talk about this?” Like, how cool is that?
RD: Very cool.
GB: I have a friend that manages a Subway sandwich place. The highlight of his day is not hearing jokes about Jared [Fogle].
AVC: It is still a job, though. Even “fun” professions have their drawbacks. Bartenders don’t always want to hang out in bars. Sometimes they just want to go home and watch TV.
RD: I think some of the things that make this job so interesting and so important and so fulfilling are really subtle, not-obvious things. So when you try to translate those things like the love of music or the love of a band to the screen, they end up becoming really heavy-handed. They’re really hard to put into words or to quantify them.
GB: I agree. In terms of what you’re saying, for me the joy comes in moments. The bliss is in a weird minute where I’ll be talking to someone and it resonates. Or I’ll run into some kid who bought bad tickets from a scalper and I’ll go, “Guess what, this weird old man you’re talking to has a pocketful of tickets. Go have fun.” It’s those weird little moments.
RD: Totally. Or that moment at the end of the night where everybody gets back on the bus and just looks at each other and is like, “Holy shit, we just did that.”
GB: Totally. “We just played the worst venue in the world and pulled off a show.” Or you’re just in catering and someone will say something stupid two tables away. Those are the things we get that other people don’t.
I used to work at Kmart. My best day at Kmart was the day they let us have all the Icees and fried chicken we could have from the cafeteria. I’d rather have a thousand terrible days on tour than a good day at Kmart.
RD: I 100 percent agree.
AVC: Who do you think the show’s fictional Staton-House Band is supposed to be?
RD: I don’t know. Gus, you want to take that one?
GB: Knowing Cameron Crowe, I would bet it’s an amalgamation of some of his favorites. Probably Neil Young, Springsteen… it’s probably a mashup of his favorite bands.
AVC: But younger, somehow.
GB: Yeah. That’s what I think.
I like him. One of my favorite movies is The Notebook so I love romantic comedies. I’m not shy about saying that. I love getting choked up watching Notting Hill or Almost Famous or even that Jerry Maguire scene. I love that stuff. That stuff is my wheelhouse, as the kids say. So I could just see him putting The Allman Brothers and the Eagles and Neil together into this band.
But, I mean, The Head And The Heart got off of a bus that was like 50 years old.
RD: Yeah. I think they must’ve used that bus in Almost Famous, actually.
GB: And the bus driver. Why was the bus driver sleeping in the back of a truck? He’s the bus driver. He should be at a hotel.
RD: If that band is an amalgamation I think that the actual storyline is an amalgamation of stories that people have told [Crowe] about being on the road. I have no doubt that some of that stuff happened or that there are those characters who were inspired by others, but they don’t tie together in a very cohesive manner. Yet.
GB: Now that you mention it, that character Phil reminds me of Phil Kaufman, who was the tour manager for Gram Parsons. He’s the guy that the Johnny Knoxville movie was about. He burned Gram Parsons after he died out in the desert.
RD: No kidding?
GB: Yeah. It’s a true story. Phil was an early tour manager. He has a book. He’s a character.
I’m sure between Cameron and Eric Johnson, my friend and fellow tour manager who worked on the show, there were a million stories. And they just have to make those Showtime-ready, I guess. I have no idea of the politics behind writing a show like that.
Carla Gugino came to a Foos show in Albuquerque. I didn’t know she was doing this show, but she’d mentioned it to me. I was like, “Oh my god, please get it right,” like as I’m emptying corn chips into a bowl. Like, “This is what tour managers do. Somebody wanted chips and salsa and here I am.” It was funny.
Roadies isn’t awful.
RD: It’s not.
AVC: It’s just that they’re focusing on story over substance, which is totally understandable. That being said, there are a lot of boobs in it.
GB: The promoter rep’s kid would never be on stage.
I’m trying to think if there was a moment where I was like, “That’s kind of true.” Maybe the guy selling his dream house. Everyone on the road talks a lot about getting off the road and doing this and doing that.
RD: That is true.
GB: That’s a common theme.
I don’t hate Roadies. I’m curious to see how it develops and what sort of stuff they can weave from the outside world that happened into this.
RD: Totally. I want to remain optimistic. We’re dropping some hot takes on a single episode, and it remains to be seen how these characters develop. Even just being out on the road, it really is about the characters you meet and the deepening of those relationships. It’s not necessarily something that everybody is supposed to understand. You’re your own nucleus, moving along from city to city, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s universally appealing on some levels but really not on many others.
GB: I agree. It’s like your own terrarium. You have your own catchphrases, your own unspoken secret language.
RD: A lot of people who get to sit in on that don’t like it, too. That’s the other part of it. Not everybody who walks into that situation is thinking, “This is amazing. This job must be so awesome.” I know people who are like, “I don’t know how you guys do that. I would never, ever do that.” And I get that, too. I totally get that.
GB: The 18-hour days, or some people only seeing a hotel room once every five or six days.
RD: Having to choose between a shower and a meal. I don’t want to make that choice, usually. I want both.
GB: You know what? I’m glad they’re doing it. I’m glad someone’s trying to at least. If you’ve seen the original movie, Roadie, or any sort of television depiction of touring—this is as close as I’ve seen. And they’re trying to develop stories so you can’t knock it.
And, like I said, Cameron Crowe has choked me up before. I’m sure I’ll get choked up at some point.
RD: I want to be choked up. I really do. I want him to bring the waterworks, but this episode didn’t quite get there for me. To say nothing of the stalker girl who banged herself with a microphone from Bruce Springsteen. That scene that was… interesting.
GB: Yeah. I don’t know anybody who’s ever gotten laid because they gave out a laminate. That’s got to be out of the ’70s.
RD: Yeah. How is the security guard giving anyone a laminate?
GB: You guys might answer this. Luke Wilson was talking to those kids in blue shirts. What the hell were they? Were they interns?
RD: I don’t know. I couldn’t figure it out, either. I feel like I missed something in the first 10 minutes.
GB: Yeah. Because I was like, “Wait a minute. Is he leading a class? Are these trainees?”
RD: Yeah. Who are these kids?
GB: And then the whole thing where they’re talking about a retainer? That’s personal business!
But you know what? They’re trying, and God bless ’em.
RD: I think that is the best thing, for sure. Let’s go ahead and say that neither Gus nor I have made TV shows about the road. So we can’t really say that we could do it much better.
GB: I think they did a pretty good job, considering. I’m sure the network is like, “You’ve got to make this clash,” and people need to be doing things in scene, the little I know about acting. It’s more interesting to see a woman in a truss messing around with lights than to just get her standing behind a podium talking about her feelings.
You might have heard this, Rachel, but there’s always been a roadie documentary kicking around. Nobody wants to let anyone partake in it because of what goes on.
RD: There’s no reality show that’s really going to get made about this because I don’t know any band that’s going to allow that kind of access, or any roadies who are not too busy to talk to cameras while they’re working. It would almost have to be a fictionalized account because in the real touring world, there’s just no time for that business.
GB: That’s one thing the show could do better. It could depict weariness a little more. Maybe that’ll pick up. Because most days, you’re up at 6 or 7 and done at 2 or 3. Then you just repeat that over and over until you get fired or go home.
RD: Yeah, so at least some bags under the eyes or a little dehydration. Something.
GB: Totally. Or just some messy hair.
RD: A little bit more grease.