Playing the Pauses

By: Michelle Hazen

Chapter 1: Let the Games Begin





Today I find out what kind of person I’m going to be.

Mommy, dominatrix, pharmacist, or even servant, bowing and scraping at fashionably booted feet. Whatever it takes over the next six weeks, that’s what I’ll become, because I’m not just a tour manager—I’m a walking life support system for rock bands.

I turn away from the check-in desk and hit the tile of the airport lobby at full stride, the worn wheels of my carry-on squeaking as they try to keep up. Waiting for me in Terminal 2 are The Red Letters, a band teetering on the vomit-slicked gate to true fame. Their heads are bigger than their record sales, their dreams are bigger than the moon, and their every personal failing is about to be mine to manage.

Concert tours are evil bitches. The performers get put through the wringer, rocketing from the euphoria of the shows straight to the boredom of mundane travel. They’re one in a million on that stage and they are the million again the next day: getting herded barefoot and beltless through airport security, raising their arms to show their pit stains to the body scanners.

Yes, stressed-out musicians can be a pain to deal with. But then comes the moment when the lights come up, the bass hits me straight in the chest, and I see a thousand people start to dance. To me, that is God. And I will never abandon my religion.

I blow a kiss to the TSA guards as I fast-track it through the pre-screened lane and stride past shops offering kitschy sweatshirts, tiny packets of peanuts, and Stephen King’s latest.

I recognize my targets before I even make it to the gate. The lead singer is a long stretch of pretty shoulders, Italian shoes, and dark blond hair. He’s leaning against a wall of windows, talking to a girl who can’t keep her eyes off his biceps. The petite drummer is curled up against a pillar, texting away. Above her, the bassist slouches at the end of a row of chairs, his black beanie pulled low over stray chunks of hair the same color.

I throw a quick wave at the crew arrayed throughout the waiting area. I’ll catch up with them later, but they all understand the talent pays the bills, so the band gets my attention first. I start forward with a professional smile and the drummer bounces up off the floor to greet me. The bassist closes his eyes and leans his head back against the chair, uninterested. Great. That’s not going to be a pain in the ass or anything.

The drummer is cute, short, and curvy as all hell. That teacup-sized Marilyn Monroe body is topped off with country-singer curls and a punk-rock wardrobe: a combination the fans are going to love.

She sticks out a hand with a big smile. “You’re the new tour manager, right? You only kind of look like your picture.”

Normally, by the time we’ve made it to an airport, I’m besties with everyone from the lead singer’s mom to the light tech’s third nipple. But this tour isn’t mine. It’s inherited from a fellow road wrangler who is currently in a hospital bed, drugged up to his toupee to help his body forget that until this morning, it had an appendix.

That also means I’ve got to cram four months of prep work into the eighteen hours before the first show. No sweat. The problem, as always, will be convincing the band to go along with changes proposed by a twenty-five-year-old tour manager.

“It’s so great to meet you.” I shake her hand. “I’m Kate Madsen.”

“Not sure how much Bill told you about us, so...I’m Jera McKnight.”

Weird name but interesting. I remember the story behind it from talking to the band manager, who just so happens to be her daddy. It’s a music-lover’s acronym made from the four great namesakes Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Roger Waters, and Art Garfunkel.

“How is Bill?” Jera asks, sounding genuinely concerned for the previous tour manager she probably only met once.

“He’s resting comfortably, but the surgery recovery is going to put him out of commission for a while.” I give her a sympathetic smile. “Tours aren’t a great place to regain your strength, so he probably won’t be able to join you guys on this run. But he had a friend send me all the info so we should have a nice smooth transition, even if it’s last minute.” Okay, that statement was so optimistic it should have come out spangled with fairy dust. I figure as long as I don’t sleep until I have everything in order, Jera will never know what a mess it actually is to swap out tour managers on the first day.