By Tara Joshi, The Guardian | For years, women who work on music tours have been patronised, denigrated and abused. But as the industry takes stock during the pandemic, change is hopefully coming. Sandwich-maker. Foot-rubber. Mother. Eye candy. Enabler. Subordinate. Weakling. Women and non-binary (NB) touring crew members have heard it all while working as managers, sound techs, drivers, engineers and other roles – and resistance is mounting as live gigs fitfully begin to return.
In 2018, sound engineer Chez Stock published a widely shared blog post detailing her experiences on tour with an unnamed major band, including allegations that the crew were offered bonuses if they could bring girls backstage for the band members and, on one occasion, being invited over the radio comms to take turns having sex with a drunk woman who had been brought into a dressing room.
In July, Stock named the band as the Killers, her experiences stemming from their 2009 tour. Her revelation prompted the band to launch an internal review, which concluded last month and could not find evidence of this sexual misconduct claim. The band’s legal team did acknowledge a misogynistic atmosphere and said “the idea of the band paying [crew] extra to ‘bring back girls’ or ‘have one waiting in the shower’ etc was an in-joke based upon urban legends of tours from an earlier era – ie roadie folklore – and not something any of them actually did, were ever asked to do, or ever attempted to do.”
The idea that treating a woman like this could be the subject of an “in-joke” speaks to how few women and NB people have historically existed in these spaces, and still do today. And when you’re on the road for long stretches, living closely among colleagues who become de facto family, how do you create spaces for safeguarding and accountability when someone behaves badly – especially without the fear of repercussions for your livelihood?
US-based production co-ordinator Meghan Keogh, 24, recalls being grabbed and pulled on to a bus by the driver of one tour, who later verbally degraded her in front of her colleagues. She told an experienced assistant tour manager (TM). “And she basically said, ‘Yeah, it happens, but you can speak out against something wrong that happens to you and you will be the one who gets fired,’” says Keogh.
So she kept quiet. As did Netherlands-based guitar technician and TM Laura Nagtegaal, a trans woman who has worked predominantly with rock and metal bands such as Blind Guardian, Rival Sons and Cradle of Filth, when she was subjected to a transphobic comment from a crew member working at a UK metal festival. Immediately she regretted not speaking up. As with much of the entertainment industry, she says, there’s a perceived “grey area” of acceptable behaviour in music – the hangover of rock’n’roll culture continues to leave a sour taste for many who feel it is better to stay silent or, indeed, quit altogether. “To be part of a touring crew, you give up so much as it is,” she says. “Just to be taken advantage of, be abused, be underpaid, overworked, physically strained, mentally drained and left to rot at the side of the road if you speak up.”
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