A day spent backstage at the Scorpions' concert
West Valley City • When music fans attend a concert at Usana Amphitheatre or another of Utah's outdoor venues, most of us show up to hear the last of the opening band and then hope for a rousing show by the headliners. On beautiful summer evenings, we enjoy sunsets and mountain views. After a good show, we fight the traffic on our way home and head for bed with great songs still ringing in our ears.
But those few hours of the concert are just a small part of the day for the crew of roadies, led by production coordinator Robert Pierce and his staff at United Concerts, which runs the Usana Amphitheatre.
To kick off the summer concert season, I spent June 11 following Pierce as he and his staff staged the Scorpions' Usana-opening concert.
Pierce is the point man for everything that happens at the amphitheater, from helping the band's tour manager set up the stage to making sure parking attendants are doing what they are supposed to. His job includes ensuring VIPs such as Hugh McDonald of Bon Jovi, who lives near Park City, are taken care of, as well as handing out backstage passes, dealing with meet-and-greet details, overseeing the chair setup next to the stage, working with the band's video production crew, and attending to every other technical detail that arises before, during and after a show.
Beyond the summer schedule at Usana, the bespectacled, white-haired Pierce also handles all of United Concerts' shows at the Gallivan Center, and Rio Tinto Stadium concerts. Pierce was also production coordinator for the largest show he or anyone else has ever handled: U2's 2011 show at Rice-Eccles Stadium, for which the set was delivered in 250 trucks.When the Usana concert season began, Pierce embarked on a schedule that wouldn't allow him a day off for 10 days. In between the Scorpions and the June 20 Def Leppard show, Pierce was responsible for Nickelback at EnergySolutions Arena on June 12, Def Leppard arriving in town for tour rehearsals at ESA on June 13, Toby Keith at Usana on June 14, the kickoff date of the Warped Tour on June 16, and Primus at the Rail Event Center's grand reopening on June 19.
Here's a brief rundown of what Pierce handles on this concert day:
9 a.m. • When I arrive at the amphitheater, Pierce has already been on the grounds since 6 a.m., ready to help unloading the four semi-trucks that arrived the night before.At 8 a.m., crews of 25 German stagehands called sCREWpions who travel with the German rock band, along with 61 locally hired stagehands, began transferring pieces of the set onto the stage. I thought the actual Scorpions would be around, but they haven't arrived yet.9:20 a.m. • Pierce goes outside to his backstage office, southeast of the stage, to speak to a tour official about the Queensryche situation. That morning at 11:10 a.m., a press release states that Queensryche has canceled its opening set for tonight's show, but Queensryche singer Geoff Tate and his solo-project band have agreed to fill in.9:38 a.m. • Pierce walks from his office to the temporary office of the Scorpions' management team, who are having problems placing international phone calls. He walks about six to eight miles a day running various errands around the stage, although most of his walks are just a few hundred yards. His assistants travel by bike, but Pierce is a walker. On rare occasions, he takes a golf cart.10:15 a.m. • The loud and unbashful German tour manager shoos away a Tribune photographer. I am allowed to stay, for reasons I can't fathom. Maybe it's my German last name. (Actually, it's Swiss, but I keep my mouth shut.)11 a.m. • For the first time all morning, Pierce calmly sits down in his office, accessorized by his walkie-talkie and cell phone. He spends his time working on details for future concerts, such as staging requirements for bands such as Journey and Def Leppard.Pierce is used to long days. He has been a concert production manager in various locations, including the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado, since 1979. He has staged shows for nearly every musician you can name. "Janis Joplin was someone I would have liked to work with," he said.11:30 a.m. • Stagehands take a break from loading in to get lunch from a catering tent. Pierce grabs a few cookies. I grab a plate of gyros after standing in a short line of Germans and Americans. A German asks no one in particular if the meat he sees is a Steak-umm. 11:58 a.m. • I see the first instruments of the day. Near the rear of the stage, I see two drum techs shining up the Scorpions' drumkit with Windex. No sign of the Scorpions.12:02 p.m. • The second set of speakers are hoisted up near the rafters. I make sure I'm not standing underneath them. The four trucks that brought the speakers and other equipment is a rather small number, I learn. In this week alone, Toby Keith will have eight trucks. Def Leppard will have 12. Fourteen trucks will be coming in for Nickelback on June 12 at EnergySolutions Arena.2 p.m. • I talk with 35-year-old Jamie Horton, a Rose Park resident who is Pierce's right-hand man. Horton started working handing our fliers for United Concerts in 1998 and has since worked his way up the ladder. He is wearing one of his 54 pairs of Adidas Superstar sneakers. Horton's passion is music, with his Adidas collection a close second. He has two miniature pinschers one named Adi and the other Das. One of his fondest memories is will.i.am of the Black-Eyed Peas complimenting him on his lily-white Superstars and asking where he got them. Horton responded playfully: "You're a millionaire you can figure it out."3:20 p.m. • The Scorpions' guitar tech tests out each of 12 guitars onstage.4 p.m. • With load-in practically finished, Pierce releases most of the local stagehands. Sixteen stagehands stick around for the show to assist.After the show, 66 stagehands will be on hand to load equipment from the stage back into the four trucks. This end-of-the-day process needs to be expedited, because the next day the band will perform at Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Denver. Pierce estimates he won't get home until 2 a.m., with a few hours of sleep before he has to set up for Nickelback, Seether, My Darkest Days and Bush.4:20 p.m. • With the Scorpions still nowhere in sight, the band's soundcheck is performed by the guitar techs, bass tech and drum tech. I get my first look at the stage design, which is rather spartan, but includes video screens, a large drum riser and several scorpion stingers pointed at the crowd from the top of the stage.4:58 p.m. • I see the first of what will be scores of students from Hunter High, who, among other duties, will help sell concessions to raise money for sports and cheerleading squads.5:03 • Geoff Tate and his solo-project band begin their soundcheck, with Tate's shiny shaved head reflecting the sun. Fans lining up outside the gates are treated to the sound of Tate's vocal acrobatics.5:30 • Doors open.6 p.m. • Stagehands break for dinner: spaghetti, meatballs, chicken parmesan and salad.6:26 p.m. • The Scorpions finally arrive in tour buses.7:15 p.m. • KBER DJs go onstage to introduce the opening act. I'm jealous.7:29 p.m. • The show begins with Tate.8:45 p.m. • Backstage, I run into Kevin Kirk of downtown Salt Lake City's Heavy Metal Shop, with Heavy Metal Shop favorite Michael Dean Damron, former frontman of I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House. Damron and Scorpions drummer James Kottak performed during the record store's 25th birthday party the day before.9:05 p.m. • The Scorpions arrive onstage for their headlining set.9:35 p.m. • It's been a long day away from the phone interviews and desk work that takes up most of my work days, and I'm wiped out. Attending concerts as a music critic, I focus on the music but I rarely think about the thankless work it takes to make a band sound good onstage. The Scorpions can rock me like a hurricane, but I want to rock myself to sleep.