Takin’ care of backstage business at area music venues

In his role as the general manager at Sprint Pavilion, Kirby Hutto interacts with some of the hottest acts in the music business.
Photo by Jen Fariello In his role as the general manager at Sprint Pavilion, Kirby Hutto interacts with some of the hottest acts in the music business. Photo by Jen Fariello

If Gary Green does his job well at the Paramount Theater, nobody will know. As the theater’s audio production manager, he analyzes how sound waves produced by artists will be affected by rising temperature and humidity as audience members fill the space. He knows how voices sound in each microphone, and where the Paramount’s resonance frequencies are—these being the frequencies at which objects vibrate.

“[Audience members] only notice when things go wrong,” Green says, citing an experience when a digital soundboard crashed and he almost canceled Clint Black’s show. “They walk into a live concert expecting the sound of the studio. It’s a high mark to reach night after night.”

B.J. Pendleton is another local “sound guy” who determines what audiences hear, primarily for shows at the Jefferson Theater since it reopened in 2009.

“I love mixing shows,” Pendleton says. “I can make or break your show. You guys can practice as much as you want and have great lyrics, but I can throw that out in two seconds.”

Pendleton is joking of course, and says he wouldn’t do something that “horrible.” He first encountered the Charlottesville music scene in the early 2000s when his hip-hop band, Man Mountain Jr., opened for The Hackensaw Boys at a Liberty Hall Pig Picking. He says it was a full departure from The Roots-like vibe Pendleton’s band created. “It was us in the middle of a field playing on a hay trailer, people drinking beer, and a pig,” he says. “I’ve mixed [sound for] The Hackensaw Boys a million times now. It’s funny how it all comes together.”

He also manages international tours for artists including Amos Lee, Robert Glasper and Gregory Porter, while running his music production company, Pendleton Presents. He and his wife have a 9-month-old and 2-year-old. Sometimes, Pendleton says, he likes to sleep.

Kirby Hutto, general manager for the Sprint Pavilion since construction broke ground in 2004, says he can go to almost any show on the East Coast and find someone he knows working backstage. Though Hutto thinks the Pavilion hits a “sweet spot” and can attract a variety of acts, he says the space isn’t always easy for performers to visit.

Mishap stories include a bus driver who drove to Charlotte instead of Charlottesville, a raging alcoholic lead singer, sending a van to Philadelphia to pick up bandmates who missed connecting flights and tending to artists’ stomach bugs.

“We’re a challenge logistically,” says Hutto. “Once [the artists] get out of their trucks and into the venue, we’re going to do everything we can to make it a memorable, favorable experience for them.”

Keeping the artists and the fans happy is a priority for Hutto, whose mishap stories include a bus driver who drove to Charlotte instead of Charlottesville, a raging alcoholic lead singer, sending a van to Philadelphia to pick up bandmates who missed connecting flights and tending to artists’ stomach bugs.

He remembers Jack White refused to have the color red in his dressing room. No red cups, no red decorations, no red anything. When Jack White’s tour arrived, everything red was gone, Hutto says, thanks to the Pavilion’s hospitality director.

“You can’t get drawn into the madness when part of your job is solving that,” Hutto says, crediting the ability to stay cool under pressure and his team’s resourcefulness. “The rest of the stuff can be background noise as long as the artist goes on. …It’s truly an art.”

George Gilliam, general manager for the Southern Café and Music Hall, reviewed one band’s contract that included a request for a Tickle Me Elmo toy. He says strange requests can be a test to make sure venues read artists’ contracts thoroughly. “We did not buy a Tickle Me Elmo,” confirms Gilliam.

Green tells stories of two legendary bands he won’t name, saying one was “not happy” with the Paramount’s soup spoons and showerheads and another recent big-name act threatened the theater’s stage manager. Green says his 20 years of experience teaching Albemarle High School students with oppositional defiant disorder prepared him to deal with artists who are “prone to tantrums” and believe “the world revolves around them.”

Despite the occasional big egos and odd requests, most staffers feel fortunate to be working behind the scenes, where they sometimes meet artists they admire.

Mary Beth Aungier, talent contract administrator for the Lockn’ Festival and venue manager for Infinity Downs Farm, has extensive industry ties through her years as a tour manager. In the ’80s she managed an international tour for Carlene Carter, June Carter Cash’s daughter, and fondly remembers riding shotgun in a red Triumph with Carter and her former husband, Nick Lowe, then meeting Elvis Costello later that evening.

Hutto faced a humbling moment two years ago watching his musical hero Ry Cooder. “It was the most starstruck I’ve ever been,” says Hutto, who was fretting about getting his show poster signed. “I had to leave backstage because I was being too much of a fanboy.”

“Many of these people are pleasant, engaging, wonderful,” says Green. “You quickly become aware that they all sleep, eat and breathe like the rest of us.” After Crosby, Stills & Nash finished their set at the Paramount several years ago, Green says Graham Nash thanked every person on the crew. “We’re the first ones there and the last to leave…saying thank you goes a long way,” he says.

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