My Clear Channel experience

So remember when the other day in the Ben Folds post, I mentioned that I don't go to concerts much anymore? Here's the full story of why. As you can see, this is a rather lengthy post, and although I could have created an abbreviated version for that post, I decided it would be more fun to tell the entire story, since it's something that I don't talk about much anymore!

During the summer of 2002, I interned with Clear Channel Entertainment, who - at the time - ran all of the concert events in the area.  I worked for the main corporate office in Pittsburgh in their public relations department.  On a normal day I wrote press releases and coordinated contests and giveaways with local radio stations or alt weekly newspapers.  But on concert days, particularly on their big weekend shows, I worked on site, usually either at Post-Gazette Pavilion or the Amphitheater at Station Square.

It was an awesome job, although "job" probably isn't the right word, since it was unpaid and I more or less worked a full 9 to 5 workweek including nearly every evening and weekend event of the entire summer.  During festival shows - such as Farm Aid or Warped Tour - I would get there at 8 a.m. and not get home until midnight.  And I didn't even notice or care.  I had full access passes to both sites.  At PGP I had a little space in one of their trailers where I could take a break in air-conditioning and check my e-mail.  For most shows (except the really big ones) I also got back-stage passes although I was always too busy working to really get to take advantage of it.  During shows, I usually ran press relations.  This meant that I met the photographers and writers before each show and gave them their passes.  I showed the writers to their box seats and escorted the photographers to the area directly in front of the stage where they could take unobstructed pictures.  For the first 15 to 30 minutes of each show, I stood right against the stage in front of the left speaker.  My job was basically to make sure that the photographers didn't do anything crazy, like jump up on the stage or something like that.  But they were all professionals and they had no interest in doing that, so I just stood there and watched each show from a perspective that very few people ever get to experience.  Sometimes I would watch the performer. Sometimes I would turn around and watch the audience.  It was an amazing feeling to be able to see a concert from the performer's perspective.

After the photographers got their pictures, I escorted them to their seats and then I was more or less done for the day.  Sometimes I would stay up front and watch; other times I would head to the top of the lawn and marvel at the difference in experience that these fans had compared to the ones down below.  At some point I would go backstage to the catering trailer to eat dinner, or to get a bottle of water, and chat with the opening acts who were relaxing at this point, most of whom I didn't know.  During larger festival shows, I would sometimes work the VIP booth or just provide general support when needed.  Many times, it was just important to have a staff presence around - someone in an official shirt that kept people in line, as if I could do anything to stop them if they wanted to do something. 

I met tons of musicians, but it's different when you're a staff member.  You're not allowed to ask for autographs and the musicians count on you to be chill and normal - not crazy and star-struck like the fans that they deal with all of the time.  Over those 4 months I fell easily into that lifestyle, and didn't really think twice when I would meet someone that others would swoon over.  In fact, I have a hard time even remember who I met back in those days.  I learned that musicians are people just like you and I who were having a streak of good luck and good fortune.  Most didn't think of themselves as superior to others in any way (with the exception of Tom Petty and John Mellencamp, both who were ridiculously strict and wouldn't even let venue staff backstage - jerks), and just wanted to relax and have a good time.  

Additional perks included free tickets for my friends and families to basically any show that they knew wasn't going to sell out.  Dave and his brother came to one of the large festival concerts (I can't remember what it was called!), I got my whole family tickets to see Chicago (I think it was Chicago, again, I can't remember for sure), and even after I stopped working there, I was able to get tickets to the first ever concert at the Peterson Events Center on Pitt's campus for free.  We had amazing seats to see the Counting Crows performed.  It was during this summer that I discovered Howie Day, one of my favorite artists now, and I even gained a new-found respect for Michael Bolton - that man is one hell of a charmer. 

Anyway, I could go on and on and on, but what I'm getting at is that after that summer, concerts weren't quite the same for me.  Once you have that kind of experience, it's hard to go back to being a regular concert goer.  Spending a ton of money to sit in the grass surrounded by a bunch of drunk people just wasn't doing it for me anymore.  I had officially become a snob.  I had encountered enough musicians to know that they were just regular people who happened to have a lucky break and made it big.  I don't think I will ever feel "star struck" when I'm near a famous person ever again (not that I am ever around famous people.... ever.)

I think a lot about how one single event can change the course of your life forever.  I was originally scheduled to complete this internship during the spring semester, not the summer.  After all, why pay well over $1000 to take summer credits when I could roll them into the full-time tuition that I was already paying in the spring?  That way they were essentially free.  But during that first week of January in 2002, I fell, broke my leg and dislocated my knee, and everything changed.  I had to back out on the internship the day before I was supposed to start.  Suddenly, taking 18 credits didn't seem so important - I had to drop down to 12 credits and even then was concerned about making it through those while on crutches and in a haze of hard-core painkillers.  I survived that semester, and near the end of it called up Clear Channel to see if I could do the internship in the summer.  The woman that had originally hired me was no longer there, and the office had already filled all of their intern slots.  But the new PR guy listened to my story and agreed to take me on - and I'm so glad that he did.

I wore a crazy enormous brace during those first 8 weeks or so - my leg was still not strong enough to support me reliably, and I had a reputation for collapsing unexpectedly while walking.  Dave and I had started dating "officially" during March of 2002, and he quickly came to terms with my random collapses.  In fact, usually when I would fall, I wouldn't be able to get up right away, and Dave was incredibly good-natured about joining me on the filthy sidewalks of the student ghetto that is South Oakland.  I should have known he was a keeper right then and there.  Anyway, although my brace was an eyesore and really gross and sweaty on particularly hot days, it was also a great conversation starter, since no one could look at me and not notice it.  Introverts like to have an "in" topic of conversation - a sort of go-to conversation starter when meeting new people - and my brace was it.  During a summer full of meeting more new people than I could have ever imagined, the one thing that held me back from a dream in the spring semester, carried me through it in the summer.

I loved working for Clear Channel, and I fit in well with the people there.  In February of 2003 I received a call from the PR guy that I had worked under the previous summer, and he more or less offered me a full-time job with them.  I would have loved to take that job, and I can't even begin to imagine how my life would have been different if I had.  But the starting salary was pitiful - about $24,000 a year - and they needed me right then.  I had three months left of my college career and although I thought about it long and hard, I decided that I couldn't throw away my entire undergraduate degree for a job that paid $7.50 an hour or less after you factored in all of the overtime.

So, now all I have are these memories and all of those backstage passes that I saved as mementos.  I don't even have an pictures to show - after all, if I did you know I would be showing them here.  But that doesn't matter, because I'll never forget.  Even time I see a band or go to a concert, I think about my 4 month peek into the glamorous and exciting life of a rock-star, and my memories take me back to that amazing summer in 2002.


BeeKayRoot said...

Sounds like an amazing experience... I wish I had this sort of experience to tell others about.

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