Tour Life is my favorite new Stars and Scars section because it allows us to give the spotlight to some incredible men and women who offer an inside look into their world – and it’s grown to the point that people are talking! The music industry, while perceived as vast, is very interconnected. It’s been a pleasure to receive emails from biz veterans like Ben Packard who are interested in being featured – and we are happy to oblige! Ben‘s inspiring story includes building up his touring resume at a young age and currently working with Green Day as their VIP Coordinator. His humble, positive spirit has no doubt left an impression on his peers, and we are thrilled to learn more about this multi-talented dude!
S&S: You’ve worn several hats in the biz including Tour Manager, Head of Security, Photographer, and now VIP Coordinator. Take us back to the very beginning – When did you know that you wanted to be a part of this world, and how did you dive into it?
Ben: Live music has always been a part of my life from a very young age. I have zero musical talent whatsoever, which meant I always fell into the roll of the “manager” or the “roadie” for my friend’s bands while growing up. I never really knew what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I wanted it to involve touring. That changed when I saw All Time Low on the Manwhores And Open Sores Tour (throwback anyone?). Watching their Tour Manager Matt Flyzik work at that show really opened my eyes and cemented what I wanted to do for a living. Even though I’ve only had a handful of actual conversations with him, and he wouldn’t be able to pick me out of a crowd today, Matt has inadvertently taught me more about tour managing than anyone else possibly could. Whether he knows it or not, Matt has set a precedent for this younger generation of what a good tour manager should be! After that show, my life was consumed by learning everything I could about tour managing. I was still in high school and had never been on the road, but I was soaking up so much information from so many resources that I was totally confident I could run any tour put in front of me if I was just given the chance. So many people ask me how they can break into the industry, and honestly, for people who have no experience yet, sometimes it’s all about being in the right place at the right time. My first tour ever was with a band that I didn’t really know but I had mutual friends with. They randomly took a chance on me, one job led to another, and nine years later, here I am!
S&S: As a fellow photographer, I’d love to know – What are some of your favorite shows you’ve shot?
Ben: That’s a tough one! Jacoby from Papa Roach and Jeremy from A Day To Remember both always give the middle finger whenever I’m shooting them (in a friendly way of course, haha) so that makes for some great shots. KISS loves to play to the photographers in the pit as well; they literally spend the entire first three songs getting right up in your camera lens and posing for you! Some of my favorite images I’ve ever taken came from the one time that I got to shoot them.
S&S: You jumped on with Green Day as VIP Coordinator earlier this year. How did you get hooked up with them, and what does your job entail day to day?
Ben: I lucked out to be honest! Earlier this year, I was scheduled to tour with a different artist handling their VIP program, but at the very last minute, the tour was cancelled. A few days later, I received a call looking for someone to start touring immediately with Green Day, as this was the first time they have ever offered a VIP ticket package, and they needed someone to bring the program to life on the road. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance! My job is pretty much on the same schedule every day, which is awesome! I can usually get away with sleeping in a little later than the rest of the crew; so, I roll off the bus around 9 or 10am, head to catering for some breakfast, and then set up my desk in the production office for the day. Once I’ve answered emails and finished advancing upcoming shows, I head out to the truck to pull my VIP merchandise for the day and load in my gear. After that, I do a walkthrough of the venue with the promoter to figure out exactly where everything will go and how the VIPs will get to where they need to be. Around noon, I meet up with my local assistant for the day, and we get to work setting up the VIP lounge and filling the VIP merchandise bags. Two hours before doors open, I check-in VIPs and take them to the lounge where they get to hang out, have some food and drinks, and check out tons of cool memorabilia and other displays we travel with. My job is essentially to make sure that the VIPs have an amazing time, so I am always nearby and ready for the chance to help make someone’s experience even better! Once the concert starts, I break down the lounge, load everything back into the truck, grab some dinner, and watch the show!
S&S: (Question from my dear friend Haylee Anne) Green Day has a notoriously loyal fan base. How popular are their VIP events? Has anything crazy or funny ever happened?
Ben: That’s something I was actually surprised to learn when I started with them. Throughout my career, I have worked with a lot of younger pop artists, so I was used to seeing hundreds of girls already in line at 7am, but I honestly did not expect to see fans camping out overnight in the snow for Green Day concerts. I’ve met people who have attended more than 200 shows – it’s crazy. They have amazing fans for sure! Since this year was the first time they have ever offered VIP events, it is still a building process, but so far, the fan response has been fantastic! One funny story that comes to mind was in Quebec City – Tre Cool was hiding drumsticks in the seats for fans to find, and apparently he got on the wrong elevator trying to go up to the nosebleed section. He ended up accidentally walking right into the VIP Lounge, much to the surprise of the fans inside. He spent a few minutes saying hi and taking some photos, which totally made those VIPs even more excited to be there. You never know what might happen!
S&S: What are the best and most difficult aspects of being on tour?
Ben: I don’t tend to see any aspects of touring as difficult like most people would – I love the lifestyle of having to be completely mobile at all times, waking up in a new city every day, having to solve difficult problems right on the spot. These things that most people would hate are what I love about my job and truly enjoy dealing with. If I had to think of something being difficult, it would probably be missing important family life events at home like birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, etc. Those are always hard to be away from.
S&S: How do you like to spend downtime on tour?
Ben: That all depends on what the tour schedule is like. On show days, I don’t really have any downtime since I am so busy working. Sometimes after four or five shows in a row, all you want to do on your day off is lay in your hotel room and not move for 24 hours. Usually on days off, I try to venture out into the city we’re in and check out a popular restaurant or see a famous landmark, maybe meet up with some friends who live in the area. That’s one of the cool things about touring – you make so many friends all around the country that no matter where you are, you always know someone.
S&S: Have you formed any special relationships with band members or tour mates?
Ben: Absolutely! I wont name names, because I always keep the personal lives of my artists and crew confidential out of respect for them, but I have been fortunate enough in my career to always work with amazing people. There are only two or three people that I have toured with who I did not remain friends with for one reason or another. When you live on a bus with 11 other people for months at a time, you pretty much have to become good friends with everyone unless you want to drive yourself crazy. Whether you want to or not, you end up learning a lot of things about each other and go through all kinds of life events together (both good and bad). That’s a bond not many people experience. Touring friendships are weird in the sense that life takes us all in very different directions once we step off the bus for the last time on a tour together. After that point, we might not get to talk very often, and we might only get to see each other once a year, but everything always picks up right where we left off, no matter how long it has been. That is something really special to me.
S&S: What do you do when you’re not on the road? Do you have another job at home?
Ben: Because I am constantly moving at a thousand miles an hour on tour, when I am home, I like to stay very low key and just relax. I’ve been lucky enough that I have not needed to get another “real” job in between tours. I do work with some of the venues in my city as a Production Assistant, Runner, Merchandise Vendor, or VIP Assistant when I am home though, just because I enjoy being around live music so much.
S&S: What are some of your favorite tour memories?
Ben: There are so many to choose from! Obviously, my first tour ever was something I will never forget, the first time I had a tour bus, the first time a name on my guest list left me star-struck, things like that. A lot of the random mundane moments are what I love the most about touring, like celebrating your artist’s birthday in a truck stop Denny’s at 2am in the middle of Nebraska because that’s all you’ve got to work with at that moment. One memory that stands out above the rest is when an artist that I had been working with since they were touring in a van and playing to 20 people a night got to headline an arena on their own. That entire experience was totally new to me; it was by far the biggest show I had done at that point, and even though I felt like I was in over my head at times, in the end we made it happen, and seeing the reaction on my artist’s face as they walked out on that stage to thousands of fans screaming for them is something I will remember forever.
S&S: What tours do you have coming up (bands/dates)?
Ben: I head back out with Green Day at the end of July for two months of amphitheaters and stadiums! It should be a wild ride for sure.
S&S: What are some life lessons you’ve learned on the road?
Ben: A very important life lesson I’ve learned on the road is to just be nice! It sounds simple, but you would be shocked at how often people need to be reminded of this in the industry. I’ve never understood touring personnel who fight venues and promoters on every little detail just so they can get their way. There is a fine line between being firm yet fair, and just being a jerk for no reason. You’ve got to learn to give and take to put on the best possible show under ever-changing circumstances. Another important lesson is that everybody knows everybody in the touring industry, so if you’re only in this game to party or for personal attention, you’ll find out real quick that your reputation will prevent you from going anywhere in life. I think one of the biggest lessons I have learned on the road, even though it sounds negative, is not to get too comfortable. No matter how good you are at your job, you are always replaceable. Like one of my good friends TC says: “Just because you have a laminate doesn’t make you permanent.”
S&S: What advice would you give to someone interested in joining the tour life family/working on the road? (either as VIP Coordinator, Tour Manager, or any position you can speak from)
Ben: One of the most important things I can stress to someone who wants to tour is to really do your research before you commit to going after this. Learn as much as you can about what it is actually like being on the road. It’s not all parties and hanging out with your favorite artists – it’s work. Hard work! The lifestyle is draining and can really take a toll on you if you aren’t careful. There are so many resources out there you can learn from, so make sure you fully understand what touring entails before making it your life choice. If you’ve done your research and you feel that without a doubt this is the career you want, then the best thing you can do is get out there and get your hands dirty. Take any opportunity to be around the industry that you can find. There is no school that can teach you these things. It’s all about real world experience and meeting as many people as you can; you never know when someone seemingly unimportant could lead to your next job!
Tour Life is a new Stars and Scars featured section where we interview the “behind the scenes” rock stars on tour with bands – managers, security, instrument technicians, drivers, photographers, videographers, light and sound technicians, merchandisers, etc. Know someone who would be a great fit for Tour Life? Email firstname.lastname@example.org