Every so often the team at Rage PR get a comment passed our way along the lines of “being a rock music PR must be really fun and really easy”. The first part is right, it often is really fun, but as for the second part…oh no, it isn’t easy! It’s a job that requires a lot of juggling, and one that often has difficult challenges thrown at you at very short notice.
This accusation is often especially thrown around during festival season, with some people thinking it literally means a free pass to the festival without the need to do any work. Having recently worked at Reading Festival, I thought I’d shed some light on what goes on behind the scenes to dispel this myth.
When you’re a music PR, you end up dealing with people in all avenues of the music industry, and this is especially true at festivals. It isn’t just bands and press, it’s tour managers, band photographers, festival photographers, festival PR, artist liaisons, managers, booking agents, promoters, other festival staff and fans are just some of the people you might have to work with in a typical festival day.
Rage PR had two bands playing Reading and Leeds Festival this year – The Lock Up Stage headliners Bowling For Soup, and Patent Pending, also playing The Lock Up Stage, both on the first day of the festival (the Friday) in Reading and the following day in Leeds.
If you’re not on the list you’re not getting in…
I’d arranged to meet Bowling For Soup’s tour manager at a nearby leisure centre where they had parked the bus until they were due to move onsite to the festival, and he had cleared it with a nearby steward that I could park in front of the bus. Upon my arrival, I was told by a different steward that there was no way I could do this, and that I needed to go down to blue gate to pick up my festival parking pass. Once at blue gate, I was told I couldn’t park there without my pass (that I was trying to collect), so I had to temporarily ditch my car in a nearby industrial estate, pray I wasn’t going to get clamped, and head down to the gate to get my parking pass. Of course, it turns out I couldn’t do this without my festival accreditation.
Thankfully I was able to meet up with BFS’s tour manager (the always excellent Dave Hale, if anyone is looking for a tour manager), who was able to obtain me a parking pass. I then had to drive Dave back to the Bowling For Soup bus to pick up my credentials (the steward actually let me through this time thanks to Dave wafting a pass in his face).
Despite having left for the festival a good four hours before Patent Pending were due to begin their interviews (I live 1 hr 45 minutes away), a combination of traffic and the above shenanigans meant that I wasn’t on site for Patent Pending’s first couple of interviews, so I had to coordinate that with their tour manager, who is also their drummer (shout out Anthony from Patent Pending). Having finally finished the merry dance with the stewards over passes, my car and I were admitted to the Reading Festival site.
Lost, found, lost again…
Having not been there in sixteen years, my only time there as a punter being in 2003, I wasn’t totally familiar with the site so was being directed around by stewards as I’d been told I could park directly outside The Lock Up Stage. Despite my concerns from having looked at the map that I was being sent the wrong way, a series of stewards directed me around the outskirts of the festival site (including driving directly behind the main stage which was quite a sight, enormous tour buses as far as the eye can see), I eventually ended up about as far away from The Lock Up Stage as I could possibly have been in a dead end.
More negotiating with stewards to get to the right place later, I eventually make it to the Lock Up Stage and get parked. It’s now 2:15, with Patent Pending due on stage around 3. There’s no time to scope out the press area, which is some distance away, so I catch up with Patent Pending to make sure all went well with the first part of their press time, introduce myself to the guys in the band who I haven’t met properly before and some of their crew. I then let them get on with the important job of deciding their setlist for the day, written by frontman Joe Ragosta on some paper plates and much re-arranging of the set takes place before they finally settle on the running order. This includes a song that features Bowling For Soup main man Jaret Reddick on vocals, “if he’s awake in time” (in the end, he wasn’t).
Patent Pending play an excellent set to a tent that is pretty full when they start and full to breaking point when they finish, drawing people in with their enormous enthusiasm throughout their 35 minute set. It’s one of the few times in the day I can semi-relax, but even then I am taking pictures for the Rage PR social media and other purposes, and having a between song chat with their booking agent about getting them onto the festival and various other things.
Once they are done, we have 30 minutes until the rest of their press time. With the Bowling For Soup bus parked next to the Patent Pending one, I manage to say hi to a few members of Team BFS, though most of the band are still in bed. It is at this point Joe from Patent Pending disappears, just when I need him to go to press (band members, especially singers, do this a lot – yes, especially you Adam Crilly from Ashestoangels if you ever read this). TM / drummer Anthony had given him the full schedule, so I decide to head to press in the hope he’ll meet me there.
Schmoozin not snoozing…
After finding my way to the press area and seeing a few old journalist and radio DJ friends, Joe thankfully turns up promptly for his press time and we get through the rest of the Patent Pending press schedule without any problems. I use the brief window in my personal schedule to catch up with a couple of people from print magazines, as you spend so much time emailing or phoning your contacts its always nice just to be able to see them in the flesh and have an actual conversation.
As a music PR, one of the best things to see is when you’ve organised an interview or feature that the band are really into and enjoying, so it’s a privilege to see Joe having a great time with the guys from Sappenin’ Podcast (shout out Morgan and Sean), which runs way over their scheduled slot but no one minds as they’re all having so much fun and it ends with Joe actually interviewing the hosts about journalism, starting a new band and various other things.
Unexpected problems & a broken frontman…
Joe goes to join the rest of Patent Pending in artist catering so I make my way back to the buses to see if Bowling For Soup are up. Thankfully everyone is now awake so I catch up with Jaret (Reddick, frontman) and Gary (Wiseman, drummer) while greatly enjoying the shelter of the heavily air conditioned bus – it was a scorcher outside and the famed dust of the Reading site when its not raining was everywhere. It’s at this point that I discover that Jaret is carrying a knee injury, so I need to arrange transport for him and Rob Felicetti (bassist), to the press area for Bowling For Soup’s press time. Thankfully the nice artist liaison folks are on hand to help facilitate that, with a variety of golf buggies and other carts available to take you (and more importantly, your bands) around site.
Things are running a tiny bit late (which is fairly standard, especially at a festival), but a tiny bit becomes considerably as our buggy gets blocked in by another band’s van unloading their stuff at the stage, so by the time we get to press, we’re 15 minutes late. This might not sound like much, but it involves pretty much re-doing the entire schedule, apart from the key feature of the day, which is a recording with Radio One at 6:30.
It then transpires that Radio 1 isn’t with the rest of the press, they’re in their own studio, so we need another buggy to get to another part of the site that the Radio 1 production team are again very good at helping with. We do a couple of interviews for podcasts and radio, and then get buggy number two over to Radio 1’s mobile studio, which is up a double flight of stairs – not what you want when your frontman has a bad knee, but we manage. It takes the Radio 1 guys a bit longer to set up than originally thought, but everyone is great, friendly and very helpful and we filmed a fantastic segment (which you can see below).
Unfortunately we were very late finishing this (totally worth it by the way) which meant further juggling of the last part of the schedule, but after getting back to pass via another buggy followed by a 4×4 with it’s lights on, which as the sun went down overhead and with the dust flying made it really look like we were in some kind of car chase from a movie.
The last bits of press done, I get Jaret transport back from press to the buses. It’s now around 8pm, with Bowling For Soup due on stage at 10:20pm. As I’m on the crew list for the day, I’m granted a band meal ticket, which means I can go to the artist catering, so I quickly eat for the first time that day at around 8:30pm and it is glorious (shout out the Reading Festival catering staff for the excellent food).
Showtime – the reason we all do it!
I head back to the BFS dressing room with some members of Jaret’s wonderful family who’ve come over for the festival weekend, and have the only full bit of downtime I get all day prior to the guy’s set. Even at this point, my phone is continuously going off with emails and WhatsApp’s (the signal was actually pretty good) from journalists about arrangements for the press schedule for both bands the following day in Leeds (the amount of people who ask for interviews last minute is higher than you might expect). If you venture into the world of rock music pr, you will find daylight gets replaced by emails and sunblock has a high caffeine content.
Show time rolls around quickly, with Radio 1 Rock Show main man Daniel P Carter having whipped the crowd up into a frenzy with a combination of pop punk songs and the theme tune to the Fresh Prince (can’t really go wrong there) while Bowling For Soup’s crew construct the stage up, complete with their signature on-stage bar. The tent is full to bursting before Bowling For Soup step on stage, which is wonderful to see because as a music PR you want nothing more than for your bands to have a great show, and this looked like it was going to be a seriously memorable one before it started. I spend my time during the set going between the on-stage bar full of their family, friends and team (including all of Patent Pending) and watching them in the crowd with a couple of friends to get the full BFS experience, which everyone needs to have at least once in their life. The band absolutely slay it and I head backstage after the set to find a very happy group of people.
All done, but not finished…
There’s a bit of time before bus call and the bands heading to Leeds, so the Delicious Gary’s (the signature Bowling For Soup drink) flows aplenty. It’s gone midnight and I’m still getting emails about the next day, so I check all is good for tomorrow with both Patent Pending and BFS’s tour managers before I make my exit, getting to the Travelodge I booked into at about 1:30am.
Bearing in mind I only had two bands to PR at this festival, and I was fairly run off my feet the entire day. Some rock music PR’s will have half a dozen bands or more to handle in the course of one day – all of whom will have their own unique needs, wishes, challenges and things happen along the way that force you to juggle the schedule.
As with all aspects of rock music pr, we want to remove the stress from our artists so they can do what they do best. It is amazing when everything goes to plan, and incredibly stressful when it goes wrong – and festival press is often the time you have to think on your feet the most. Ultimately, seeing a plan come together is extremely fulfilling and knowing that you have contributed to your artists experience makes all the stress worthwhile.