Without warning, it was as if someone had stopped time and brought the world as we know it to a standstill. Everything that was familiar to us was gone: Visits to the theater, concerts, spontaneous nights out. But in no other industry were the effects as sudden and far-reaching as the live performance, events and music industry.
Sure, lockdown inspired plenty of innovative ideas and virtual alternatives. Musicians even gave spontaneous concerts from unique venues such as their kitchen windows. But now almost two years after the first lockdown, the initial enthusiasm has given way to a deep-seated existential fear that simply won’t shift. The fact is there is no money to be made from living room concerts, and the monthly bills keep coming. Those who make a living in the touring business have been hit particularly hard: What exactly does a touring roadie do if there is no tour?
The ultimate test for mental health.
We all gave a sigh of relief when the first vaccine was approved at the end of 2020, lifting our hopes that medical science could defeat coronavirus once and for all. However, the financial devastation and poor mental health of those who work in the industry cannot be cured with a simple vaccine. Anyone employed as a touring roadie has not been able to work for almost a year now. That is a lot for anyone to cope with, and for many can have an impact on their mental health. Panic attacks, post-traumatic stress and burn-out: even the most resilient minds can find the sudden change from working 24/7 and spending months away from home to endless empty days too much to bear. The risks of long-term psychological damage are still a taboo subject.
Courtney and Paul Klimson, founders of The Clinic
It’s a scenario that Courtney and Paul Klimson are all too familiar with. They have worked in the touring industry together for more than 20 years and have been married for 17 years. In an interview with RollingStone, Courtney summed the situation up perfectly: “Working behind the scenes on tours means long hours and a lot of stress, yet you have no one to turn to if you need help. There is no HR department to make sure you are ok1.” And life after the tours isn’t always as easy for roadies as we imagine. Months of exertion followed by short periods of inactivity can cause roadies to become depressed—they simply don’t know what to do with themselves. The couple saw this happen many times throughout their days on the road and it led them to realize that roadies need a place to go, whether physically or virtually, where they can find support when they need it most—especially now when there seems to be no end in sight to the downtime between tours.
Roadie Support Group. The Clinic.
According to Paul Klimson, the couple had the idea for their Roadie Support Group, a non-profit organization aiming to support the needs of touring employees, long before the pandemic, and he had serious concerns that coronavirus would put an end to their plans. “But our 17 volunteers, all of them veterans from the touring industry, piled the pressure on us,” he reveals. And that is how The Clinic came about: The couple work closely with counselors and therapists to provide a place where clients can check-in, come up with a plan for the future and rebuild their mental strength.
Especially in times of Covid-19, it was important for both of them not just to have a physical base—they wanted to be able to reach out to people everywhere. As a result, there has been lots of activity online in recent months. And the ability to make a difference, offer a new perspective, some words of comfort or simply a support network by chatting over a video conference, is certainly a skill to be proud of.
And the best thing about it all: People working in the touring industry are always willing to help a colleague in need. “So far, everyone we have approached about our project has been delighted to help,” said Courtney. “People are curious, excited and actually relieved, they want to get involved and offer their support so that we are ready to hit the ground running when the touring season starts again.”
Like any non-profit organization, The Roadie Support Group and The Clinic need support, both financially and mentally. Now, thanks to Courtney and Paul’s tireless efforts, media and industry partners have heard about their work and are getting involved.
Mental health remains a taboo subject.
The handling of the coronavirus pandemic in politics, business, education and within the family has highlighted more than ever that mental health is still a seldom discussed and neglected topic in our society. Support networks like the one created by Courtney and Paul for the live performance industry are sadly still few and far between across all sectors.
Long-term mental health problems are not a recent manifestation and are certainly not just attributable to the pandemic, however, Covid and the changes and restrictions associated with it are a major catalyst for psychological problems. The lockdowns imposed on business and societies cannot fail to have an impact on our everyday lives. And when we feel that the ground is being pulled from under our feet or perhaps when we are facing financial or social difficulties, what we need most is help, advice and a positive mindset. This doesn’t just apply to roadies, it applies to all of us. And being mindful, helping others and learning to accept help yourself is always a great place to start.
1 Klimson, C. in Hissong, S. (2020) “There’s no HR on Tour. So One Music Couple Built a Roadie Support Group”, RollingStone, 30 July 2020, available from: https://www.rollingstone.com/pro/features/roadie-clinic-live-music-touring-advocacy-1035731/
Photos: Jed Jillejo via Unsplash, Roadie Support Group