With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to impact a multitude of countries, the touring industry remains at a standstill, draining not only the coffers of agencies and promoters worldwide but also hitting the pockets of the thousands of crew members going on nearly six months without income.
It is for this reason that Live Nation and nonprofit partner the House of Blues Music Forward Foundation created Crew Nation, a global relief fund for touring and venue crews. Since its inception in early April, the organization has already raised $15 million, which has been distributed to 15,000 crew members across 36 countries.
The fund was launched with an initial $5 million donation from Live Nation and another $5 million raised by artists, industry leaders and partners, which Live Nation then matched to bring the total to $15 million.
Nurit Smith, Music Forward Foundation executive director, estimates that over 500,000 crew members in the U.S. alone have been put out of work because of the pandemic, with no other job opportunities to fall back on.
“These individuals have dedicated their lives to bringing all of us some of our favorite concert memories,” Smith tells Variety. “They are highly skilled, will be out of work for a large period of time and we need to support them. The entire industry needs to come together to support the backbone of our industry.”
In order to meet the overwhelming demand, a one-time grant of $1,000 is given out to each crew member after they complete a simple application process. Though it may not seem like much, these small grants have been enough to make ends meet and keep hope alive for out-of-work crew members, like tour and production manager Bill Reeves.
Reeves has worked for an impressive lineup of R&B artists and tours going back to Prince’s “Purple Rain” tour and including treks with Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, Barry White, Anita Baker, D’Angelo and Anthony Hamilton. When the pandemic struck, it was the first time Reeves had been jobless in 40 years.
“We spend years perfecting our craft and have such specialized roles that we can’t just jump from job to job, or into another field,” Reeves says. “This has been difficult for all of us.”
Reeves applied for a Crew Nation grant once applications opened and received it in mid-April. He said it helped to pay outstanding bills for that month and relieved some of his stress.
When selecting which applicants receive the grant money, Smith said they look for people like Reeves, who are hardworking and dedicated to their craft.
“Our eligibility committee is ensuring that the fund is reaching those that embody the spirit of its creation,” Smith said. “Those committed crew members, with clear eligible roles on tours, a part of festivals, and the heartbeat of venues dedicated to showcasing music.”
That being said, there is much more work to be done — and money to be raised — to ensure that these craftsmen and women receive the help that they need. In order to assist as many people as possible, Crew Nation is hoping to double its current funds to $30 million.
Thanks to some key backers, who have come up with innovative ways to help raise money, the organization is well on its way. Metallica’s All Within My Hands charity highlighted Crew Nation during its Month of Giving, and donated $170,000 to the fund; Fender has auctioned off guitars autographed by Jeff Beck, Flea, Tom Morello, Brad Paisley, Duff McKagan and Eric Clapton; Twenty One Pilots donated a portion of the proceeds from their album “Level of Concern” to Crew Nation and created an exclusive hoodie to benefit the fund; Yeti held an auction in collaboration with Chris Stapleton, Zac Brown Band and Green Day featuring one-of-a-kind roadie coolers; Kygo hosted his virtual Golden Hour Festival in support of Crew Nation; Anderson .Paak gave 100% of the proceeds from merch celebrating the anniversary of his album “Ventura” to the fund, and the list goes on.
Reeves hopes that the outreach can bring awareness to everyday concert-goers of the current struggles crew members are facing. “I wish people knew how hard we work to put the show up, perform it, tear it down and move to the next city,” Reeves says. “I don’t think people realize that our typical work day is 16to 18 hours and we do that for three or four days in a row before getting a break.”
“We need to support these specialized workers who spend their lives committed to perfecting their craft,”says Smith, who’s hopeful that tours can return in summer 2021. “It can take hundreds of crew to turn an artist’s vision into reality on stage. It’s been great to see so much support from the artist community and we hope that continues until everyone is able to get back to inspiring indelible memories for all of us.”
Learn more about Crew Nation and apply for relief here.