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Unsung Heroes 2020: Charlie Hernandez

Unsung Heroes 2020, published in IQ 95 just before Christmas, is a tribute to some of the organisations and individuals who have gone above and beyond to help others during a year unlike any other – be that through their efforts to protect the industry, or helping those who were in desperate need.

We turned to the readership and asked you to nominate worthy causes and personalities for consideration as the inaugural members of our Unsung Heroes awards. Now, IQ can reveal the dozen most-voted Unsung Heroes of 2020, continuing with Charlie Hernandez, founder of Just a Bunch of Roadies (JABOR), who follows UK association Music Venue Trust.

The concept for Just a Bunch of Roadies began following the 2004 Christmas tsunami in south-east Asia, when Charlie Hernandez was in Malaysia for client Petronas, working on a glitzy event to roll out a new Formula 1 car.

“We shifted our focus into a humanitarian effort for the people of Malaysia, and their government gave us support with the aircraft and freight that we needed to move into Malaysia,” he recalls.

Hernandez visited the disaster zone and describes the horrifying scene “as though a bulldozer of immense proportions had just devastated a city.” However, on returning to his hotel in Kuala Lumpur, a pre-show cocktail party was in full swing and along with fellow production worker Lori Tierney, they hatched an idea for roadies to handle such initiatives themselves, rather than involve pop stars, and Just a Bunch of Roadies (JABOR) was born.

Since then, the organisation has helped people in dire situations, such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and flooding in Pakistan; Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013; and Project CURE in the likes of Nepal and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Indeed, the network involved in JABOR consistently likes to think outside the box. “For example, there were some hospital beds that were used in the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics in London. Tait were making the beds as props but put in the extra work so that they could become proper hospital beds, while Rock-it Cargo then delivered them to a children’s hospital in Tunis,” says Hernandez.

JABOR can call on numerous production suppliers in its efforts, such as Sound Moves, Clair Global, eps, Live Nation and Upstage Trucking, and individuals like Jake Berry, David Bernstein and Opie Skjerseth.

“If you truly want to help out, go and fucking do it yourself – because individuals really can change the world”

Hernandez also notes that JABOR principals Lori Tierney, John Campion and Dan Parise all passed away during 2020. “They are a huge loss to us all,” he says.

He continues, “Many people and companies do extraordinary things and we’re very blessed to have their support. Our industry is the last bastion of the handshake, and we basically run on the compassion of the roadie, who would rather crawl across broken glass than see someone get hurt or in pain.”

With Covid-19 devastating the live events industry, this year JABOR turned its attention to its own. “Food is security for people in our industry, so we shifted our mission and tried to communicate the message that people are not alone in their suffering,” he says. “We set up food drive-throughs and partnered with the likes of Musically Fed with Maria Brunner to feed people in Nashville. And since then, we’ve had similar food drives in Minneapolis, Denver, Las Vegas, Atlanta and Phoenix.”

JABOR also liaises with local food banks to identify where they can help make a difference. “Basically, we’ve learned how to do it, but then applied what we all do for a living as production crew and used the knowledge of our industry to do it better and feed more people.”

Hernandez explains that using those principles, JABOR ran a Labor Day effort in Minneapolis where 300 cars were each loaded with enough food to feed a family of six for an entire month. Similar efforts around Thanksgiving distributed 400 meal kits, each to feed 6–8 people through that holiday period.

“We’re able to make a difference and give people hope, but there are so many people involved and they are the true unsung heroes – I would not be Charlie Hernandez without them,” he says. “We have a mantra that if you truly want to help out in a crisis, go and fucking do it yourself, because individuals really can change the world.”


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Big Concerts mobilises lawyers over Sara ‘racism’ claims

South Africa’s biggest promoter, Big Concerts, is considering taking legal action against the South African Roadies Association (Sara) and its president, Freddie Nyathela, over allegedly defamatory remarks posted about the company on social media.

Nyathela has used the impending visit of Global Citizen Festival, the UN-backed series of benefit concerts, to South Africa (Beyoncé and Jay-Z will headline Global Citizen Festival Mandela 100, held in Johannesburg on 2 December) to once more draw attention to what he sees as the company’s failure to nurture young – especially black – backstage talent in the country.

The dispute dates back to at least the turn of the millennium, with a report in the 3 April 2000 issue of Pollstar reporting Sara – which provides young people with accredited training in ‘backstage’ skills including lighting, sound, staging, power, rigging, AV and production – had organised protests against the alleged “racist activities of Big Concerts”. “Big Concerts doesn’t want visiting personnel to conduct workshops for the disadvantaged,” said Nyathela at the time.

“They’re against technical and production skills development, and the sharing of information.”

Both Nyathela and Sara have spent the past two weeks furiously tweeting at Global Citizen, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, and Big Concerts and its parent company, Live Nation, accusing them of, among other things, “systemic racism” and “Apartheid”-like conduct for their alleged support for “the development of the industry and youth empowerment in Europe/UK and [the] Americas but not in Africa”.

In a latter dated 23 August 2018, Big Concerts’ lawyers, George van Niekerk and Wim Steyn of Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs (ENSafrica), accuse Nyathela and Sara of conducting an “extensive and malicious smear campaign against our clients” and Attie Van Wyk, Big Concerts’ founder and chairman, “with the view to extorting some undisclosed benefit, probably of a selfish financial nature.”

ENSafrica gave Nyathela and Sara until today (31 August) to withdraw their “defamatory” statements and publish an apology, or face “urgent legal action”.

According to Sara’s lawyer, Graeme Gilfillan of Nisa Global Entertainment, the association won’t be doing so, and is “obliged to defend” its case in a court of law.

Recalling Linkin Park’s visit to Sara in 2012, Gilfillan says Sara alleges Big Concerts has previously tried to block artists and organisations from working with it. “You may recall Linkin Park were out in South Africa and wanted to do a workshop for Sara,” he tells IQ. “Big Concerts, who were the promoters, refused to have the workshop at the venue – and tried their level best to block the workshop. Undeterred, Linkin Park left the venue and went to Sara House to conduct the workshop.”

“In the current instance,” he continues, “after Sara had initiated communication direct with Global Citizen, who indicated a keenness to include skills development, Global Citizen advised that they would be consulting their production partner in South Africa: Big Concerts. True to form, Big Concerts were having no Sara, no skills development or the like, and the impact was such that Global Citizen disappeared without a single response. Five unanswered emails later, and the penny dropped.”

“This allegation or insinuation is without merit”

Justin van Wyk, son of Attie and Big Concerts’ CEO, dismisses Sara’s allegations as baseless, pointing to Global Citizen’s training scheme for South Africa, the Global Citizen Skills Training Program, which includes an event management and production element – and which the promoter “intends to get behind in a big way”.

“Global Citizen published a request for proposals on 20 August,” van Wyk explains. “Mr Nyathela knows, or should know, that interested parties have until 3 September to submit their proposals, and that after a review of the proposals by a selection panel, shortlisted organisations will be asked to interview in mid-September, and the final selection will occur by the end of September.

“We’re not on the selection panel – and it’s obvious that it is not 3 September, nor the end of September, as yet – so this allegation or insinuation is without merit.”

Gilfillan says Sara disagrees, explaining that the Global Citizen Skills Training Program was not launched until 20 August – Sara has been speaking to Global Citizen since late July – and is therefore, in its opinion, “a Johnny-come-lately, knee-jerk reaction” to “Sara taking to social media”. “The Global Citizen Skills Training Program is not accredited under SAQA (the South African Qualification Authority) in respect of event, technical and production skills, and is viewed as a sloppy attempt, it is alleged, to parade a development agenda that is doomed to fail,” he adds.

Both parties have said they reserve the right to make representations to South Africa’s Human Rights Commission and Equality Courts

That’s far wide of the mark, counters Van Wyk, who says the programme is, “in our considered opinion as the market leader for the past 29 years, the most comprehensive skills transfer programme ever undertaken for the live music industry in South Africa, and they [Sara] should fully support it if their intentions are indeed skills development and transformation of the technical and production industry.

“That’s what we’re going to be doing, and have been doing long before the most recent round of vitriol from Mr Nyathela and the extensive and malicious smear campaign that he is engaged in.”

“We are very proud of our association with Gearhouse South Africa,” he adds, “and our ongoing support of the Gearhouse Kentse Mpahlwa Academy, which is an accredited training provider that offers a free-of-charge, in-house annual learnership and trains technica- and production industry entrants to globally recognised best practice. To date, the Gearhouse Kentse Mpahlwa Academy has produced more than 450 graduates who have participated in skills transfer opportunities and skills transfer situations with international production teams at many of the first-class productions presented by Big Concerts.”

With the dispute looking increasingly likely to head to court, both parties have also said they reserve the right to make representations to South Africa’s Human Rights Commission and Equality Courts.

Global Citizen Festival Mandela 100, produced in partnership with Big Concerts, will take place on 2 December at FNB Stadium (94,736-cap.) in Johannesburg. Other performers include Usher, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Femi Kuti and Pharrell Williams with Chris Martin (Coldplay).


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New Desk Tape Series to raise funds for Oz roadies

The Australian Road Crew Association (ARCA) this Friday releases the first Desk Tape Series live recording, the latest initiative in its efforts to raise funds for roadies down under.

ARCA – which recently received a donation of A$10,000 (US$7,680) from Frontier Touring, and last year secured a commitment from Chugg Entertainment to donate 5¢ from every ticket sold – advocates for road crew, which it describes as the “backbone of Australian music”, especially those in crisis. A recent study revealed Australians working in the music industry disproportionately suffer from poor metal health, with roadies especially at risk: according to charity Entertainment Assist, road crew experienced suicide ideation at a rate almost nine times that of the general public in 2016.

The Desk Tape Series draws on 40 years’ worth of live recordings amassed by roadies, and kicks on Friday 10 November with a Redgum show recorded at Melkweg (1,500-cap.) in Amsterdam in 1985.

“Each release acknowledges just how important roadies have been to making our industry a stand-out success”

Future tapes, available on CD/digitally or limited-edition cassette via Black Box Recordings, will include shows by Men at Work, the Church, Crowded House, Midnight Oil and more.

All proceeds from the sale of the recordings will be used to assist road crew: The roadie who worked on the show will receive 80% of the profit, with 20% being retained by ARCA for its charitable Roadies Fund.

“Each release acknowledges just how important roadies have been to making our live performance industry a stand-out success,” says ARCA. “They offer recognition to the engineers who documented this wealth of genuine Australian music history.”


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Mental health “serious concern” in Australian biz

Australia has become the latest country to issue a report highlighting the poor mental health of many of those working in its live entertainment business.

Working in the Australian Entertainment Industry: Final Report, commissioned by charity Entertainment Assist and authored by Julie van den Eynde, Adrian Fisher and Chris Sonn of Victoria University, follows similar studies in Britain and Norway and comes amid growing awareness of the prevalence of depression, anxiety and other psychiatric problems among music-industry professionals worldwide.

For the report, the university surveyed 2,904 people working in the Australian entertainment industry, including musicians, venue staff, stage managers, sound engineers and roadies.

Among its findings are that:

The study also highlights that, despite an “overwhelming passion for their creative work”, those working in the Australian entertainment industry do so in a “powerful, negative culture” that frequently includes a “toxic, bruising work environment; extreme competition; bullying; sexual assault; sexism; and racism”.

“These findings strongly suggest the entertainment and cultural industry is in severe distress, and in urgent need of early prevention and intervention programmes to reduce the impacts of those with health and wellbeing problems and to prevent new occurrences,” says Dr Fisher, head of psychology at Victoria University’s College of Arts.

Entertainment Assist says it will use the report’s findings to “advocate for generational change”. Specific measures include the provision of tailored mental health training; educating those working in the industry to take care of themselves and support their peers; and encouraging employers to actively support the mental health and wellbeing of employees.

Michael Chugg last year became the first promoter to sign up to the Australian Road Crew Associations ‘roadies’ fund’, pledging 5¢ on every ticket sold to help “roadies in crisis”.


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Artists, promoters get behind ARCA roadies’ fund

A fund set up by the Australian Road Crew Association (ARCA) to “assist roadies in crisis” has won support from across the Australian music industry, with a major promoter and several artists each agreeing to donate 5¢ from every ticket sold.

Michael Chugg, the founder and executive chairman of Chugg Entertainment, earlier this month became the first promoter to throw his weight behind the fund, pledging to donate five Australian cents from 40,000 tickets. The figure, says ARCA, will be reviewed in six months.

Artists on board include Air Supply, who gave 5¢ for every ticket sold for their recent Australian tour; Crowded House, who will donate 5¢ per ticket from their upcoming shows at the Sydney Opera house; and Paul Kelly, who has pledged 5¢ per ticket from his 2016–2017 Australian tour. ARCA notes Kelly “lost [his] good friend and lighting guy, Scotty ‘Dot’ Duhig to suicide, and is a big supporter of the ARCA cause”.

The roadies’ fund, announced in January, is a joint venture with Support Act, an Australian charity that provides crisis services to artists and music industry workers.

“We understand the unique pressures experienced by road crew and we are committed to helping roadies in crisis”

ARCA director Ian Peel says: “The Australian Road Crew Association wished to supply a continuing health and welfare service to its members and crew that need help. Rather than reinvent the wheel, we have come together with Support Act, which will help to consolidate assistance now, and into the future, for crew. This is a fantastic collaboration for the future of ARCA and the industry.”

Support Act’s chief executive, Joanna Cave, adds: “We understand the unique pressures experienced by road crew and we are committed to helping roadies in crisis.”

Anyone wishing to donate to the fund may do so online by visiting www.supportact.org.au/givehelp and writing “ROADIE” in the donation field.


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