Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For ’Tour Tales,’ we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it’s still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on ‘Tour Tales.’
There’s a sort of revelatory isolation that comes with touring. From city to city, tour managers like Paul Anthony Ashby are tattooed to artists like Leikeli47, often seeing sides to them the general public may not.
“[Leikeli47] did a private show for a fan. A fan sent her a DM saying they couldn’t afford tickets. So, she told them to come to the venue, and while we were doing soundcheck, she ran through the whole show for him. It was a little boy who was seven years old,” Ashby told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” Ashby explains how Summer Walker’s stage show improved, Baby Rose’s isolation before performances, and what he learned as a driver that helped him as a tour manager. Read the conversation below.
How’d you first get into touring?
I was working for the city of Atlanta as an athletic director. I was stressed, working from 11 am to 8 pm — had to work on Saturdays. I had a good friend by the name of Christopher Patterson who started a touring company. We used to hoop together when he was at Morehouse [College]. I used to always say, ‘Yo, Chris, throw me on a tour.’ He would be like, ‘Nah.’ Eventually, he was like, ‘If you’re serious, I’m going to put you on the tour with 6lack as the driver. If something goes up from there, we can move forward.’ A week before the tour started, I called Chris to make sure I was still going. He said I was, so I gave my job a two-week notice. I didn’t have a backup plan. I said, ‘If I go on this first tour, I’m going to do everything I have to do to keep touring.’ I went on the ‘East Atlanta Love Letter Tour’ with 6lack in 2017 and I haven’t looked back.
On that tour, I was primarily Deante Hitchcock’s driver. I was fortunate that Chris Patterson was the tour manager on that tour. I was in his pocket on everything. When he would get to the venue to set up, my camp would be sleep, but I’d catch an Uber to the venue and would learn the process there. I’d learn how to set up a stage. I’d learn how to get show money, whether it’s in cash or checks. I was just the driver, but after that tour, I learned so much I was able to be a tour manager myself.
That tour had Summer Walker on it, as well. What did you notice about her stage show in 2017 compared to now?
Summer has come a long way. It’s so amazing to see where she is now. I know she gets criticized a lot by people saying she’s not personable. But, what I learned by being a tour manager is that the spotlight is tough. I completely understand what she was saying about energy. She had to do meet-and-greets with so many people either before you go on or staying an hour later at your dressing room. 6lack and I went to college together and I was around him for years when he would rap outside our cafeteria. Now, he’s Grammy nominated. The best part of touring is seeing what a few years can do for an artist.
What was your first tour managing role?
It came the very next year after 6lack’s tour. In March of 2018, I did Leikeli47’s shows. It was a dual tour manager situation with myself and a girl named Felicia Bennett. She and I were the tour managers for that with Yung Baby Tate opening.
I spoke with Yung Baby Tate about that tour last year. She said her and Leikeli were cordial, but didn’t interact that much. What is Leikeli’s personality like?
Leikeli is extremely professional. With Leikeli coming up in her music career, she did a tour where she was an opener, and her and [her team] didn’t interact with the headliner. I think she grew up thinking that was the norm, and the ‘Acrlyic Tour’ was her first headlining tour. I think she was under the impression that it was two different camps here to do a job. They were definitely cordial when they were in passing, and they would do meet-and-greets together. I’ve seen on different tours where you’ll have the openers, direct support, headliners, and it’s a big family where everybody goes out. I’ve also been a part of tours where everyone shows up, is cordial, and treat it almost like a 9-5. I think with the ‘Acrylic Tour’ being Tate’s first tour, she was excited and Leikeli was more so like this is a job.
Leikeli has a unique look and style. How did that translate in her live show?
People think with the mask that she doesn’t have a personality, but Leikeli has one of the biggest personalities of anyone I’ve met in life. The way she is onstage, how she dances and interacts with the crowd, is exactly who she is off the stage. We’d have meetings about what she wanted to do in terms of how she wanted to set up her merch and she paid for her merch out of her own pocket. She was like, ‘I want my fans to have this. I want my fans to have options. I want them to really be engaged with my show.’ She was phenomenal.
Throughout the show, she would look into the crowd and bring a few people onstage. She would let security know, ‘If you see someone coming on stage, my security has already given them the OK.’ She would give me signals about who to get from the crowd, I would go get them and bring them onstage. She’d also hang with them in the dressing room backstage. They would be like, ‘Wow. You give off this vibe that you’re reserved and disconnected from the world with the mask.’ She did a private show for a fan. A fan sent her a DM saying they couldn’t afford tickets. So, she told them to come to the venue, and while we were doing soundcheck, she ran through the whole show for him. It was a little boy who was seven years old. That was in either in Pittsburg or Brooklyn.
What was the most memorable performance of hers that you were a part of?
It was probably Afropunk 2019 in Brooklyn. It was the first show of hers where she brought someone out with her. She brought out Rapsody. That was a big thing. She was extremely nervous because she didn’t know if Rapsody was going to make it due to there being so much traffic. Also, security was hectic around the park at Afropunk. Rapsody probably got there 10 minutes before she had to go onstage. The crowd reaction for Rapsody was amazing. That moment was when I was like, ‘Yo, it’s really paying off.’ We didn’t know Rapsody was going to make it and we designed the set around her.
What was on her rider for that tour?
Leikeli47 has one of the simplest riders I’ve ever encountered. All she wanted was fruit snacks and water. The venues always loved her because we would get there and they would be like, ‘We got the rider. I know it was really simple, but did we mess up?’ I’d be like, ‘Nope, it was only two things.’ Sometimes, if we have a long trip, she’d ask for chips to have while we traveled to the next city. But, it was never more than three things.
What songs of hers get the biggest reactions when she performs them live?
‘Tic Boom.’ The crowd goes bananas for that. That’s when she either brings people onstage or she’ll have a white towel and throw it in the audience, and they’ll start waving it. Besides that, ‘Girl Blunt’ and ‘Money’ go off, as well.
How’d you connect with Yung Baby Tate?
We just completed our first tour together. She was opening up for Snoh Aalegra. When you and I met, that was my first time meeting Rose. The plan was for me to help out with the show and her to hang around me. It was almost like an audition. After that, she was supposed to go back to her management team and say yay or nay to me. She went back, they called me and said, ‘Rose was extremely comfortable with you. So, we want to move forward with you.’ Right now, we’re planning for her headlining tour.
What was a Baby Rose show like on that ‘Ugh, Those Feels Again Tour’ with Snoh?
When she went to Snoh, she was able to stand behind the mic and the crowd can really hear my vocals. For me, as a tour manager, that was my first time working with an artist that had a band. All my tours have been one-on-one interactions with the rapper. It wasn’t making sure the keyboard, bass, drum, and all the live instruments sounded right.
What did you notice about her live performances as the tour continued?
A lot of times people think singers who stand behind the microphone don’t have good stage presence. To be honest, I’m guilty of that, as well. I thought, ‘How could you keep a crowd entertained if you’re a soulful singer?’ Rose makes sure she gets the crowd involved. She may not be like a Leikeli47, who is going to turn up and throw stuff in the crowd, but she’s going back and forth, making eye contact with the fans, making a joke in between songs, and seeing what fans like and incorporating it into the next show.
What songs hit the hardest for her?
Probably ‘All To Myself’ and ‘Show You.’ Those are the two songs where I feel like the crowd is really like, ‘OK, we’re here to hear these two songs.’
Rose’s voice is very distinct. Are there any things you have to take into account working with her?
With any singer, you have to make sure the issue of them not being sick is something you have to take into account, especially with a soulful voice like Rose’s. She can never not be drinking tea. We always need to give her water. You have to give a little more attention to soundcheck when you’re dealing with a singer like Rose. With a rapper, it’s more so checking for the speakers and bass. But, with a singer, you want to make sure the sound is full, her voice isn’t too low under the drums or too high where you can’t hear the keyboard. You have to be more precise when you’re sound-checking a singer.
What was Rose’s personality like backstage?
Rose’s personality reminds me of Leikeli47 in the regard that you don’t think it’s like what it really is. When I first met Rose I was like, ‘Oh, she’s a little more reserved and shy.’ But, Rose will confuse you because before shows she isolates herself to get into performance mode. She was the first artist I really saw do that. Leikeli was able to jump off the tour bus onto the stage to perform. Rose has to isolate herself, get into her own mode, and then get ready to perform. The minute she comes off stage, she’s asking about how the show was and she’s back to herself. If you meet her before the show and after, you’d think it’s two different people.
Are there any fun activities you all got into?
On the last show in L.A., we went out with 6lack and we brought Yung Baby Tate, who came over to our Airbnb. Rose doesn’t seem like the going out type, but she’s still a young girl. Everyone wants to go out on a Friday or Saturday every now and then. So, we made sure of it. Rose wasn’t the type to force the issue, so I’d be like, ‘I see you’ve been working hard. Let’s go out and have fun.’ She’d be like, ‘OK, Paul. Let’s go out.’ We’d get back and she’d be like, ‘You were right, Paul. I had a great time.’
What’s on Rose’s rider?
Rose is a little more different than a Lekeli47. Her rider likes fruit, candles, and now that we’re about to go on a headlining tour, we’re going to take stuff that we can... So, we’re going to be adding T-shirts and socks. You can put whatever you want on a rider. At one show, Ari Lennox put puppies on her rider. She was feeling down, so she updated her rider to add puppies. They brought puppies to make her feel better. For Rose, we’re also going to put phone chargers, soap, and shampoo.
What do you plan on doing differently for the headlining tour?
We’re going to do the same songs, but being a headliner is more pressure. A 15-minute set is completely different than having a 40-minute set. So, you have to make sure you do things to keep the crowd involved. Doing 15 minutes of exercise is different than doing 40 minutes of exercise. So, you have to focus on what songs you can throw on to get your heartbeat down or when you need to [push] the tempo. We’re making sure the set flows for her, as well as the audience.