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.’
When Rapsody’s tour van was broken into, her hometown show shut down due to COVID-19, or any issue arose on her “A Black Woman Created This Tour,” it was her tour manager Felicia Bennett answering the call.
“Being an artist’s tour manager is like being in a relationship with them. You’re basically dating the entire tour to see if this is going to work long term,” Bennett explains. “For Rapsody and I, we’re a great pairing because we respect each other and she has a clear vision about what she wants.”
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” the tour manager discusses Rapsody letting a little girl open up her show at the last minute, the rapper’s show preparation, and how COVID-19 could mean higher ticket prices from here on out. Read below.
Rapsody’s “A Black Woman Created This Tour” was one of the last tours of 2020 before the pandemic. How did you put that together?
I got involved with this tour through Christopher Patterson. CP is the one who hits me with the alley-oop every time. I’ve been with The Big Fantastic since its inception. I was the first tour manager he hired and Rapsody was one of his first clients. I toured with Rapsody in 2017 for the “Wisdom Is Power Tour.” I was tour managing Deante Hitchcock who was opening up for her. It was full circle to do “A Black Woman Created This Tour” with Rapsody as her tour manager because she was the first person that got me into touring.
How does she put together her show?
When she puts together her show, there are so many people that go into making it amazing. I’m not with her all the time, but she’s always rehearsing and putting something together with her band Momma’s Boys. The rehearsal period takes at least two weeks to a month. Rapsody is so particular about coming up with her setlist. She wants everything to flow really well. She wants to ease the crowd into the vibe she’s trying to create. If you’ve listened to her discography, she has crazy bars and is a lyricist, so everything she does is supposed to tell a story and have a message to it. With “A Black Woman Created This Tour,” she wanted everyone to know this is the perspective of me as a woman, as a Black woman... She would have local artists she would perform with. She had local artists from each city perform and she’d let them know this is “A Black Woman Created This Tour,” so make sure what you’re performing is catered towards that and is respectful.”
What I really liked about her performance on that tour is when she would perform “Afeni” as the second to last song of the night and would invite a guy on stage to talk to them about his mother because Afeni was Tupac’s mother. Her having that conversation every night was such an intimate moment for the crowd and for the guy she invited on stage. It’s important to treat a woman with respect and be the man your mother would be proud of. I loved that part of the set.
What show on that tour sticks out to you?
The show in Chicago [on February 19, 2020]. That entire day stood out to me because it was an absolutely insane day. That was the day our tour bus broke down and it was freezing. Chicago is when I really realized diamonds are made from pressure and the nights when you have to put out the most fires are often the best shows because electricity is in the room, everybody is going crazy and can’t wait to see this artist to perform, which is why there are so many fires to put out. There were issues with soundcheck and the speakers cracking. We had a microphone missing that we had to rent last minute. We were late to the soundcheck because the bus broke down. And the crowd gave us everything and more that night.
She brought a little girl on stage at The Fillmore in Philadelphia on the first date of that tour. How’d that come about?
The girl’s name is Fly Zyah. Rap had seen some of her Instagram videos of her rapping, that girl’s dad got in touch with Rapsody and told her, “Zyah is a huge fan of yours and she’s been inspired by you. We would love to come up to the show.” Rapsody was like, “I got y’all on tickets, but I can do y’all one better and she can open up the show.” Zyah came up with her mom and dad, was so precious, but she did not come to play. This girl is so serious. Rapsody is a woman of the people. She be in her DMs responding to fans. She said, “Flee, this is what’s going on. This little girl is coming with her family and I want her to open up for me. Here’s the contact information. Now, it’s on you to set it up.”
You mentioned putting out fires as a tour manager. What was it like when your sprinter was broken into?
Oh my God (laughs)! That night was wild, but didn’t get wild until the end. Rapsody was about to go on stage in 10-15 minutes, I had gone out to the van to grab something and I saw the window got busted in. I pride myself on being super safe and responsible. That was the first time something like that had happened to me as a tour manager. The venue security was literally sitting by the van, but they closed the door for some reason. As soon as they closed the door, someone broke into the van. That was in Oakland [on March 2, 2020 at The New Parish]. As a tour manager, you’re doing so many things people don’t know about. Your artist doesn’t know what’s going on half of the time; your crew doesn’t know what’s going on half of the time. That’s because the main objective is to make sure the show goes off without a hitch. The main thing I was trying to figure out was if I should tell Rapsody her van got broken into right before she goes on stage. I was like, “Alright, I’m not going to tell her. She doesn’t need to know this. I’m going to square everything away so I can be mentally OK for her while she’s on stage.”
I talked to the venue manager and the head of security telling them, “This is the situation: Rapsody is going on stage in 10 minutes and I need to make sure this security guard keeps the door open because this is why we got broken into in the first place. Get me any paperwork you need me to fill out and please call the police.” The wildest thing about that was they told me, “At this venue, the police don’t even come anymore because people get broken into in this area.” They decided to keep their venue reputation clean instead of being upfront about it. It was such a great show either way.
What are Rapsody’s tour hits?
Definitely “Ibtihaj.” “Whoopi” would go off. Folks go wild as soon as they hear the intro.
How has your relationship with Rapsody evolved on the road?
Being an artist’s tour manager is like being in a relationship with them. You’re basically dating the entire tour to see if this is going to work long term. For Rapsody and I, we’re a great pairing because we respect each other and she has a clear vision about what she wants. She knows how to communicate what she does and doesn’t like. For me, I remember asking her what kind of person she is because I’m a night owl. She was like,” I’m an all-day type of person.” I’ve never met someone as consistently energetic as she is. She knows herself really well, which I respect. She’ll be like, “Fee, I’m a boss. You don’t have to shy away from telling me anything bad because you think it might ruin the show or affect me in any way.” I take that with a grain of salt, but I can be open and honest with Rapsody.
At what point during the “A Black Woman Created This Tour” did discussions about COVID-19 start?
The last day of the tour was supposed to be March 13. The first week of March is when we started to hear whispers. Her booking agent was like, “I’ll keep you up to date on if we’ll be canceling anything, but right now we have the green light to finish the final week of tour. But, keep an eye on your emails.” That was the second to last week of tour. It wasn’t until March 10 when we started hearing whispers the show on the 13th, her hometown show in Raleigh, might be canceled. The agent was like, “This might be canceled if the governor says North Carolina is shut down. On March 12, we have our show in Charlotte, and right before Rapsody goes on stage, her booking agent says “The show is canceled tomorrow. You’re going to have to let Rapsody know it’s dead.” That was another game-time decision on if I should let Rap know before or after she gets on stage. I let her know before because her phone was getting blown up by her family. I talked to her and she was definitely sad because we had been waiting over a month to do that show amongst her friends and family. All of us still wanted to do the show because that was when “The Millennium Tour” was going on and Omarion had a show in Raleigh the same night we were supposed to have our show.
What was the hardest tour to get through while working with Rapsody?
The Atlanta show [on March 11] was really hard. A lot of the people in our crew was from Atlanta, so everyone wanted to go home. When everyone wants to go home, everyone isn’t in the hotel for lobby call. Everyone is spread out all over the place and that was one issue. Another issue was we were doing press in Atlanta and there were two or three radio stations she had to hit. The person who was supposed to be transporting her around from her press team was late, which caused even more delays. Soundcheck ran late. The guest list was over capacity again. We were trying to get T.I. to come out and perform. One of the folks in the opener’s crew threatened to punch the front of house guy... It was craziness. One of the microphones got thrown into the crowd. It was complete madness. The venue we were in was called [Masquerade] Hell.
How has her live show evolved over the years?
She’s become more open with bringing people on stage and having antics. I think she’s more experimental now. She’s been switching up the outfits with the styling from Misa Hylton. Rapsody will be out here singing. She’s always been open to that, but she’s more comfortable with that now... She also communicates with the venue staff about what she needs. She’s become an incredible communicator.
What’s been on her rider?
She always loves some fresh fruit. If you can get her some fresh watermelon, she’ll love you. She needs to have the nice water because every water is not created equally. So, she needs to have Essentia, Core Water, and Mountain Valley. She also needs fresh socks sometimes too (laughs).
What do you feel will be the longest-lasting effect of COVID-19 on the touring industry?
I see ticket prices rising because most people have seen their favorite artists perform live at their house. Fans are going to need to be impressed and better than what they have seen all quarantine. I think artists are going to demand more money, so venues are going to demand more money and ticket prices will go up. This past week, I’ve started to see articles about apps coming out to let people see their COVID status and getting digital records together. All of this is going to drive prices up. It’s already expensive to tour for artists. Maybe fewer artists will be touring and we’ll see a new model on how artists make money because artists rely on touring.