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Tour Tales | Cristela Rodriguez took a leap of faith to work with Saba — and it’s paid off thus far

In this installment of “Tour Tales,” Saba’s co-manager discusses prioritizing his health while on the road, touring with Kari Faux, and much more.

Saba and Cristela Rodriguez Rene Marban

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.’

Before Cristela Rodriguez really knew Saba, she believed in his music. “He’ll usually be invited to studio sessions in L.A. when we’re there. I know we had to rent out a studio in Seattle on the ‘Catch Me If You Can Tour’ to record ‘Häagen Dazs’ for the Ghetto Sage album,” Rodriguez told REVOLT.

In this installment of “Tour Tales,” the star’s co-manager discusses prioritizing Saba’s health while on the road, touring with Kari Faux, and the lengths Saba’s team goes to in order to make his shows look like a major label production. Read below.

How did you first link with Saba?

The first time we actually met, which was right after the time I became a really big fan after ComfortZone, was when he was on the Mick Jenkins and Kirk Knight tour [in February 2015]. At the time, I had been in contact with his current management, still in school, and seeking out an internship position. I was in contact with them and got to go to the show...I did meet him that day and we kept in touch. After that, he had two shows in California. He had a show in Oakland for Hieroglyphics Day, which I worked really closely with at the time. He then had a show in L.A. at a super small venue, I think with Open Mike Eagle. Since he was coming out here, I was thinking, “Let me get him a few more shows to make the trip worth it. He’s out here for four days, let’s fill up the week.” I was able to put him on two more shows at The Catalyst Club. That was the first time we got to work together.

He did two shows at The Catalyst. I made all my roommates come to the show. There were like seven of us (laughs). I made sure he was taken care of. I don’t think he had that tour manager experience yet. I was working on The Catalyst front, but I was also making sure he had all his tech and hospitality needs met. We had a conversation about that and he mentioned he had to take an eight-hour bus ride to L.A. So, I was like, “I could just drive” (laughs). Looking back, that was a leap of faith because it was the first time we had ever interacted with each other for real. He had brought Squeak, his DJ at the time, along with us. It was just him, Squeak, and I about to spend two days in L.A. together. It went really well and we never looked back from then.

I worked really closely with this PR company in New York where Rory [D. Webb] was working. That’s how I met Rory. He found out I was working with Saba, who was already a really big fan, and reached out to me like, “I want to help out with this. What can we do?” I was like, “Yeah, let’s co-manage.” Saba went out to meet Rory in New York and we’ve been locked in ever since.

Cristela Rodriguez (lower center) with Saba & Pivot Gang

What was the first tour you worked on with Saba?

The first tour was “The Bucket List Tour” in early 2017 with all of us together. I had touring experience and Saba had done shows. This was Saba’s first time touring. It was amazing. I’m thankful I learned the ropes on advancing and all of the logistics to make sure we were straight. It was pretty crazy. On that first run, being independent, there isn’t always a bigger bank to pull from easily. We couldn’t just ask for more advance or budget. We really had to prioritize our expenses to make sure the super important things were paid for and we could figure out everything as we went. With all of Pivot coming with us, it was a bigger crew count than most people take on their first run. We were in four double hotel rooms every night. It was a big party.

What are some of the most memorable fan appreciations you’ve seen on the road?

There has been a lot. The fan interaction has been super important to us. We were able to meet these diehard fans. There was this kid on “The Bucket List Tour” named Hadley who came to one show and followed us for four shows. He went all the way to Canada and then came back down the west coast going to every show. People have brought gifts and I’m always excited when people bring artwork. On “The Pivot Tour,” this guy brought these beautiful portraits of all of the Pivot members he painted. He brought them as gifts to the guys that day. You always remember those things and how special they felt.

What are Saba’s tour hits?

One of my favorite ones is “Stoney.” There’s always a transition in the setlist where he’ll start with the Care For Me stuff and then abruptly go back to “Stoney.” The way the crowd reacts to that transition never gets old. Outside of that, we’ll usually close with a “Life” and “Heaven All Around Me” medley that goes crazy, too. If we don’t perform “Photosynthesis” there’s usually a complaint about it.

One of my favorite Saba tours was “The Pivot Gang Tour” with Kari Faux. What was that one like?

That tour was amazing. It was a small run, but it may have been my favorite tour to date. We’ve learned the importance of set designs. We have to prioritize expenses, but this being the first “Pivot Gang Tour,” we decided to make it really an experience and spend more money on the set design than we usually do. We built out the cover of the [You Can’t Sit With Us] album. There were bookshelves and an old rug to give that old library feel. On top of that, we ordered the suits the guys were wearing on the cover. They were doing costume changes every night. One conversation we had at the beginning of every tour is the importance of fighting to bring women with us because it’s something that needs to be done. Kari already had previous relationships with all of the guys and is so much fun to be around. She’s an incredible performer and artist who you never have to worry about being late or anything like that. She’s incredibly professional.

What went into building out that stage design?

That stage design was literally $5 thrifted bookshelves I sanded and repainted to match the shelves on the cover. For the “Care For Me Tour,” we did the same thing. We built out the cover of the album and put it on stage, which was literally Saba’s grandmother’s kitchen. That idea came in a little later than the rest. We were about to go on the road and Saba had this incredible idea to build out the set. I had to find somebody in Chicago to do that in a short amount of time.

That one was a little stressful because we literally picked up the kitchen the day we left for tour. With the smaller budget and crew counts, the only option we could afford was renting a U-Haul and figuring out how to secure this entire kitchen in it every night. We’re the ones loading it in and loading it out. We’re pulling out this crazy kitchen on wheels and rolling it out to these stages in these random cities. As you go along, things start to fall apart. So, we had a whole toolkit to tape, nail, and glue things back together.

How has Saba’s rider evolved over the years?

We’ve got so much healthier over the years. We’re picking healthier options. As you progress in your career, you get more of a budget for things like this. There is more money for just water, fruit, and snacks. We can put a rider together with everyone’s favorite drinks. Three times that can’t go missing are tequila, simply for Dam [Dam]. Also, Welch’s Sparkling Juice for celebrations. In the past, we also needed to have Welch’s Fruit Snacks, but we’re really trying to make healthier decisions (laughs).

Before you managed Saba, you worked at The Catalyst Club. How did your time there help bring you into touring?

I interned at the Catalyst Club helping out however I could. From sophomore to senior year, I got bumped up to Thomas Cussins’ assistant, the talent buyer there at the time. So, I was in charge of a lot of contract work and keeping in touch with agents. I also got to work during shows, as well, learning under the production manager. I started learning how to deal with tour managers. It taught me everything about how to be a tour manager by being on the other side of that.

What were your favorite shows from your time working there?

Schoolboy Q’s “The Oxymoron Tour” is definitely top three. Vince Staples may have been on that tour, as well. Another show was a Flying Lotus show on the “You’re Dead Tour” when he was traveling around with the double screen [at The Catalyst Club on November 15, 2014]. He was essentially the centerpiece on what looked like a CGI screen in a way. It was incredible. I also got to see Macy Gray there and learned a lot because that’s a really sophisticated touring production.

What is Saba like off stage?

He’s hilarious (laughs). We’ve got to tour together and spend a lot of time together. One crucial part of any friendship is having the same sense of humor. We all have the same ridiculous sense of humor where things we find funny people might not find funny. We all have a lot of fun together. We loved our wholesome family tour days when we’d go to Six Flags, go-kart riding, or bowling.

Has he recorded any music on the road?

The “Catch Me If You Can Tour” with J.I.D. was the first tour where we weren’t in a sprinter. We got to level up a little bit to a bandwagon. At the beginning of that tour, he got in a really good groove of producing music while on the road. That was happening when we were in sprinter vans, too. Guys would bring their equipment with us while we had long drives, so they could make beats. He’ll usually be invited to studio sessions in L.A. when we’re there. I know we had to rent out a studio in Seattle on the “Catch Me If You Can Tour” to record “Häagen Dazs” for the Ghetto Sage album.

What is the most impressive thing about Saba’s attention to his live show?

His dedication to the actual performance. Over the past few years, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about mental health, which is especially crucial on tour when you’re away from your family and waking up in random cities. He really pays attention to the physical toll of touring. This one was more so about us as managers keeping in mind his physical health as opposed to him doing that. It's a team effort. You’re jumping around on stage every night. You’re lucky if you eat one good meal that day — it’s all weird snacks. Your sleep is completely off.

How has 2020 affected everything?

We had to stay productive and strategic in a year when we had no idea what was going to happen. At the top of 2020, we had projects planned because, for a split second at the top of the pandemic, everyone was hopeful we’d get it together by the end of the year. By the summer or fall, we were more realistic and knew this would be our new reality for a few years. We had more time to go back to the creativity of everything. We still don’t know what’s going to happen. The vaccines are rolling out, and everything is super promising and exciting. Once tours are announced and happening, everyone is going to want to get on the road. So, the competition is going to be insane and you’re going to have to be strategic about which quarter you’re dropping — who you’re competing with. Even when things are a little more back to normal, there are going to be so many things that are going to be a direct effect of what happened in 2020.

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