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.’
Tina Farris went from being a constant fixture at The Roots’ California shows in the 1990s to traveling around the world as their tour manager. She’s spent 20 years helping D’ Angelo, Syd from The Internet, Jill Scott, Solange and a myriad of others mold their legacies. You’re pretty important when the title, “Tour manager of the Neo-Soul movement,” is both accurate and aggrandizing.
“The Roots were the first band that toured like that. So, because we were the hub of the Neo-Soul movement, we spawned people like Jill and Erykah [Badu],” Farris told REVOLT. “Different people of that movement utilized our band format for their band format, and thus, they used our whole squad as an example of how to tour.
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” The Roots longtime tour manager explains traveling around Italy by boat with Solange, touring with the group for 90% of every year, and what she hopes changes about the touring business this decade.
How did you get your foot with The Roots?
I was a groupie. I used to follow them around and watch them play instruments. I was just a fan. First, they came to my school, UCLA. Sometimes, I’d get a couple of friends and drive to San Diego, Sacramento, or somewhere in the California area to see them.
What was it like going from fan to a member of the tour?
It took a while. We’re talking about probably a span of five years of me watching them live. I met them when I was in college when I was 20, 21. Then, from there, I was a school teacher and I had summer and spring breaks off. So, I went to go hang out with them for their European tour (back in 1999). I became friends with their tour manager… who was also a female, her name is Toya Day. I just hung out with her, learned what she did, and helped her out here and there. So, by the time I was ready to go back teaching school, they were like, ‘Oh, you should just stay.’ I wanted to either run for superintendent at Compton High School or do something that made a change in how the school district was being run. [The Roots] came in at a time when it was getting heated and parents were threatening me. Students were threatening me because I was young and wild, and trying to make changes that were different than what the status quo was. So, I chose to go with The Roots.
What was that first show like with them in 1999?
I had to learn how to set up Questlove’s drum kit. I used to carry guitars. I was the roadie. I did everything. It was only myself and a guy named Kelo Saunders, who’s a world-renowned front of house sound guy. We were the whole crew.
The Roots were known for touring 90% of the year. How did that affect you?
I had to be used to being the only girl on a tour bus full of guys and basically being in a rolling locker room. It was very hectic. It was awful at first. So, some of the things I incorporated in touring would be sightseeing or doing something fun. We used to all play video games, play with electric cars, or we’d go to amusement parks. I learned how to play golf on tour. I learned how to surf on tour.
What was the first tour where you felt like you were good at tour managing?
I probably didn’t think that until after I did the Black Eyed Peas. It was ten years in. I became The Roots’ tour manager, then I became Jill Scott’s tour manager, and then Queen Latifah’s tour manager. But, those were all out of necessity. The Roots were the first band that toured like that. So, because we were the hub of the Neo-Soul movement, we spawned people like Jill and Erykah [Badu]. Different people of that movement utilized our band format for their band format, and thus, they used our whole squad as an example of how to tour. So, I became a tour manager of others out of necessity. I teach a class at Berklee [College of Music] on tour managing and I get good because of how many failures I’ve had.
When were moments that you solved problems at shows?
There was this one time The Black Eyed Peas were flying private. We were in Mexico City (in October 2010), and I saw the pilot at the show. I said, ‘What are you doing here? We’re about to leave.’ They were like, ‘No, you’re leaving tomorrow night.’ One of the things in the industry is you leave on a redeye and you get there the next day. But, you have to say 11:59 the night before for people to realize which night you’re talking about. It’s a weird thing. So, they thought I was talking about the next night. I had to cajole them into getting on the flight with us. They have rules. They have to sleep for a certain amount of hours, so I was like, ‘Oh shoot, we’re not going to get out of here, but we have a show the next day.’ I was working with them to put it together. I was in a separate car from the band, so they couldn’t hear me putting it together. I had all the vehicles slow down to get there (laughs). I was like, ‘Oh my god. The pilot got sick. They’re going to be here. They’re just running a little late.’
You saw artists like Jill Scott perform in their prime. What were those shows like?
Those shows were amazing. Jill had command of her voice and sings with her band. First time I met Jill was at Black Lilly at Wetlands in New York. I watched her in her eyes — in her face — for most of the show. She was like, ‘Thank you for giving me that energy, sis. Thank you for making eye contact.’ I don’t think anyone says that anymore (laughs).
I’m going to name a few artists you’ve tour managed and I want you to give me their biggest tour hits. The Roots?
‘It’s Love’ is big because of that go-go beat. She goes hard on it. Also, [‘He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat’)].
You’ve also worked on D’Angelo’s ‘Voodoo Tour’ in 2000 and his ‘The Second Coming Tour’ in 2015. What was the difference between the two?
We’ve changed some of the band. We didn’t necessarily have security. There were some things we lightened up on. There wasn’t the big fanfare of Voodoo. But, the background vocals and size of the band stayed the same. He’s very much music-oriented. So, he didn’t slack on that.
What are some of the biggest signs of fan dedication that you’ve seen?
There’s this guy Angelo Colonna. He’s this Italian guy who comes to all the shows of all the artists I do. We have the same taste in music. We never go to his part of Italy, but he always comes to see The Roots, The Internet, Steve Lacy, Anderson .Paak, or whomever (laughs). He and his wife always roll up. It’s kind of dope. I also have a couple of Fergie fans that I’m still friends with (laughs). They live in Brazil, Columbia, and Mexico City.
You were in Venice with Solange when she debuted a unique musical performance titled ‘Nothing To Prove, Nothing To Say.’ How was it putting that together?
It was amazing. It was very challenging. We did everything by boat. It was dope. She had the ambition and creative foresight to see it put out as an art installation. It’s one of the dopes things I’ve done as a tour manager. Producing is producing. If I need transportation, I find transportation. Sometimes transportation is a bus, sometimes it’s a plane. In this instance, it was boats. So, you find out what the system is in the city. There are people who lived there before you. So, they already have a system in place. You just have to tap into it.
You tour managed The Internet as a group, but also Syd as a solo artist on her ‘Always Never Home Tour’ in 2017. How did she adjust to touring by herself?
She adjusted. It was probably a little bit more freedom and being able to just worry about herself. She’s a leader and a big sister. She has a tendency to lead everyone. So, it was nice to see her be able to relax and discover herself as the performer.
With 20 years of experience, what are some tips you’ve given less experienced bands such as The Internet?
I think everybody starts off cheap in the beginning. They’re frugal, and they don’t take care of themselves and their bodies. You get what you pay for and touring is hard. So, you have to take care of yourself when you tour. So, that may mean extra comfort on a plane or getting in the night before, so you can rest. What makes a successful tour is if the artist goes and performs, and then makes it out alive. That’s success. So, we do what we can to preserve their energy and themselves, so they can get on that stage. It’s hard. Syd was touring with men most of the time. As a woman, [on her solo tour] I could stock the bus with tampons now instead of beer because now somebody’s thinking about that.
You’ve worked with numerous legendary artists. Is there any personality trait or habit common among them?
Everybody has a certain amount of performance anxiety. All of these people are very brave to put their heart and soul out to be judged. They believe in themselves hard and heavy. The people that pay attention to details and rehearse more, to me, are the geniuses because those people care.
How has the business of touring changed over the last 20 years?
Cellphones and navigation. While I guess that has made it easier to get around, it makes people a lot dumber when they need a plan B. To me, production is always plan B and plan C. That’s probably where I knock heads with people. When it doesn’t go perfectly, people are into finger-pointing versus being solution-oriented. This generation that deals with apps don’t know how to dial it back if something goes awry. Trying to bridge that gap all the time is difficult. If you never learned how to read a map, then you don’t know how to go anywhere.
What is something you hope to see change with touring?
I’d like it to not be contingent upon doing an arena tour, so you could make a bajillion dollars. That’s why I’m touring on the continent of Africa. People deserve to see their artist in intimate settings, really perform and really give it all they got rather than in a giant stadium where you’re still watching it on a TV screen.