/  04.05.2022

For 20 years, road manager Sylvia Shann has done it all. From making sure Justin Timberlake and Sean “Diddy” Combs have the best post-show parties and putting the YBN crew through live show bootcamp, Shann’s expertise knows no bounds. The industry veteran even helped Beyoncé put on the greatest Coachella show ever.

“[Beyoncé’s] prayers are so powerful, and yet they’re so meek and humble. So, every show it’s like, ‘Let us go out here, please keep us together, protect our bodies, protect our minds, our people at home, our loved ones’ — and everybody just felt super close. I’ve never had a boss care that much or be that humble,” Shann told REVOLT.

In this installment of “Tour Tales,” the longtime road manager discusses her bond with the YBN crew, getting Daniel Kaluuya to dance at a Beyoncé show and the one after-party she wishes she never threw.

What was the first tour you worked on?

That would be the [‘Celebrity Tour’] with Diddy and ‘NSync [in 2002]. I wasn’t in tour management yet. I was doing the logistics — the buses and the after-parties for Puff.

What did you learn from touring with Diddy?

I learned, at the time, that every concert does not dictate an after-party. What I did, that was a fumble. We had a show in Columbus, Ohio, and then we had another in Cleveland — and they’re not too far apart. The second show was added later. There was an overflow of tickets, so most concertgoers went to the first date. Needless to say, the after-party was kind of meh (laughs). I felt like everything was on me, and the mood was deflated. That was a learning lesson.

How involved was Diddy in all of that?

Actually, he had a really close friend, Bugz Bandoola, who owned the company that operated the tour buses and the jets. So, I was representing on his behalf. Bugz threw parties, and everybody knew him from promoting during the Biggie days, so he was like, ‘You should do the parties. You should get the venues.’ I was thinking, ‘Oh yeah, that’s entrepreneurial. Let me see what’s up.’ I was spending too much time polying with each venue, and the promoters were trying to [give me a hard time] because I’m a girl. It was a lot of work. I was like, ‘I don’t ever wanna do this again.’

 

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Moving forward, how did you connect with the YBN crew?

Relationships. James McMillan is a big-time entertainment lawyer. He started a label, and he’s like a brother to me, so we share music tastes and things like that. One day, he was like, ‘I got this kid in Alabama I’m thinking about getting. He’s like 16 years old. I need you in on this.’ I said, ‘How?’ He was like, ‘If I’m going to get him from Alabama and bring him to L.A., you’ll have to kind of be a mom to him.’ I was like, ‘What? Who is this kid?’ I met [YBN Nahmir] and met his whole family. He was fantastic. I knew he was the type of kid that needed to be in L.A. He came, and I got him an Airbnb around the corner from me and had a house for him, his cousin, another cousin, and then all these other guys started showing up as his entourage. The next thing I know, they want to be on the stage with him when we are at rehearsal and I’m like, ‘What are your friends doing?’ He was like, ‘They’re gonna be on stage with me.’ I’m like, ‘Yo, if they’re going to be on stage, they need choreography. Everybody needs vocal coaches.’ We were about to start a boot camp, and that’s what we did. That’s how he formed YBN. They went from video game buddies to following him to the studio, pursuing their dreams and learning their skillset. They went to camp. Nahmir started it. It was his vision. It’s was all his design. It was his fan base that everybody had the opportunity to share. That was in 2015, maybe.

What was their live show boot camp like?

First of all, it was understanding management because it’s very hard to introduce a set of rambunctious teens to a wake-up call, diet and all of these things. So, each day we would have a different course. They were still doing homework. They were doing online school, talking to principals and teachers. We would have stage coaching, choreography, PR, meet-and-greet engagements, and everything we had to learn in the game because they were looking at it from entirely different eyes than everything that we were taught in the music industry. There’s no such thing as privacy, and content was everything. They used to go to the toilet with their phones. They didn’t put it down. So, that’s how artists got on back then. It was just a 24/7 feed. It’s different now. Now, content is so precious — everything is so edited and filtered and timed.

How has YBN’s live show evolved? How do their earlier shows compare to more recent performances?

Every show used to be a gamble — is there going to be a show? Everywhere we went, there was a fight (laughs). It was that kind of craziness. They had to understand they were artists and professionals on stage. There’s no such thing as beef. Those are just fans who have an opinion, but nobody wants to know professionalism when you’re 16 or 17 years old. It’s all about mood and attitude. Their shows now reflect everything they learned in terms of their cadence, pace on the stage, knowing how to capture the audience and knowing how to control the audience.

Which YBN show made you proud or was super memorable?

Rolling Loud 2017 in California. We were fresh off local L.A. radio stations. We started at UCLA, speaking to one kid who ran the entire radio station himself, but he was such a fan. So, we were just practicing, talking to fans on air. They started to grow mobs around them. The camera was constantly there, so they had already created the hype and had a move already. They had a challenge. So, as soon as they came onto the stage, the crowd was already waving.

What was on their rider, and how did it evolve?

It’s kind of the same. They’re not guys who require a lot. They want pizza, orange soda, Mountain Dew, weed and papers. They’re kids. They want to be in and out. They’re not trying to be there. Most artists don’t even partake in the things that are on the rider. Sometimes you don’t have time, even though somebody really tried to do their best to accommodate. Sometimes you just don’t have time to indulge.

How did you go from YBN to working with Parkwood Entertainment?

Relationships again. Everybody knew what I was doing with YBN, and they watched their growth. So, it was offered to me by an old college buddy who is very close to Beyoncé and was around for Destiny’s child. He was a manager back then. He is now the global manager for her. He’s been with her for a very long time, and he gave me a call and said he had an offer for me. I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He was like, ‘I’m at my desk, and I’ve gone through 999 resumes, and I don’t see anything from you. I think I have something I need you to do. I know you’re with your boys.’ I was at the mall. I had my little niece with me, getting her ears pierced. He said, ‘I know you’re doing this and you’re doing that, but can you figure out how you can make it happen? Maybe you could segue out of that because I don’t want you to work yourself to death.’ Immediately, I knew that I was going to have to choose, and I wanted to experience the big waters where the big fish are. I knew everything that I had learned to date had covered every area of production, but to be tasked with such a heavy position was terrifying. The first show I did was her Coachella performance.

 

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What went into putting together Beyoncé’s iconic Coachella performance?

Blood, sweat and tears. Everybody gave their absolute highest self because it was very daunting. You could see in the documentary from the start that it was a question of, ‘How is this going to happen?’ At the same time, the calendar of dates is rolling in, and the production seems to be growing even bigger. It was so important to encapsulate the whole HBCU vibe. We were thinking about how people will look at it and how others may question it. So, you have to make a statement that is so authentic, and it just had to be carried out to perfection. It was 12-hour days.

What was your role?

As road manager, I’m responsible for basically everybody you see on the stage. I was coordinating with everybody. I was doing logistics, even the boring stuff like the hiring and insurance — every single task that you could possibly think of that a show would entail is left up to road and tour management.

What did you all do after Coachella was over?

Sleep (laughs). We were so exhausted. We partied in rehearsal. We partied while working on stage. By the time it was lights out, everybody was exhausted. These are athletes, and you have to get ready to do it again. So there wasn’t like that … that crazy jubilee. We had to get prepared for the second show the following week.

You also toured with Beyoncé on both “On The Run” tours. What was it like to do a show in Johannesburg?

Global Citizen was fabulous. It was everything you would expect from Africa. You are giving one of the best productions you’ve seen. They are happy people. Everybody has so much to offer. They’re doing watercolor painting.

Photo by Sylvia Shann

What was Beyoncé like before the shows?

The most endearing thing about interactions with her — and during the show period — was meeting for prayer in the tunnel before the show started. If anybody was having a birthday on that day, I made sure to sneak a cake in and hide it, and everybody sang, then we prayed, and then we went on stage. But, we don’t go on stage until she comes to bless us with the prayer. That started on tour. Her prayers are so powerful, and yet it’s so meek and humble. So, every show it’s like, ‘Let us go out here, please keep us together, protect our bodies, protect our minds, our people at home, our loved ones’ — and everybody just felt super close. I’ve never had a boss care that much or be that humble.

Is there any show that sticks out to you because you had to adapt quickly to ensure Bey’s performance went on?

Like I was saying about the prayer, every show we did one. But, in Atlanta, there was so much going on with pre-show, and we were rushed for time because the tunnel is so huge, and the golf carts weren’t coming back fast enough. Production needs their golf carts for concessions. Security needed their golf carts. So, we had to figure out how to get the golf carts so we could all hit the stage at one time. It was just taking so long that we had to keep dropping the band and dancers off. So, we didn’t get to do the prayer, and that was the show where one of the fans did something, and he tried to run on the stage.

Nobody wanted to say it — until the next day when everybody said, ‘Oh, I think that happened because we didn’t do the prayer.’ So, I was like, ‘I’ll never miss another prayer ever.’

What would you say is your best talent on tour?

Management and organization. It’s not just a physical job; you have to be up on your digital. I took classes for different software that I needed beyond Excel. I’m dealing with 245 people, right? So, that’s like HR at a hotel or a department store. That’s a lot of overhead, moving parts, traveling bits, airline flights and hotels. So, you need to be extremely organized because if you are organized, you can create databases that get information to people before they ask. It helps you to be more efficient during the day.

 

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I saw Draymond Green pop up at an “On The Run II Tour” date. Were there any other surprise celebrities that popped up?

I was surprised to see Daniel Kaluuya. On the ‘On The Run II Tour,’ we had the D’usse VIP area right on the floor. You had to dance and move around, so people knew that they were comfortable in doing that instead of just standing there. So, we go there early when the show starts, and people are lining up to create the party vibe. I remember he was just standing there looking kind of shy. I think he was by himself, and I grabbed his hand and pulled him out into the crowd, like, ‘Get with it!’ That kind of loosened him up. He was really, really shocked.

What do you have coming up for the rest of the year?

For the rest of the year? I am segueing into the justice reform space, and I just signed an artist named Momolu Stewart, who Kim Kardashian helped get released. He has a documentary that’s being filmed and that’s going to be distributed through HBO. I just want to give more to that space, and he happened to be somebody who was 16 years old at the time and was incarcerated for 23 years. Kim read about his case and wanted to know more about him, kind of. They had correspondence. She came to the place and visited with him and spent time with him. Another friend referred him to me. We spoke for a while, and I listened to his story. I was just shedding tears. I could hardly hear what he wanted to do because I was like, ‘How did you get through that? What do you wanna do?’ So, I have some corporate affiliations and a marketing firm that is run by felons. They do great work. They do the marketing for Mike Tyson’s podcast. They have a contract with Snoop [Dogg]. It’s called ConCreates. They did ‘The Last OG’ show with Tracy Morgan. I want to expound more on justice reform and just make it right for those who have fumbled the ball.

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