For more than 15 years, touring has been Dre Davis’ life. From arranging surprise Kanye West and The-Dream performances in 2009 to helping Latto with her first headlining tour, Davis has sacrificed his own personal life to make sure the show goes on.
“When I was out with Latto, my baby Ava’s teeth started coming in, and she started talking. I did miss out on that. One of the good things that happened was also tragic: COVID. That changed the game because no tours were going on, so I had to be home with my family. I think a lot of people needed that,” Davis told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” the Blue Alley Touring founder explains how he tried to keep a Bone Thugs-N-Harmony member from being arrested at a show, Latto’s growth on stage, and The-Dream’s humble beginnings on tour with JAY-Z and Mary J. Blige.
Was touring with Estelle your first time on a major tour?
That was my first international tour. The first time I went on tour was with Estelle. It was the first time I was on a double-decker bus. It was the first time I understood how to maneuver through different countries. She was the best person to do it with because it felt like family.
How did you first connect with Estelle?
Out of all the artists I worked with, Estelle was the one that was probably the most in tune with what she wanted. She was the first artist I ever interviewed with for the job. I typically do the interviews with the management, the record label, or whoever. But she was the first artist that actually wanted to know who I was, and she asked all the right questions. I think Michael McArthur put that together when he was managing her at the time. I believe Michael McArthur worked with Kevin Liles while managing her. They were also managing Keyshia Cole when I was tour managing Keyshia. I think that’s what moved me into that Estelle world. They liked what I was doing for Keyshia and wanted me to work with her.
So, what was your first tour?
My first real tour was The-Dream when he opened on Mary J. Blige and JAY-Z’s “Heart of the City Tour” [in 2008]. We were super duper openers where we got no love. But it was a wild ride.
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What do you mean by “no love”? What sort of hurdles did you have to face?
You’re just there to get in and get out when you’re the opening act; it’s not your tour. You’re performing when there’s hardly anybody in the building. You barely get a dressing room. The good part about that tour is that even though we were the opening act and didn’t get much love, Dream was just so hot at that time. He was a very successful songwriter, but he was coming into his own as an artist. So they didn’t really do us too bad. And then I met JAY-Z’s tour manager, Randy Buzzelli, and his production manager at the time, Michael “Huggy” Carter. Since that tour, I’ve established a relationship with those guys. It is rough when you’re an opener on tour. There’s no love on something like a rider. It’s like you have to be happy with these crackers and this water. You better be on time for your set. And you’re not going to get any stage space. We came up with some cool ideas and made it what it was, but that was just a fantastic tour to be a part of.
Dream’s a creative being. So, he will make something out of nothing. What did he do with the opening slot?
The set was two basketball goals that we bought from Home Depot, and we wrapped striped lights around them. By the seventh show, those basketball rims were trashed because we didn’t really understand actual production at that time and what it takes to build a robust style of production equipment to carry. If you’re loading it on and off the truck and you’re not doing it yourselves, these stage hands in different markets will just throw your stuff wherever it needs to go. They’re not going to take care of it or feel like it’s important. They’ll just throw it in there (laughs).
You said you tour managed Keyshia Cole when Kevin Liles and Michael McArthur managed her. What was the first show you remember tour managing for her?
The first show I remember doing with Keyshia was her first show. It was in Charlotte, North Carolina. After doing the “Heart Of The City Tour” with JAY-Z, I was just at a low point in my life where nothing was happening. There really was no work. I was just sitting at home one day and got a call from Huggy. He said, “Hey, what are you doing right now?” I said, “I’m not doing anything.” He said, “Can you be on a plane tonight?” I said, “Absolutely.” I didn’t even ask him who the artist was. I just know it was him. If he’s calling and needed me, there’s no hesitation. He was like, “Okay, cool. I’m going to put you on Keyshia Cole. She needs a tour manager. I need you there tonight.” That was the first show I did with her. The show went really well. She and I have been cool since then. We’ve had our ups and downs sometimes (laughs).
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I read somewhere that she doesn’t like to perform “I Should Have Cheated” live.
Yeah, she doesn’t like that song (laughs). I’ll never forget when we were running her set list, her [music directors] Javad Day and Kevin Randolph were saying, “Hey, yeah, you should do this song. Then, we’re going to go into ‘I Should’ve Cheated.’” And she’s like, “Oh, wait, I don’t wanna do that song. I hate that record.” But, for what? Everybody always wants to hear it. A hit is a hit. You have to give people what they want. She did perform it, but I think there were a few shows where she didn’t. It just felt like something was missing. She has a vast catalog of really great records. but then you just feel like something’s missing, and that was the record.
What are your day-to-day roles on tour?
I have to answer your question in two parts because it was a different time when I was Keyshia’s tour manager. Since then, I’ve done K. Michelle, Latto, and G Herbo. And the list goes on and on for the tours I’ve been a part of. Every tour is different. Right now, we’re going out with Lizzo and Latto in September. So, that’s a totally different day-to-day. Also, it’s different when you’re dealing with men as opposed to dealing with women or dealing with a group. I also manage the group Next, so dealing with that is different than a Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. I have a partner named Antonio Benton. I pretty much bring him on every tour that I do. He acts as the road manager. We’ll typically sit down and map out the day. We figure out if everybody has their schedule. Are our hotels booked? And basically, I like to do everything a day in advance. So, let’s say we have a show in Omaha on Tuesday, and we have a show in St. Louis the next day; I’m working on St. Louis while I’m in Omaha. You want to make sure that everything is in place moving forward. Something always comes up every day when you’re on tour. So, it’s just trying to figure out how to be Mr. Fix It and Mr. Counselor.
So, what fires have you put out?
There are so many. Without putting names out, there are situations where the fire marshal is coming to shut the show down because everybody’s smoking weed backstage. Or, there’s an artist who didn’t make the tour bus to the next city and was still in the old city, and we have to get him a private jet while no one knows (laughs). The artist never left the hotel. The buses were moving, but no one checked to ensure the artist was on the bus. So, I have to find a way to get the artist there. Also, opening acts on certain tours feel like they are the headliner. So, they feel like they want to take their time to get to the stage or may not show up to a show at a certain time. The audience doesn’t know all of the stuff that’s going on as far as the politics backstage with the promoter and everything. Sometimes the promoter doesn’t have the money or they’re short, so you have to use unique tactics to ensure that you get the backend, or you get whatever it is that you came for.
One of the most interesting tours you’ve been on was PartyNextDoor’s “Summer’s Over Tour.” You were tour managing Jeremih when he was angry at Party and was removed from the tour. What happened that made it so bad?
At that time, some things were probably said on the front end of the tour that people were not necessarily made aware of. I was involved and looking back at that now, everybody just needed some time to grow. I think people just needed time to really understand touring is when you have to really know and understand every aspect of what you’re getting into before you’re getting on the road. I think a person such as myself is the one that checks those boxes. I find the details that someone may miss. Of course, I don’t want to speak too much about it. But I think a lot of that stuff could have been avoided, and ultimately everybody still turned out to be cool at the end of the day. Hopefully they’ll do another tour together, and then people can really see what that show was supposed to be about.
Jeremih was eventually removed from the tour. But before that, he verbally disparaged Party on stage. As a veteran in the touring world, how do you adapt to that?
There’s only so much that I can do. There’s only so much that a tour manager can do or say because it’s not my career. My job is to ensure that everybody is safe, all the information is passed out, and everybody knows where they’re supposed to be. Also, I have to ensure that everybody is as comfortable as possible. But, ultimately, he’s my boss. So, if that’s what the boss does or feels is right for his company, that’s on him. I can only communicate, try to calm everybody down, and figure out a solution to make everybody happy or at least make everybody comfortable. After that tour, I’m still cool with Party’s team. I’m still cool with everybody on Jeremih’s team. I’m still cool with the promoters because that’s just how I rock.
Being a tour manager isn’t an occupation most people strive for. So how have you helped bring new touring professionals on the road?
Those are the things that I look forward to doing because when I’m able to mentor and bring other road managers and tour managers up, that’s the highlight. They go on to get artists, taking the things I taught them and implementing those tips. They’ve even taught me. I’ve learned from Justin Weatherspoon, who’s everybody’s tour manager. I’ve learned Ravi Shelton. We’ve never worked together, but I’ve seen Rav around Atlanta and had no idea he was a tour manager. Now, he’s doing his thing. Tina Farris is another fantastic tour manager.
What is the most memorable show you’ve ever worked on?
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony in Cleveland, Ohio at the House of Blues [on March 28, 2010]. Here’s why the show was so dope, funny, and sad all at the same time. It was sold out, and it was just a lot. It wasn’t all five members because we didn’t have Bizzy Bone. We’re in Cleveland, and everybody’s excited because it’s their home city. We pull in that morning, and about three police officers are outside. I’m just peeping the scene. I’m thinking, “We have three police officers at load-in; that’s different. I’ve never seen that before.” As the day goes on, about three more police officers are in front of the building. I’m like, “Something must have them on high alert or something.” By the time the show came on, there were 12 police cars outside somewhat surrounding the building.
And then I get news that they’re looking for Flesh-n-Bone for some sort of warrant or something he had going on. I’m like, “Oh snap. What are we going to do?” The next thing I know, I start seeing weird guys positioned throughout the building. So, I’m thinking, “Okay, how are we going to handle this? Are they going to arrest him before he could hit the stage?” I don’t want them to arrest him while he’s on stage. Anything like that would just be too embarrassing. So the show’s going on, and then someone’s like, “Yeah, they’re going to arrest him after the show is over.”
So, I decided I was going to create a diversion. One of the things that everyone knows about me is that I hate having people on the stage. That is my biggest pet peeve. The focus should be on the artist not on anybody else. But this particular night, I told everybody to come on the stage. As soon as I did that, flashlights and walkie-talkies started coming out and I’m telling security, “Yo, get Flesh out of here.” They almost got him out, but there was one door that wouldn’t open (laughs). So they came in and got my man. That was probably one of the coolest tours that I ever did. After that, Layzie made me pick him up from his house on the tour because he just wanted the tour bus to come through his neighborhood and pick him up. It was just so funny, man. It was just so much fun working with those guys. I even got my first tattoo on the road with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
As a tour manager, I’m sure you’ve had some surprise guest appearances you had to make happen.
Yeah, one of them was Dream and Kanye. This was in LA. This was when we were using the Instant Replay machine. We were at a club and Dream’s like, “Yo, Ye’s going to pop up” and do the song they had out. I think it was “Walking on the Moon.” Everything was smooth — the only problem was when the replay machine overheated during the middle of Kanye’s verse and dropped out. But, Kanye, being an ultimate professional, kept rapping (laughs).
You also worked on Latto’s first-ever headlining tour — “The 777 Tour.”
That was a dope, successful tour. She showed out every date. Typically, you either do very, very well on the East Coast or you do very, very well on the West Coast. She covered every coast with no problem. She was a delight to work for. It was just one of those types of tours where it all clicked. Thanks to [Latto’s manager] Brandon Farmer for putting me on. We had our share of bruises because there were no tour buses available. So if anybody wants to get into the tour bus business, now is the perfect time to do it. So, we were subjected to whatever was available and made it work.
How did you see the crowd reaction change throughout the tour?
The bigger the “Big Energy” record got, the more energy the crowd gave. The highlight was her getting comfortable with her show and what she was doing on a nightly basis. So, that’s what it’s all about. She understood she had to give 100 percent every night.
We’ve interviewed her DJ — DJ Von — in the past. From your perspective, what was Latto’s personality like off stage?
From my experience of being with her, I think it was still surreal to her. She’s very private and very nice. I think she was really excited every single night that she had another sold-out show.
Regarding your personal life, you said you have multiple kids and a great family. Are there any family or sentimental moments you had to miss because of touring over the last 20 years?
Oh, absolutely (laughs). I have a 20-year-old, 24-year-old, a 17-year-old, a 1-year-old, and a 2-year-old. I definitely missed a lot of moments. I didn’t miss the big ones like first words or first steps. I just had a daughter. When I was out with Latto, my baby Ava’s teeth started coming in, and she started talking. I did miss out on that. One of the good things that happened was also tragic: COVID. That changed the game because no tours were going on, so I had to be home with my family. I think a lot of people needed that.
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What do you have coming for the rest of the year?
I have to plug in Fanbase. I work for an app called Fanbase created by Isaac Hayes III. We really have some amazing stuff going on with the app. I have the Lizzo tour coming up in September. We plan to tour with G Herbo. K. Michelle has a bunch of dates coming up that we’re going to get ready for. That’s pretty much what the rest of my year looks like. I’m just going to take it a day at a time.
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