If there is one question I get the most often about live shows, it’s this: “How do I get a backstage pass for [insert name of artist here]?
The short answer is always the same: “You can’t. Besides, what did you think you’d find behind the scenes anyway? Orgy force Caligula with groupies? Wild parties with all kinds of alcohol and food? Tables full of cocaine? Or were you just thinking of hanging out with the group in their dressing room before going to work? “
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Let me make this clear: most of what you’ve heard or read about what’s going on behind the scenes is a complete lie. Yep, things were a lot looser in the pre-# MeToo era (read: the 1970s and 1980s, at least what I’ve heard). But with today’s concert world, there isn’t a lot of time or patience to mess around with people who don’t belong behind the scenes. Hours are tight, security is tight and confidentiality is paramount.
However, since these questions keep coming back, let me give you a bit of instruction, starting with a bit of history.
Backstage access was relatively easy in the 1950s and 1960s. A place of 10 at the security guard, passable business card credentials, or in the case of women, a pretty face was enough to get through the barricades. But as the touring industry grew larger and more complex, artists, managers, promoters and venues began to suppress.
The modern backstage pass was invented by Dave Otto of Cincinnati. As the touring industry exploded, it became necessary to restrict behind-the-scenes access to the work team, some VIPs, and special guests. The best solution was to mark people with visible identification.
Otto found a way to print graphics on a flexible rectangle of rayon with an adhesive backing. These patches adhered very well to all kinds of clothing. Because they were flexible, they conformed well to the contours of the body and when applied they did not fall out. If you tried peeling one off, the glue didn’t work as well the second time around, if at all. Since there is usually a rule that you must have your pass permanently affixed in a clearly visible area, sharing is not recommended.
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From the moment these passes were first introduced in 1973, they became a kind of currency, something even more valuable than a frontline ticket, as they allowed passage through an area. where no ordinary mortal could venture. It was an invitation to unspeakable glories behind the curtain. And yes, sometimes things got very weird / illegal in the good old days.
Fast forward to today. These days, not all backstage passes are the same. In fact, they come in a variety of flavors. This is a basic guide to the most common types of passes.
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The most humble pass, the pass at the bottom of the barrel, is the First part Where After the show. One of them will take you to a designated area behind the stage for a limited time before the act begins or after the concert ends and often takes the form of one of Dave Otto’s sticker patches. You and dozens of other people – often competition winners or low-level industry staff (like me) – will be admitted to a cordoned off area where you all wander around, wondering if anyone from the group will bother showing up for a quick meetup (or its increasingly intimate variation, the grip’n’grin.) There may be a quick photoshoot or selfie with the deed.
Food and drink? Sometimes, but don’t count on it. If anything is available it will be sparse, mostly crisps and faded raw vegetables, and quickly picked up. And once the act is over, you are kicked out. Thanks for coming. Enjoy the show.
However, you will leave with a nice little souvenir stuck to your jacket, which has also been damaged by the glue.
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Then the chain is the VIP priority badge. This is often the first level where your pass is laminated in plastic (and clearly marked VIP in CAPITALS for maximum envy value) and hung on a lanyard around your neck. They are generally good for the green room beyond the green room where the losers of the Pre-Show or After-Show nibble on celery.
This is usually an area where artists will spend a little more time with pass holders. This is where you’ll find top ranked record label members, local musicians held in high esteem by the band, non-music personalities (politicians, businessmen who are a Very Big Deal, etc.) and well-connected local friends and family.
Any food and drink spread will be fresher and of better quality than what is in the green room on the lower level. And frankly, this is where the behind-the-scenes access starts to get interesting, as you might actually have some time in front of the artist. Or not. There is never any certainty when it comes to being behind the scenes.
We should take a detour through the Photo pass. This is really not a backstage pass because it only allows accredited photographers to access the space at the foot of the stage once the concert has started. They have three songs to get their shots before they get pushed around. Thanks for coming. And we would love to approve any plans you want to use.
Then comes the Local crew past. They will take you beyond the VIP green room but not automatically into the changing rooms. Local crew pass holders include caterers, security, paramedics, and some level of promoter staff. You might meet some rock stars, but you’ll need to act professionally and just do your job. No fanboy / fangirl behavior.
A little above is the Work team past. These are laminates that will get you to many places in the room without being challenged by security. You are there to work, usually as a local subcontractor for the army of law enforcement roadies who make things happen every night. Depending on the situation and where you are in the Working Crew food chain – and there may be a strict hierarchy – you may need an escort to go to certain areas like the locker room and on stage.
Finally, there is the Grail of all passes: the almighty All access past. One of these puppies will allow you to go wherever you want, including on stage, before, during and after the show. Or on the trucks in the loading dock. Or next to the front mixer. Or in the locker room. An All-Access pass means that you are a god and have magical qualities.
Obviously, however, very few All-Access passes are ever distributed. They are reserved for performers, manager, road manager, stage manager, instrument and sound technicians, husbands / wives, boyfriends / girlfriends and perhaps close family members, as well as the promoter chief. That’s it.
At one point or another in my career, I received each of these passes. I saved them all too. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that going backstage isn’t who you say you are. The real party is after the show at the hotel. Or by private jet.
For some reason, I haven’t been invited to any of these yet.
Alan Cross is a broadcaster with Q107 and 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for Global News.
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