What’s it like to drive a truck for the concert tour industry? In this sponsored post I’ll be talking about the life and experience of an actual truck driver in the industry.
I’m always on the prowl for trucking jobs that require more than meat in the seat. This job definitely fits that description. The reason it fits is that the job requires teamwork and character, but we will get to that later.
For a better idea of exactly what the job requires and what makes it unique enough for me to write and produce a podcast episode on the topic, I was able to spend some time on a Zoom call with Deanna, a former driver turned recruiter. Driving truck for over 20 years, Deanna has been a driver for Upstaging for better than 13 years. Today, she’s working as a driver recruiter as the company comes out of the pandemic world of 2020.
You’re Much More Than Just A Truck Driver
The best jobs in trucking are always the ones that require skill and competency that go far beyond driving a truck, being on time, and not getting violations. All that stuff is important, but there’s so much more to this job. In fact, it’s a skill set that makes you unique and much more difficult to replace.
Along with several other things that come later in this article, one of your tasks will be overseeing the loading and unloading of your trailer, and that trailer is loaded with high-dollar stuff. Lighting and all the required setup equipment will be the bulk of your freight. What came off your truck before the show will be going right back on after. Using mostly 53′ vans with E-track, you’ll secure your cargo and protect it as necessary.
Offloading and reloading trucks isn’t a first-come-first-served process. These trips are planned well in advance, and what’s needed first and next is pretty much predetermined. The driver’s responsibilities for the equipment end with the safe unloading. From there, others are in charge of actually setting up.
No More Being Paid By The Mile
When you’re following a tour, you have no control over how far apart the venues are. Some are closer together than others, and that’s out of the driver’s control. In fact, you could be sitting at the same venue for a few days, depending on the tour you’re working with. You’ll probably never see 100,000 miles a year again.
Rather than add up your miles, detention and all that other stuff, these drivers are paid by the day, even when they’re sitting all day. Another way some of these guys pocket a little extra cash happens when they’re somewhere that involves a paid hotel stay. Many of the drivers pocket the hotel allowance and sleep in their trucks.
Many venues also provide catered meals. Not only is it a hot meal at no charge, but I also hear it’s usually a pretty darned good one. Who doesn’t like free catered food?
Drive Some Nice Equipment
Speaking of trucks, these drivers get some nice stuff. Upstaging uses Peterbilts with full sleepers and APUs. They have a 4-year truck rotation, so the average truck in their fleet is 2 years old. I find it refreshing to see a company that still loves polished chrome, wheels and tanks. Image is everything in this industry, and that includes the trucks.
Having spent the first 10 years of my trucking career in Peterbilts, I have a soft spot for these icons of the road. They definitely stand out.
Breakdowns Are Dealt With Quickly
Let’s be real here. Stuff breaks down from time to time. Even the newest of equipment is bound to have something go wrong now and then. It’s how the situation is handled that makes a difference. The first step is preventative maintenance, followed by using the best replacement parts and services. I highly doubt you’ll see a retread super-single on any of these tractors.
When a big name has sold thousands of tickets, any breakdown has to be dealt with ASAP. Sitting on the side of the road for hours while your company shops around for the best deal in whatever location you’re in just isn’t going to happen. I doubt there’s any risk of someone forgetting about you as you wait for repairs.
On The Road And At A Venue, You’re Part Of A Team
Most tours require several trucks. A half-dozen or more is quite common. This means you’re rarely out there on your own. Rather, you’re usually running with the pack, working as a team. In fact, each tour is not only assigned a team of trucks and drivers, that team is also assigned a team leader. Needless to say, anyone going into the concert tour trucking industry had best be a team player. If you’re on a 6-month tour, you’ll be seeing a lot of each other.
If you’ve followed me for long, you know how much I enjoyed hauling livestock, and being part of a team was a major reason. Unlike a load of who-knows-what on its way to a grocery warehouse, people were counting on me to be there on time, safely unload the animals and tend to business. When is the last time your dispatcher called you to ask how delivering that load of potato chips or cucumbers went?
As you can imagine, there will be a few docks that are going to be a challenge to back into. Not only do you have a few experienced spotters to act as a ground guide, there’s also a good chance at least one of them has been there before.
There’s also a lot of safety in numbers. Falling victim to foul play is certainly less likely when you’re traveling with a team.
Truck Parking Is No Longer A Problem
Truck parking is a national problem, and it’s getting worse. It shows up as a top 3 issue in nearly every driver survey. As bad as it is, big trucking companies fail to address the issue. In fact, it’s not even in their top 10 issues to be dealt with. Not so with concert tour trucks.
If the concert tour requires 10 trucks, parking spots are planned ahead and provided for 10 trucks. The safest, easiest and most productive place for the unloaded truck to be is right there at the venue. Truck parking is one of the things that drove me out of OTR trucking. I find it refreshing to know that at least one segment of the industry gets it.
There’s also a time element to this. When the show is over, the lighting and other equipment come down and get reloaded for the next venue. Everyone wins when the trucks are close.
You’re Going To Do A Lot Of Night Driving
Needless to say, lighting and other systems take a lot longer to set up, check and doublecheck than they do to break down and reload. There’s a bit of a routine to both. The trucks will generally unload in the morning, then reload at night, soon after the show.
Obviously, a driver will head out for the next venue during the night. Having spent the first 12 years of my trucking career as an OTR driver, I always preferred driving as late into the night as I could. I wanted to be as near to my destination as possible when I parked. If I could park at the shipper or receiver facility, it was that much better.
What sets concert tour trucking apart is you aren’t out there alone. The rest of your team will also be rolling.
Even with the best outbound load, backhauls can have all sorts of issues to slow you down. Unknown shippers and receivers, preset appointment times that are impossible to keep, dealing with lumpers and other issues immediately come to mind. I rarely had an issue with outbound freight in my OTR years. These were familiar shippers that delivered to places I’d been to many times before. The devil was always in the backhaul.
This is the genius of concert tour trucking. The product leaves your truck and you wait for them to finish using it. Then it goes right back into the same trailer it came out of. No deadhead and no backhauls.
It Takes A Special Kind Of Driver
Concert tour truck driving is not for the trucker who needs to be home every weekend. When you’re on a tour, you’ll follow the tour for the duration. But you’re not alone since you’re traveling with a team.
Speaking of team, this also isn’t the job for anyone who isn’t a team player. Planning the logistics for a big-name entertainer takes a lot of effort. Any team has a rhythm of how they do things, and everyone needs to do their part at the appropriate time. You don’t have to be best friends forever, but you absolutely need to be a team player.
This also isn’t the job for fan-boys or autograph hounds. Although you can catch a show, your job will always be a part of the unseen background that makes these things happen.
I see this job as something for the driver who wants a taste of old-school trucking, but wants to run legally. The CB radio is still relied on, and a shiny Pete with plenty of chrome will always turn heads.
You should be able to compete with top trucking companies for income, but not have to deal with trying to get your miles in every week or search for truck parking. You’ll also find time to take in some sightseeing in your downtime.
More About Upstaging
Upstaging, Inc has been at it since 1972. They know what they’re doing. From deregulation to e-logs to COVID-19, they’ve adapted and survived. They even have drivers who’ve been with them well over 30 years. Based out of Sycamore Illinois, they serve the industry in all lower 48 states and Canada. Because of this, you’ll need to be a US Citizen.
My conversations with them have been impressive, and I’m more than happy to write about them and the unique opportunity they offer. It’s also refreshing to talk to a recruiter who’s not only a former truck driver, but drove for the same company she’s recruiting for, and for 0ver 13 years.
Since trucking is just a part of what this company has to offer, they certainly have more non-driving staff than most trucking companies. That has to make them competitive in the benefits department. One benefit that really jumped out to me, but missed the recorded conversation is the vacation policy. Drivers earn a week of vacation every 3 months, starting in the first year.
One final thought, and something we’ve never dealt with before, COVID-19. Whoever imagined we’d see the end of large concert venues for a year or more? Upstaging has done a great job of surviving the change, and without depending on brokers for the bulk of their freight. That says a lot about talented management.
To contact Deanna, call 815-899-8626
Or call the office at 815-899-9888
DriveForUpstaging.com is their page for interested drivers. Also, Upstaging.com is a great site to learn more about the company as a whole. I love the fact that trucking is only a part of what they do. Companies like this tend to be better when management has more to do than just manage truck drivers.