The behind-the-scenes rock goddess you didn’t know existed
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — There aren’t many people with a job quite like Alene Day’s.
She has scrubbed and cleaned fake blood off KISS great Gene Simmons’ costume and guarded Sir Paul McCartney’s on-stage wardrobe.
She was waiting to high five rocker Billy Idol as he ran off stage at Iroquois Amphitheater and has driven Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart around while listening to stories about life on the road with one of rock’s most iconic bands.
It’s all in a day’s work for Day, one of the most sought-after backstage concierges in the music business. It’s her job to ensure that your favorite artists, from Taylor Swift to Stevie Nicks, have everything they could possibly need when they perform in Louisville.
If this weekend’s Bourbon & Beyond festival and next weekend’s Louder Than Life festival are successful, it will be, in part, because of Day.
“I love music, and I work dozens and dozens of events a year so I get to hear all these performances,” Day said. “I know just how lucky I am. I mean, I saw four entire Prince shows over two days and teared up at every single one of them.”
During her more than eight-year career behind the scenes, she’s filled hundreds of weirdly specific food and drink requests and doesn’t mind routinely working 18-hour days.
But we’re not talking about those crazy stories everyone hears about insane concert riders — those requests that artists set as criteria for a performance — such as when Van Halen famously demanded that brown M&Ms be removed from the candy bowl, or Mariah Carey asked for 100 white kittens in her dressing room.
In fact, Day can’t talk about those stories at all. She signs a confidentiality agreement with each artist she works with and doesn’t dish. Perhaps that’s why she’s one of the most in-demand people on Louisville’s music scene.
“People always ask me, ‘What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever had to get somebody?’ but it’s not as insane backstage as people think,” Day said. “Bands know that in order to maintain a touring life and make money, you gotta stay pretty sharp and healthy.”
She’s quick to add there will always be bands that like to party, but for the most part “I buy a lot of kombuchas, gluten-free this-and-that and take people to gyms around town,” she said.
One day she may be hired to throw a catered backstage party for the band Pimps of Joytime and the next day she’s driving comedian Jim Gaffigan around town so he can get a taste of Kentucky burgoo.
“Jim tries something local into each of his shows, so when he got to Louisville he asked me to take him somewhere to try Kentucky burgoo,” said Day. “We spent the afternoon driving around town, laughing, eating burgoo and drinking Hillbilly Tea.”
Day started her backstage career when she took a summer job during college selling T-shirts and posters on the Rolling Stones’ “Voodoo Lounge” tour in 1994.
“I loved meeting people from all over the world and I had a blast, but when it was over and I was offered a gig selling merchandise on Pink Floyd’s ‘The Division Bell’ tour, I made a big mistake and turned it down,” Day said. “I thought it would be easy to pick up the next job but that’s not what happened.”
Sixteen years went by before Day had an offer to work another show. On Halloween weekend in 2010, Production Simple, a locally owned production company, hired her to work backstage at a My Morning Jacket concert at the KFC Yum Center.
Since that concert, Day hasn’t stopped working. A list of the concerts and events she worked in 2011 still shocks her.
“When I look at this list it blows my mind, there are over 60 concerts,” she said. “Although I think a couple of them were just for fun.”
Lizi Hagan, a partner and marketing director for Production Simple, said Day’s attention to detail and her outgoing personality make her the perfect person to take care of celebrities when they come to Louisville.
“She loves Louisville and she is quick to make sure she shares that feeling and her knowledge of the city with everyone she works with, and it makes them feel really at home,” Hagan said. “Alene was talking to one of the band members from the Cody Jinks show at Iroquois Amphitheater last Friday. He asked about the Outlook Inn in the Highlands. I am sure she’d already worked a 14-hour day but she jumped right in and offered to take him there.”
However, not everyone Day works with is as friendly as Gaffigan.
“To be honest, there have been a few artists that have been tough but in every case they have returned to town and I have worked with them again and they have redeemed themselves, every single one,” Day said. “The point is everyone is allowed a bad day now and then and living on the road like these performers do isn’t easy, so I understand if occasionally someone shows up in a bad mood.”
Over the summer, Day was hired to work several days in advance of Taylor Swift’s “Reputation” tour at Cardinal Stadium.
She worked with the crews building the stage and working backstage, supplying water, running to Home Depot to replace a broken drill, and shopping for an expensive bottle of bourbon for a VIP attending the show.
“I never know what a day will bring. I just go with the flow and stay as prepared as possible,” Day said.
This weekend for the Bourbon & Beyond Festival, she’s been hired to transport musicians from their hotel to Champions Park and back (or anywhere else they want to go).
That assignment will change if a performer decides they need more personal assistance. That’s how Day ended up spending the day with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder at last year’s Bourbon & Beyond and horror rocker Rob Zombie at the Louder Than Life Festival.
“Since I am local and know my way around town, I often get assigned to one specific band or performer,” said Day. “I am their driver. I run errands, I shop for food and items for their tour bus, and, by the way, I try to always shop locally.”
With so much access to celebrities, you’d think her cellphone would be filled with selfies taken with her famous clients.
Taking backstage photos is considered extremely unprofessional, so you’ll never catch her trying to sneak one. But that doesn’t mean Day, who happens to be a talented sketch artist as well, hasn’t kept a small memory of some of her favorites.
“I just had to do a little caricature drawing of David Byrne in the awesome red jumpsuit he wore backstage at the Kentucky Center when he performed with St. Vincent,” in 2013, she said. “I couldn’t believe St. Vincent remembered me from a previous concert. I mean she meets so many people, that blew my mind.”
To get a sense of what a day in Day’s life is like, we met her at the Waterfront Park’s Harbor Lawn while she prepped for the Louisville Fourth of July concert and fireworks show this summer.
Not only did Day show up at Waterfront Park at 8 a.m. for an event that wouldn’t start until 5 p.m., it was also one of the hottest days of the summer.
While others complained about the heat, she got busy and filled a large white backstage hospitality tent with tables covered in red, white and blue decorations. She assembled red plastic bowls with playing cards, sunglasses, sunscreen, bug spray, sparklers and other supplies band members and the crew might want to occupy their time.
She filled a food buffet with an assortment of items: red licorice sticks, a bin of gummy bears, chicken wings, chips, salsa and dip, plus several hot Asian dishes.
There were fresh vegetables, cheeses, chocolate chip cookies and stocked coolers with ice-cold beverages for adults and sodas and water for kids. She passed around a tray with assorted flavors of Jell-O shots she’d been preparing at her home for five nights.
Throughout the steamy hot afternoon, Day replenished supplies and ice, drove band members around the park in a golf cart she’d decorated in a Fourth of July pennant banner, and kept an inflatable swimming pool filled with water for the children of the band and the crew.
She’d anticipated every possible way to make the artists and their families comfortable and then threw in a dozen surprises on top — just for fun.
The audience seldom knows what takes place backstage, but when the concert is great, it may have a lot to do with how well the performer has been taken care of by Day before they stepped out on stage.
“I do a lot of extras, plus I can parallel park a 15-passenger van,” laughs Day. “It’s a lot more work than most people imagine, but at the end of the day, I have one of the best seats in the house. I recognize that and I love it.”
Information from: Courier Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com