Many words have been written about the current RED Tour that Taylor Swift has taken across the United States and will soon take to New Zealand, Australia, and Europe. And there is a lot to be said about her spectacular staging, costuming, video, and musicianship.
But when Taylor brought her 26 big rigs and 18 tour busses to downtown Austin, Texas, on May 21st, I had an opportunity that very few people get to experience. I saw the backstage area, the underpinnings of the Taylor Swift RED Tour.
I had the opportunity to meet and chat with Taylor Swift two years ago at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin and immediately became a fan and supporter of this gracious young woman. I already admired her tenacity and her smarts, but to meet her in person – and being a great judge of character – I could see that there was a lot of substance there.
Two years later, I was thrilled to get to have another opportunity for a backstage meet-and-greet with Taylor. This time, my husband and I were invited into “Club Red,” a very comfortable, decorated backstage area stocked with her sponsor’s product, Coke, and hot appetizers and a display of some of the dresses she had worn at awards shows. Along with about a dozen people (some I knew from Austin radio) we got to chat with Taylor Swift, admire her Kate Spade dress, ask our questions about her cat, the “13” that is no longer on her hand and more. Oh, if you haven’t had those questions answered for yourself, she DOES tour with her cat and her cat is super comfortable on the bus and is happy to travel. And she used to always draw/write/paint her lucky number 13 on her hand when performing, but after the last tour and waking up too many mornings with a backward imprint of a 13 on her face, she decided to give up that practice.
Taylor’s lovely mother, Andrea Swift, or “Mama Swift” as she’s known backstage, also came out and introduced herself to our group. As Taylor left for other obligations, Mama Swift took over and said she wanted to take us on a backstage tour.
My husband works with musical backline gear all the time and is quite familiar with the backstage area of big shows. But even he is rarely backstage on a show that is THIS massive. It was really eye-opening to see just a glimpse of what goes into the tour.
Now I didn’t take notes, so some of my facts and figures may be slightly off, but this is what I recall. Mama Swift told us about the 26 semi-trucks and the 18 busses that roll from show to show. No doubt about whose show is rolling down the highway with you if you see these placarded trucks on the interstate. About a dozen dancers are on tour with Taylor, a half-dozen band members, 3 or 4 back-up singers, and around 80 crew members that are behind the scenes making it all happen. I wonder if that 80 includes the 44 bus and truck drivers? I don’t think it does. In each town they perform in, they also hire about 120 local stage hands.
Taylor designs her own stage and set and has the vision of what the stages and costumes and performance will all look like. She worked with designers and manufacturers and costumers months and months ago to prepare for the show. She thought up new ways to present old songs so there would be the “wow” factor even on the material some of her fans have heard and seen in concert several times. All of the props and staging for each “scene” of her performance were manufactured and each is numbered and labeled to make it easier to put it all together in the right place as they prepare backstage for a show. When everything had been created and choreographed, the performers worked together for six weeks, practicing and performing the two-hour show twice a day to make sure everyone knew their places and their cues.
Mama Swift explained that it takes the crew eight hours before the show to assemble the pieces and create the stage and have everything in place for the show. After the show, it takes only about two to three hours to break it all back down and put it in its place for the next night. Packed into the trucks, they head out to the next venue.
As we began our tour backstage, we passed lots of large pieces that were scenery or parts of the stage that would be used during the performance. We saw large four-foot tall chandeliers made out of metal piping and plastic crystal beads and some sort of LED lights. Mama Swift pointed them out and told us to notice how industrial they look up close, but when they are hung high above the stage in a romantic, costumed scene, they will transform to fine crystal baubles on an elegant chandelier. She was absolutely right. On stage, in place, it was all elegance and richness.
Backstage we passed a large red baby grand piano. It was in place to be raised on one of the eight elevators to the stage for the appropriate moment in the show where Taylor plays solo.
We saw a “quick change” room for the dancers. Only about five by five feet, it had skirts placed on the floor “just so” so they could be stepped into and the quick change accomplished just under and behind the main stage.
We also got to see “video world” where banks of camera monitors help the director keep an eye on all that the cameras see and be able to put those images on the four large video screens that helped the rafter seats get a good view and on the giant video screen that was part of the staging. It was also where he controlled the pre-recorded videos that were part of the songs.
One final piece of information that Mama Swift imparted is that Taylor Swift never uses auto-tune (the device that makes many of today’s performers sing in tune even when they can’t) and she never lip synchs during a live performance. She wants a live performance to be a live performance.
The tour was short and it was apparent that we were just seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the complexities it takes to put on a show in city after city that involves flying platforms, moving stages, glitter, fireworks, audio, video, and the most unpredictable factor: people. I already had the utmost respect for Taylor Swift for running her own career and controlling her own image and fame, but after seeing what she has put into play with her tour, I was in awe, too. As I thanked Mama Swift for the tour and the backstage insight, I also gave her a big thank you for raising such a lady.
– Submitted by Janice Williams, Music Design