Paul and Courtney Klimson have spent their lives behind the scenes. They want little more than to protect road crew members — an often-overlooked workforce of thousands of people who work on tours and live-music shows — which is why they launched the Roadie Clinic, an advocacy group and de facto HR service for roadies.
The Klimsons have run their own production company, Theory One Productions, since 2003, and started focusing on plans to build the Roadie Clinic, which they describe as an advocacy group, last year. When Covid-19 struck, the mission became more urgent. Since the couple themselves were part of the group put out of work, they found themselves with time to design resources such as an addiction-recovery group for roadies struggling with substance abuse.
“The whole process needed to be touched up to begin with,” says Paul, referring to crews’ lack of formalized support systems. “Now, there’s the added component of people not working and some productions not being safe.” As live shows beef up their technology and fantastical visual effects, concert production becomes increasingly complex, but the treatment of roadies has not improved with the show experience, the Klimsons say.
The couple, in the spring, also moved from New York to a part of Michigan that’s near a stretch of highway frequented by buses in between tour stops. There, they’ve been demolishing a building that they’ll turn into the brick-and-mortar location of the Roadie Clinic, which just received its 501c3 status in August. “That should’ve taken six to nine months to push through the system, and it took us two months, which is unheard of,” Courtney says.
When thousands of out-of-work roadies finally return to work, whenever that may be, the Klimsons expect they’ll be hit with a dangerous whiplash effect. After six months without a gig, Paul recently scored some engineering work through an act’s promotional tour, which is essentially a string of talk shows and other filmed performances. In the 10 days that he was out with that act, Courtney says he had zero days off and “his stamina had greatly depleted.” “He’d grown so used to a lack of sleep back in gig mode,” she says. “It was bad. He was in a dark place for days.”
Paul explains that promo tours often involve flying back-and-forth across the country without rest so that artists can make back-to-back gigs. In normal times, promo tours lead into rehearsals, and rehearsals lead into tours. Because tours aren’t happening during Covid, he had to go straight from unemployment and into promo-tour exhaustion, only to go right back to unemployment again. “It just highlights so many of the problems that we’re dealing with as a clinic,” he says.
The couple is currently at the tail end of an awareness campaign that has put them in front of outlets like Good Morning America. “People are finding us,” Paul says. “It went from us reaching out, to people coming forward left and right.”
The Roadie Clinic is now entering its capital campaign and fundraising phase while Paul continues demolition work and Courtney fine-tunes programming plans. They hope to open their doors by the end of summer of 2021 — but that timeline depends on funding.
Luckily, Courtney says, in recent weeks “a couple of big players have come to the table, and they’re both confident that they can help get us the money we need.”