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Life in the Rock 'n' Roll Circus

Angie Warner backstage with former MTV and VH1 personality Matt Pinsfield, left, and Velvet Revolver bassist Duff McKagan.

There was the time during the Velvet Revolver tour a few years back when Angie Warner walked into the band's dressing room, and ex-Guns 'n' Roses guitarist Slash and bass player Duff McKagan serenaded her with an impromptu version of the Rolling Stones classic, "Angie."

That was pretty cool. But not as cool as the time in 2005, when Warner was out on the road with the Stones' "Bigger Bang" tour, and a member of the crew came to her office and said, "Hey, they're going to sing 'Angie.' Come out here for sound check."

"It was somewhat surreal," Warner recalls, still awed by the memory. "I've been hearing that song my entire life, and all of a sudden, Mick Jagger's singing it."

Sixteen years ago, Angie Warner left Lehigh University to join the rock 'n' roll circus. Since then, she has worked on tours headlined by everyone from 'N Sync to Dave Matthews, from Madonna to the Stones. And at 35, she still isn't sure how to answer the question the Stones posed in the song she's been hearing her entire life: "Angie, where will it lead us from here?" "I can't say I'm only going to tour for a few more years," Warner says from a Florida hotel room, on a rare day off. "I thought that at 35 I'd be done, and here I am. It's just too much fun for me."

Warner, left front, with the Dave Mattthews Band.

"Fun" might not be how most people would describe a life of endless 18-hour days living out of motel rooms. As a production coordinator, Warner sets up an office at each arena to deal with the care and feeding of the large crews that make tours happen. Her job entails everything from travel arrangements and hotel accommodations to catering, security, ticketing, and guest passes.

"You're basically a mom to 60 people," Warner says. "Because if they need something, they come to you. Some people think I always have the morning free and go in in the afternoon. You can't do that. You go in at 7 o'clock, 8 o'clock in the morning and you're there until all of the gear comes down from the ceiling. There's a lot that goes on backstage that people just don't see."

Still, Warner can't imagine doing anything else.

"Every show and every tour has meant something to me," Warner says. "Every one has been really special. I love what I do."

And she's known what she wanted to do since she was a little girl in New Jersey.

"I knew before I went to school what I wanted to do in the end. And that was the music business," Warner says. "I grew up around music. My mom was a professional singer. Most kids grow up watching TV, I grew up listening to music. Even when I was 4 or 5 years old, I was listening to Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan and Quincy Jones productions. As a kid, I would put on my mom's headphones and dance around.

"I can listen to a song now and go back and say, 'I remember hearing this sitting on the floor in my grandmother's living room.' It sparks more memories for me than anything else. Music has always been my life."

It was during her four years at Lehigh that Warner discovered how to turn her lifelong dream into reality. Not that there was ever much chance that she would go anywhere else for college.

"I'm a legacy," Warner says. Her step-father, John Harkrader '58, and sister, Linda Harkrader '88, both went to Lehigh, and Angie grew up coming to Bethlehem for football games.

At the beginning of her sophomore year, Warner became active in the student activities program. It was there that she got her first experience in various aspects of concert promotion and production, from lighting and audio to contractual agreements.

"I don't think I would be where I am today had I not gone to Lehigh," she says. "I always say to my stepfather, even though I fought going to school there, it's probably the best thing I've ever done -- the people that I met and the influences I had while I was there. It helped mold and define me to be a female in this business, to be a lot stronger. Being an aggressive female in this business has been a good quality."

The students brought in up-and-coming comedians such as Jay Mohr, Carrot Top, and even a guy named Dave Chappelle. They also booked musical acts such as Blues Traveler, the Spin Doctors, and Livingston Taylor (brother of Sweet Baby James).

"A few years ago, I was watching Live in the Actors Studio, the one where they interviewed Dave Chappelle. And I'm thinking, 'God, I remember having him at school. I think we paid him a thousand dollars to do an hour or 90 minutes of stand-up.'"

'N Sync helped Warner celebrate her 30th birthday.

After Lehigh, Warner initially went to work for Calico Entertainment in Charlotte, N.C., a company that booked comedians and musicians onto college campuses. She'll never forget the first time she went out on the road with a major act: 'N Sync's "No Strings Attached" tour.

"It was probably the most fun I've ever had," Warner recalls. "When you're out on tour, it always ends up turning out to be your life because you work really long days. And we had such an amazing crew. Everybody really bonded on that tour, and we were out there to support five guys who were living their dream. The guys were so involved with what the crew had going on that it made us really feel like we were all family."

Her level of interaction with the headliners varies greatly from tour to tour. When she went out with the Dave Matthews Band, she was the band's assistant, so she dealt with the band members daily. On the Stones tour the past two years, she often got to "chauffeur" guitarist Keith Richards and drummer Charlie Watts to the stage.

"At the stadium shows, I always drove a golf cart when the guys arrived," she says. "Keith and Charlie always just jumped on mine. I think they got used to me."

When the Stones ended the first leg of their U.S. tour last April, all four core members of the band signed a set list and gave it to Warner. Guitarist Ron Wood even circled the sixth song on the set list: "Angie."

Of course, there are some tours where Warner is perfectly happy working behind the scenes. When she went out with rock 'n' roll problem child Axl Rose and his version of Guns N' Roses in 2003, she says, "I stayed far away."

Warner with legendary guitarist Slash, center, and Velvet Revolver drummer David Kushner.

But for the most part, tours are nothing like most people imagine. Velvet Revolver, the supergroup that featured Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash and bass player McKagan with Stone Temple Pilots lead singer Scott Weiland, had a well-deserved reputation for hard living. But Warner's experience with them on tour was far different.

"Slash was fun because he always had his kids out," says Warner, who now works for TNA Touring, a division of entertainment giant Live Nation. "I love when the kids come around because it really does bring everybody back down to the fact that this is why we do it. Of course, we do it because it's what we love, to perform. But the bottom line is that we do it to support our families.

"The music business has changed a lot. The touring industry has changed. It's a business now. People always say, 'Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll!' And I'm like, there might be drugs around, but I don't see them. Everybody out here is doing it because it's a lucrative business and everyone's here to make money and save money for their futures. That's why the artists do it, too. It's a different world. You can't party with the hours that you pull on tour."

So how debauched is life on the road with the Rolling Stones, the living legends who once set the standard for excess?

"For me, a day off is getting caught up on paperwork, doing yoga, and getting a good meal, and then going to sleep," Warner says. "I just can't see how people physically could do this and be out partying every night."

Still, it must be amazing to see the world's greatest rock 'n' roll band perform night after night. Right? Wrong again.

"During the show is basically when we get caught up with receipts, and I get caught up with my flows and settling the American Express bill, which has to be done on a daily basis. I also do advance work for the next city," she says. "So it's usually showtime that you actually have some quiet, downtime for yourself to get caught up on paperwork and time to eat dinner.

"I do try to get out for one song. And I always will go out when they play 'Angie.'"

The scene in Rio, where more than 2 million people turned out to see the Rolling Stones.

That's not to say there aren't some incredible experiences. When the Stones played to more than two million people at an outdoor concert in Rio, the little girl who used to listen to her mom's Quincy Jones records got to meet her idol.

"He came into town for the show, and he looked lost, so I decided to go up and introduce myself. When I walked up to him, I said, 'I'm 35 years old and I've loved you since I was a kid. So I'm going to be silly and just ask if I can shake your hand.' And then I was asked to escort him out to his seat and be sure that he was cool. Then, I went back out to get him after the show. I was just in awe of the fact that he was one of the most genuine guys I've ever met. That was a neat experience."

But Warner cautions that joining the rock 'n' roll circus is not for the faint of heart. Over the past two years, Warner has been on the road nonstop across America with the Stones and, when they went overseas last summer, with Madonna. She rejoined the Stones when they returned to America last fall. Since she was going to be on the road for more than a year, she let her apartment lease run out in Los Angeles, sold her car, and put everything in storage to save money.

"I basically have had to put aside any kind of serious relationship that I could have. Or you have to date people who understand your lifestyle or tour also," Warner says. "So I've had to put my career first above a lot of other things -- a family, relationships.

"But I've decided in my mind that I'm going to tour until I know that I'm ready to come off the road. The worst thing I've seen people do is come off the road and then regret it later on. Because they came off for family and to have kids, and you can see that they may not regret their decision, but they know they should have continued a little bit longer. It's in my system. Doing an 18-hour day doesn't bother me. To me, it's normal. But I'll know when I'm ready to stop touring for good."

--Jack Croft

Photos courtesy of Angie Warner

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin
Spring 2007

Posted on Friday, March 23, 2007

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