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Claremonter goes from dream gig to more dream gigs

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

Certain sectors of the American economy, grocery stores and Amazon among them, have weathered the coronavirus pandemic better than others. Others have limped along, keeping their doors open and merely staying afloat.

Still others literally ground to a halt on March 15, when the Centers for Disease Control advised no gatherings of 50 or more people in the United States over the next eight weeks, schools closed and people across the country began quarantining.

Overnight, the $12 billion-a-year live music industry ceased to exist, and with it the jobs of tens of thousands of musicians, designers, stagehands, technicians, promoters, producers and others.

Among those affected was 48-year Claremont resident Ray Woodbury, owner of production company RK Diversified Entertainment.

“We were having literally the best year that we would have ever had by a longshot,” Mr. Woodbury said. “The year was already planned all the way through December, and it was an extremely great year that we would have had.

“Our business went literally from stellar to zero.”

The 1978 Claremont High grad acquired the music bug early, playing in bands in high school. In an unusually prescient move for a musician, he earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Long Beach State University after high school, then moved on to study his instrument at the Guitar Institute of Technology (now the Musician’s Institute).

In 1984 though, his musical journey was permanently altered when Claremont rock music royal David Lindley hired him as a roadie for his band El Rayo-X.

Normally a roadie spends his or her time traveling to the show, unloading the truck, setting up gear, breaking down gear and then rolling it back into said truck. The process then repeats itself for weeks or months on end.

There are of course many other jobs for a member of a sizable touring music production, including stagehand, tour manager, stage manager, sound designer, lighting designer, guitar, bass, drum or keyboard tech, and the dozens of all black-clad technicians that assemble the stages, truss, lighting rigs and sound systems. And that’s just a few of the many gigs a “road dog” might have.

But El Rayo-X was a modest sized production, and Mr. Woodbury’s sponge-like road acumen and ability to learn on the fly meant he was soon running several of these “departments” by himself.

It was like having a full-ride scholarship to touring rock ‘n’ roll graduate school.

That education took a high profile turn in 1985, when the El Rayo-Ex’s second guitarist suddenly quit just prior to an east coast tour opening for the Gregg Allman Band.

“And Lindley kinda looked at me and said, ‘Okay, you’re in,’” Mr. Woodbury recalled. “And all we did was we rehearse for about two weeks. I knew all the songs already. And the next night we opened up in Salt Lake City. And it was rocking.”

It was literally a young musician’s dream come true.

“There’s no better way to go through your twenties than playing in a great band, that’s for sure,” he said.

That dream gig lasted several years, but eventually wound down as Mr. Lindley’s touring schedule shifted. Mr. Woodbury then began getting back into the production side of the business.

One of his first major moves was to help create the enormously successful Warped Tour.

“From there that sort of allowed me to get back in to the creative side of things, where I spent next 20 years just designing shows for bands and artists, doing live concert tour design and TV show set design,” Mr. Woodbury said.

And while he was creating productions for major artists such as No Doubt, the Stone Temple Pilots, Jennifer Lopez and Kelly Clarkson, to name just a few, he was also developing RK’s “hard assets,” gradually building its inventory of staging, lighting, roof systems, rigging and the rest of the stuff that goes into a live production.

Along with Mr. Woodbury’s increasingly high-profile design jobs, the hard asset side of RK eventually grew to include a dozen full-time employees and about 16 part-timers. RK has run the live productions at Orange County Fairgrounds’ Pacific Amphitheater for the past 17 years, supplies and runs the lighting systems for two of the stages at the massive music festival Coachella, has worked Super Bowl halftime shows, car reveals for Ferrari, corporate conventions, television productions, private events and religious services.

Mr. Woodbury was a rare player in the event production industry for the better part of two decades: a success on both the creative and production sides.

“It got to be a little bit overwhelming on numerous occasions,” he said. “But in my 30s and 40s I could deal with it better. I just started getting tired, all the intensity of it, and eventually about seven years ago I decided I’m just going to focus on the company, and sort of relieve myself of the creative endeavors.”
Since then RK had been thriving. Its profile was higher than ever and its finances on solid footing. Mr. Woodbury began to think about that rarity in the music production world: retirement.

“And then of course this thing hit and it got me thinking, that’s for sure,” he said.

His first thought was what he could do for his crew.

“My guys in particular are all really positive, totally committed pro people that are into their gig,” Mr. Woodbury said. “All of my employees have been with me for a real long time: 20 years, 18 years or 17 years. So this is what they do, y’know?”

He was forced to furlough his crew and “hibernate the company.”

After several long weeks of uncertainty, a production team member from the Pacific Amphitheater called with an idea: why not put on live shows in the fair’s parking lot, with people attending in their cars, for a drive-in concert?

That idea turned into a new venture, Autosonic Concerts, and soon his crew is back on the job.

“It keeps my team working with some hope and sort of narrowing in on that light at the end of the tunnel that could bring us out of this. Being able to retain them as employees when we come out of this is my goal,” Mr. Woodbury said

The first four Autosonic shows with Beatles tribute act Fab Four all sold out, with 221 carloads of people attending each of two performances July 31 and August 1.

“I guess the first thing is my team appreciates it that’s for sure, and I really appreciate my team, and that’s really why I’m doing it more than anything,” Mr. Woodbury said. “I want them to be as secure as possible. I’m not sure I can provide all that, but I’m trying.”

Upcoming shows include Smiths and Morrisey tribute band Sweet and Tender Hooligans on October 16; Queen Nation on Oct. 17; and Jefferson Starship Oct. 18. Tickets range from $69 to $199 for carloads of up to four people.

Go to https://www.autosonicconcerts.com/ to see the schedule and for more information.

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