On the road with Charley Jenkins
An inside look at a potential music industry internship
It’s almost 10:45 a.m. as I wait outside the Home Depot in Lindon, Utah. This is our meeting place. Today, Saturday, Oct. 29, I am going to experience firsthand what it is like to be on tour with a country music star.
Charley Jenkins from Roosevelt, Utah, broke into the country music industry after appearing on the reality show “Nashville Star,” an “American Idol” of sorts for country singers. He now tours with his own bus and band. He’s performed with various country stars, including George Strait. Today, he’ll be performing in Clifton, Colo., a small town outside of Grand Junction.
Jenkins’ keyboardist, Alex Arnold, is my reason for being here. Arnold, while finishing up his last semester as an Integrated Studies major, has been working on creating a music industry internship for students at UVU. It is my job to see what this internship may be like.
When I meet Arnold for the first time in the Home Depot parking lot, he is wearing sneakers and a black and red tracksuit of sorts. He introduces me to Brandon Cummings, the band’s drummer, in basketball shorts, a hoodie and flip-flops, and Peter Jensen, the bass guitarist in jeans, a hoodie and a trucker hat. The only person who looks remotely like they belong in a stereotypical country band is Jake Collett, the agent and manager for the band, dressed in a light blue cowboy-style button down shirt and jeans. There are no cowboy hats, no tight Levis. Everyone is dressed for comfort. And we’re all waiting for Charley.
When Jenkins arrives, it’s hard to miss him. A 45-foot red and chrome tour bus pulls into the parking lot, towing a 20-foot U-Haul-esque trailer behind it. “Charley Jenkins” is written in tan on the side of the bus with a drawing of a longhorn steer between his first and last name. While everyone grabs their stuff, I’m briefly introduced to Jenkins. He gives me a firm handshake and a genuine smile. He is dressed in a black hoodie, jeans, boots and a ball cap. He reminds me of the boys from high school who grew up riding horses and wrangling cows on ranches in the middle of suburban Provo.
As we all get on the bus, I seem to be the only one bewildered by my surroundings. The band members walk past the couches to the left and right of them, the small dining area with refrigerator and table, past the rows of bunk-beds that line the walls until they arrive at the “living room” in the back. This is all standard procedure for them.
With Jenkins at the wheel, we begin our four-hour drive to Clifton, Colo. Sitting behind Jenkins is Rusty Barnes, the lead guitarist who has been playing with Jenkins for the past five years or so. Barreling down I-15, Barnes and Jenkins talk about high school, football and hunting.
It’s during these first few moments that I am introduced to the youngest member and only female in the band. Tiann Dyer is only 16 years old. A sophomore from American Fork High School, Dyer plays the fiddle. She opened for Charley Jenkins over the summer with her 18-year-old brother and 14-year-old sister. When Jenkins’ fiddle player left this past September, he asked Dyer to come join him. Later, I asked Dyer what her parents thought about her touring.
“As long as I keep up my grades, they don’t care,” Dyer said. “They’re very supportive.”
Even in the comforts of a tour bus, a four-hour drive is still long and boring. Most of the band members play games on their phones or doze in the bunk beds. I sit down with Arnold to discuss the internship more in depth. Essentially, the internship would provide the opportunity for a student to see the behind the scenes work that goes on with a music tour. They would help load and unload all the equipment and help set up the stage, including the complicated business of wiring all the sound equipment, as well as aid with promotion. The intern would travel with the band and help with eight shows in two weeks. Arnold wants to have the internship up and running by the second half of summer 2012.
During our conversation, Collett and Jenkins are discussing the business aspects of Jenkins’ music career. While discussing the various problems with booking certain venues, I hear Collett say, “It’s a complicated load of crap but when it’s all over, it’s awesome.” This seems to sum up Collett’s job as agent and manager.
Jenkins then turns to me and starts to talk about what Collett is trying to do, as well as the benefits of a music industry internship.
“The hardest thing is everyone has a perception of what life is like doing this, and the only way to really understand it is to actually go out and do it,” Jenkins said while keeping his eyes on the road, as he negotiates his way up Spanish Fork Canyon. “I would’ve given anything to tag along with some one to see if I like it and to see how it’s done,” Jenkins said, referencing the ins and outs of the music industry. “What Alex is doing is so valuable.”
Jenkins’ approach to his music is very business-oriented. He realizes that the music industry is just that, an industry.
“You have to look at it like you’re your own brand,” Jenkins said. “Once people wrap their head around that, they can see it not just as expression but as a career.”
When we arrived in Clifton, we pull up to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 969. It is then I realize just how small of a venue this is going to be. Last year, Jenkins played at Country Fest in Grand Junction, Colo., just down the road from Clifton in front of thousands of people. Today, he’ll be playing for about 50.
Once the bus stops, everyone becomes very businesslike. Each of the musicians unloads and sets up equipment. There is no luxury of a techie or roadie. Even Dyer, with her slight frame that probably doesn’t come close to reaching 100 pounds, does her fair share of work. The band sets up their instruments and untangles wires and cords, a task that I’m sure the future intern will become very familiar with.
After a quick sound check, the band settles down in the tour bus for some food, provided by the IBEW chapter. They then change from their traveling clothes into stage clothes. Plaid shirts and boots replace the comfy basketball shorts and sneakers. Jenkins walks out in a white cowboy-style shirt, jeans, cowboy boots and a black cowboy hat.
Before the show starts, I sneak to the back of the crowded room. It’s a Halloween party and the attendees are dressed in various costumes. The man in charge, whose name I discovered was Joshua, is on stage thanking people dressed in a pirate costume, his long brown hair and beard looking very suitable.
Once the show begins, it’s obvious that Jenkins knows what he’s doing. He and the rest of the band perform just as sincerely and dedicatedly in front of these 50 people as he would in front of 50,000. Jenkins flirts with the ladies in the crowd, even if they’re old enough to be his mother. He encourages the audience members to get up and dance. A few, made braver after a few beers, do so. Jenkins is charming on stage.
About half way through the show, Jenkins invites Joshua back up on stage, stating that Joshua forgot to thank someone. Joshua takes the mic away from Jenkins and asks his girlfriend to come up on stage. As she stands there in a matching costume, he begins to thank her for all the effort she put into this event. He then gets down on one knee and pulls out a ring. The audience goes crazy as his girlfriend begins to cry. She says yes and they hug.
Jenkins congratulates the couple. This was all planned on the bus ride to Clifton. I, for one, am glad she said yes, as a “no” would put a damper on the evening. Jenkins and the band begin to play a romantic song as the couple dances together. It’s a tender moment.
Once the show is over, the band packs up quicker than I felt it took to set up. Before long, after many thank-yous from the attendees, we’re back on the road. I’m exhausted and soon I am dozing on one of the couches, my jacket serving as a blanket. Everyone but Jenkins and Arnold is sleeping somewhere in the bus. I start to think of what life is really like in music industry. It’s a lot of complicated matters, such as bookings and venues and such. It’s full of technical equipment and sound checks. It’s playing in front of thousands or less than a hundred.
I must have dozed off because when I woke up, someone had put a blanket over me. In my newfound warmth, my thoughts drift back to this industry. You need patience, flexibility, dedication, a good work ethic and really love what you’re doing. We went over a bump, which shook me out of my light sleep. The ability to sleep on a tour bus wouldn’t hurt, either.