Just A Bunch of Roadies Pledges $130,000 In Scholarships To Live Experience Design & Production Students
June 29, 2023
Philanthropy isn’t just something afforded to the wealthy. It often starts with meager means.
It starts with a student running her college’s radio station.
It starts with a young innovator who figured out a new way to bring concert-level power to old venues.
It starts with a young man emigrating with his family from Brazil to Island Park, Long Island.
None of these individuals was born rich. But with a magical mixture of hard work, talent, timing, and keeping their eyes and ears open to opportunity, all three would rise through the ranks of roadies to become key players in the band of international technicians who produce live events on the road, making sure they open on time and operate safely.
After a couple decades of success in the live event industry Lori Tierney (that college student) and Charlie Hernandez (the boy from Long Island) would team up to form the non-profit organization JABOR — Just a Bunch of Roadies. John Campion (that guy with the power) was their guardian angel. Together, they’d change the trajectory of international and domestic disaster relief.
And in Spring 2023, JABOR would expand from disaster relief to education, with an initial pledge of $130,000 in scholarship funding to help students at Pennsylvania College of Art & Design and the Academy of Live Technology, located at Rock Lititz, pursue their degree in Live Experience Design & Production.
The story of the scholarship fund really is an extension of JABOR’s philanthropic mission. And to know JABOR, you need to first understand how tightly knit the roadie community really is. It may be international, but it’s an international family with ties of friendship and absolute trust that bind a band of iconoclasts to a singular mission:
To use their logistical know-how and skills to bring relief to those who most need it — and to make sure that logistical know-how and those skills get passed to a new generation of live event technicians.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
If you tried to reverse engineer the connections in the live event technician community, says Charlie Hernandez, it wouldn’t work. It all starts as a trail of unrelated names that, soon enough, build into a team.
There’s Jake Berry, who meets musician Rick Wakeman and starts working for him on the road. Berry meets staging guru Michael Tait on that tour, and audio engineers the Clair brothers, who would go on to establish Rock Lititz in northern Lancaster County. Hernandez, who started out working events in New York, becomes friends with Berry. And Tierney, following her college radio stint, becomes a promoter rep. “We toured together. We knew each other. We all used the same friends on tour,” Hernandez explains. Campion would soon join the tour, working to revolutionize the way large power needs can be resolved using temporary generators.
“So there’s Lori (Tierney), Jake Berry, me, and Opie (Dale Skjerseth) and we start Production Alliance, Inc., a touring event production company,” Hernandez says. “Then Campion founds Showpower. You can start to see the pebbles in the water causing the concentric circles… it all works together. We all work together.”
BUT IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE MUSIC
In 2004, when a massive Indian Ocean tsunami left absolute destruction in its wake, Hernandez recalls watching the news with his wife. We had just been contracted for a Petronas Formula 1 rollout in Kuala Lumpur, and I said, ‘I guess now we’re doing a benefit.’ With our life experience and work experience Production Alliance was able to produce a benefit concert and raise a large sum of money.” But, as with many such benefits, there was a catch:
All the expenses, such as getting acts and celebrities to the venue, the cost of event logistics. etc., cut into what was left for actual disaster relief. “So I looked at Lori and said, ‘There’s got to be a better way,’ Hernandez remembers. “And Tierney says to me, ‘Let’s do it ourselves. Let’s just now find a way to raise money, and send all those resources, to where it actually should go.’”
It was the birth of JABOR. And the philanthropic goals of this bunch of “just” roadies would soon be put to a huge test.
In January 2010, a disastrous earthquake struck Haiti. Former U.S. presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton met in Florida as they headed to the Caribbean island to bring attention to relief efforts. Hernandez, watching everything unfold on television, saw the pair walk past a jet that looked like one owned by Hernandez’s friend..
“So I called the owner of the familiar-looking jet, David Bernstein (who founded Rock-It Cargo, a specialized logistics and transportation company used in the entertainment industry,” Hernandez laughs. “And, with my Long Island attitude, I ask him how many trips that jet could take to Haiti loaded with relief supplies. He figures four solid trips on one tank of gas. I told him I’d call him back. Then I called John Campion and I said, ‘Hey, John, I need some gas money.’ I then called Lori with the idea — by now she’s with Project C.U.R.E., a non-profit that delivers donated medical supplies and hospital hardware. Lori worked her connections to get medical personnel to rotate in and out of Haiti on our aircraft. Upstaging Lighting and Transport, along with Showmotion Trucking, provided trucks to collect medical supplies in Denver, Phoenix, and Nashville, and delivered eight truckloads to South Florida, where the aircraft was based.
“We were the first civilian aircraft in Haiti after the earthquake hit.
Bearded man in dark blue shirt looking off to his left. Charlie Hernandez
“Everybody that we’ve ever worked with, everyone we know, they were in on it. It was incredible,” Hernandez marvels. “We’ve since become this force in our industry. Philanthropy leaves things better than we found it. We’re able to do the extraordinary. In the event touring industry, we’re able to move ‘cities’ from place to place and leave nothing behind but a memory. Well, with JABOR, we decided to leave something behind at the end of the day. Something good, like, food. A school. Medicine. We’ve been able to save lives and everybody’s in on it.
“We are a family business, a family of brothers and sisters we’ve picked up along the way. Ours is one of the few industries where we can accomplish the seemingly impossible with just a phone call and a handshake.”
Since Haiti, the work of JABOR has hardly slowed. There’s been food delivered to Pakistan. There’s been typhoon relief delivered to the Philippines. Beds from the London Olympics found their way to a hospital in Tunisia. JABOR partnered with Project C.U.R.E. to resupply hospitals in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And, in the U.S., JABOR works with the Loaves and Fishes MN, ICA Food Shelf to relieve food insecurities here in the States.
In addition to its relief efforts, JABOR is focusing its attention on the tidal shift coming to the industry: The older generation, the one that built the industry and its ever-more-complicated live events, is aging out. Hernandez says, “We figured, let’s start up a scholarship and find a partner who’s a little crazy like us, who keeps asking questions. We can make it a little easier for some kids hoping to build a career in live events. So we created it, and everybody stepped up. We’re thrilled to commit the initial $130,000 to the fund.
“It’s how we do it on the weight of our word and the sound of our voice, and that’s the attitude in this business: We surround ourselves with people who will not fail. We will not fail.”
The Lori Tierney-John Campion Memorial Education Grant is named in loving memory of two of JABOR’s founders, both champions in the industry. Campion died at 57, in 2020, from leukemia, and Tierney at 58 that same year, from cancer.
How does Hernandez hope the scholarship will impact its recipients?
“They need to be aware,” he says, “of the ‘butterfly effect’ of it all: Not just how seemingly chance encounters have resulted in a huge impact for JABOR’s members, but how those same encounters can impact the students’ lives, too.
“We are a family business, a family of brothers and sisters we’ve picked up along the way, who have answered the JABOR call and contributed to ongoing projects. This massive family is comprised by the likes of Suzanne Campion of the John & Suzanne Campion Family Foundation; Michael Tait of Tait Towers; David Bernstein of Rockit Cargo and Higher Ground Foundation; Michael Scherkenbach of Showmotion Trucking; and family businesses like the Clairs of Clair Global; the Carones of Upstaging; the Brammers of G2 Structures; the Phillips of Beat the Street; the Doyles of Road Ramps; the Volhoffers of Premier Global; and companies like Live Nation, Jake Berry Productions, Cube Passes, Stageco, Nighthawk Video, RZO, Screenworks NEP, Stonewall Power, CES Power…
“Plus, individuals from every corner of this industry: artists, managers, production managers, tour managers, personal assistants, chefs, caterers, security personnel, bus drivers, truck drivers, makeup artists, hair stylists, tour accountants, physiotherapists, bands, dancers, aerialists, production coordinators, stage managers, riggers, automation techs, camera operators, carpenters, FOH engineers, monitor engineers, audio techs, backline techs, wardrobe, dressing room coordinators, lighting designers, lighting techs, video directors, video techs, electricians, promoters, merchandisers, business managers, lawyers, travel agents, insurers, immigration lawyers, health and safety officers, set designers, pyro techs, freight agents, pass designers, ground transportation drivers, videographers, photographers, site coordinators, production assistants, stage labor crews, steel labor crews, truck loaders, runners, catering assistants, civil engineers, venue operations managers, marketing managers, box office managers, finance managers, IT managers, front of house managers, labor stewards, concessionaires, hospitality hosts, on and on.”
“The incredible generosity from these donors, with the opportunities their careers and backgrounds afforded them, has contributed greatly to this scholarship. Our objective is to inspire the new vanguard of young industry professionals to pick up the torch lit by these very people who paved the way for them.”
A SOCIETY GROWS GREAT WHEN OLD MEN PLANT TREES IN WHOSE SHADE THEY SHALL NEVER SIT
What advice does Hernandez have for anyone looking to get involved in philanthropy? “You have to be open to your heart and see what’s happening to you and reflect on what just happened,” Hernandez says. “If you’re in tune enough you’ll see the opportunities and what’s going on around you — you can’t force it. You just have to be there, and be aware. You’ve got to get out of bed and then have the moral responsibility to give back, to open doors, to put your hand out to a stranger. There is no such thing as a small act of kindness. ‘Yes’ is always the answer. That’s the secret: Listen. Look. Take it in. Do better, and don’t just take it all for granted. Just don’t forget the love bit …”
Photo courtesy Charlie Hernandez and Shelby Cude