Not many people get the chance to escort Grammy-winning country music star Keith Urban to a VIP reception at a New York City event. Or shake hands with actor-singer Dan Aykroyd. Or deliver a gift bag to singer-songwriter John Mayer’s dressing room.
But a group of University of Montana Entertainment Management students got the chance to be “backstage and front of house,” helping coordinate a festival and fundraiser put together by music legend Eric Clapton.
While escorting Urban to the VIP reception, Paul Tappon, a senior in UM’s Entertainment Management Program, had to fend off the crowds.
“Everyone wanted to take a picture with him,” Tappon says, “but I just had to get him there.”
Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival 2013, sponsored by Chase, was held in Madison Square Garden April 12-13 and benefitted Crossroads Centre Antigua, a chemical dependency treatment center founded by Clapton. The festival featured more than thirty of the world’s greatest guitar players—including Mayer, Urban, Jeff Beck, Taj Mahal, B.B. King, the Allman Brothers Band, and Clapton himself—who donated their time and talent to raise money for the center.
Half a dozen students headed to Madison Square Garden after two semesters and hundreds of hours of work promoting and publicizing Clapton’s festival. Via social media, they were among the first to announce ticket sales to the festival—the fourth one so far. Once announced, tickets sold out in seventeen minutes. Some of the students’ pre-festival work included:
- designing and implementing the Crossroads website, Facebook page, and Twitter profile,
- encouraging more than 19,000 people to “like” the Facebook page,
- working with radio stations across the nation on contests, promotions, and giveaway prizes, and
- collecting donated products from national companies such as Hard Rock Café, Trader Joe’s, and Olympus—as well as from Montana businesses—to put together gift bags for artists who volunteered their time.
In New York, students worked on all events associated with Clapton’s festival, including artist receptions, VIP gatherings, and the Road to Crossroads Exhibition, which featured some of the most valuable guitars in the world, including Clapton’s Fender Stratocasters, “Blackie” and “Brownie.” They worked with artists, artist managers, stagehands, production managers, vendors, and others on a wide variety of tasks—from unloading boxes and setting up displays to taking key photos and keeping a steady stream of posts and tweets going to followers all over the world. They also had to problem-solve and troubleshoot issues that might not be learned from textbooks alone.
“You can hear people in the classroom, but it’s not the same,” Tappon says. “We had to be flexible. A lot came up.”
For example, what happens when the Crossroads website goes down and the service provider tells you it will take seventy-two hours to get back online? Get on the phone, start negotiating, and get the site working in two hours. Or, what happens when you post something to the thousands of followers about Dan Aykroyd and spell his name wrong? Take it down quickly.
“The students were the first line of communication on things that happened,” says Maria Brunner, a core instructor in the Entertainment Management Program who brought the project opportunity to UM. “If there was a problem, they had to figure out how to solve it. They had to deal with many personalities. They learned to be diplomats, dealing with timely and political situations.”
Glamor and glitz aside, working with a prestigious nonprofit on a worthy cause was important to the students and musicians alike.
“Everyone came together for such a great cause,” Tappon says. “There were big-time artists, and it was a big-time venue. But it wasn’t about the money or prestige. It was about the music and the cause. Nobody was fighting for the spotlight. They were just there to help the cause.”
– Story by Shannon Furniss
Note: This story will appear in the spring 2013 issue of the Montanan.