The Jacksons Victory Tour…
In 1984, Michael Jackson and his five brothers, Jermaine, Tito, Randy, Marlon, and Jackie, announced they would be starting an enormous stadium tour called ‘the Jacksons Victory Tour’, beginning in the center of the US, in Kansas City. My catering company, the Backstage Café had been in operation for several years and summers were the busiest time for me. I rather dreaded the call to work with them because I figured it would be a huge circus and I was looking forward to some down time, because the promoters I worked for didn’t have any shows scheduled for the month of July. Then I heard they were traveling with their own caterers and I breathed a sigh of relief.
That relief was short-lived because the call came anyway. The touring caterers needed assistance, especially since this was the first place on the tour. They not only had to feed the endless throng of stagehands and road crew building the giant stage and all the trappings that go with a big stadium show for almost a week, but they had to stock up on supplies for future shows and devise two separate catering crews that would zigzag across the country for every other stadium show that was taking place. It was an enormous job and I was glad I wasn’t the one handling it all.
The caterers were based in New Jersey and had been hired by the Jackson management to do the tour. The owner did shows in and around the New Jersey area and had previous experience working with the Grateful Dead on a few tours. They called me because I had been referred to them by the local promoter. They asked me if I could help them out and told me they needed four people to arrive at Arrowhead Stadium at 8:00 am on July 2nd and to report to the catering office in the production area in the back parking lot behind the stadium. My friend and cook, Linda, and two other employees of mine, Jake and Dennis, drove to Arrowhead in my recently acquired catering truck. The Jersey guys were visibly impressed when we pulled up in the 15-foot beauty. It was nicer than anything they had.
They put us right to work. I ran around town in my truck buying hundreds of dollars of cooking equipment, foodstuffs, and cases of sodas, juices, waters, and liquor. They would hand me a wad of cash and say, “Keep the receipts.” Linda would sometimes go with me on these journeys, but mostly she stayed and helped them set up their kitchen area, along with Jake and Dennis and a couple of guys the Jersey boys brought with them. At night, after everything was done for the day, Linda, and I would sit at a table in the catering trailer and show them receipts.
At one point, they decided they were going to make a huge batch of paella that night for dinner. I had never heard of the Spanish dish. They told me I had to go out and get large quantities of shrimp, mussels, lobster, crabmeat, and oysters for the recipe. I laughed and told them there was nowhere I could find those items, reminding them they were in Kansas City, the heart of the country, and far away from any real seafood sources. Back then, getting those items would take ordering them days in advance.
This all went on for three days, everyday getting longer, harder, and more stressful. I did things differently, here in Kansas, my operation was much more laid back, but together we persevered and got the job done. On the evening of the 4th, there was a celebratory vibe in the air while the entire work force in this little city that was being built, watched fireworks from a nearby display.
Each day the little city grew as more teams of people would show up. Besides the local stagehands and teamsters who were building the stage; their were crews of lighting, sound, video, and management arriving on the scene. On the fourth day, the touring personnel began to appear and the word spread of “the Jacksons arriving in town.” With the stage completed and the equipment being set-up, it would soon be time for rehearsals to begin.
As show day approached, I called in more catering helpers from my list of locals. I hadn’t seen my kids for days, they were staying with their dad, and everyone involved at the stadium was exhausted and sleep deprived. I couldn’t believe how unorganized the whole endeavor was, no one seemed to know the answer to some of the simplest things, like, which trailers were to be used for dressing rooms or when would the ice be delivered? What made things even worse, was the amount of cocaine being used extensively by so many within the working personnel. Everyone seemed to be interested in securing more and more of it to keep them going through the grueling schedule. At night, my crew and I would be invited back to the hotel to indulge and unwind from all the days activities. I was looked at with suspicious eyes when I’d decline and go home. I needed all the rest I could get. Years before, I had done my dance with the insidious white powder and was not interested in the slightest. But my abstinence made the others uncomfortable.
Finally, the brothers Jackson were on the premises and a day and half of rehearsals ensued. The numbers we were feeding grew to 500 for some meals and now dressing rooms would also have to be stocked with fruit and veggie trays and bus tubs full of iced drinks. I would have to take my truck and make constant trips to the grocery store to get more supplies. What I feared most had come true, the circus atmosphere was in full swing. Yes, there was an excitement about it, the biggest tour ever done by one of the biggest stars of the era, but it was a never-ending barrage of overindulgence, that made me take a good look at what this thing called celebrity was really all about.
Ironically, during this entire eight day period, I never had access directly with Michael Jackson. His presence was felt in the subterranean locker rooms transformed with pipe and drape into posh dressing rooms when we’d go into them to replenish ice or tidy up. I was allowed to peer into the world that surrounded him without ever laying eyes on the man, except onstage. And even though five of his brothers performed in the show, it was Michael Jackson who drew the crowds and created the powerful mystique. The Jacksons without Michael would never have accomplished this kind of unprecedented achievement.
Arrowhead Stadium packed in 45,000 people every night for three consecutive nights; July 6th, 7th, & 8th, and was at the center of more media attention than just about any other time in the city’s history. The tickets cost $30 (unheard of in those days, but a real bargain today) and sold in blocks of four. Fans waited in lines for hours leaving the stadium after each show, but didn’t seem to care. It was ‘the’ event to attend.
I was able to arrange for my kids to come to a show one night with their dad and get in on the Michael Jackson excitement. They told me how they remember me riding them in and up the ramps in a little golf cart to get them to their seats. It was a giant extravaganza and the players were dwarfed by the size of the set. The performance was well executed and the set list was comprised of 17 songs, but did not include the song, ‘Thriller’, reportedly because of it’s ‘supernatural’ subject matter and the fact that Michael didn’t think it sounded good live. Ironic that he would not include the song that was from what was to become ‘the biggest selling album of all time’.
One of my most vivid memories of the show nights was of my crew and I piling stacks of giant pots, pans, and dinnerware onto the small golf cart and riding them to shower stalls in one of the unused locker rooms of the Kansas City Chiefs football team, to wash them in a makeshift washing area that was more like a car wash. The gang and I would get totally soaked, but I’ve got to say it was a lot of fun playing in the water on a warm July night.
The Jacksons were entertaining the masses onstage, but there was plenty of other entertainment going on in the tunnels and underground rooms of Arrowhead Stadium on those nights.
It took three to four days to get the show up, but only 18 hours to bring it all down. The amazing visual of watching 200 people, working like ants, to build and tear-down an enormous set-up like that is very mesmerizing. It has always been one of the truly mystifying feats of the rock and roll world, to think that something so immense could be moved and transported, usually overnight.
Once the event ended here, the crews had to move on to the next place to do it all again. In the meantime, another set-up was already built, in another city and awaiting the Jacksons to fly in and do the deed. These two large entities would leapfrog across the country for weeks, until the shows ended in Los Angeles at Dodgers Stadium.
One of the members of my crew, Jake, was asked to stay on with the Jackson tour through it’s entirety. It was okay with me, because he wasn’t a regular member of my immediate catering crew. They also asked me if I was interested in flying back to the East Coast to help another of their crews do a week of rehearsals in Hartford, CT, for Roger Waters, “Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking” tour. I jumped at the chance, since I still didn’t have any shows of my own scheduled for another two weeks. Eric Clapton was included in Roger Waters band, and I was thrilled to be around both of them for a whole week.
The entire Jacksons Victory Tour experience was a memorable one and opened doors for me. I encountered them all again in 1988 when Michael again started in KC on the “Bad Tour.” But that’s another story.