The circus-on-wheels that is a rock show is coming to Anytown, USA, in all its reckless calamity. So get down. Look out. But before the first salacious slash across the guitar strings delights shrieking fans, there is a mile-high pile of logistics to contend with in order for this circus to function. It's the job of the tour manager to cowboy the herd and get the band on stage. It's the job of one Ron Mesh.
Since the late 1980's, this Rochester native has trotted the globe non-stop. Mesh is never in one place for too long. He's always heading to the next city, the next show. When we interviewed Mesh for this story, he had just come off a tour he did with ZZ Top's Billy F. Gibbons and was at LAX on his way to a week of Tower of Power gigs in Hawaii.
Mesh is surrounded by rock stars like the band Kings of Chaos, which includes Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, and Slash of Guns N' Roses. But the man ain't starstruck. He doesn't have any snapshots or excited selfies of him and the artists he works with.
"I just never got around to it," Mesh says. "Maybe shyness? You're working so closely and you're friends with everyone; it's always just seemed weird."
Mesh started out as a sound engineer in the 1980's earning his bones at clubs in Rochester like Backstreets, Milestones, BK Lounge, X, and Jazzberry's, where he mixed popular bands of the day like The Essentials, The Colorblind James Experience, The Chesterfield Kings, Uncle Sam, and The Frantic Flattops.
"And you can't forget the GaragePop bands like The Quitters, Dog's Life, Koo Koo Boy," he says. "Eventually bands would request me, and I would work more and more nights as things were building up until I moved to LA in 1999."
- PHOTO BY BIAGIO DELL AIERA
- Ron Mesh
It was Rochester garage rock heroes The Chesterfield Kings that really lit Mesh's flame.
"Andy [Babiuk, The Chesterfield Kings' bassist] and I had a lot of mutual friends in high school," Mesh says. "We used to go check out The Kings on weekends when they played at Scorgies."
Mesh discovered they were touring surrounding cities like Toronto, New York City, and Cleveland, and wanted to be part of the action. "I started working with them mostly for the love of travel, but quickly figured out there was more to it, and if I could figure it out I might be able to get a real job out of this and keep traveling. This is where it all started. I've traveled the world with them, and Andy is still one of my best friends to this day."
In 2001, Mesh was in Los Angeles, working with the up-and-coming Maroon 5. It was clear to Mesh and those involved that the band was destined to be huge. Mesh moved to Beverly Hills briefly before relocating to Venice Beach and living there for 16 years.
"As the Maroon 5 thing was building, I loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly, literally," Mesh says. And though he currently has a sweet pad in Palm Springs, Mesh still refers to Rochester as home and California as more of a logistical necessity.
"I've always called Rochester home, though," he says, "and kept close contact with all of my family and friends." Having bought a house in Irondequoit in 2011 and staying local while between tours, he now spends equal time in Rochester and Palm Springs.
Tour managing ain't easy, according to Mesh, who encounters people who want to take a stab at it after watching Mesh effortlessly do the voodoo that he does so well.
"They see me having fun and they think that's all there is to it," Mesh says. "But you've got to keep everybody on time, keep everything together; you have to juggle the press, accounting, meeting budgets. The whole game is coming in under budget. Keep touring, making sure everyone comes home with some money. There are logistics: whether we're going to take a private jet or fly commercial, travel by bus – those are all my decision."
Mesh says the easiest part of his job is when the band takes the stage.
"Nobody's calling me, or texting me," he says. "I've got two hours to myself. But that's when I get paid, get accounting done, ticket audits, stuff like that."
Gone are the days of groupies, destroyed hotel rooms, "no brown M&M's," and blow. Mesh doesn't have to babysit or post bail. "Now," he says, "everything is so easy. Billy Gibbons' rider is 12 Modelo beers, Diet Coke, tomato soup, kombucha, almonds. No crazy requests with stuff like in the 80's. With the Kings of Chaos, the whole band is sober. Now it's a tea kettle, a good cup of coffee."
Mesh makes touring sound like a healthy enterprise. "But on the road, I'm the first one up and the last one to bed," he says.
However, things can get a little dicey, like the time Mesh landed with the Kings of Chaos in Peru, faced with over a thousand screaming fans and only one bodyguard to manage the crowd.
"I was getting off the plane with them in Lima, Peru," Mesh says. "We landed in the general terminal and I'm walking off the plane with Slash and Joe Elliott, Duff McKagan, Steven Tyler, and there're 1,200 people there to mob the band. We had one bodyguard. We were supposed to have eight more but they weren't in the same part of the airport we were. It was a miscommunication on their part. Yeah, that was pretty shaky."
Mesh is in-demand, he says, because he handles situations like that with a cool head and adheres to the bottom line. "I'm always looking to save the band money without cutting corners," he says. "Coming in under budget is always a good thing, and a good way to get called back for another tour."
When Mesh comes home to Rochester, it's like an invasion, a shopping spree, a covert homecoming. During east coast tours, Mesh and company would frequently take a detour in Rochester, with the tour bus dropping them off at Mesh's or his parents' home in the middle of the night. Friends would then come by with plenty of local favorites like Richmond's wings and Genesee Beer.
But the boost to the local economy wouldn't end there. "We would make a master plan," Mesh says. "In the morning we would have friends call in sick, have Shuffles Limo send over a couple cars."
The itinerary would include visits to House of Guitars, Record Archive, and The Bop Shop, as well as stops for yoga, golf, coffee and jewelry. "I even had a client buy a new 700-plus-horsepower Shelby Mustang from Vision Ford and ship it home," Mesh says.
The celebrities rarely got spotted, though Mesh remembers the time pop punk band Mest was noticed by some neighborhood kids through the window at his parents' house. "The guys went outside and turned it into a rap battle under the streetlights for two hours," Mesh says. "Some of the Bay Street kids were good. I hope they're out there somewhere killing it right now."
- PHOTO BY BIAGIO DELL AIERA
- Ron Mesh
It's mind-blowing when you consider the people involved in all of Mesh's endeavors, on and off the road. Billy F. Gibbons spent Thanksgiving at Mesh's house this year, Blondie's Debbie Harry convinced Mesh he looks distinguished with more white in his hair, and he once went on safari in Africa with members of Guns N' Roses.
"When they played in South Africa," Mesh says, "it was the first time they had been on stage together, without Axl, in something like 23 years. Talk about your unbelievable moments."
And the rock 'n' roll machine rocks and rolls on. Mesh lays out a list. "I'm continuing with Tower of Power's 50th anniversary world tour." he says. "There's a new band I'm taking on a 2019 summer festival tour of Europe called Deadland Ritual, with Geezer Butler, Matt Sorum, Steve Stevens, and Franky Perez. And there are more dates with Gibbons."
Thrilling thought it may be to rub elbows with so many of the rock 'n' roll elite, Rochester still gives Mesh that hometown thrill, even when he's cruisin' Hollywood.
"I was driving down Sunset Boulevard and I saw a sign for Coachella with Joywave – the Fuego kids – on it," he says. "I knew they worked at the coffee shop, but I didn't know they were in a band. And I'm like, 'There's the kids from the coffee shop.'"