This month in Las Vegas, Garth Brooks said to a sold-out audience at Allegiant Stadium, “I can tell every musician out there to get back to it, because it’s the greatest feeling in the world.” Michael Strickland, founder and chair of Bandit Lites, might want to add something to this quote: “Be sure to talk to your vendors first.” The industry icon knows what he is talking about. After 18 months of the pandemic, during which time he lobbied hard for the live events community in Washington DC and sent out almost daily email missives keeping the industry up-to-date on how to get support, Strickland’s company has multiple shows on the road or planning to go out. From Garth Brooks to Jimmy Buffet and numerous local festivals and events from Las Vegas to Chicago.
Strickland has been awarded multiple industry honors, both for his work during the pandemic and before, including Heroes Of Live award from Pollstar, Believe in Music Award and a Visionary Lifetime Achievement Award from NAMM and Live Design's Pandemic Pivot award. He spoke to us about making it through the pandemic and why getting back out on the road is not quite as easy as it seems.
are Jimmy Buffett in Nashville (Lighting design by the late Steeve Hoover and Chaz Martin) and Garth Brooks in Las Vegas photos. (Lighting design by David ‘Gig’ Butzler
Live Design: Bandit Lites obviously has a lot of business compared to last year, how does this summer and fall stack up against 2019?
Michael Strickland: The summer started for Bandit in May. May through July (summer to me) sees Bandit at 50% of 2019. The Fall of 2021 will see Bandit at over 100% of 2019, which is very good news.
LD: Are the tours you are working on going out with huge rigs or are you seeing some caution in case cancellations start happening again?
MS: Bandit is seeing most artists use the same amount of gear or more. As every act is starting at somewhat the same time, the demand for both people and gear is already through the roof with almost all vendors. There is, and will continue to be, a huge supply-side problem. Those tours and events that do not book in the next four weeks will be left without, or with very poor service from questionable sources.
LD: Have you had any issues procuring inventory, or have you heard from manufacturers that there may be shortages in the future?
MS: I have spoken with many manufactures in all segments of the industry because of my massive e-mail chain. Yes, across the board there are supply issues as well. Almost everything in our industry comes from China and shipping lines are jammed, as are ports, with consumer goods. What once took four weeks to procure now takes 16 to 20 weeks, if you can obtain it at all. In the US, with wood, aluminum and steel through the roof, as well as electronic component shortages, even those products made in the US are back ordered. All of the truss manufacturers and aluminum firms are backed up months. Prices on everything are sharply up.
LD: In addition to the tours you are involved with, are you seeing a return to normal in any other aspects of the business?
MS: Yes, everything to do with live events is awake or awakening now. Trade shows, special events, corporate work, television, Broadway, dance, everything. The installation and integration business never closed and that side is at full tilt. Net overall, there are large supply side shortages across the board for goods and qualified people.