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Last week, OnMilwaukee.com peered behind the scenes at Summerfest to see how the big names get booked for the Big Gig.
As the 11-day music blowout was about to get underway, we caught up with the Big Gig's Talent Buyer and Production Supervisor David Silbaugh – who explained his work as Summerfest drum tech back in 2008 – to learn a bit more.
OnMilwaukee.com: Tell us about how long you've been at Summerfest and what you do there.
David Silbaugh: I’ve been with Summerfest 20 years. I did Winterfest with the company a couple of times prior to that.
OMC: How has your job evolved over the years?
DS: I started with being brought in to get new deals in place for the drums, cymbals, cases and heads for (artists to use onstage at) Summerfest. At the same time, I was screening demos, processing contracts, answering phones and generally doing whatever was needed.
At that time, when it came to the run of the festival, it was all about being a drum tech and making sure everything got to where it needed to be, when it needed to be there and tuning the drums. We only had five drum kits so they were constantly moving. Now there’s between 11 and 15 kits, depending on the year.
I grew into booking by starting with acts on a couple of small stages, then a couple of different versions of emerging artists stages for a couple of years along with booking a band here and there on other stages. That grew into developing and booking the Emerging Artists Series, which I still do – it’s the 10th anniversary!
That led to booking on other grounds stages. Now, I’m booking headliners and support acts along with the rest of the team. There are four buyers – Bob, Vic, Scott and myself. I also help supervise Production Office staff and I’m still involved with the drums and backline deals and coordinating all of that, but now I supervise and direct Aaron Johnson and Steve Comeau, who handle the house drums and backline during the run.
OMC: What's the biggest challenge you face each year as you work to create the lineup?
DS: Trying to fit everything in that you would like to do. There’s only just so much room and sometimes, you have to look at trying to make it work again next year.
OMC: What's the booking that you're most pleased about this year.
DS: The Rolling Stones! Hats off to Bob. That was all Bob. He always pulls together such great stuff, but that was huge. It was such a great get for everyone. Not just here, but the whole community.
Of things that I booked? I have to say, that booking bands like Saint Motel and X Ambassadors early, before they hit, blow up or are getting any real airplay, and then to see that happen – that’s always fun and satisfying. I’m always trying to find stuff like that. We all are.
OMC: What is your life like during the run of the festival?
DS: It’s go time. All day every day. It’s all adrenaline and having to get things done and keep things moving. It’s taking care of people and musicians. It’s seeing the audiences and musicians enjoy the fruits of your labor.
OMC: How do you survive?
DS: You just do it. It’s like being on tour. When it stops ... for me, that’s the hardest part.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.