“You gotta read the writing on the wall, boys” came the statement from our fearless leader, Mark, at our “usual” lunch table at our “usual” restaurant, The Gardenview. He had just told us that he was moving on to another job for a Telecommunications company and he would no longer be dining with us in a couple weeks. We learned that Empire Sports Network would more than likely be going black within the year and he was hoping that the rest of us were actively looking for anther job. It was then I had told the engineering crew that I had spoken with the HR Dept for the newly constructed Seneca Niagara Casino.
I had known Claudia since we were kids. Her brother Shane and I played little loop football together and my sisters and her were cheerleaders. I had run into her at a neighborhood function with a couple mutual friends. We got to talking and she asked what I had been doing the past 30 years or so. I had told her about Empire Sports Network, which was quite respected on the global market as a prime source for Western New York sports. She had recommended that I submit my application to the Seneca Casino where she was working in the HR Dept. I told her that I had no interest in working for the casino and that Empire Sports was treating me well and I very much enjoyed being one of Empire’s Satellite Uplink Engineers. She was insistent!
One day, out of the blue, I get a call from her. “Guess who I have on the phone”? she asked. “Its your ole buddy Dave, from Adelphia”! I met Dave at a job fair when I worked for the Seneca Nation. I did an onsite interview then he forwarded my resume to the HR department in Niagara Falls. I was asked for a follow up interview but the drive was about 90 minutes so I respectfully declined. A month or so later, Dave called me back up and asked if I wanted to interview for a entry level position at Empire Sports Network. I saw Dave a few times after I started working for Empire but we eventually lost contact since he relocated then ultimately landed at the Casino. It was quite a pleasant surprise to hear from him and we ended up talking for a good half hour, catching up and talking about placing me at the casino. He said he might have a job for me as a part time “roadie” if I was interested. Since the writing was all over the wall, I felt I really didnt have a choice to at least check it out.
My first gig was setting up the backline for Eddie Money! It was then I had met who was going to be my mentor for the next 8 years. Kevin was great at his job. He also had a strong personality. Fortunately for me, having had the experience with strong personalities, I was able to not make it personal. He wanted things done a certain way and thats how I learned to do them. I was a sponge and actually enjoyed being a “roadie”. I worked with a great team and was able to pick things up from them as well. But it was Donnie who taught me the most! More about him later in part 2.
Because Empire was getting nearer their demise, and I was only a part time employee at the casino, I took every call I could. I was asked to help out during the high roller, monthly birthday parties where there were typically bands playing on a small stage and a basic light plot. The audio engineer, Marc, was happy to show me more about the audio console or board. As more shows were scheduled, I was hoping to prove to Kevin that I was genuinely interested in getting more involved in the other aspects of concert production. He started me on Spot light where I would be working with a gentleman named Mike Sr who was the lighting director. He showed me how to operate the headphones so that I could hear his cues and a quick tutorial with the spot light; which I would need to know so as to make gel changes during the show and off we went.
After a few shows were under my belt, it seemed as though the stars aligned. After 10 years of dedication and loyalty, Empire Sports were closing their doors. All but a handful were left that would soon “turn off the lights”. I sat with Kevin and told him the situation. And because of my strong interest and work ethic, he brought me in to work as many hours as I wanted. I learned how to program the dimmer for the lighting grid and create scenes on the lighting board. Soon after that I was put up in the truss and learned how to focus par cans. I wanted to learn all there was about production and I am grateful Kevin saw my drive.