How Wilco Fan Rupert Hustled His Way Back Stage and Promoted His Band

Editor’s Note: It’s clear from reading Rupert’s story that his hustling skills are going to play out nicely for him in future endeavors. He’s got the passion and guts to get what he wants, and that is about the most useful quality you can have as a young professional.

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Note: this story isn’t about me and my startup, but rather something more personal. That said, I’m currently a student at Sydney University in physics and philosophy, I run a start- up independent web magazine called The Larrikin Post, play in my band The Tropics, work as a freelance designer, and am in the planning stages of a new start-up idea that I’m trying to get off the ground (I’ve been working with some friends in start-ups and going to meet ups to flesh it out and ask for advice). To manage all this with my miniscule student budget, I use Pocketbook. Enjoy the story.

It was April 2013 and my favourite band was Wilco. I’d gotten in to them a few years before and became infatuated: there was so much about their music I loved, and I admired their guitarist Nels Kline for his effortless playing style.

See, I’m a guitarist myself, in a band called The Tropics. In April we were half way through recording our first album. We were doing it all ourselves: I brought the recording gear, we rented a room at a friend’s farm in the country, and spent three days meticulously recording all the parts. I’d been mixing it all and recording extra parts since then, learning a lot along the way. It was sounding great, and Wilco was one of our biggest influences.

Anyway, a few months before, we’d discovered that Wilco were coming to Sydney to play at the Opera House. Eagerly, my friend Tom and I scrounged together our savings and nabbed a couple of tickets. Finally, the day had come to see them. We walked up the Opera House stairs, got a few beers from the bar just as the bells were ringing for us to go inside, and walked up to our seats in Row J (right in the front!) just as the band started playing.

What can I say: they were awesome. They played all their greatest songs, and around the fourth number the singer, Jeff Tweedy, began to loosen up and smile, telling a few stories and jokes. Near the end of their set, the whole audience stood up and started dancing and clapping along to the music, and we were all still standing two encores later. The songs and music were awesome, and the way they played was so honest and genuine. I love that band.

Come the end of the gig, my friend headed off to go see his girlfriend, but I decided I wanted to stick around to see if I could get an autograph. I went over to the backstage entrance, where I saw a small crowd of people hanging out. They must be waiting for the band to come out, I thought. After about ten minutes, though, the backstage doors opened, and the small crowd started to funnel in.

Not sure what was going on exactly, I decided to play dumb and walked along with them. Up ahead, I saw where they were going: there was a security desk, and people were getting their names ticked off a list while two security guys watched carefully. My immediate thought was one of deflation: the band wasn’t coming out, and I wasn’t going to get in.

Any attempt I made would just involve me getting to the security counter, saying my name, and then embarrassingly being refused entry.

I was about to leave, when a guy in a suit brushed past me, looking important, and speed-walked his way right through the security checkpoint without checking off his name, the guards nodding him through. Screw it, I thought, I’ve come this far. So, I followed his example. Adjusting
my shirt and straightening my posture, I stepped out from the crowd and charged forwards, ignoring whatever qualification I needed in order to proceed. I walked straight past the sign-in desk and up to the security guards who looked me up and down, then opened the door for me with a smile. I was in!

Inside, I was met with the Opera House green room and a bunch of waiters hurriedly pouring out hundreds of glasses of wine and champagne. I walked up to the bar, grabbed myself a drink, and sat down to take in my victory. There, I struck up a conversation with the guy next to me, who repairs harps and was flown out to Australia especially for the show. I also made friends with a bunch of folks from APRA, the music royalties company.

In a lull in our conversation, I noticed that just behind me was Nels Cline, Wilco’s lead guitarist and my personal music idol. He’d influenced my guitar playing so much. As he turned away from a conversation, I jumped up and took my chance.

“Hey Nels,” I interrupted. “I just wanted to say I loved the show and really enjoyed your guitar playing.” From there we spoke for ages. I asked him how he liked being in Australia, and he told me he loved it and he’d been over before. I asked him a few questions, and, eventually, told him about The Tropics and how I thought he’d love our music. With that, he said, “Yeah sure, why don’t you send me some to listen to?” and gave me his personal email address.

I was so taken aback by his incredible genuineness. He just gave me his personal email! He told me to send over the tracks anytime, and said not to worry when I told him how intrusive I felt. He seemed really interested in our music, and flattered when I told him how much his playing had influenced me. He was a lovely guy.

The rest of the evening, I made some new friends, hung out with Wilco’s other guitarist and their tour managers, and had the best time. Stumbling out onto the rainy road at three in the morning, drunk and happy, I walked my way past the ferries at Circular Quay.

As I strolled away, I reminisced about the night I’d had. Especially, I thought about how I would never have done it at all if I hadn’t hustled.

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