Crews work nonstop for days for Rihanna, Taylor Swift shows at Times Forum

Rihanna and Taylor Swift bring their megashows to Tampa.
Published April 17 2013
Updated April 18 2013

TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Times Forum has hosted its share of mondo rock shows: McCartney, the Stones, U2. There have been heavy-duty back-to-back gigs, too: "Lady Gaga and Iron Maiden come to mind," grins Elmer Straub, the venue's vice president of event booking.

But in terms of current starpower — not to mention the head-spinning logistics of loading in, loading out, making it all happen — nothing compares to this weekend's megastar arrival of Rihanna on Friday, then Taylor Swift on Saturday, a one-two kapow of pop's hottest stars.

"This is huge," Straub says.

Indeed, especially when you add the tricky bookends of a Tampa Bay Storm football practice today and a Lightning hockey game on Sunday. More than 150 Forum employees will help convert from event to event, from stagehands to plumbers, a nearly constant hive of activity, day and night, for four days.

Plus, for each show and the game, it takes some 700 part-time and full-time Times Forum employees, from ticket-takers to concessionaires to those installing the ice for the Bolts' tilt against the Carolina Hurricanes.

And that's not counting the sprawling roadie crews Rihanna and Taylor Swift will bring in themselves.

The logistics of hosting so many high-wattage events in a row in the 21,500-seat house will prove a backstage game of watch-your-head chess. Straub says: "It's better when you're busy."

Rihanna's crew is set to arrive at 5 a.m. Friday with 17 trucks carrying her elaborate "end-stage set," which features looming Greek columns, shifting video screens and pyrotechnics, plus a full lighting rig. From the sound of it, a few trucks might be for wardrobe changes alone. Then there are 10 buses of personnel, too.

By comparison, Straub says Bon Jovi's tour also travels with 17 trucks, a relatively typical amount for an act of that caliber.

Don't be fooled by her just-a-gal-with-a-guitar persona: Swift will travel with 24 trucks of stage and lighting gear plus 15 buses of personnel — or about half of what Kenny Chesney needed at his massive March show at Raymond James Stadium.

Swift's stage for her Red tour is loaded with pyro and hydraulic trickery, including a T-shaped runway extension that allows fans to get close plus a "flying" platform that soars over the audience.

Most of Rihanna and Swift's tour trucks — along with venue staff and more — will park in the dirt lots at the corner of Channelside Drive and Caesar Street.

Sounds like chaos, but Straub says it's actually anything but: "It really does run smoothly. There will definitely be a management of the process, but the professionalism of the tours, arena operations and stagehands guides the way."

Since her breakthrough in 2005, Rihanna has charted 12 No. 1 singles on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, becoming the youngest solo artist to achieve the feat. Swift is the only female artist in history to have two albums — 2010's Speak Now and 2012's Red — sell more than a million copies in their very first week of release. Swift's show is sold out; Rihanna's show is selling well but tickets still remain.

Rihanna is scheduled to wrap up her encore around 11:30 p.m. Friday. Full "load-out" of the stage, Straub says, is scheduled to finish about 3 a.m., a tremendous tear-down feat of roadie insanity and, as Straub puts it, "major hustle."

Three hours later, Swift's sprawling set is scheduled to arrive. Her concert that night will start at 7 p.m. and end about 10:30 p.m., with her full load-out done by 3 a.m. Sunday. That's when the ice maintenance crew will take over and install the hockey glass and both uncover and resurface ice for a morning skate, then the Lightning game at 6 p.m.

And sometime around midnight on Sunday, a giant collective sigh will be heard coming from 401 Channelside Drive.

Straub says that this frenzy of events basically ends the Times Forum's main season. Soon enough, the Live Nation Amphitheatre at the Florida State Fairgrounds will take over the main haul of summer shows. Straub's more than ready for the grand finale: "This is a great way to go out."

Sean Daly can be reached at Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.