My first professional writing gig was writing obituaries for the Kansas City Star. I was still in college, and I had started out as clerk in the newsroom and then got promoted. And it was a promotion … see back in them days, obituaries were treated as news stories — very sacred news stories. From college kids training to be journalist to hot shot reporters hired from other papers, everyone started on the obit desk.
Why? Well, you must not get anything wrong in an obit. I remember the ombudsman, John, coming over on my first day, towering over me, explaining that everything I write will be clipped out and put into the family bible forever and ever amen, so it must be perfect.
It was good training, and I’ve got some pretty funny stories from those days, but it will cost you a beer to hear them ….
…. My spirit is always whisked back to those days when I’m put in a situation of writing an obituary for a friend, which I had to do this week. It’s sad chore, but an honorable one.
This week we lost one Patrick Stansfield, tour manager for the Rolling Stones, Neil Diamond, and Barbra Streisand among many others, who was even called on to put on a couple of papal masses in ballparks.
I had the honor of working with him on the Parnelli Awards (the Grammy’s for live event professionals). He was co-founder and an amazing man, generous, funny, and made everybody he dealt with feel special. I’m proud of this obituary, but when you are working with material like this … read about his remarkable life here.
(And here’s the story:)
BURBANK, CA – Patrick Stansfield, 70, tour manager for Neil Diamond, the Rolling Stones, Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, the Grateful Dead, Santana, Tina Turner and scores of others, died in the early morning hours on Oct. 28, 2014 from kidney failure. Along with his prominence in concert touring, Stansfield was the production mastermind behind the transformation of Dodgers and Yankee Stadiums for papal visits in 1987 and 2008 and was co-founder of the Parnelli Awards, named in memory of his good friend Rick “Parnelli” O’Brien. He was surrounded by family and friends at the Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center here in the days before his death.
“Patrick was a dear friend of mine for over 30 years,” says PLSN/FOH publisher Terry Lowe. “He was a great mentor to me. He touched the lives of so many people in a positive way. A part of our history passed away with him for he helped shape the history of our industry. Patrick may have passed out of this world but he will always be in the hearts and minds of the people who knew and loved him.”
His final hours were filled with calls and visits from all those who had the pleasure of working with him over the years. Neil Diamond called to say hi, and members of his band came and visited, as Stansfield had spent many years on the road with them. Along with Lowe, Leo Bonamy, Stan Miller, Kent Black, John Brown and many others visited in those final hours. Longtime friend and former founder of TMB, Marshall Bissett, spent many hours at Stansfield’s bedside during his last days in the hospital. Serving as a reporter, he kept friends far and wide up on the ups and downs, sometimes offering hope. In one email he wrote of a grim prognosis, but pointed out that Stansfield had defied doctors predictions in the past. “He started to complain about the hospital service and demand he be moved,” he wrote two days ago. “His oldest friends take that as a positive sign. We all remember how easy it was to raise his blood pressure!”
“We were expecting the news, but wishing it wouldn’t come,” says Doug Pope, long time associate who worked on many events with Stansfield, including the papal visits. “Most of my quotes about him are unprintable … but he led a good life and always had that soft side to him, and that’s what we shall always remember.”
“Patrick was the best friend, mentor, and storyteller you could wish for,” Bissett says. “His love for the concert industry was consuming and infectious, and he fought hard to give his acts the best shows possible. He is irreplaceable, but his legacy will be safe in the hands of the new generation he trained.”
In addition to his hundreds of friends and associates, Stansfield leaves behind his wife, Claudia; his daughters Lucy, Mayme and Kathryn Schakel; a half-sister, Ann Remington; two half-brothers, Joseph and John; and two granddaughters and a grandson. He is predeceased by his father, Richard Dickey; his mother, Janeann Dickey (nee Schwarber); his adoptive father, James E. Stansfield and half-brother James E. Stansfield Jr. He will be cremated, followed by a private family ceremonial. There are plans for a memorial service in Los Angeles for him in December and possibly one in Las Vegas in November right before the Parnelli Awards.
A Life in Touring
Stansfield was one of the founders of this industry, making and breaking rules long before the suits and bean counters got involved, and his work with Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Grateful Dead, Santana, Tina Turner, and Neil Young, among scores of others, and orchestrating special events like the Pope’s visit to Yankee stadium in 2008, has yielded tales to be retold many times over by those who worked with him over the years. But perhaps his greatest legacy is the Parnelli Awards, which over drinks in a bar in 2000, has grown into an annual sell-out gala event and become the industry’s highest honor. Credit is giving to Stansfield for using the awards to honor Rick “Parnelli” O’Brien, a much beloved roadie-cum-production manager who while struck down tragically with cancer in 2000, had already achieved such a career that so many remember him fondly.
“Patrick Stansfield is something of a phenomenon,” says Brian Croft, formerly of VLPS and now retired, who started working with Stansfield in 1973. “He has the most remarkable memory. He can, when asked (and often without being asked), sing you songs, word perfect, from Broadway musicals. He knows by heart the lyrics of every Bob Dylan tune and can probably tell you off the top of his head what time the morning train departs Mönchengladbach bound for Bad Homburg on Tuesdays in winter months. He is also a great diplomat; smoothing out the ruffled feathers of British aristocrats, IATSE bosses, and uptight pop stars with equal skill.”
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1943, Stansfield never got to know his biological father, Dick Dickey. The Marine was killed in one of the last battles of the war at Okinawa at the age of 23. His mother, Janeann, and her family raised Stansfield, until his mother met and married James Stansfield, who adopted him.
When a childhood friend got Stansfield backstage for a series of New York Metropolitan Operas, the die was cast. “There I was, at 13, standing backstage watching five or six nights of opera from the fly rail,” he said in a 2005 PLSN/FOH interview. “I was seeing how it all works.”
In 1959, he became an apprentice at MusiCarnival and worked there until 1961, when he went first to Ohio University in Athens, OH, and then transferred to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, PA. But it was also a struggle, as the school was expensive for the middle-class lad. He would be forced to drop out in 1964, and then started stage managing equity productions. In 1969, he would work with the Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN, where music and rock shows were put on at the Walker Art Center, also in Minneapolis, including the Grateful Dead and the first U.S. tours of John Denver, Cat Stevens, and Elton John.
“I consciously decided around then that theater was not where my future was,” Stansfield said. “I really didn’t think it was a growth industry at the time, so I followed the money, the production money.” And so he did, ending up in San Francisco, where he brazenly knocked on Bill Graham’s door. Graham wanted to provide complete services to large tours. “The challenge was, we had to invent it all,” he said. Groups like the Dead and Santana had their own sound companies, but then all the other services from arranging hotel bookings and transportation came into play.
In 1971, he went out with Santana as production manager, and they would play everything from “dirt poor agricultural halls, civic auditoriums to 7,000 to 8,000, and then suddenly you’re in Chicago trying to amplify the stockyards for 12,000.”
In 1972, he got on the Rolling Stones’ infamous “STP” tour, acting as stage manager at first for just a few dates, then aggressively went after the position for the rest of North American tour. Realizing it would be prestigious to be associated with this tour, he lobbied Chip Monck, who was production manager.
When it was time for the Australian leg of the Stones tour, Chip Monck was left behind in Hawaii due to an old minor pot conviction. (“[The Stones Organization] decided that they could take only one drug offender into the country, and for some reason, they chose Keith [Richards] over me,” Monck likes to joke.) Stansfield was handed the prized position, which he considered a “battlefield promotion.” When not with The Stones, he was with Santana, including a Central American tour that involved two audience members being killed at one show, a riot at another, and one in Nicaragua where “we did the show for the dictator Somoza, and did it practically at gunpoint.”
Stansfield was perfecting what would be his hallmark, insisting on his own airplane for the band, crew, and equipment. He was trying to control the environment under the most trying circumstances, and since it didn’t kill him, it certainly made him stronger. “In every case, we were making it up as we went along—solutions off the shelf did not exist.”
In 1974, he was production manager for the first real stadium mega-tour for Crosby, Still, Nash & Young. That was a historical high point for the industry, because it grossed $25 million in 23 venues. If there was any doubt that rock ‘n’ roll had matured and was ready to make a tremendous amount of money, it was dispelled then.
Encapsulate the Artist
In 1975, he severed his relationship with Graham and went to work for Peter Rudge and New York-based Sir Productions, which managed the Stones and others. In addition to more Stones work, he also toured with the likes of Bob Dylan and George Harrison, among many others.
There was a personal price to all this success. He was on the road more than 300 days a year. A failed first marriage ensued, sadly typical of so many in this business, and by 1976 he had developed an expensive cocaine habit that he would eventually kick—but not before it tore through his wallet.
“I was making a lot of money, and spending a lot,” he confessed.
Yet in 1980, he was at the top of his game, in a position to mostly limit his touring clientele to one: Neil Diamond. He had started working with Diamond in 1975, and he’d eventually be put on permanent retainer, a relationship that lasted close to 25 years and spanned more than 1,000 shows before ending abruptly. Stansfield always regretted, sometimes understandably angrily, being “put off that bus.” (Like the professional he always was, he never spoke in detail of that breakup). Diamond would film a special video in his honor when he received the Parnelli Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005, which he graciously and humbly received.
But Stansfield remained immensely proud of his work with Diamond.
“The style of touring was the encapsulation of the artist,” Stansfield explained. “It’s standard now, but I would use private planes, private trains, build a support matrix for the artist—insulate him or her. This allows the artists to spend their whole life on the road and never burn out.”
Then came 1985 and Live Aid, which Stansfield refers to as “the day the music industry grew up.” The historic worldwide telecast, for which he served as stage coordinator at the Philadelphia location, brought together scores of acts for the first billion-plus audience. It also brought together two old friends.
“I got a call from Michael Ahern on Bill [Graham]’s behalf to work on it,” he says. “And it brought the industry from a teenager to an adult, because it embraced something more than just making money. That event, July 13, 1985… it changed the worldwide perception of the music business forever in one day.”
Other big shows through the 1990s included large successful tours by the likes of Elton John and Tina Turner, among others. Then there was the Woodstock Festival II, where Stansfield brought 1,800 artists and guests together at an extremely remote site by coach, helicopters, and river ferry, and solely coordinated internal transport and delivery of all talent to all three stages.
In 1994, Stansfield served as tour manager production supervisor for Barbra Streisand’s “The Concert” tour with Marvin Hamlisch. “Barbra, as I am fond of saying, is like a 747—she takes a full crew.”
“This tour brought Barbra and Marvin Hamlisch together, and they had not done anything like this in 15 years, and the industry had changed so much during that time, not only technologically, but theatrically,” Peter Morse, who was LD on that tour, recalled. “They were being rather defensive, and it was difficult to say things like, ‘You need video.’ They’d say, ‘Why?’ and Patrick, the king of diplomacy in all fashion, the statesman, would get them to understand.”
Stansfield started working decidedly non–rock and roll gigs, like Pope Saint John Paul II’s visits to Central Park in New York (1995) and Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles (1987). It was an emotional moment when he got to take his stepfather, a lifelong Catholic, to the event where they met the Pope. In 1995 he also started doing events for Nissan, thus blazing into a successful corporate career. Again, he insists it’s all the same: “Same skills, just different head space in terms of corporate protocol and the decision making process.”
Michael Crawford, Sarah Brightman, and another Streisand tour in 1999 came under his command. “Barbra’s Timeless Concert Tour, the final show, was a record-breaking concert by the world’s ultimate diva. It was webcast live to millions.” Always paying attention to details, Stansfield pauses, then corrects himself: “But don’t say that was the ‘final’ tour, because I believe Barbra will tour again. Say it was… ‘climactic.’”
Under the category that you can take the artist out of the theater, but you can’t take the theater out of the artist, in 1996 Stansfield began a long involvement with Shakespeare Festival LA and has been featured on stage in several productions.
Always a World Class Act
“I’ve never before (or ever again) done advances of venues where we routinely had fully catered gourmet meals in the building board rooms,” said longtime associate and soundman Bruce Jackson (who himself passed away too soon in a plane accident in 2011). Stansfield’s love of good food and good restaurants is legendary, although Jackson makes clear that that is certainly a reason to work with him: “Patrick would always stand up for his department heads. I remember specifying once that we carpet all venues, such as Madison Square Garden and London’s Wembley, and Patrick would make it happen—invisibly. When one venue laid carpet that must have come straight from a dog show, he had it replaced that night. He was always on our side.”
“I’m a political guy,” Stansfield shrugged at the end of that 2005 interview. “Technology has changed tremendously during my career, but it’s still always the same people skills that are involved. My theater background has helped a lot. Others can afford to have a big ego [laughs]…, I try to get along with people.”
In addition to another Papal visit in 2008, which required the transformation of Yankee Stadium into a weather-proof outdoor cathedral of sorts in a scant 49-hour window for Pope Benedict XVI, Stansfield kept busy on many auto industry-related events for PRG and other extravaganzas including the touring Star Wars in Concert production of 2012 that paired live symphonic and choral performances with HD footage from the movies. He also increasingly put his heart and soul into the Parnelli Awards. (He received the Lifetime Achievement honor himself in 2005). His presence at all the meetings was critical, as was the way he stayed on the floor during the galas themselves, quick to iron out any wrinkle. Fourteen years strong, and continuing to grow, it will be one of his lasting legacies.
Remembrances are pouring in, and if you have one send to email@example.com. Meanwhile, there’s this from PLSN/FOH managing editor, Frank Hammel: “It’s a bad day for us, but a good day for Rick O’Brien and all his other friends, as I’m sure they’re giving him quite a welcome up there.”
He would not fault this writer for ending on a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet:
He was a man, take him for all in all.
I shall not look upon his like again.