It was a cold morning in Washington, D.C. Before Tina Farris landed at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, she texted me that she had left her scarf in Los Angeles, which she wouldn’t need after leaving D.C., so I offered to bring her mine, as we planned for me to shadow her for the day. Farris, who was traveling via private jet, was in the midst of beginning to wrap up her biggest endeavor yet: being Chris Rock’s Total Blackout Tour manager.
With more than 20 years in the game, Farris is one of the few black female tour managers, if not the only one. If you’ve ever been to see the Roots, you can thank her for getting them there and making it a successful event, because Farris is their longtime tour manager.
After starting out as a teacher, did Farris think that she’d become a tour manager for some of the biggest acts in music and now comedy? Of course not.
“I’m an upright-bass player, so I got lured into the Roots because they’re very musical. And it was the type of hip-hop that I liked at the time, because I was more music-based. When they came to UCLA when I was a student, I was a total backpacker. I was ‘air playing,’ and I remember Black Thought pointed me out and told me to come backstage,” Farris recalled about her first time meeting the Roots.
Eventually Farris forged a friendship with the group, and would make it to their shows when she could. She became a welcome face, and as fate would have it, eight years after she was first called backstage, one of the tour managers was leaving. When a replacement was needed, someone said, “What about that girl who’s always around?”
That was in 1999, when Farris was a French teacher in Compton, Calif., and it’s how she started her career in tour management. But since legendary Motown producer Harvey Fuqua was her grandfather, it made perfect sense that the music industry would be her calling.
Tour management isn’t an easy career, though. From managing budgets to keeping up with ticket sales and, of course, the talent, it’s safe to say that it can get hectic at times. Even as Farris was eating lunch, she was responding to emergency texts, just making sure Rock’s stop at D.C.’s Constitution Hall went off without a hitch. But just as teaching French in Compton wasn’t easy, Farris didn’t take on the new career because she thought it would be easy, either. She says she welcomed the challenge.
“Teaching, counseling, is all part of my job. My grad degree is in clinical psychology,” Farris said. And it has definitely come in handy in tour management.
With logistics and problem-solving her main focus as a tour manager, Farris admits that in the beginning, not getting paid by promoters was also an issue. In addition, the job occasionally involves hand-holding when it comes to motivating artists. The experience has helped change her opinion about how the business works.
“If they don’t get on that stage, none of us gets a check. If they need motivation to get onstage, it’s my job to make it happen,” Farris said.
In addition to managing the Roots, Farris has managed tours for D’Angelo, Nicki Minaj, Maxwell, Jill Scott, Lauryn Hill, Queen Latifah, the Black Eyed Peas and Lil Wayne. As Farris’s roster of artists grew, she decided it was time to branch out, and she created Tina Farris Tours.
“Right now, I have two people working as tour managers for me. It’s hard to get people to be committed to your process, especially a lot of people willing to listen to a black woman as the one in charge,” Farris explained.
She now has a tribe of women who also work with her, and the men who work with her have to be special; by “special,” she means men who are used to dealing with strong women.
“I lost men who didn’t understand taking orders from a woman,” Farris said.
Speaking of men, Farris may be coming to the end of Chris Rock’s tour, but during a stop in D.C. in early January, it was Farris’ voice that was heard over the microphone getting the show started.
So, how did Farris end up with Rock? Simple: by keeping her ties with those who gave her career a push in the right direction.
“Alan Leeds was Chris Rock’s tour manager, and I met Chris through Alan, who was my mentor, and he called me to be his tour manager. I saw Chris at Dave Chappelle’s show in New York City, and we hung out and talked,” Farris explained.
As they say, the rest is history.
Farris has traveled across the country and overseas on Rock’s tour, and as it wraps up this weekend in London, she is looking beyond managing tours for her next endeavor.
While cutlery rattled in the background of our Eastern Market restaurant, Farris explained that even though being a tour manager is her true love, it’s not her endgame. With the launch of the Decades Conference, she is working to build a roster of amazing women in the industry, a network that includes panels, podcasts and speaking engagements. Farris is a fount of knowledge for those interested in the entertainment business, but Decades is also a support system for women.
“I wanted to develop discussion and support system[s] for women. Decades is a woman’s movement that passes information from one generation to the next, and helping women rise through the ups and downs of life,” Farris said. “What’s missing for some women is having someone to call and check in on them. Interventions, so to speak. There’s never been something cross-generationally that speaks to women. You’re missing the language and information that people can pass on.”
So far, Farris has held mixers and brunches in Philly, South Africa and London to promote her organization. Decades’ supporters include notables like Questlove, Janelle Monáe, Ava DuVernay, Jemele Hill and dream hampton.
After spending a day with Farris that didn’t end until well past midnight, I’m not sure where she finds the energy to keep all of the cogs in place. But there’s one thing that’s certain: She has no plans to slow down.