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East Villager reflects on rock band tour life on the road before COVID-19 hit

LIsa Brownlee at home with her cherished Clash poster, a new addition to her East Village home. That's Elvis Presley, another hero, on the upper left. (Photo by Bob Krasner)

BY BOB KRASNER

Lisa Brownlee has had quite a ride, earning her living on an endless series of tour buses that came to an abrupt halt due to COVID-19 and left her to spend a summer at home for the first time in almost 30 years.

Instead of traveling with the likes of Justin Bieber, Willie Nelson or the huge caravan that was the Warped tour, she’s been hanging with her two cats, making art and trying to figure out what she’s going to do next (spoiler alert: she’s solved that problem and, having gotten to know her, we’re not surprised).

Brownlee’s professional career began as a hairstylist in at “a fancy salon in Florida,” where she “did perms for rich moms and Tony Hawk cuts for their kids.” The late 80s found her in Los Angeles, working in a high end clothing store, dating a tattoo artist and “running around with the Sunset Strip crowd.”

After making friends and connections there, she moved back to Florida where she started producing backyard concerts for skateboarders, making a few bucks selling beer. A job at the door of a “super cool club,” Masquerade, led to a gig selling t-shirts for visiting bands.

The “Cocktails and Collages ” crew at the Black and White Bar. L-R Chris Yerington, Lisa Brownlee, Ethan Minsker (Photo by Bob Krasner)

She did her job well enough to be offered a gig as a production assistant for the band Ministry on the Lollapalooza tour in 1992, but quickly realized that she was in way over her head. Luckily, she was noticed by Kevin Lyman, who was only a couple of years away from creating the Vans Warped Tour. He placed her as a rep for Smart Drinks and then took her with him to his next venture.

“I just had a gut feeling that Lisa had it in her,” Lyman tells us. “Her first job on Warped was working for a comic book company and she worked her way up.”

“I hated being a sponsor rep,” recalls Brownlee. “When my booth closed, I would go straight to the production office and help out with anything I could – answer phones, deliver pizza – anything.”

Brownlee in her DJ guise, “DJ No Request”, at the Bowery Electric on Friday night, having a good time with local musician Sick Walt. (Photo by Bob Krasner)

After evaluating the scene for awhile, she was given a new position – which she created. “I became the bus driver manager, which no one had ever done before. I kept the drivers happy, prevented financial issues and made sure that they had a place to sleep. My nickname was ‘Momma Duck’ because the drivers followed me around like ducklings.”

Brownlee ended up spending 24 years on the Warped tour, rising to the #2 spot for the last ten years in that organization. At this point, you need to understand what she was dealing with.

We are talking about a crew that consisted of a diverse group of 80 bands (yes, 80) plus 21 production buses: a grand total of 850 people that had to be moved from one location to the next. And when they got there, 8-10 stages had to be set up in about three hours.

“Every day was crazy – every day was chaos!” Brownlee says.

But that was never a problem, according to Lyman.

“Lisa is like the eye of a hurricane. Chaos can be swirling around her, but her calm focus would help bring order sooner than later, ” he says.

Work in progress: “Easy Like Saturday” , completed at the Black and White Bar. (Photo by Bob Krasner)

Problems ranged from bands who incited violence during their set to severe weather to getting the entire entourage into Canada and back. One notable hip-hop crew was instructed by Lisa to be totally honest with the border agents, who already knew the answers to the questions they were asking.

So when the guards asked the musicians if they had any contraband – as in guns or drugs – the guys replied, “Yeah, we got those!” Luckily, the star of the group was big enough that the guards were happy to pose for pictures with him, get some autographs and let them go in.

Warped was a summer tour, leaving Brownlee free in other seasons to work with a variety of other talent, from bands you’ve never heard of to the “top of the food chain talent,” Justin Bieber.

Brownlee was one-third of the security team for the “Believe” tour, in charge of the meet and greets. It was there that she learned “the difference between fan and fanatic.”

“I’d never seen that level of hysteria before,” she muses. “It was great watching people meet him, having their dream come true. And he’s a wonderful, caring, super cool artist.”

Now all of that is on hold, and Brownlee is back in the East Village, where she was initially a roommate of her friend, the late Arturo Vega. Not content making daily collages or doing the occasional DJ gig, she attached herself to the computer long enough to start a new career as a COVID Compliance Officer, which means that she’ll be overseeing various projects to be sure that everyone involved is tested and obeying the rules that will make it possible to produce new work during the pandemic.

Being a health safety supervisor is not her ideal job, but she’s got the necessary skills and already has a few gigs on the books, including a tv shoot for a major country artist in Nashville. Not surprisingly, she’s got a plan, too.

“I have a mantra,” she states. “I plan to listen, learn and then lead.”

You can follow Lisa Brownlee on Instagram @brixton23 and @ms.elanius.

Lisa Brownlee (Photo by Bob Krasner)

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