THE SHADOW CIRCUIT

There is an area of show business that I call the Shadow Circuit. What it is people in the public eye, be it politics, arts, entertainment fields, who come to a city to appear before a closed audience at conventions, business meetings, private functions, employee thank you parties, etc. In and out and the public has no idea they were ever in town. Sometime the public is aware of the appearance, but unless they belong to the sponsoring organization, or are big donors, they can’t attend.

To work the Shadow Circuit, the person’s name must appear on a list bookers have which is available for potential clients.

I don’t recall ever seeing Bob Hope appearing before the general public in the Twin Cities in my lifetime, but he was in St. Paul on the Shadow Circuit in 1984. He cracked jokes at the dinner honoring the 80th birthday of Herb Carlson, founder of Radisson Hotel chain, among other ventures.

He talked with the stagehands for a long time, after he asked ‘Just who is this old fart I am suppose to be best friends with’? He ate the dinner, gave a funny spiel about his ‘old friend’, and left.

Before he got into the limo that replaced the Winnebago dressing room he stopped to say goodbye to the stagehands and praise us for doing an honest days work, not like what he had just done. Lying about knowing a total stranger, just for a couple bucks and something to do.

And sometimes it more than a couple bucks. Margaret Thatcher, after she retired as British Prime Minister, let it be known, through an agent, that she would be touring the US on a speaking tour. The Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce was only too glad to be included on her stops. I worked the Iron Lady’s talk.

When I handed in the stagehand bill, the Finance Officer laughed at the small amount compared to what was paid for Thatcher to appear, 70.000 plus expenses for a 45 minute talk.

While I worked Shadow Circuit gigs with the likes of Maya Angelo, Eisner the CEO of Disney, countless politicians, and advocates pro and con on the issues of the day, entertainers were the largest group on the Circuit. Many of these entertainers I had also worked in public concerts.

Recently the National Rifle Association, NRA, the largest gun lobby in the U.S. held their annual Convention. This homage to guns was a few days and a few miles from the latest massacre of school children by a shooter armed with legally purchased guns. Both the convention and the killings took place in Texas, a state where the politicians have made the purchase and carrying of guns of all ilks, almost mandatory.

The entertainment as always was booked via the Shadow Circuit.

But when the news of the killing broke, the entertainers began to cancel out of the gig in respect of the poor children. The first to exit was singer/songwriter Don McLean, followed by the others. Lee Greenwood was the last to walk.

Rudy Giuliani offered to sing ‘God Bless The USA’; but the NRA told him just to send ‘thoughts and prayers’ like all good GOP politicians do, and canceled Entertainment Night.

Now for entertainment they only had the stand-up comic, Donald Trump, who did his usual shtick but adding a litany of the names of the murdered children, followed by a dance, before breaking into his Big Lies routine.

I worked McLean once in concert and one on the Shadow Circuit. Greenwood I worked numerous times on the Circuit.

I worked McLean at a Guthrie concert just prior to the start of the Leonard Nimoy’s Vincent tour. McLean’s recording of his song Vincent was used as background during a segment of Van Gogh’ paintings projected on the screen. The recording was also played hourly at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

I worked McLean also on the Shadow Circuit for the Dayton Department Store at their annual fashion show to raise funds for the Children’s Hospital. At that function, he sang his biggest hit, American Pie. When I suggested to Eric, the Event’s manager that McLean should also sing Vincent, Eric said he never heard it. I told him that another title for the song was Starry, Starry Night. Eric wasn’t familiar with that either. But a few years later, McLean’s recording of it was used in a segment of the fashion show.

That show also featured Brooks Shield, emceeing off the Circuit. I am happy to report, she is as beautiful in person as in the media. And her personality and warmth are genuine.

In praising the exit of McLean from the convention, one comment was why did he ever agree to sing there in the first place. Well, an appearance at a Shadow event in no way endorses the event’s purpose. Like stagehands, (I worked events at the NRA Convention when it was held in Mpls., and had to hold back my feelings throughout the event.), people working the Shadow Circuit do so to make a living and project their job.

Don McLean had recently suffered a mental break-down that resulted in domestic violence. I image the Shadow Circuit was his only source of work.

The Shadow Circuit was the main source of work for the last entertainer to pull out of the NRA Convention, Lee Greenwood, for a good many years. I worked his show numerous times. He is a favorite Shadow Circuit singer for conservative groups who pride themselves for their love of God and Country.

His show is about 45 minutes of C&W and then a black-out just long enough to trip the kabuki drop and the lights come back up to a backdrop of his gigantic US flag.

Lee busts loose with his biggest hit, ‘God Bless The USA. The crowd goes wild. At show’s end the audience is happy and Lee pockets easy bucks on the Shadow Circuit.

By walking out, Greenwood has the most to lose. An ultra right winger who is a main-stay at Trump rallies. An avid gun lover who said in his press conference on Fox News, ‘That weapon killed children’.

Pro gun advocates never forget that kind of talk. He’s going to have to do a lot of singing at Trump rallies to get back in their good graces.

Shadow Circuit bookers find entertainers people like to hear and see, singers who once were big and now…The one that I always enjoyed the most was Chubby Checkers. The audiences loved his singing and dancing and his getting everybody to join in on the Twist. Heck, he almost had me dancing several times.

Another favorite booking was Frankie Valli singing the Four Season’s hits. This was prior to the musical, ‘Jersey Boys’ opening on Broadway in 2005. The musical features the songs and lives of the Four Seasons. After the musical made it big, Frankie and his three cohorts were back on the concert circuit, too big for the Shadow Circuit.

PS: Frankie does not speak with a falsetto voice. His voice is gravely and has the gruff of New Jerseyites. He is also easy to work with.

Some entertainers use the Circuit to show off talents that are not evident to the public. Jim Belushi, actor and younger brother of the great comic actor, John Belushi, fronts his R&B, The Sacred Hearts. (I have no idea as to why he choose that title.) For years, it was a frequent booking on the Shadow Circuit.

Jim Belushi’s musical talent, like his acting talent, is in the so-so range. His biggest asset is his the fact he is John Belushi’s brother.

But show biz is in his rear view mirror thanks to his new vocation that pays better and not much hard work. He is a California State Sanctioned cannabis grower. John would be proud of his kid brother.

Not all Shadow Circuit acts are appreciated though. I worked Doug Krenshaw, the Cajun Fiddler at a closed event. He was big in Louisiana and some of his work was getting national air time. He got a big applause for his playing, but then he decided on a little comedy relief and told, what he thought were a few funny jokes. They might have been funny in the Mississippi Delta, but in the head waters of the river, they were way too raw for the audience. They booed him off the stage.

Backstage I could hear the booker shouting at Krenshaw for using that language. And all the while the booker was screaming in worse language than what Krenshaw had had used. I never worked him again and if he still managed to work the Shadow Circuit, it would have been events in Bayou country, where he just got honored in the Louisiana Hall Of Fame.

Another example of riling up the audience was Joan Rivers in a Shadow Circuit booking for Jewish Women’s Charity Drive. When she asked, ‘Can we talk’, she talked in some very unladylike language. She went so far as to think since both she and the audience were Jewish, she was free to revert to old Jewish stereotypes. She even tried to get humor out of the Holocaust. Raunchy, racist, and tasteless, she ignored the boos and kept on digging her hole deeper.

One of the committee members ran backstage and tried to turn off my lighting consul, thinking it it controlled the mic. When she walked off stage she gave the audience a middle finger salute.

Rivers got a lot of boos and I bet a lot of bucks for that Shadow Circuit event. And a big red warning flag to any bookers via the Shadow Circuit.

I worked her show in a theater venue…once. Her public concert made her Shadow concert seem tame; but since the audience bought tickets, they should have known what kind of show they were in for.

Big companies use the Circuit for various reasons. Target Stores had a yearly event where they brought in managers of their stores from all over. The event was rich with name singers, who were releasing new CD’s. Some of the biggest names like Tony Bennett or Celine Dion would release a CD, say with tens songs and also a CD sold only at Target stores with four additional songs on. Always a lot of talent appearing before a closed audience.

Best Buy, in the years of their orginal founder, used entertainers off the Circuit for parties. For non management employees Best Buy corporate campus was turned into a festival. Free food, soft drinks, bands for dancing, and several big names like Lennie Kravitz. The management had their party in the Convention Center with food and drinks and rows of arcade game and big time entertainment. One year, Elton John headlined. Elton John… and the public never knew he was in town.

In 2007, Tom Collins, of Champions on Ice fame, rented the Target Center for a birthday party for his wife, Jane. The biggest array of greatest figure skaters in the world came and performed before the closed audience of family and friends of Janie. Everyone present knew that it would be Janie’s last birthday. She died a few months after. After the death of his wife of 41 years, Tom Collins sold Champions On Ice.

I never thought I would ever write anything in my blog praising Cosby but I have to give the devil his due. Nobody worked the Shadow Circuit like he did. He mastered it.

When he was offered a Shadow Circuit event, he contacted Mystic Lake Casino, and arranged for a day or two of two performances per day. Next, a call to Minneapolis booker to get several days of two a day performances in a Minneapolis concert venue

He was an easy sell, did not need much advance publicity, sure sell out every performance, not many stagehands.

For stagehands it was apiece of cake to set up and take down. Even on spots it was a snap. Pick him up as he came on stage. Once he sat down, you could lock down the light because he never moved until the end. His show lasted about an hour and another started an hour later. Two performance pays in the time it usually takes for one regular show.

For Cosby, it was also a snap. Sit in an easy chair, smoke a big cigar and repeat some of the old stories he has told, recorded, written in books, for years.

A Shadow Event that generates another dozen or so performances! And for over a decade, he did this n in the Twin Cities three or four times a year; and he worked Shadow Events all over the country. Cosby ruled the Shadow Circuit…until!!!

The names and faces that were on the Circuit since I worked it may have changed, but it is alive and well yet today; and it remains a big source of income for entertainers, celebrities, and stagehands..

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48 thoughts on “THE SHADOW CIRCUIT

  1. Very interesting! I’d never heard of the shadow circuit before but it all make sense to me now. I’ve attended various types of conferences for work over the years and often wondered what those celebrities were doing there. Seemed like an odd fit. Big money indeed!

    And I’m happy for those who withdrew from the NRA convention. Enough is enough!

  2. I am aware of the shadow circuit. I have no problem with Lee Greenwood’s ‘Proud to be an American’, but I have a problem with a man who has probably never made any of the sacrifices his song repeatedly declares he would make. He will talk (or sing) the talk, but has he ever walked the walk besides maybe pulling out of this year’s NRA convention?

    • Greenwood was eligible for the draft during the Nam era but somehow avoided it. as far as the “God’ part of his song, both he and his 4th wife are probably church-goers…when they have time.

      • I was wondering about him and the draft–thanks for the backstory. As far as I am concerned, he may write a good song, but he is a fraud as far as trying to exemplify what the words should mean. I don’t usually have that visceral a reaction to a songwriter and a song, but in his case when hearing the song in military venues, surrounded by people who do put their lives on the line, I want to walk out. I love the 4th wife comment Remember when they were concerned about poor old Gerald Ford because his wife had been divorced? At least Reagan and Nancy were devoted to each other, 45 was devoted to himself.

      • I agree, Pat, that person is a piece of work . You would think with his record or lack of record, he’d be ashamed to trot around people who did serve.
        And, yes, things have changed a lot since Ronny and Nancy were in the White House. Now a three time married person, with the morals of an alley cat, and a draft dodger to boot. can get elected.

  3. Some good memory joggers. For some reason , knowing the history of Vincent Van Gogh, the song “Starry, Starry Night” always mesmerized me.
    As an old song goes, thanks for the memories.

    • Happy it brought back memories, Hugh. Wonderful song and to think he wrote the lyrics down on a brown paper bag. Just shows, nobody needs a fancy computer to create.

  4. As (probably) the oldest of your readers, I was most interested in your account of Bob Hope’s appearance in St. Paul. Sounds like he was pretty much a “regular guy’ as far as big stars go, and I would’ve loved to have been there as he “talked with the stage hands for a long time.”

    Thanks for another very engrossing post.

  5. Don, another wonderful insight and great writing. So many entertaining stories here, despite the underlying message of the NRA and the whole fixation on gun ownership.
    It has been four years this month since our trip up Pacific 101 from San Francisco to Seattle via various points of interest. The day we visited Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River sticks in our mind for the guards asking what guns we had in the car. Hubbie and I just looked at each other – guns? What the heck?

    • I am glad you liked it, Gwen.
      That underlying message was the reason I decided to write this blog now. What is happening in the US has to stop. It is bad when one of the things asked a tourist is where are your guns. It is worse when they ask a black man where is his gun just after shooting him.

  6. Thank you for sharing the back stories. I had never heard of the shadow circuit. It must have been hard to do your job with some particular scuzzballs.

    • You are welcome, Lauren. The title Shadow Circuit, Lauren, is something I dubbed this part of the business years ago; but practice has been around for centuries. As far as having to work scuzzballs, sometimes I had to but some I worked once and vowed never again. Some I had heard of prior and turned down the job. One in particular, Cosby, I worked him so many times over the years, probably more than any other entertainer, and never knew he was a scuzzball. When the dam burst on him, I really took it hard. I felt violated in that I had taken so much enjoyment from working that person and all the time he…

      • It really hurt because I found out that there had been talk of his perversion for years but it was never brought out in the open to the general public. How many rapes could have been stopped if people knew?

  7. Great stories Don, I think we must have a similar thing in the UK, but at my works conference I’ve only been subjected to ‘motivational speakers’, a Jewelrey store owner who crashed his own business, and a Rugby player who divorced his missis for his partner on Strictly Come Dancing – (Dancing with the stars is your version)! Yours are much more impressive!

      • In fairness to him he told us about founding The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation, Inc., which is, according to its website, “the world’s first foundation dedicated to raising awareness of the long-term, damaging effects of bullying, and funding those doing real-world work to stop it”. So he has his good points. I was a bit mean about him in my comment, things are never black and white.

  8. I love this ‘insider view’, Don. Glad to hear Brooke Shields was nice, as she was exlploited as a child, and could have been very different.
    As for Margaret Thatcher, I have hated her (genuine hate) with a lifelong vengeance. A spiteful and irredeemable woman that the world is far better off without. She has been dead for a very long time, but my hate for her still burns bright!
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • She was indeed a spiteful witch!!! When asked by Ronald Reagan what was a good way to get reelected, she told him to start a war. I know how you feel about royalty, so I don’t imagine you will be watching any of the hoopla for E II.
      Happy to tell you Brooks is a fine lady. And glad you iked my post, Pete.

  9. One of the best nights we ever had was at a Jewish fundraiser with Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. I had never before or since laughed so hard and so long. Can’t remember how we even learned of the event since we aren’t Jewish. Now I know about the Shadow Circuit performances. Thanks.

    • Oh, what I wouldn’t give to watch Reiner and Brooks! Never worked either one but they are two of my all time favorites. I know if I ever had to have a spotlight on them, the light would be shaking because of me laughing, just like shook everytime I worked George Carling.
      Thanks, Elizabeth for your contribution to Tale From The Shadows.

  10. Amazing stuff again Don !
    “Don McLean”? I think most every artist has a work that we could call their Masterpiece. For me, I would say Vincent is Mclean’s. When I heard it, I said to myself ‘he’ll never make another song to equal this”. It’s OK to disagree.

      • My goodness, that is so kind, Don. Thank you. Funny thing, I wish my life had the experiences you had. Every time I read one of your wonderful posts I think how much more I could give to children if I’d had your experiences. You have given to others far more than you realize.

      • Jennie, I have heroes. You are one. My daughter-in-law who taught 1st grade in the same school for 30 years. And teachers I had starting in a one room school house up through professors in college, like my father-in-law. You all are true heroes because you shape and mold young minds at the expense of not using your talents in much more lucrative fields. Vaya Con Dios.

  11. The NRA convention…the gun situation just leaves me angry and speechless. The fact that the schools have to hold active shooter drills .. that’s madness.

    And thank you as always for an eye-opening post – never knew about the Shadow Circuit, and glad it is a source of income. (One young artiste I rather like – Niall Horan – decided to hold a concert online during COVID because his crew were out of work during that period and that was affecting mental health too. Just found this quote from him in an interview – “When a government minister wants to go to the theatre next time, he might have a think about the person that opened the door for him, or put the lights on the stage, or whatever it may be.” – Source: https://www.musicweek.com/live/read/niall-horan-on-the-livestream-victory-for-his-touring-crew/081885 )

    • As far as the gun situation in schools and churches, and everywhere, like you and the vast majority of Americans, I don’t understand it either. When I got out of the army the first thing I did was get rid of the guns I grew up with hunting in the fields. Something has to be done. Some of our politicians offer thoughts and prayers but refuse to do one thing to actually remedy the sickness.
      Niall Horan is a man after my own heart. He saw a one of the problems because of COVID and did something about it. Not on a grand scale but the right scale to help his friends. And I love his quote!
      Thank you, Lady.

  12. From the UK it is hard to understand the gun rights in the USA. We have a problem in the Cities with Knives and machetes, young men! In Liverpool a young boy knifed a 14 year old girl enjoying the Christmas lights, she died. But at least they stopped guns after the school shooting in Scotland. Someone on our news said people can buy guns before they can legally buy alcohol in the USA surely that is something people don’t agree with?

    • Isn’t that something? Somebody can buy a gun even though he’s too young to buy a beer.
      A man was arrested as he carried a gun into a summer camp for children today with the intent of a mass killing. Legally he was red flagged and cold not buy a gun. So he just took his wife’s gun.
      Like the UK, there is a serious problem here with knives and machetes but the guns monopolize the news.

      • Thank goodness he was arrested, it makes me very sad to think men want to hurt children, I wonder what goes wrong in their childhood experience, and that he was married too. It’s amazing that someone is flagged to not be able to buy a gun but someone else in their house can – I’d be worried in my home that he’d shoot me.

  13. Great stories as usual, and great comments Don, Cosby I met him once, at my place of work in Santa Monica some years ago before he got into trouble, the funny thing a few days before he got into trouble, I had a dream of him dancing with a lady in a place full of potholes, and on my dream I thought, he is about to fall in one of those holes!
    I couldn’t make head, or tails from that dream, until a few days later he was in the news with all those accusations.

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