From freight to centre stage: the life of a rock and roll transporter

Famous artists give performances of a lifetime across spectacular stages around the world. But none of this could happen without the planning and manpower that goes on behind the scenes. To give you a peek behind the stage curtain, we’ve spoken to Kerry O’Brien, Commercial Sales Specialist at IAG Cargo, an expert in moving concert equipment for some of the biggest rock icons in the world.

When did you start working at IAG Cargo?

28 years ago, while I was living 15 minutes from JFK Airport in New York and working in a restaurant deli in Manhattan. I was ready to leave the East Coast and head West to Los Angeles. To make this move a reality, I found out from a dear friend that if I got a job with IAG Cargo (BA World Cargo at that time), and worked there for six months, I could transfer to LA. Knowing nothing about the aviation industry, I ended up getting a call for a part-time job in cargo. It was challenging at first, but I got on well. Then in 1995, I got the transfer to LA and that’s when the real journey began. Little did I know how many amazing people I would meet along the way, including my wife Jeannie of 22 years this September. I was only expecting to work at IAG Cargo for a year max while I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, but here I am 28 years later- along with colleagues all around the world who have been here for the same duration or even longer. 

Have you always loved rock and roll?

I love rock and roll! I’ve been passionate about music, especially rock, my entire life. At 14 years old, I went to my first ever concert – Kiss. I remember being in the crowd and feeling in awe of everything: the stage, the lights, and the music. What I didn’t know at the time, was all the work that goes into putting on a concert.

Photo by Kerry O’Brien

How did you end up in your current role?

Completely by chance. One night on the job I was learning about the important process of Live Animal Import at the IAG Cargo LAX  front counter. While looking through the paperwork I noticed that a German Shepherd dog was arriving that evening. I asked my supervisor, “who on earth is shipping a dog from London Heathrow to LA?” It was such a shock when he replied “Ozzy Osbourne”.

Two weeks later, I was astonished when I received a package in the mail with signed CDs, a letter of thanks for taking care of the dog, and the business card of Sharon Osbourne’s personal assistant. I found out that her personal assistant went to the same Junior High School as me in New York, just in a different year. We soon became best friends and through him I was introduced to the Osbourne family… and became and still am, family friends.

Photo by Kerry O’Brien

A week later, a 53ft tour truck appeared at LAX to recover the band equipment for a famous rock band- this sealed the deal for me. I decided there and then I wanted to be involved in moving band equipment around the world. Through the connections I made I was able to meet the Rock It Cargo team in LAX, a one-stop shop for shipping Rock and Roll equipment around the world. That is how it all started!

What kind of equipment do you move?

Photo by Kerry O’Brien

Everything. You’d be surprised at what equipment stars want to move. There’s the obvious stuff such as speakers, monitors, and mixing boards, but then you’ve got bicycles, yoga mats, laptops, chairs for the production people, and toys for kids.

For one artist, we moved ten tonnes of wardrobes, for another we moved pots and pans as they bring their own Chef on tour. We even shipped the souvenir tickets for what would have been Michael Jackson’s last tour.

What has been one of the best moments in your job?

In June, I was freighting for one of my favourite bands and they played in my hometown of Denver. Being a part of this operation and watching them play on my own turf was very rewarding.

Photo by Kerry O’Brien

What makes IAG Cargo a trustworthy airline carrier?

IAG Cargo is known for being reliable and careful with every piece of freight we transport. Over the years, I’ve learned which things need extra special attention. For example, while transporting artists’ guitars, I’ve personally watched them get built into their containers, safely strapped and wrapped in plastic, and then sent to the aircraft. Equipment like guitars can warp in the heat or cold, so I’ll make sure everyone knows not to leave it on the hot tarmac in the Summer or cold tarmac in the Winter.

Not only are large shipments part of the job, there are also small shipments that are equally urgent as well. It’s tricks like this that only experience can teach you.

This is one of the many things which makes IAG Cargo so great at what we do. Another example is when I had to transport a small tape, back in the 90s, with Ozzy Osbourne’s voice recording on it for a new episode of South Park. I packaged it up into a big box, so that it didn’t get lost.

If you’re a rockstar wanting to move equipment with IAC Cargo, book your freight with us here

*All words are attributed to Kerry O’Brien*