Rock Of Ages
The surfing off the coast of Oregon reconfirmed Rob Dietrich’s journey for a change of scenery, a new chapter and the opportunity for daily waves and some steady work in carpentry in the Northwest. But when a mountain biking itch needed to be scratched, he and his buddies headed south for a Northern California adventure that would change Dietrich’s life forever.
Sir and Sport has been chronicling the amazing adventures of the current Head Distiller at Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, and this summer excursion of 1996 would prove to be an unbelievable trip in more ways than one.
While in the town of Petaluma, California, Dietrich had a chance meeting in a coffee shop with the wife of Nigel James. James was the production manager for the legendary music promoter Bill Graham and his company Bill Graham Presents. At the time, James was overseeing the upcoming Tibetan Freedom Concert in Golden Gate Park and they needed riggers and people to work on the concert. “When I was in the Army, I was in the 10th Mountain Division, so I was mountaineer-trained and actually happened to have my climbing gear with me on the mountain bike trip,” explains Dietrich. “We ended up building both stages and basically lived behind the stage in the the bushes in sleeping bags for 15 days.”
It was a match made in heaven and marked the beginning of Rob’s music career. He fell in love with it immediately. And how couldn’t he? The Tibetan Freedom Concert was assembled by The Beastie Boys, whom Dietrich met. The experience also came with rubbing elbows with the likes of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins, Yoko Ono and B.B King, to name a few. He was even blessed – literally blessed by Tibetan Monks.
Once the concert was over, Dietrich went back to Oregon to gather his belongings and then boomeranged back to San Francisco, where he would now call home. He worked on shows throughout the Bay Area for Bill Graham Presents at renowned venues like The Fillmore, The Warfield and the Shoreline Amphitheatre as a stagehand, a rigger and, later, as a lighting specialist.
He would be witness to some epic concerts and performances. Dietrich was part of the Lollapalooza show with Metallica as the headliner, and they were newsworthy at the time because all four band members had just cut their hair short after years of donning long hair. He was also at the Jane’s Addiction Reunion with Perry Farrell, Flea and Dave Navarro and it was here where Dietrich would have a true night to remember.
“I’m managing one of the floors at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in downtown San Francisco,” Dietrich begins. “It’s a rave-style show and the band, Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters, are opening up for Jane’s Addiction. A guy comes up to me and says, ‘You look important. You’ve got a radio. I’m looking for the Ken Kesey room. I’m one of the Merry Pranksters.’
Then the man asks Dietrich, “Are you high enough?”
“No,” Dietrich replies with a smile.
“Hold out your hand,” says the man.
Dietrich thought the guy was going to give him a marijuana bud, but, instead, he dosed Dietrich’s hand with liquid LSD.
“I’ve got to work all night!” Dietrich said in astonishment.
“Well, you’re not going to have any trouble staying awake. You just got dosed by the Mad Doser!”
As it turned out, the Mad Doser dosed the entire management staff, “creating chaos from within as we tripped out all night,” Dietrich explains. “The band would end up causing $6,000 in damage that night when they painted all the walls in glow paint.”
Dietrich recalls a Lollapalooza show in San Jose, California, where he found himself standing right behind the late Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell in the catering line backstage. “That’s Chris Fucking Cornell,” he thought to himself. At another show, he broke bread with Primus’ Les Claypool at Thanksgiving. Dietrich explains that in the music world, everyone treats each other naturally. No one “fans” out. It’s a respect thing with normal conversations and interactions.
Rob’s music industry career would continue to shape as he would eventually learn and assume both stage manager and event manager positions, crossing paths with such talents as Ben Harper, Tori Amos, Neil Diamond, Sting, Soundgarden, Blues Traveler, Danzig, Beck and Marilyn Manson. He would move from San Francisco to Denver, where his projects were now at local venues like Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre, Mammoth Gardens (before it became The Fillmore), and the world renowned Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
He remembers a Soundgarden show at Mammoth Gardens where a couple of Denver Bronco linebackers provided a much needed hand with some of the band’s equipment. “Soundgarden’s wardrobe case got jammed while being moved through a staircase after the show. A few Broncos who’d been hanging out with Cornell both got down in their stances and popped the wardrobe case all the way up the stairs.”
Then there was the time Dietrich was working on a regional tour for the late Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Before every show, Brown does a prayer circle that includes everyone in the show. Unbeknownst to Dietrich, that prayer circle included him too. “Tell that motherfucker to get over here,” Brown quipped to one of his guys, meaning Dietrich needed to stop setting up or tuning the equipment and get over to the pre-show prayer.
It was an off-and-on music career for Rob Dietrich that lasted 10 years. He worked with the likes of Willie Nelson, The Offspring, Etta James, The Violent Femmes, Tom Waits and Bob Dylan.
In fact, it was Dylan’s guitar tech who scored Dietrich with the ultimate seat in the house off stage as long as Rob didn’t touch anything or make any moves, especially when Bob came over to retrieve a push guitar.
All in a day’s work for the man with a million stories.
*Rob Dietrich is the Head Distiller at Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey. For more information, visit http://www.stranahans.com.