When working for a large, internationally renowned band, a tour manager’s responsibilities are daunting. But when it’s for a reggae band with a name that advocates the use of marijuana, the obstacles are especially, well, high.
South Lake Tahoe’s “Late Nite” Billy Drewitz was hired in February by Katchafire to oversee day-to-day operations of the two-month “Burn It Down Tour” through the United States and Canada.
“These guys love their medicine and going through certain areas is a challenge sometimes,” Drewitz said. “So far, it’s just been smooth sailing. Federal agents at the border like to try to catch us red-handed with herb but we were well prepared.”
One agent with a drug-sniffing dog allowed the tour manager to take a photo after a search and the picture was posted on Facebook.
Drewitz later explained the most difficult part of the job.
“The biggest challenge of being on a 60-day tour across the U.S. and Canada is waking up every morning and having to accurately pee in the toilet of a tour bus moving at 70 mph without missing,” he posted to his Facebook page.
The biggest snafu, he said, occurred in Canada when the bus was involved in a minor collision, losing its rear-view mirror for a period of time. Meanwhile, a show in Texas was affected by a flood, but Drewitz was able to secure an indoor venue and the concert was held on the scheduled day.
Drewitz previously was a tour manager for rapper Del the Funky Homosapien and Apple Gabriel of the reggae band Israel Vibration. A longtime music promoter in Lake Tahoe, Drewitz has a good rapport with Chico reggae band Mystic Roots, which is opening for Katchafire on the tour. A recommendation from the band helped Drewitz get the job with Katchafire.
Katchafire is a reggae band from Hamilton, New Zealand. It began in 1997 as a Bob Marley tribute but by 2003 began to release acclaimed original albums that have received worldwide attention. There are eight band members plus a crew of four.
“We were looking for a tour manager who is hard working and dedicated to keeping the ship steering in the right direction and letting us knowing what’s going on,” said Logan Bell, the lead singer. “We also needed someone who is highly organized.
“What we like about Billy is that he updates the schedule every night with an email. Previously, we’d have hard copies and a lot of things change during a trip. It’s really refreshing and great to have the most up-to-date information (such as) what’s on the sound check, where we are eating. Little things like that make the whole experience nicer.”
The band was started by Logan’s father, Grenville, who recently retired from the road but will continue in the studio. Logan’s brother Jordan plays drums, and Tere Ngarua is the original and continuing bass player.
The new guitarist is Wiremu Barribal, a fellow New Zealander who Logan Bell calls a “shredder.” Swells Tamiefuna plays keyboard. All eight members sing.
Katchafire’s socially conscious reggae touches on soul, R&B and dancehall.
“We play reggae and nonconventional reggae, so we have a crossover appeal,” Bell said. “We are excited to be on tour. We are getting along really well and when the vibes are good, it carries on to the music. This is the last time you’ll get to see us until we drop the next album.”
Bell said Lake Tahoe reminds him of New Zealand because it’s very green and beautiful with fresh air and “we also have casinos and McDonald’s.”
“I tell them stories about home all the time,” Drewitz said. “We are 12 guys who live together 24-7. Logan started a juice club. We take turns juicing every day. We’re health conscious and we have a rider (for venues to provide) healthy meals.”
The craziest occurrence on a Katchafire tour, Logan said, was when some of the members were stranded in Saipan while the others made it to Guam, where the band was to perform.
“The daughter of the governor of Guam got on social media on our behalf,” Bell said. “We were granted diplomatic immunity and that evening we ate dinner with the governor in Guam an hour before the show.”
Bell said he is happy to have Drewitz running the tour.
“I don’t have to stress out,” he said. “I can medicate while I meditate.”
Opener: Mystic Roots
When: 9 p.m. Sunday, May 29
Where: Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room
Tickets: $18 in advance or $20 on the day of the show; booth seat $37
Red Room after-party: Treez & Squarefield Massive