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Behind an iconic ‘90s band’s week of tour

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Two days and 650 miles or so later, Rivers Cuomo was still thinking about Huntsville, Alabama. The morning of Weezer’s June 6 concert in Texas, the second show on their “Indie Rock Roadtrip” tour, Cuomo, the band’s bespectacled frontman, posted an Instagram photo taken at downtown Huntsville’s Honest Coffee. The photo was of a banner hung out front of the shop that read, “WE HONESTLY LOVE YOU, HUNTSVILLE!”

Cuomo captioned his Instagram post, “We honestly love you too, Huntsville. Thank you for hosting us last week. We couldn’t have picked a better place to kick off our tour. We’ll be back again soon.”

Weezer spent six days in Huntsville, rehearsing at the city’s Orion Amphitheater for tour. That ramped up to the tour launching with a June 4 sold-out show at Orion. Weezer’s Orion set kicked off with “My Name Is Jonas,” the opening track from the band’s self-titled 1994 debut album, known as “The Blue Album,” and ended with an encore of “Buddy Holly,” the band’s signature hit. Additional tour dates can be found at weezer.com.

Looking back now, Orion general manager Ryan Murphy says Weezer’s week at Orion, “felt like summer camp.”

The Huntsville amphitheater’s team had been working towards that week for months. With a new venue in a tertiary market — even a world-class venue like Orion that scored big acts like Stevie Nicks for its 2022 debut year – outreach is a necessity.

“Just putting the Orion on the agents’, management’s, promoters’ and the artists’ radar,” Murphy says. “There’s a constant checking in and reminding, like, ‘Hey, remember this awesome place.’ It’s really interesting. In our world, in the music industry, in venue management, there’s a lot of short-term memory, so keeping on people’s radars is really an active thing.”

Rock musician and White Stripes legend Jack White had performed at Orion in 2022. White is booked by William Morris Endeavor, the mega agency whose clients include a pile of major bands, including Weezer. White’s Orion show was raucous and well-attended.

As Weezer began lining up a summer tour, Orion was hot to land one of those shows. Weezer’s team let the Orion’s leaders know the band has heard good things and were excited to play there.

Shortly after an Orion date was held, Weezer’s team reached out to the amphitheater about the possibility of holding the week before too. The band was thinking about rehearsing and then kicking off the tour there.

“I instantly was like, ‘Clear that week,’” Murphy recalls telling his team. He told the Weezer camp, yes, Orion would love to host their rehearsals.

“It’s a prestige thing, you know,” Murphy says. “To have an artist come and spend that much time feels like, wow. They [touring bands] pick that venue [for rehearsals] for numerous reasons. But in this case, they heard it was a good time, heard it was a good place to be, they heard they’d be taking care of. It’s a good way for them to start the tour off on the right foot. So then we really leaned into that.”

Other Alabama venues have hosted rehearsals for big tours in the past. For example, in summer 1984 Michael Jackson and his brothers rehearsed for their “Victory Tour” at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center. In fall 2011, Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Watch The Throne” trek did tech and rehearsals at the BJCC for 16 days. Other to have done rehearsals at the BJCC include Drake in 2013, Elton John and Billy Joel in February 2003 and Tim McGraw in March 2003. In February 2010, Carrie Underwood rehearsed at the Mobile Civic Center for her tour. Reba McEntire did tech and rehearsals for several of her ‘90s tours at Huntsville’s Von Braun Center. The band Kansas also rehearsed at the VBC back in the day. More recently, Twenty One Pilots rehearsed for 2017 tour dates at the Von Braun Center.

Brian Bell, Rivers Cuomo, Scott Shriner

Brian Bell, left, Rivers Cuomo, and Scott Shriner of Weezer perform in 2023. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)Amy Harris/Invision/AP

As Orion Amphitheater’s hospitality manager, it’s Alex Hendrix-Bertaska’s job to make musicians on the road feel at home while they’re at Orion. Usually that’s for a day or so. Or when jam-bands like Widespread Panic, Phish and Billy Strings do two- and three-night stands at Orion, a couple days more.

With her way-likable personality and background as a local musician and cofounder of Huntsville’s Women in Music Weekend, Hendrix-Bertaska is familiar with both sides of the artist/host glass.

“She’s unbelievable,” Murphy says. “What’s great about Alex is, this is something that’s a real special skill set. You take everything that you’re doing with the utmost seriousness. The bands all have [tour] riders, they have specifications, they have dietary restrictions. They have this or that. But she also really makes everyone comfortable, and people kind of let their guard down pretty quickly around Alex because she’s very personable. She’s got a great sense of humor. She’s not gonna fangirl over anyone. Even the utmost rockstar is going to let their guard down a bit, because Alex is able to fill the room with a little bit of air.”

Hosting Weezer for a week gave Hendrix-Bertaska a bigger canvas to work with. She arranged to have local brewery Yellowhammer’s 1960s firetruck that’s converted into a mobile beer bar onsite when Weezer’s tour buses and trucks arrived, for a welcoming happy hour. The truck’s vibe tied in with Orion’s back of house décor, which echoes Huntsville’s rich aerospace legacy, including NASA’s Apollo mission that put man on the moon.

For tech rehearsals and then the band’s first onstage run-throughs, she had a cart with cold-brew from Huntsville’s Offbeat Coffee flowing right onstage. A box from Nashville’s Cookie In The Kitchen was filled with cookies decorated with icing depicting different album covers and inside jokes from the careers of Weezer and the tour’s support act, Modest Mouse of “Float On” fame.

Hendrix-Bertaska says Cookie In The Kitchen’s Emily Henegar, “does incredible magic. She does tons of research and pulls out these special touch point moments. That mean a lot to them [the bands]. I think that was one of the things they were most like blown away by.”

Besides the production and show being honed, unglamorous moments – so many Home Depot trips – are also part of getting a tour ready. “They were figuring it out a little bit for the first time at moments,” Hendrix-Bertaska says. “And there was a real camaraderie about that because we were all kind of doing it together. It was a strange bonding experience.”

While the band stayed elsewhere that week, the crew spent nights on tour buses parked securely within Orion’s footprint. The staff knew to keep the band’s extended Huntsville stint under wraps. But late in the week a passerby or two noticed Weezer tunes being blasted over the P.A. … Before coming to the realization, hey wait a sec, that’s actually Weezer. The day before their Orion concert, the band warmed up with a set at a Kentucky music festival.

Brian Bell, Rivers Cuomo

Brian Bell, left, and Rivers Cuomo of Weezer perform at Railbird Music Festival on Saturday, June 3, 2023, at The Infield at Red Mile in Lexington, Ky. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)Amy Harris/Invision/AP

AL.com reached out to a publicist for Weezer to see about interviewing a member of the band, crew or management for their perspective of their week in Huntsville. We were told “unfortunately” they “won’t be available to participate in this story.”

The band’s Instagram posts offer some insight though. On June 3, Cuomo posted a photo of him smiling and seated in a chair out on Orion’s floor level. He;s bathed in blue light and watching what’s happening onstage. The caption: “Seeing the Indie Rock Roadtrip stage production for the first time. It was a lot more emotional than I expected. See you out there.” The tour’s production includes the band performing amid a giant automobile dashboard onstage.

On June 2, Cuomo posted a photo of his visit to NASA’s International Space Station Payload Operation Center, out on Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal. That same day, Orion posted an epic pic of Cuomo flashing heavy-metal-horns with one hand as he stood beneath a launchpad-looking structure at Marshall Space Flight Center. After their Sunday night tour launch, Weezer’s posted a photo of Cuomo raising his hands triumphantly on Orion’s stage.

Backstage at the amphitheater, Weezer got word their friend Jack White had traveled to Huntsville from Nashville, where White resides, to come watch their show. “That was hugely exciting,” Hendrix-Bertaska says. “And such an honor that someone of that caliber enjoyed [performing at] the Orion so much they wanted to come back and experience it again in a different way, as an audience member, and really be able to do the whole other flip side of it.”

Before Weezer went on, White — semi-unrecognizable in goatee and casual clothing — went backstage for a visit. The moment was captured in a photo on Weezer’s Instagram. During the show, White was out on the floor along with Weezer’s other fans.

Murphy recalls, “There was a really special moment where, when Jack got there he had a little posse with him, and he was walking the hallways giving a tour to the people with him. Kind of like, ‘Oh yeah, when I was here this is the [dressing] room I was in. This place rules.’ I loved just sneaking a little moment watching Jack give his own private tour of the Orion.”

Now that the amphitheater’s done two- and three-stands, and a week of rehearsals, Murphy has his eyes set on hosting a residency by a superstar act. Like an entire week of concerts by that act. “When you do stuff like that, you can get some artists that are pretty massive,” Murphy says. “Because if we had somebody who usually sells 30,000 tickets, and they go, ‘Yeah, but what if we spent a week here. We heard this place is phenomenal.” I think that’s the next phase.”

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