Got big rig experience, a clean driving record and a way with strong personalities? You may be a candidate for Nashville’s Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy – but you’ll have to know every aspect of the job from spark plugs to bed bugs.
Chip Huffman, who spent more than 20 years on the road with acts like Country band Alabama and the Smothers Brothers, and Tandy Rice is a former Country Music Association President and talent agent whose clients have included Country music greats like Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner, last year founded the Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy, an ongoing series of intensive three-day workshops designed to teach Class A and Class B CDL holders the art of chauffeuring celebrities. Who knew that 80 percent of the world’s entertainment transportation operations (according to Huffman) are located in Nashville, TN? It’s a little-known factoid for most of America, but not for the celebrity set. Rock stars, movie stars, even circus stars have hitched rides via Nashville’s numerous celebrity bus and coach companies. But able drivers are tough to come by.
The best prospects for the job, Huffman and Rice say, are those who understand that they’re more akin to ship captains than bus drivers. They have to know everything going on under the hood and under the roof of these luxury rigs outfitted with gourmet kitchens, luxe bedrooms and entertainment suites. And they have to drive so smoothly that their high-dollar clients think they’re on stationary ground. You do not want to be the guy who hits a pothole and causes Lady Gaga to spill he latte in her lap.
“You need to know everything about your bus, from right there in your seat because they’re going to ask you: ‘How do you turn the TV on? What channel? How does the stove work?’ You need to be the answer man,” Olan Witt, president of Goodlettsville-based Coach Quarters Entertainment Transportation, told students at a recent academy. Witt’s clients include performers Gwen Stefani, Alicia Keys and Mary J. Blige.
At the same time, it’s crucial that a driver not mistake himself for part of the band. And that he not ask for autographs.
Not that you won’t enjoy some perks. First year salaries for celebrity bus drivers can range from $40,000 to $60,000. You’ll be on the road for weeks or months at a time, but may get to enjoy the rest of the year off. Happy celebs often tip big and there increasingly is off-season work available. Great example: Larry the Cable Guy’s tour driver took home $135,000 for six months of driving last year.
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