Photos of surfboard and BCC banner sent by Alexis Terrosa and edited by Micah Gummel.
JB Team photo taken by Micah Gummel
Interview and other photos by Bluebird
In coordinating to cover the Joe Bonamassa performance at the Wang Theatre in Boston, I had the privilege to spend some time talking with Alexis Terrosa. Mr. Terrosa is the Street Team Coordinator for the massive volunteer effort that works tirelessly to help promote every Joe Bonamassa show. Alexis was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to describe the functioning of his role and that of the street team. Here is what he said:
He manages 6500 people all around the world. Fans join the Bonamassa team by signing up on the web and Alexis gets email and coordination points from these teams every day. "'Joe acknowledges the fans every chance he gets. We never lose sight of the fact that if it weren't for the fans, we'd be stuck in the bars and coffee shops." He even goes as far to say that if it weren't for the fans, Joe wouldn't have been playing the Royal Albert Hall in London. In these hard economic times, people are cutting back on their entertainment expenses. Some record companies worry about this, but Alexis is reassured by the quality of Joe's music. "It's not the record industry that is dying out, it's the [quality] music that is dying out." Terrosa acknowledges that the fans are people who are willing to spend the money, all across the board, and willing to promote the band. We talked a bit about 'egos' in any entertainment industry. He said there is no room for 'semi-ego' that the heart of this is to keep the part of the band in the hands of the fans of the street. Alexis said he started with the Bonamassa team doing actual marketing and in recent years, the Street Team has doubled its size. He listed some countries from which these members come:
Japan - Australia - Poland - Romania - Brazil - USA - and the list keeps growing!
The Street Team Captain role rotates among its members depending on the city and who is available. Deb Hebert and Patty Patrick are Captains who have been dedicated to the Team for quite some time. "Some fans are always there - if it wasn't for the fans, I wouldn't have a job (laughs)." For international shows, the fans are willing to travel. "Everybody is part of this team, no matter where we are !"
We talked a bit about piracy in the music industry and how some bands limit themselves because they are afraid of it. "Nothing will stop the impact that the band will make - I do everything I can to get the word out about Joe's music." We discussed how often fans, including myself, when given a free download, will turn around and purchase even more music than if they had not had that initial gift. I do this all the time. I like the downloads, but what I really want is album covers, liner notes and sometimes an LP for framing. That's a lot of merchandise to come out of a free downloaded song !
Alexis is proud of his Street Team. He had so many stories of their creative successes. One of them was from Greensboro, NC. A Street Teamer copied a press release and taped it to the inside of the portable bathroom doors. Not an approved idea by management, but the venue didn't mind and the promotion of the 'in the moment' strategic positioning of the press release on the bathroom door was brilliant.
Fan suggestions of venues to play are always welcome, says Terrosa. We spoke at length about how the fans seem to care as much about Joe's career as he does. I told Alexis that after seeing Joe on the Black Country Communion tour, I experienced him as brilliant, yet understated. His fans, however, speak quite loudly about their guitar hero and rightfully so.
With Alexis on the phone, I had to talk with him about the famous Bonaholics Unanimous Banner that I've seen all over the web. Since it is completely a fan based project, Deb Hebert and Rick Beck gave me their history of it, but I wanted his perspective too. Alexis seemed delighted by it. "I hope it keeps going ... it's so organic ... so from the heart ... it's like watching something grow, it's so genuine ..." He said it's made its way into the BCC world too. He noted how a fan named Gary Mitton helped bring the banner to Australia. He recently passed away and recently his brother became a street team member and now all are friends. Gary's signature is on the banner and that is very important to the fans. Alexis described how the banner travels around the world and fans leave their mark on it, 'it almost has an aura to it'. "It's people's love for Joe." We joked at how the banner will soon be traveling first class and Joe will be sitting behind it in coach someday !
Alexis gave me a picture of a Black Country Communion banner which was started by Michele Riparbelli in Italy. Since Terrosa was actually born in Italy, he said, "it was really cool to be connected with people that I have never met, [but yet], we have so much in common. [This] is something that a lot of the street teamers share."
There is a generation gap that Joe closes with his music. What Terrosa loves to see is a father and son walking into shows with the same Joe Bonamassa shirt.
People support Joe because they always get something back. "It's genuine." He's the music industry's version of a blue collar worker. Joe's had no support from radio, he built himself. There is genuine love for the music and genuine hard work. He described the dedicated of the fans to Joe as families are to their little league baseball kids. "If Joe makes it, I make it." Joe gives back by never giving up on the fans and performing as many shows as he can in a tour. Management will allow him to scale back, but Joe is the one who often wants to book more shows. "He is someone who was meant to do it ... a once in a lifetime performer ... "
We had a talk about Joe and the broken guitars. Ugh, what a thought ! Airlines have broken the necks off of his guitars in transit, one of which happened to be traveling to Australia. Thankfully, it was fixed before the show so he could still play it. "Joe is a walking guitar encyclopedia." Joe's father had owned a guitar shop while Joe was growing up and just opened a new one, "Bonamassa Guitars." I've seen many posts on it around the web, Joe seems quite proud of his family. Alexis said Joe's Dad is a no nonsense guy who loves to help others. He described a story where they were at a meet and greet at the Hard Rock in Hollywood, and one of the teenage fans asked Alexis what he felt was the best guitar for an intermediate player. Joe’s dad overheard the question and went into great detail about teaching these young guys about the right kind of guitar for their type of playing.
As far as generosity goes, The Bonamassa Team gives back to the community. Cancer research, hospital charities, and fundraisers in honor of fans or Team Members who've passed on and left special legacies are common. Alexis was kind enough to send me an original photo of a Joe Bonamassa surfboard ! Yes, he has a surfboard in his office that was MADE by a fan ! It is signed by Joe and Tal, and will be signed by Rick and Carmine as well. The surfboard will then be set up in a charity auction. He said that the fans and Street Team members become good friends in the process of the music and the whole experience makes them feel better no matter what they are going through.
It was a pleasure talking with Mr. Terrosa and his inspiration made me know we were doing the right thing by covering this show with such a wide range of articles. From the beginning of hearing Joe Bonamassa's music, to coordinating with the highly talented publicist, Erin Cook, talking with the Street Team members and now understanding the whole of the Bonamassa experience, I was able to go to Joe's show with a deeper understanding of the context of his music. I'm not sure if he set out to create such a team. Alexis is very clear, things like the Bonamassa Banner or the surfboard were never corporate ideas and never will be. These inspirations come only from the fans. Still, Joe allows the fan wishes, influences and ideas come through and that is why this global relationship is entirely reciprocal.
Rock on, Joe - There's a New Day Yesterday.