Jen Kellogg of The Entertainment Institute & Vans Warped Tour on Keeping An Open Mind
Photo by Miranda Sherman
My first summer on the Vans Warped Tour I was super pregnant. My due date was 3.5 weeks after the tour was over.
I know most of you are likely young and thinking you might not even want to have kids, but keep reading. This isn’t about motherhood, exactly. But, I thought since this is a women in music blog, I’d go with the most female story I could. It is kind of the one thing men can’t do.
Let’s start about a million years ago back in 1999. I had recently graduated and was 100% career focused. I didn’t want to get married and had even less interest in having kids. All of that seemed so unrelated to my current life I couldn’t fathom wanting either. Ever. I wanted to live in the city, work in rock and roll, and go on tour. I landed myself a gig in the accounting office at Jam Productions and spent the next 5 years trying to figure out how to get out of monotonous data entry (I can 10-key like you wouldn’t believe!) and get on-site at shows. How that happened is a story for another time, but I ended up as a talent buyer for theatre and arenas and started touring. Anyway, in early 2000, I met this cute drummer at a show, and several months later, for the very first time, thought to myself, “I want to have kids with this guy”. Not right that second, of course, but eventually. And “I think getting married sounds like a good idea?!?”
Fast-forward about 10 years to the point where I’m a freelance tour accountant, we have been married for a while and I’m yearning (like ovaries throbbing) for a kid. Everyone was having babies and I wanted nothing more. My 20 year-old self would not have recognized this 30 year old me one bit. One thing that hadn’t changed yet, was confidence that I knew what I wanted, right then, for the rest of time. I didn’t notice that what I wanted had changed quite a bit in the last 10 years. So, at this point: I wanted a kid, I wanted to be a stay at home mom, I assumed I couldn’t continue touring, and I figured I’d come up with some new career path eventually once I was settled into motherhood. I had visions of an Etsy shop reselling vintage furniture, or becoming an interior designer, or…. something. I didn’t see a way to reconcile staying in the music industry and having a family. It was hard enough for the men, how was I going to do it as a woman? And I want this baby so much, how would I ever be able to be away from it?
As it turns out, I had spent the last 10 years networking without realizing it. I kept getting offered jobs when I wasn’t even looking. It was a great feeling – clearly I was doing something right. But it’s pretty hard to get pregnant when you are on the road. After I did America’s Best Dance Crew in the fall of 2008, I decided to stop touring and focus on getting that kid life going. Several months later, still not pregnant, I got a call from the business manager for the Warped tour. We had settled a bunch of Taste of Chaos shows together when I was at Jam, and he was looking to get off the road and bring on a new tour accountant for Taste of Chaos and Warped. I was SOOOOOO bored at home. Not working was a drag mentally and the idea of going back on tour was incredibly appealing. My husband and I decided we would fly him out to visit me when needed for the baby making. So I took the job. Taste of Chaos would start in 2 months and if that went well, I’d start on Warped that summer.
About a week after I accepted the job, I was quite surprised to find out I was in fact already pregnant! Finally Finally Finally after 6 months of trying! But of course, now I have this work commitment, and this isn’t how it was all supposed to go.
I let a few weeks go by and gave it quite a bit of thought. I felt fine. Tired, but fine. What was I going to do for the next 9 months, just sit around and wait to give birth? That sounded awful and not like me at all. I love touring. Why not give it a try?
My husband and I decided baby was the #1 priority, but if I felt fine, and my doctor said it was fine, let’s go for it. Turns out it was the ideal way to spend my first trimester! Since it was a club tour, with a late load in, I could sleep in my cozy bunk 12 hours a day. Tiredness – solved!
I kept with that philosophy for Warped. Baby’s good, I’m good, let’s go. Let me tell you, having to get up 9 times a night on a moving bus to pee isn’t exactly ideal, but having a great new tour and exciting work to keep me busy was a whole lot better than sitting around thinking about how massively uncomfortable I was. Keep your mind busy; the time passes faster. It’s different for everyone, but pregnancy sucks, the only good thing is the end result! Oh, and I got a lot of bad-ass cred being on Warped pregnant.
Ok, so, now I have this newborn and I dig the stay at home mom-ing, but it’s a really big life change. Lots of it is beyond wonderful. But it’s also isolating and draining, and my main companion can’t talk. Or fall asleep – so I spend endless hours walking him in a stroller thru the halls of our apartment building to get him to sleep. I miss tour. I miss work and being part of a team putting on an amazing show. Touring has been part of who I am for so many years, it almost feels like a part of me is missing when I don’t have it in my life.
I thought I didn’t want to tour while pregnant, and that turned out just fine. I wouldn’t really know how touring with a kid would be until I tried it. We had to try it once to know. So we did! I left a 9 month old who wouldn’t eat from a bottle or sleep with my husband for 2 months and went back out on Warped. Fortunately, my 11 male busmates were totally cool with me storing my pumped breastmilk in the freezer.
It was hard for everyone in the family, but many times hard things are the most worthwhile. It is so valuable for my husband to be the one in charge for a chunk of time – he forms better bonds with the kids (yup – did the pregnant on tour thing again 3 years later) and has a much deeper understanding of what I do the rest of the year. I can easily leave now for a conference for a few days and don’t have to make him a list or explain how to parent. My kids see their mom doing work that is hard and fun and worthwhile. And I get 2 months of delightful sleep with no one waking me up in my cozy bunk. I only have to worry about myself and my own needs, and I come home ready to mom again for 10 months.
So, what’s the point of the story? Do what works for you until it doesn’t, then change it. And don’t be so locked into what you might want in the future – you won’t really know until you get there.
Where am I now? From 2009 – 2013 I toured in the summer and full time mom-ed the other 10 months. During that time we moved, had kid #2, and at some point I got a little restless and wanted to start working more. Lucky for me, I had remained relevant in my industry, and had the space to think about what I wanted to do next. A friend teaching at Columbia College Chicago had me guest speak a few times and despite being terrified, turning bright red, and talking too fast, I managed to get through it and get a little better every time I did it. When they added on a section, he suggested I teach it. It was perfect – exactly when Warped tour was not, and on my favorite topic: Producing and Touring Live Entertainment
Once I got rolling on that, I discovered I loved sharing my knowledge, and got the same intrinsic reward as I do from putting on shows – I get to make people’s lives a little bit better. I came up with some ideas to teach people about the music industry outside of a college setting, and The Entertainment Institute was born. Now I run that year-round in addition to teaching at Columbia and tour accounting on Warped in the summer.
Careers (especially in the concert industry) can be a meandering journey on a path that is unclear where it leads. Keep your mind open to change; you won’t know where it takes you until you get there. If you asked me in 2008 what I would be doing in 2017, I wouldn’t have guessed I’d be doing any of the things I’m currently doing.