Funny Thing Happened On) The Road To Rock Stardom
by Tammy Moore
the semi-autobiographical Cameron Crowe movie Almost Famous,
while young William Miller is coming of age on the road with
the fictional band Stillwater, his distraught mother tells
her philosophy class one day that she can’t concentrate
because “rock stars have kidnapped [her] son.”
stars really did kidnap Mark Olivarez once. Real rock stars,
a real tour bus, and one hard day’s night ride to Houston,
Texas. It was a winter night in January of 1990, and members
of Warrant and Mötley Crüe came wandering into The
Backroom after playing their show at the Erwin Center. Joey
Allen from Warrant was a friend of Olivarez’s, and Allen
invited him into the tour bus on the premise of showing the
club manager pictures of his new home.
A lot of drinking had already gone on that day, and Olivarez
was ready to call it a night. But he didn’t get to see
Allen every day, so he agreed. He boarded the bus, had a couple
more drinks, and looked at pictures. At some point, he remembers
looking up at Jani Lane. Warrant’s front man was sitting
in front of a window, and Olivarez noticed that everything
in the window frame was moving. When Olivarez stood up and
said, “Oh shit, we’re moving,” the entire
busload of rock stars started cracking up and informed Olivarez
that they were half-way to Houston at that point. He didn’t
even have a wallet, only the clothes on his back. The bands
assured him they would take care of everything, and they did.
It turned into one long weekend party, and a haggard Olivarez
found his way home two days later.
is just one memorable event in the life of The Backroom’s
General Manager. His everyday life, especially during the
hey day of The Backroom, was made of the stuff that many people
only fantasize about. Some of it he remembers, and some of
it is, let’s say, a little hazy. He likes to joke that
people tell him he had a really good time in those days. It
isn’t hard to imagine given the opportunities that came
his way. The question isn’t who has played The Backroom,
but who hasn’t? The list of bands and genres is endless.
And Olivarez was always up for a good time.
But that was then and this is now. That is not to say that
thirty-five year old Olivarez doesn’t indulge in the
fringe benefits of the business from time to time, but time
and other opportunities that the human experience can offer,
like finding a beautiful wife and having two amazing children
with her, can often change a man’s priorities. By night,
Olivarez is a smooth operator who presides over the wild kingdom
that is The Backroom, but by day he is…Mr. Mom. And
he likes it that way. By working at night, he has the rare
opportunity to spend time during the day with his children,
Kane, 7, and Kassidy, 4, while they are young and in their
crucial formative years, and that means everything to him.
The kids and wife, Melissa, are his treasure.
But seventeen years ago, he was a teenager from San Antonio
who was moving to Austin to attend The University of Texas
on a five-year electrical engineering scholarship. The math
wiz took the basic courses and planned to eventually get into
electronic design. But two years later, he realized that he
didn’t quite fit into the mold of the typical student
enrolled in the same program. He says they were a bit more
“academically inclined” than he was. Olivarez
was outgoing and more open in his thinking, and he started
looking for something else. He tried playing keyboards in
a rock band for a while. He tried looking for a job. It was
the summer of 1988 after his sophomore year, the economy was
tough, and he had filled out maybe twenty applications. He
didn’t really care what kind of job he got. He just
wanted to work. And then fate stepped in. He saw an ad in
the paper saying that “some club” was hiring.
he arrived at The Backroom, which he was instantly smitten
with, to put in his application, he wasn’t sure that
things had gone very well. The entire interview process took
all of two minutes. Olivarez left thinking he had probably
wasted a trip and went back to the two bedroom apartment he
shared with seven other guys. The phone rang at 11:30 that
night, and a drunk guy told Olivarez that he saw that he had
filled out an application and wanted to know if he could come
in for an interview right then. Olivarez thought it was probably
friends playing a joke on him, but just in case, he drove
over to The Backroom.
Johnson, a bar manager there, did indeed want to interview
him. As Johnson asked questions, it began to occur to Olivarez
that everything he was asking was right there in his application,
and he wondered why Johnson didn’t just read it. The
experience became even more surreal when he realized then
that the application Johnson was holding in his hand was upside
down. It didn’t matter, though. Johnson hired him right
then and told him to show up the next night at 7:00 p.m. Olivarez
left that night not even knowing what his job there would
When he arrived for his shift, he met the owner of The Backroom,
Ronnie Roark, who had come there only to fire the man who
had just hired Olivarez. He thought for sure that would mean
his job was over before it started, but he was put on security
detail and stationed outside the backstage door to guard Vinnie
Though once a huge fan of industrial music and the underground,
he now appreciates all types of music for what he says it
is an art form. Olivarez is an interesting combination of
free-spiritedness and stability. He knows how to have fun,
and yet, he has an extremely strong work ethic and a knack
for handling people. His gifts helped propel him quickly through
the ranks at the club, moving from bouncer to busser to barback
to bartender. He was soon made the bar manager, rose to General
Manager, and now he even acts as in-house promoter. The excitement
just keeps on coming.
When I asked him some questions regarding what he knows concerning
this business of music, this is what he had to say.
What kind of musical format does The Backroom follow now?
MO: Anything in the rock vein. I should say
‘rock artery’ since it has so much blood pumping
through it now. But, I’m still trying to break the stigma
of The Backroom. So, I’m not doing it because I want
to; it’s because that is the direction that the horse
is leading me. But any opportunity that I do get to have a
different form of music go in there, I’ve always been
willing and open to do it.
How do artists get booked there?
MO: Depends…local artists will go through
either me or Mike Boudreau who handles the local booking,
and all they do is call The Backroom or email us through the
website. National acts…the way those get booked is that
there is a group of promoters that either book in various
clubs or dedicate themselves to just one club like me. So,
you’ll have an agent make a call to this group of people,
and the show just goes to the highest bidder. I wish it was
more than that, but the bottom line is that it is all about
Will The Backroom help develop up and coming artists by putting
them in front of road shows?
MO: Any opportunity that we can…but
with the slow-down of the music industry, the labels don’t
have the kind of money to support all their new bands that
are going out on tour. So, they package them all together.
They put three or four bands that are all on the same label,
usually, and they send them out. It is an extremely rare opportunity
now to be able to open for a road show, but when the opportunity
does happen, [we will choose] the bands that have spent the
most time here, that have been on our roster for the longest
time. In other words, the headlining weekend bands are the
ones that get first dibs on it.
There have been several local artists that have used
The Backroom as their home base and have gone on to secure
recording deals with major labels. With the view from your
seat, what do you suppose the secret to their success is?
Knowing all that you know now…what is the best piece
of advice you could give to aspiring musicians in this crazy
pursuit of success in music?
MO: Be flexible. Don’t be so hard on
yourself. There are tons of people that want to get into it…the
ones you need to listen to are the ones who have stayed in
Over the past fifteen years, Olivarez has successfully navigated
The Backroom through good times and bad, and during his tenure
there, he has been witness to or has been part of many now
legendary events. He has learned from trial and error, but
the long and short of it is that The Backroom is celebrating
its 30-Year Anniversary on November 7 and 8 , and that is
due in no small part to his leadership there. If Mark Olivarez
is anything, he is a man who has evolved and learned from
all that life has handed him. Congratulations, my friend,
on a job well done. Did everyone catch the ‘perseverance’
thing again? Keep reaching for the dream.