What do you do when Garth Brooks asks you to stop for tacos? Or when you hit a deer while Jo Dee Messina is on board? Or have to tell the Judds to hush?
Only the bus drivers Ã¢ÂÂ the guys who sit behind the wheel for hours on end, getting your favorite stars to their concerts on time Ã¢ÂÂ know for sure.
Garth Brooks had the same driver, Jim Payne, for 10 years before the superstar retired. In his early days, only one thing could slow hard-chargin' Garth down: Taco Bell. "He always made me stop there," laughs Jim. "My wife gave him a list of all the Taco Bells in the world and their hours!"
And if diners at those Taco Bells looked closely, they might have noticed Garth himself steering the bus through the parking lot. "We once did 52 shows in a row," remembers Jim. "We'd all go until we were walking zombies, then he'd get up and drive!"
Garth didn't mind taking the driver's seat Ã¢ÂÂ but he did object to getting left behind while doing an interview after a show in Bakersfield, Calif. "He knows the rules!" exclaims Jim, who claims he didn't really leave Garth, but merely ran out for fuel and had to come back anyway immediately afterward. "When the horn blows, if he's not on the bus, the bus goes!"
The Judd's driver once threatened to leave his star cargo behind on purpose!
"They would fight!" chuckles Galin Moore, who drove for the superstar duo in the '80s. "It was a special, mother-daughter way of fighting where they'd get mad, but you knew they still loved each other. But I'd say, 'Listen girls, take this to the back of the bus, or I'm going to pull into the next stop and get off!' "
Jo Dee Messina's driver never sent her to the back of the bus, but he remembers one time he was especially glad she wasn't riding up front.
"We were on a two-lane road coming from Streeter, Illinois," remembers Eric Blankenship, Jo Dee's driver. "I popped up over the hill and there were six deer standing there. They all scurried but one Ã¢ÂÂ and unfortunately, I hit him."
Jo Dee was changing clothes in the back when she felt the thud, and came out to investigate. "She's a big animal lover," says Eric, "so I told her we hit a big tire in the road!"
Pinmonkey's driver couldn't explain away so easily the fire that engulfed the band's bus last year. Bass player Michael Jeffers was onboard making coffee when he smelled burning rubber. "I told our driver, who grabbed the fire extinguisher," remembers Michael. "Within seconds, it was pretty serious."
Adds bandmate Chad Jeffers, " Six-foot flames were coming out of the back of the bus. All our stuff was on there!" No one was hurt, though Pinmonkey had to buy new clothes to play their show that night Ã¢ÂÂ and get a new bus.
Bob Gregory, who drove for Waylon Jennings, remembers when the legend bought his first coach. "They brought it from overseas by ship," he explains. "When it arrived, there were no wheels. Waylon said, 'I wouldn't have bought it if I knew wheels didn't come with the dang thing!' He had to go buy tires made in the good ol' U.S.A."
Rascal Flatts' driver, nicknamed "Big," says Tommy Shane Steiner, who toured with Rascal Flatts, also found something missing from his bus when the Flatts stole all the mattresses from the bunks! "Tommy and his band had to ride to Vegas like that!" laughs Big, who explains that the guys were just retaliating for an earlier practical joke: "Tommy had glued their locks so they couldn't get to their equipment."
John Petrus, who drove for Keith Urban when he was touring with Brooks & Dunn in 2001, found his bus wasn't missing anything. In fact, there was an unexpected addition.
"We stole Kix Brooks' cigar-store Indian that he had backstage," remembers John. "We put it in a top bunk and he rode with us like that for two or three weeks!"
To keep on trucking through all this mayhem, you have to be prepared for anything Ã¢ÂÂ just ask John, who has also driven for Martina McBride, Collin Raye, Lee Ann Womack, Trace Adkins and Lonestar.
"I'm a housekeeper, a mechanic, an electronics expert, a baby-sitter, a security guy and a dog walker," he says. "And occasionally, I drive a bus."