You Gotta Hustle: Cathy Mason and the Team Behind Punk Rock Bowling
Can You Ask Cathy if She Has an Extra Meal Ticket?
If you've been around the punk rock world long enough, you may know the name Cathy Mason, and you may even be afraid of her. Mason walks in the shadows, and she likes it that way. "I think I'm quite incognito," Cathy says with a grin. "(People) know of me, but they are too afraid to find out because they've heard horror stories, so they ask everyone else," she says with a hearty laugh.
I had the idea to interview Cathy as soon as she came on my radar, but at that point, she was incognito to me too. I heard about a woman who used to tour with Rancid and Bad Religion, who now "runs" Punk Rock Bowling. So I decide to reach out and ask to interview her. To my surprise, Cathy agrees. In fact, she offers me access to the entire production staff of Punk Rock Bowling. "This is unprecedented, by the way," says Christina White, of Mutiny PR, who works with Cathy and manages the festival's press relations. "No way I thought Cathy would allow press into production, but she's the boss, and if she says yes, then yes it is!"
So on Sunday, technically day two of the festival, I made my way to the production trailer. It was situated behind the main stage, and once you're in there and the door closes, it's hard even to hear the bands. It was tranquil, but there was a table of women eating, laughing, and working. And, not surprisingly, Cathy was at the head of the table, head down, typing away on her laptop.
I wound up getting a very different Cathy Mason than I was expecting. I can easily see how she's intimidating. She is exceptionally bright and always on point. She's no bullshit and never stops working for a moment. But, when she can remove herself from the task at hand and talk about her work, rather than actually working, she becomes a different person, lighter, funnier, calmer. However, if something needs to be managed, it is best to get out of her way. Whatever the moment requires, she does it. I am eager for people to learn both sides of her.
I spent two hours in the production office, and Cathy introduced me to ten other amazing women. One by one, they would come in and sit with me and tell me about their role with Punk Rock Bowling. I met the woman in charge of finances, the woman in charge of sponsorships, the woman in charge of security, the woman who drives the forklift. "I was laughing yesterday because, right before doors, every piece of heavy equipment was being driven by a woman," says Kate Truscott, Sponsorship Director for Punk Rock Bowling. As I meet these women and talk to them about their jobs and their experiences in music and life, I become grateful that they are sharing their stories about the fantastic work they do for the music industry.
She holds us to high standards
Cathy started in the punk rock world as a bookkeeper for BYO Records, the label owned by Shawn and Mark Stern (the owners of Punk Rock Bowling). She then went on tour with Manic Hispanic and decided she "never wanted to quit touring." And she pretty much hasn't. Cathy traveled with the Vans Warped Tour, became Tour Manager for Bad Religion, and then production manager for the band. In 2011, the Stern brothers asked Cathy to come check out Punk Rock Bowling and take notes on what was and wasn't working. "Fix this," Shawn said. "The next year, I fixed it by taking it over and doing everything," says Cathy with a laugh.
I ask Cathy her favorite part of Punk Rock Bowling, and she says quickly, "The women. I hand-picked them. I love that most of my team are women; it's really important to me. I didn't get a lot of help when I was new in this business. You were out for yourself because no one else would hire you. It was important to me that when I got to a place where I could hire people, I would hire people that I knew couldn't get hired. It's hard out there; it's still hard for women." "When everything is running smoothly, I know I put a good team together," says Cathy. Kate says, "We are super supportive of bringing up young women in the business, but we aren't going to give it to you. No one gave it to us. We had to work for it. We aren't going to be harder on you than we need to be, but you have to be strong, and you have to be the best. No one is coming out of the Cathy Mason or Kate Truscott school of production and coming out a pussy." The Stern brothers called in Cathy to "fix" the production of Punk Rock Bowling and then empowered her to hire a nearly all-female team.
Be better than everyone else
"Guys took me under their wing, and I learned from them," says Jessica Ostrata, the Site Foreperson for Punk Rock Bowling. "I was told to toughen up, suck it up and take it if you want to hang with us." Tammy Dun, Sabre Security owner, has a similar story of a man who paved the way for her, "He believed in me (Alan Waxler of AWG). He mentored me, taught me everything I know." Even Cathy credits Stuart Taggart, long-time Manager for both Bad Religion and Pennywise, for taking her under his wing. "He pulled me aside and said, 'You say good morning and smile at everyone. You don't hang out; you don't hook up or party. You get there, you do your job and be better than everyone else.'"
You gotta hustle
Cathy's style is unique, but it's the style that, in my experience, only the best leaders have. It seems like 90% get your work done, no-nonsense approach, and 10% heart. That sounds bad, but it's not! "You gotta, hustle. Women have to be twice as good as any man standing next to them because otherwise, they won't get a chance. They have to be smarter, faster, and more agreeable," says Cathy, "…and do it with a smile," chimes in Shua, Financial Director of Punk Rock Bowling. "I love Cathy's style," says Danielle Dunney, Accommodations Director, "it's simple, to the point, and if something needs to be said, she says it." Every woman I met with that day in the production office of Punk Rock Bowling raved about Cathy. And it wasn't bullshit. It wasn't the fake, "I love my boss" shit. It was genuine respect and affection, which is the leadership quality duo that very few people can master.
Likewise, it takes a special team of people to work like that. "Don't take it personally. Put on your big girl pants and get it done," says Shua. She adds, "Cathy is one of those people who is super smart; she works like no other person you've met in your life, so she's a good judge of character of who's going to work hard. If you don't work, you go." Many people have come and gone over the years, but it's clear that Cathy won't take shit. The women tell me that people leave because they can't handle life on the road or find a partner and get distracted, but the women who run Punk Rock Bowling now are lifers, who Cathy hand-selected and supported while weeding out those who couldn't make it.
I will take you out
"I'm super proud of my team, and I do my best to protect them. I will take you out." says Cathy. Women working in the punk scene have to deal with much more than their fair share of shit. "When I toured with My Chemical Romance, there were a couple of instances where someone from the outside would come in and fuck with me or whatever, and everyone in the band and crew would street brawl, like, 'not our girl!'" says Kate Truscott. Christina White, who worked at Epitaph '90s working with such bands as Bad Religion, Rancid, and The Bouncing Souls, says, "They just assume you're fucking them," of people who made assumptions because she was working with the band. "A man would say things to me that they would never say to another man," says Cathy. If you come at my girls or my team, you're going down. There is no sexual harassment anywhere around me. I've fired them; I've banned them from my site. The women here who work with me get the respect they deserve. They work their asses off." If anything were to go down at an event, Cathy is the person you want backing you up. She says, "I will go to bat for you, and I will hear you out, but I have no problem calling you out." She will call out her own team; she will cut down bands and artists when needed. To be in the position she's in, Cathy has to take down people when required. You can't put on a successful ten-thousand person festival with weak links. And she needs her team to be strong and ready, not dealing with people's bullshit. Come after her team or festival, and she will take you down.
Quickly, the best part of sitting at a table with all of these women coming and going was experiencing the respect and camaraderie they share. They are a group of lady-bosses without ego. Shua says, "The women I get to work with are rad. I've never been in an environment where women empower women to this magnitude. We have each other's backs so that the whole thing is successful." It's a rare and beautiful thing when this many powerful women get together and support one another. Ultimately, there is trust. They know that if Cathy hired you, you're the best of the best. They coordinate like arms of an octopus, each with their own task, but reliant on the other arms for the whole thing to be successful. "This team could fucking rule the world," says Shua, "and if we don't know how, we will figure it out." I believe her.
Cathy Mason: Production Manager, Punk Rock Bowling Festival Director "I love that my team is mostly women. It's important to me. I didn't get a lot of help when I was new in the business. You were out for yourself. I almost quit after my time with Bad Religion, but you have to have tough skin."
Christina White: Mutiny PR, Public Relations for Punk Rock Bowling "In the 90's you had to work twice as hard, and you had to stay focused. There wasn't a place to develop relationships with women. Now, it's camaraderie and a sisterhood."
Julie Gonzalez: Cathy's Assistant "My first concert was the 2001 Warped Tour. It was awesome. I walked out of there with one shoe."
Kate Truscott: Sponsorship Director, "I toured exclusively with dudes for a long time. When I started doing Warped with a band, I was the only woman in the crew. Once you get the job and you do the job well, you're part of the family, and that's it. My boss might make me cry, but he won't let anyone else make me cry."
Danielle Dunning: Accommodations Director "I love Cathy's style: simple, to the point. If something needs to be said, say it."
Shua Sieker-Byrd: Credentials Manager, "It's mind-boggling how much goes into producing something of this magnitude, even being a small part of it is awesome."
Jessyca Estrada Site Foreperson "Whatever needed to be done, I said yes. I learned on the job. There's nothing I don't feel prepared for. Now I have my own company and focus on hiring women."
Jessica Pfaffenroth: Site Operations Crew "My sister worked in production. I started as an assistant, but she put me through the wringer."
Tammy Dunn: Owner of Sabre Security, "I grew up in Hawaii and learned to be tough and never fear anything. I approach everything as a challenge, never back down. Everything is an opportunity."
Sharon Meyers: Operations Manager for Sabre Security, "My career was launching space shuttles for NASA. I started as a file clerk; I took notes and asked questions. People started giving me chances.
Susan, Punk Rock Bowling Security Officer "I worked my way up, from Officer to Training Officer to Supervisor, now Manager. I had no experience. The Director didn't think I should be hired. But I proved myself. I asked a lot of questions, showed people what I could do."