Emily Francis knows what I'm talking about: She's been keeping things straight for the Planes Mistaken for Stars guys for the past two years. And she's one tough cookie. Sure, Francis looks sweeter than somebody's grandma, but the girl is nails. Of course, she'd have to be to tour with Planes. You've seen those cats, right? A rough bunch — and she has their backs. On the road, she makes sure they get paid. And when they do, she's meticulous as hell, keeping track of every cent they earn (and spend). She also drives the van, minds the merch, wipes their noses and smooths their hair with the mom comb before they have their pictures taken. Basically, she makes sure that all they have to worry about is playing music. Every band needs an Emily — which is why she's such a sought-after tour manager now that Planes is about to come in for a landing.
Funny thing is, Francis — the same gal who now says things like "Touring is my boyfriend" — never set out to live her life on the road. Growing up in Richmond, Virginia, with biker parents who weaned her on classic rock, she had aspirations of starting her own music magazine. But then Brandy and Gared O'Donnell and the rest of the Planes crew arrived in her town.
"Those guys are the reason I'm touring today," she declares. "I owe everything I'm doing today to Planes and Brandy. When I first started out, I was shy, didn't talk to anyone. It was actually Gared's wife who brought me out of it. She came up and talked to me. She got me to come out of my shell. It was my first year in college at a house show on one of their first tours ever. I went to that show, and then she convinced me to go to the second show they were playing the next night. So I hung out with those guys, and I was terrified of them. Seeing someone like Gared, sitting in the corner on the porch by himself with his shirt off and his hair all hanging in his face, it was like, 'Oh, God. Who is that guy?' It sort of freaked me out, even though he's like the spitting image of my dad — my dad has long hair and tattoos. And after that, she just kept in touch, and I'd go to their shows, and eventually they'd stay with me when they came through Richmond."
On one of those trips, the members of Planes somehow talked Francis, who by then was putting on shows of her own, into tagging along on the rest of their tour until it was time to return to school. So she and a friend followed them in her car, and somewhere around Baton Rouge, Francis remembers thinking that she had found her calling: "It was like, 'I don't ever want to leave this. This is where I want to be.'"
Back in Virginia, where her school was making budget cuts, Francis decided to drop her classes. Figuring she'd learned everything she needed to know to start a magazine, she packed up and headed to Chicago, where she lived at a place called the Milk Factory with some Planes affiliates, including guitarist Chuck French, who was then a member of Peralta, and his girlfriend, Amy. Francis split her time doing security at the Metro and graphics at one of the busiest Kinko's in the country, where she quickly climbed the ladder. But although she was making great money, she was also working non-stop, which is not what she'd had in mind. "I started to get swallowed up by it," she notes. "I was losing focus. I get wrapped up in things easily sometimes and kind of get lost, and I have to pull myself out of it, like 'Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! This is not what I want to be doing.'"
In 2004, French moved to Denver to fill the Planes slot vacated by Jamie Drier. Six months later, Francis came to town, as did current Planes bassist Neil Keener and Handsome Bobby, who'd been playing in Git Some with French. Almost immediately, Francis went back out on tour with Planes — and when the band's then-manager began dropping the ball, Francis pitched in. The manager for Hot Water Music, which was touring with Planes at the time, pulled O'Donnell aside and suggested that Francis should tour-manage his band. Upon returning to Denver, O'Donnell offered her the gig, which she readily accepted. By then, she was wholly invested in the music and the people making it.
"They taught me a lot about sticking with what you believe in," Francis proclaims. "I haven't seen many people who have the compassion that those guys do. They pour their hearts into whatever they do. There was a show that they played in Massachusetts, where there was like five kids there or something. And Gared's always said, 'As long as there's one kid there, it's their show.' They're going to pour their heart into it, because that kid came. They taught me that the moment you just kind of shrug it off and be like, 'Whatever. This show sucks,' or you say something over the mike like, 'Wow, look at all these people,' just being sarcastic, that's the moment that you lose that fan. And fans have always been number one to those guys. It's not about the money."
Nor is it for Francis. She's arranged her life in such a way that her living expenses are minimal, which allows her to "live it like you mean it," as the tattoo on her arm reads. "With touring, I get to be around music every day," she points out. "I get to be around my best friends and I get to travel, which means I get to be in a new place every day."
To that end, Francis has recently done touring stints with These Arms Are Snakes and Smoke or Fire. And between trips, she's been home long enough to help other bands she's been working with — Mustangs and Madras, Autokinoton, Ghost Buffalo, Minsk, Battlefields and Git Some — pick up a few shifts at 3 Kings Tavern and also work with Westword's Tuyet Nguyen on organizing Denver Fest III. But that festival, slated to take place at nine venues from Friday, August 31, through Sunday, September 2 (see www.dfesthq.com for complete info), will be bittersweet for Francis. Although it's on track to be the biggest and best event yet, it will also be one of Planes' last Denver shows.
Still, Francis won't have much time for reflection. Her own career is about to take flight. Later this year, she'll be hitting the road with another act — and there's no doubt those fellas will be in good hands. This is one lady who stands by her band.