Ahwatukee Foothills resident David Stern says he's learned a lot over the years after traveling with bands like Van Halen, Meatloaf and Bon Jovi, and now he's excited to pass his knowledge on and help teens in the Valley through Alice Cooper's Solid Rock Foundation and the Teen Center.
Stern was introduced to music early in his life when his mother would book bands for their church dances in New Jersey. He'd help unload the bands and get them set up. In high school he became an "av geek" and helped run the auditorium during the day. At night he worked at local clubs helping bands set up. Eventually, he started working for regional acts.
"I worked for bands like Frankie and the Knockouts and T. Roth and Another Pretty Face," Stern said. "I would start working for the opening band for national acts where after the show you load up the truck and drive to the next city and sleep in the parking lot of the arena. You wake up, go in and do the show, and then get back in and drive. It was always two people so one would sleep while one drives. Once you heard the truck bouncing you would switch drivers. That was the schedule we kept. That's when I first learned to drink coffee."
It was a good enough schedule for Stern in his early 20s. Eventually, he made a name for himself and began working on larger tours.
Somewhere along the way he met his wife in a bar and kept in contact with her even as both were travelling.
When they got married he flew to New Jersey, changed into a tuxedo in the limo, was dropped off at the ceremony, and left within a few days to go back on tour with Toto.
He met bands like U2, KISS and even saw Michael Jackson rehearse in Tokyo. He worked for Pat Benatar, Joe Lynn Turner, Sammy Hagar, Meatloaf, Van Halen and Bon Jovi, doing everything from lights to being a keyboard, guitar or drum tech.
Once he had spent 12 years travelling and learning all he could, he realized it wasn't a life he always wanted to live.
"One day I called home and a little kid answered the phone and I said, ‘Who's this?'" Stern said. "My son had learned to talk. That's what you gave up by touring. When Marla got pregnant with our daughter I decided to stop touring."
Stern returned home to Marla in Florida and found a job installing sound systems for Musak. One project called for installing a high-tech system in an upscale resort in Palm Beach.
After eight months of installation the hotel hired him on as its own audio and visual man to help run the system he had installed. That's when Stern became familiar with audio and visual and the corporate world of meetings and events.
"It was all the same equipment I had been handling on tours, but now I had to wear a suit and tie," Stern said.
As the kids got older Marla convinced him it was time to leave Florida. She had spent a short time living in Arizona in the '70s so he found a job in Phoenix and they moved to Ahwatukee Foothills.
Two years later they decided to take all their savings and start their own company, Precise Corporate Staging.
They went from a small amount of equipment being rented from their spare bedroom 11 years ago to a now 36,000-square-foot warehouse in Tempe, and a smaller location in Atlanta that house lighting, audio and visual equipment for concerts, corporate events and festivals across the country.
Sticking to their roots, paying for as much as possible up front and keeping things low key, has made it possible for the Sterns to continue to grow and give back to the community.
With kids in dance and theater they've often been able to donate needed equipment to schools and churches in the community. They just ask that the organization take the money that was saved and put it back toward the kids. When big charity events ask for help they're happy to do it for no charge.
"We were introduced to Alice Cooper years ago," Marla said. "A company had come to us asking for lighting to help with his big charity event. We donated the lights to them, figuring it was going to charity, and they went and charged the Solid Rock Foundation. When we heard that, we offered to do the whole event for free."
The Sterns have helped with the Christmas Pudding event for eight years. Now, as Cooper is working on opening up a Teen Center for at-risk teens, Stern is helping write curriculum for students to learn about all that goes on back stage.
"I enjoy the entertainment field," Stern said. "I'm not talented enough to be on the stage so I've always been behind the stage ever since age 14. My whole thing is you see the Rolling Stones and there's five people on stage, but it took 140 people to put them on stage.
"There's more career opportunity for kids as a stage hand than the five people on stage. Most of the kids come from broken homes so, now, when they come home from school they can turn to the teen center and do something for free."
Marla hopes their company will be able to find employees among the kids at the center and offer them a job well into the future. The center is expected to open in March.
"We're not doing what we do to be the biggest or best," Marla said. "We're doing it because we love what we do. We love the entertainment business. We've been blessed to grow. We're from a different age where your word meant something. We're trying to bring that to this end."
For more information on Precise Corporate Staging, visit pcstaging.com or call (480) 759-9700.
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