Jim Runge is one of country’s best-known tour managers, but before he worked for huge headliners like Major Lazer, Empire of the Sun and Imagine Dragons, Runge got his start promoting punk shows in Green Bay, Wisc. in the 1980s.
“I did a lot of small regional shows in my teens and helped promote shows for bands like Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, the Descendents and NOFX,” he told Amplify.
He spent most of his 20s hanging around the concert and touring scene and working lighting and doing roadie work until landing his big break in the 1990s as a tour manager for Jimmie Dale Gilmore.
“Tour managing has changed a lot since those days,” he told Amplify. “We used to just work with a pager and a legal pad. Now technology is a component of every single part of my day.”
Also different — he now wears a suit whenever he’s working. In fact, it’s become a calling card of sorts.
“A lot of tour managers wear cut off sweats, dirty t-shirts and old tennis shoes,” he said. “As the manager and the face of the band, I don’t want to show up looking like I just woke up and am still wearing my lunch.”
The suit-wearing rock manager and lifetime roadie attributes much of his success to his time with The Black Keys, who “were playing clubs when I started with them in 2010 and by the end we were selling out arenas. I wouldn’t be writing this if it hadn’t been for them. I would take pictures of the crowd every night because the fans were so into it. It’s a great feeling to bring something like that to fans every night.”
Amplify caught up with Runge to talk about his 20+ years in the business and recount his five shows from a lifetime of touring.
“There was never anything else I wanted to do,” he said. “I get to travel the world and see amazing things, eat the most amazing food and spend time with the best people.”
Hüsker Dü at Willy Center in Madison, Wis.
March 22, 1982
It was my first major punk show seeing a touring act. Before this I’d only seen a few local acts from Green Bay. This was an eye opener. There were only about five of us punks in Green Bay at the time so traveling to a “bigger” city and seeing hundreds of kids that were like us was life changing. There were kids from all over Wisconsin and Illinois all staying at Die Kreuzen’s house. Hundreds of kids from all over the midwest hanging together. I remember my first hardcore punk show in Green Bay at a place called Northside Bowling lanes. I promoted my first show there — 40 kids showed up and I started my career in music.
Nirvana at Northern Lights Music Store in Minneapolis
Oct. 14, 1991
This was before their First Avenue show. Don’t really have to go into why it was special. We all knew we were seeing something special. I was lucky enough to grow up, in my 20s, at First Avenue. I saw thousands of bands over the years and there was no better place on earth to grow up. Lots of memories there and I could tell hundreds of stories. One that really sticks with me was The Swans. It was the late 80s. They had signs on the door warning women in their first trimester of pregnancy not to attend because of the volume of the show. The small stage in the entry was lined with bass cabinets and they’d added to the more than adequate PA. The first note was the bass player punching his bass. The bass cabinets jumped on the stage. The sheer volume pushed us back from the stage. We spent the next hour being violated by the loudness.
Rickie Lee Jones, Paris
It was in a tiny coffee shop. I wish I remembered more details than that — I was with Rickie a few years. We were over in Paris doing some shows, hanging out a few extra days. She had met a famous French artist whose name I can’t remember! They had met on a TV show a few months before I came aboard and had discussed a mutual love for The Beatles. They decided to do a small private show in a small coffee shop in Paris. Just the two of them on acoustic guitar and Sal Bernardi playing bass. I’ve always been a Stones guy and never really got into the Beatles that much. That night, listening to Rickie, I discovered The Beatles for the first time. Rickie made it real for me and made me understand. Her interpretation made me a Beatles fan. Rickie was one of the most amazing artists I’ve ever had the honor to work for. A true master of her craft.
The Replacements at Riot Fest in Chicago
Sept. 15, 2013
Growing up in Minneapolis, I couldn’t help but love the Replacements. When I got word from their manager Darren Hill, in early 2013, that they might be reuniting I almost exploded. On top of it, he asked me if I was interested in tour managing them. It was the most exciting thing to happen to me at that point in my career. Getting to do rehearsals at First Avenue and being one of 10 people in the room was magical. It wasn’t easy……their reputation is real, but it’s a time that I’ll always remember. Also in 2013 I was asked to cover Wilco on the Amercanarama tour with Bob Dylan, My Morning Jacket, Ryan Bingham, Richard Thompson and Bob Wier. Hearing that line up every night and touring with those legends was amazing. However, the best part was Wilco itself. I’ve always liked them, but getting to hear them every night and getting to know Jeff and the guys made me a huge fan.
Waylon Jennings Tribute at ACL Moody Theater in Austin, Texas
July 6, 2015
It was an incredible lineup — Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Toby Keith, Eric Church, Alison Krauss, Kacey Musgraves, Ryan Bingham, Sturgill Simpson, Jamey Johnson, Lee Ann Womack, Robert Earl Keen, Chris Stapleton, Shooter Jennings, Jessi Colter and Bobby Bare. I paid A LOT of money to take my family to this. We sat in the front row with our five-year-old. Watching him soak in the songs of Waylon from masters of the craft was pure magic. A night I’ll never forget. A couple years later I attended a tribute to Kris Kristofferson at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville with Lady Antebellum, Dierks Bentley, Ryan Bingham, Rosanne Cash, Eric Church, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Lee Ann Womack and so many more. It was another magical night.