Plans for parties are taking shape as sports fans look ahead to the Feb. 3 kickoff of Super Bowl LIII. But unlike most party planners, Barb Marshall is including thousands and thousands of people.
The Shelbyville resident will be on the playing field of Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta to tackle an assignment vital to the success of the game’s halftime performance featuring Maroon 5, Atlanta-native Big Boi of Outkast, and rapper Travis Scott.
This will be the sixth Super Bowl Marshall has been to, but not once has she watched the game inside the stadiums with the other fans. She has always been off-site with well over a thousand others watching the game on TVs.
“The only part of the game I’ve seen (while in the stadium), and that was only once, was someone kick a field goal,” she said.
It’s because Marshall has been either a member of the field team or audio crew that assemble the halftime show stage or bring the audio to the stadium.
“I like trying new and different things,” Marshall said. So, when the Super Bowl was coming to Indianapolis in 2012, she signed up to be a volunteer on the host committee. “I like sports and it was coming here, so, why not. It was a once in a lifetime thing.”
Yet, at some point before official assignments were finalized, her name was dropped from the email listings and she did not become one of the host committee volunteers.
“I was feeling defeated,” she said. “I was so looking forward to it.”
Then, she heard on her car radio that the halftime Super Bowl committee was looking for volunteers, so Marshall went online and signed up and was selected as a member of the field team.
“Indianapolis was the first Super Bowl to have graphics shown from above, so they had to put a screen on the field and stretch it out,” she said. Two teams of volunteers were assigned to keep an eye on the screen and if it were to shift from its location, they were to pull it back into position.
“I crawled underneath the stage for my assignment and spent halftime under the stage to reach and pull the screen back if needed and nothing happened. I just hung out in a four-foot tall spot,” Marshall said. “There were probably 30 people under that stage with various jobs. We’re given seven minutes to set up and seven minutes to tear down.”
The 59-year-old enjoyed that experience and decided she would plan to apply each year for a position on the halftime show crew. Marshall, however, missed the following year (2013) when New Orleans was the host site and Beyonce performed. She said she had been traveling often with work and was just not ready to travel again.
Marshall has been a customer success representative for Eventlink, a division of SDI Innovations, since her 2012 retirement from Shelbyville Central Schools Corp. where she worked for nearly 20 years. Eventlink is a scheduling software company for schools and athletics.
In 2014, she applied and was accepted again for the Super Bowl audio crew assignment at Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. It’s a task she has repeated since then serving as a member of that crew the remaining years: 2015 University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona; 2016 Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.; 2017 NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, and 2018 U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn.
The audio team, according to Marshall, is responsible for getting “massive speakers” to the proper locations. The speakers are on utility carts. “We push the carts to specific spots,” she said. “We get to see the halftime show. We can take photos at halftime only.”
Being a part of the field team, according to Marshall, is more difficult.
“There are huge and heavy stage pieces that take 12 to 15 people per piece to move and assemble. That crew has to show up two weeks before the Super Bowl.” The field and audio teams are made up of a combined 500 people, she said.
Marshall will head to Atlanta on Jan. 29 to be ready for the first practice the following afternoon. The audio crew, she said, will practice the Wednesday and Thursday before the Sunday Super Bowl from 3 to 10 p.m. and Friday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
“We work 26 hours in practice and another 10 hours on game day,” she said. “New York was the first time (2014) we got paid. It’s minimum wage. We’re spending far more money doing this than we are making money.”
Crewmembers pay for their transportation to and from the Super Bowl location, lodging, and for most meals.
“On game day, we go to an offsite location, 12 hundred to 16 hundred of us. When it’s time, we’re loaded onto school buses, 20 to 30 buses. We have a police escort to the stadium,” she said while smiling. “We’re like kids, yelling and waving through the bus windows.”
When the game is over, it’s back onto the bus to go back to the site, get into cars, and head home.
“There’s a whole culture of people who do this like me,” Marshall said, acknowledging she has made quite a few friends. “People come from all over the U.S. and Canada. I’ve met people and learned things from them I never would have experienced. It’s been fun to see what other people are doing in their lives. You get little snippets of other cultures and other places.”
As expected, there are many rules and regulations, along with high expectations.
“It’s serious. It’s fun. It’s an awesome thing to do,” Marshall said. “You have to respect the process and the people. The artists are there to do their jobs. They’re not there to entertain us. It’s their profession. It’s their livelihood. We have to respect that. You keep your mouth shut, keep your head down, and respect the process. You realize how small you are when you look at the whole picture.”
There is to be no interaction with the performing artists.
“We spend a lot of time sitting in the bleachers, then the artists come out and practice, and practice and practice,” she said. “Sometimes they tear down and do it again. Sometimes the artists address us and thank us. Last year, Justin Timberlake provided a snack for us – hot chocolate s’mores bar from the concessions. It was such a sweet gesture on his part.”
One of Marshall’s favorite moments was in 2014 when acclaimed soprano opera singer, Renee Fleming, performed the Star-Spangled Banner at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
“And the pageantry is another thing. You take a minute to take a breath and take it all in,” she said. “When the planes fly over... It gives you goose bumps. Sometimes when I hear the National Anthem, I cry. It’s moving. It’s a celebration at that time. Nobody’s mad. Of course, that changes after the game.”
The Super Bowl is “a pretty spectacular moment,” Marshall said.
“It’s exciting to be a part of it, so, that’s why I keep going back. I’m nothing but a tiny bit of sand in their process and I don’t want to do anything to spoil their process. I’m very grateful to get to do this. Life is good. I get to do some fun things like this.”