For the past two years (and until recently), Santee singer/songwriter Mike Press was Willie Nelson's tour merchandise manager.
"After each [Nelson] show, I'd head out to the best local bar in town and I'd get to get up and play," says Press. "I'd tell them 20 times I was just the T-shirt guy, but it would never fail. They'd treat me like a rock star just because I was part of Willie Nelson's tour."
Press says he'd write songs on the road and make enough money so that he wouldn't have to work for months after each tour. There were nice perks ("You wouldn't believe what girls would do for a T-shirt.") and job security. "There are people who have been working with Willie for 40 years. If you get fired from Willie, you have really done something wrong."
Last week, Press declined to head out on a six-week U.S. tour with the 72-year-old country legend. From 2001 to 2003, Press toured the world as Ozomotli's guitar tech. ("Every time they needed an opening band, I would get to open.") Press says he was getting too comfortable being a sidecar to bigger artists. "I have to focus on what I'm doing."