Aside from management and administration, the woman runs the joint. By joint, we're talking about the Showbox, and by the woman, we're talking about none other than Jonna McCurry, Queen of the Backstage Scene.

Easily recognizable, McCurry's the one with the ubiquitous long black braids, black-framed glasses, and all-black rock chick attire. She's also the one who is constantly being embraced by musicians and their crew, local and touring, along with the many people in this city who have come to know her as one of the most friendly, loyal people in the rock community--someone who can also, if the occasion arises, be fiercely badass when it comes to keeping jerks, fools, and fuck-ups in line. After all, the main aspect of her job is to provide security for the club's backstage area, stomping ground to small bands and well-known acts alike.

"I've been in the music business since 1985," she says, then gasps, doubling over to laugh before exclaiming, "Oh my God!" when she realizes that almost two decades of her 35-year life have been devoted to running music performances from behind the scenes. Her career began as a tour manager/roadie in Chicago then progressed to club security in San Francisco, then to Moe here in Seattle (which is now Neumo's) before she began working at the Showbox in 1998. Tonight, she's making sure that Richard Thompson has all that he needs while watching out for his 12-year-old son, who must remain in an alcohol- and smoke-free area of the requisitely alcohol-stocked green room backstage. Currently, there are sudden, show-threatening soundboard problems going on, discovered at the expense of the poor one-man opening band, a young Bob Dylan wannabe named Jackie Greene.

Green is introduced, takes the stage, greets the crowd, and before he has time to strum a single note, a loud electronic hum forces him to be called back. Five minutes later the same scenario takes place, and a sympathetic McCurry gives the kid a hug and engages him in some humorous anecdotes that quickly calm his visible and understandable mixture of embarrassment and irritation. Meanwhile, soundmen, club managers, and roadies are wildly attempting to fix the situation. Soon afterward, when McCurry's out of his sight, she turns and giggles at the obvious hilarity of Greene's plight, especially since he'd made some remark about her working at some club in San Francisco when he was "probably still in diapers." And that's why everyone loves the woman, because she's a professional, but one that gleans the humor out of an unfortunate, but still funny, situation.

McCurry prefers a life on the road, however, and would like to someday end up a tour manager. "Every night is a different city, and a different experience," she says, "and I relate to the crews more than the bands that pass through here." She has her share of stories, however, of the bad behavior she's witnessed from her domain, and while she's hesitant to name names, she says what she can with giggles, gawds, and eye rolls: "There have been some big-name people who have pulled some really stupid crap, and I mean really big names who know better than to pull that shit. Then there was the last night Moe was open and Mudhoney tore down the green-room wall after they played. It was typical of Mudhoney, but I'm sure that night they figured the place was closing and 'What the hell, let's tear it down.'" She also has to run interference whenever a girl tries to get backstage without a pass. "Most of the time someone in the band or their tour manager has warned me that under no circumstances is some chick who so-and-so had a one-night stand with last time he was in town be allowed anywhere near the green room," she says. "They're hiding in there, afraid to step out, and while I know what they're dreading--the awkward conversation, drunken memories--I also know how those girls feel, because we've all been there. They don't understand, or haven't realized, that there's a girl in every city just like her."

Then there's the fact that bands are left vulnerable if the wrong people are let backstage, the kind that go to the press with their gossip or get photos that end up published along with distorted stories of what happened. "Like that Danzig video," she mentions with much excitement, exhibiting her notorious loyalty, "which has gotten totally out of hand." She's referring to the recent video footage shot after Glen Danzig appears to have started a fight, or at least delivered the initial shove that resulted in his being punched and then hitting the ground while bystanders yell insults and security guards and crew members intervene. Within hours the now much- downloaded video was all over the web, and is a prime example of what McCurry is trying to prevent.

Though she does come into contact nightly with some pretty big rock stars, McCurry hasn't lost the joy of being absolutely, red-faced, wordlessly starstruck. "Slayer," she says of her most celebrity-stunned moment, "hands down, Slayer." After thinking a bit, she remembers another, although it's clearly a though choice for her to make. She then remembers a woman most anyone listening to the radio in the late '70s would die to meet: "When Blondie played here recently, I was like a 14-year-old girl, all nervous and I couldn't believe I was so close to her," says McCurry. "I saw her before the show, before she'd put any makeup on, and she still looked great, but when she came out in this red sparkly dress and high heels, God, she was drop-dead gorgeous. I mentioned someone's name and she asked me if I knew him and we started having this conversation. I'm thinking, 'Holy shit, I'm standing here talking to Debbie Harry!'"

While we're talking, the sound problem is fixed and Greene again takes the stage to play two songs way past the time Richard Thompson's set was to begin. As the guitar and drum techs begin their jobs for the next act's setup, McCurry says the best thing about working in Seattle has been watching the young bands in their formative years, the ones that have gone on to prosper. "Modest Mouse, bless their hearts," she says. "I remember when little [drummer] Jeremiah [Green] was only 16 years old when they had their first show at Moe and you just wanted them to succeed, and now look where they are. And Death Cab," she continues, "and the [Murder City] Devils--look what Derek [Fudesco] has done with Pretty Girls Make Graves, who tour almost nonstop."

Playing the Showbox is often a local band's first taste of performing a big venue, and McCurry gets to see and help it happen. As she prepares the way for the headliner to take the stage, she's all business again, but still has time to give a warm and hearty hug goodbye before cracking of the crowd, "Thank God all these old farts in the audience will get home in time to take their Geritol."

kathleen@thestranger.com

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