The title of Midge Trubey’s book says it all: Rock Doesn’t Roll on an Empty Stomach.
In 1977, when she began her backstage catering business, very few concert venues had their own kitchens. This meant that everyone in the touring company – from the top-billed artist to the last truck driver – ate on the run, out of Styrofoam containers provided by nearby restaurants or caterers, or from deli platters. Often this “food” had been sitting around, unheated or uncooled, for hours.
It was, at the very least, impersonal.
Midge Trubey set out to change all that with a company she called The Personal Touch, contracting with area promoters – and, in record time, with band management and even the performers themselves – to provide home-cooked meals, to specifications, backstage. She brought her own stove and other essentials in specially-built road cases.
Hers most likely wasn’t the first such business in America, but she was definitely the first in Florida. Her two sisters were the company’s first employees.
The response was swift, and it was overwhelmingly positive: Until she retired in 2007, Trubey was the go-to caterer for Florida concert tours. She even crossed the country a few times with Kenny Rogers and company, before deciding to keep her family inside the hometown radar.
Published by St. Petersburg Press, Rock Doesn’t Roll on an Empty Stomach collects many of her remarkable road stories, with a wide array of musical artists. Most impressive of all is the story of how she came up with the idea in the first place, made it up as she went along and grew the business exponentially.
“I was so fortunate,” Trubey says. “Within six weeks of putting my little brochure together, I had my first contract. And I never looked back. It was just a unique blend of being at the right place at the right time, and tapping in one something that just wasn’t done. And I had no fear, because I had no idea what I was getting myself into.”
That first contract was for the Isley Brothers, at Tampa’s now-long-gone Curtis Hixon Hall. Trubey’s book – between recipes – recounts her gigs with the Commodores, Supertramp, Journey, Heart, Eddie Money, Emerson Lake and Palmer (she briefly re-located to the Bahamas while the trio made its last album, Love Beach, there) and Kenny Rogers.
She always took her job seriously, and the artists deeply respected her for it.
A chapter devoted to Van Halen, just before the band began its meteoric rise to the top, is one of the most compelling in the book. Trubey made a deal with the band’s truck drivers: She would fix them a hot breakfast (which wasn’t included in her contract) if they would pick out the brown M&M’s famously vetoed for the band members’ dressing rooms. It worked.
In 1984, after those cross-country treks with Rogers and his enormous enterprise, she put the brakes on big-time travel so she could be (mostly) at home with her two young children.
“I was asked several times to move – Nashville, L.A., New York, Chicago,” Trubey explains. “To do it almost as a franchise. I just was always moving too fast.
“I guess I didn’t have the expertise around me that could have put something like that together. People are doing that now – Billy Joel has this one company that goes wherever Bill goes. I know that because his tour manager is a fellow that I married all those many years ago! I hear from Bobby about it. I’m sure there are others too.
“But I didn’t want to leave this area because of my children. We have everything here in St. Pete that’s just wonderful for kids – the parks, the beaches – just living here is a wonderful thing. And I never could consider leaving.”
Instead, her kids were often allowed to accompany her as she catered MTV’s legendary Daytona Beach Spring Break concerts in the 1980s.
When she retired, Trubey had 50 employees, working for seven umbrella companies (she had, for example, her own florist business and a successful run as a wedding and banquet planner).
Trubey points out, wistfully, that many of the “classic” concert venues, like the Bayfront Center, Curtis Hixon Hall and Jacksonville Coliseum – were turned to dust years ago.
In fact, in the wake of the pandemic, the concert business will most likely never be the same.
Still, she’s optimistic.
“This industry is big business. Music is big business. And I love it – it’s like sand in your toes. When you love music, you can’t get it out of your system.
“I think all these people are so creative, and they love what they do. Entertaining, singing or just playing music – they will find a way. This business is not going to die on the vine. They are going to come up with something. There’s just no two ways about it.”