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Business alumna carves her own rock star dream job

Kelsy Woodson, Fort Lewis College alumnaImagine leaving your full-time job to jump on a tour bus with a rock band. You’re suddenly sharing 400 square feet with 10 other people, working 15 hours per day, and waking up in a new city every morning. And you’re figuring out this new existence on the fly.

And it’s your dream come true.

Now imagine that this dream job is also a serious step forward in your business career. That’s exactly how FLC alumna Kelsy Woodson feels every day since diving into working as a social media marketer.

Her primary client? The festival-headlining Yonder Mountain String Band.

“It’s not easy to make that giant switch from what society thinks is a normal lifestyle to a music lifestyle,” she says.

Woodson (Business Administration, ‘11) works as an independent contractor with the Yonder Mountain String Band—or, to those in the know, just “Yonder.” The band, founded in 1998, tours several times a year with its groundbreaking style of “jam grass” that combines traditional bluegrass music with Grateful Dead-style extended jamming.

Woodson, in charge of the group’s marketing, promotions, and merchandise, is integral to making these performances a reality. Her specialty, though, is running Yonder’s many social media outlets.

“Channels for marketing are heavily dependent on social media,” Woodson says. “If you think about how to reach as many people as possible, social media has become a great ecosystem for that. With the features of geotargeting posts, boosting ads, and being able to segment areas of the country, it really is the best tool we have.”

“The results you can get from social media blow away the results you can get with print or radio or TV,” she adds. “You can’t measure how many people picked up the newspaper and read it. With social media, you can measure it.”

Woodson did not develop her music-marketing career overnight. It started, she says, with the confidence she gained as a business student at Fort Lewis College.

“The business program was a comfortable place to build confidence at an early stage,” she says. “I think that’s so important, and a lot of people aren’t provided that within their education. With confidence comes the drive to reach out and do something. If it wasn’t for FLC, I don’t think I’d be where I am today.”

Immediately after school, Woodson turned an internship into a job as an event and social media coordinator for the outdoor-gear manufacturer Osprey Packs. She also ran her own independent social media marketing business as a side job, conducting social media campaigns for area nonprofit organizations.

Near the end of her time at Osprey, the company partnered with several music festivals. It was at one of those events that Woodson met Yonder’s manager, and then the band members. Her marketing work impressed them, so they hired her to do their social media work part-time.

By the end of 2015, that job grew into a full-time position. “I just couldn’t pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore something new,” Woodson says. “How many times in life are you going to be asked to travel and work with a band? So I decided to take the leap.”

Woodson started working exclusively with Yonder Mountain String Band on New Year’s Day 2016 . Mere weeks into the job, she joined them on tour and started selling merchandise at their concerts.

Life on the road with the band was an adjustment for her. “There’s definitely etiquette on the bus,” she says. “You’re sleeping on bunks. You go from having your own home to sharing a very small space. You have to really like the people you’re around in order to that.” 

“Luckily,” she adds, “Yonder Mountain String Band has some of the best people to work with, and the musicians and the crew alike are all one big family.”

As part of the family, Woodson’s job description included being one of the “all hands on deck” for each performance. “Being on the road with the band, you work thirteen to fifteen hours a day,” she says. “If you’re not playing the music, you’re literally the first one in and the last one out.”

She describes a typical day: the crew enters a venue at noon to load in all the sound equipment, instruments, and merchandise. Doors open at 7 p.m., and a concert can go until 2 a.m. As the social media marketer, Woodson also captures photos, videos, and other updates to post live. Then the crew tears down before going to sleep on the bus around 4 a.m. Then they wake up in a different city before noon, and they do it all over again, for three or four weeks straight.

“People have this perception about the music industry that it’s just this glorified party on wheels,” she says. “And it couldn’t be further from that.”

The rock star life is exciting, if demanding. Even so, Woodson seized her next opportunity with the band when it came up. After she had completed three tours with the band, she took a position managing merchandise for the band. This position complements her marketing role, she explains, and it also allows her to leave the road and work from home, on her own schedule.

“I can pretty much do my job from anywhere,” she says. “To me, the new American Dream is working for yourself, or working with less structure. I wanted to pursue that, and I finally got it to happen.”

Still, there’s a magic you can only capture by being present at the stage. So Woodson still works select festivals and dates, particularly if a big marketing project requires her oversight. For instance, she recently attended the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, where she reported from on site and broadcast live Facebook videos. She also coordinated a video shoot at the nearby scenic Bridal Veil Falls for “Alison,” a new song off a soon-to-be-released album.

Being part of these events is still a huge part of Woodson’s career, she says, and she appreciates all the time she’s spent getting to know the band members as individuals.

“It’s phenomenal how these musicians, in the end, are just normal people making a living doing this,” she says. “They just have this gift to bring music to people. When these musicians come together, they have the power to make change and influence people’s lives.”

And it’s this end result that makes all the work—often overtime work—worthwhile for Woodson.

“When you’re backstage, and you’re looking at these several thousand fans, it’s hugely rewarding,” she says. “Even if I’m not playing the music, which is the most important thing, I helped them get there. I was part of that process. Seeing the influence of your work resonate with thousands of people is a powerful thing.” 


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