LUXE BUS TO KEEP POP ROYALS ROLLING
A million-dollar hideaway is being built for Beyoncé and Jay-Z on a nondescript side street in Fort Lauderdale, where workers are pulling 20-hour shifts to meet the pop-culture power couple’s famously high standards — even when it comes to a tour bus.
Sitting behind a small warehouse near Commercial Boulevard, a half-block from Lockhart Stadium, the richly appointed 45-foot bus, furnished with a queen bed fit for Queen Bey and a power supply usually found on a megayacht, will be a home away from home during the duo’s nationwide On the Run II Tour, which hits Hard Rock Stadium on Aug. 31. Price tag: $1.1 million.
With plywood ceilings and floors, cables and conduit snaking in full view, the shower and royal throne unin-
stalled, and the private kingdom still awaiting its queen bed, it was hard to look at the bus this week and imagine that Marco Ciotti and his five-man crew at Ultra Coach Inc. will meet their deadline. The bus must be in New Jersey by Aug. 1, in time for an OTR II concert at the Meadowlands the next day.
But inside the bustling warehouse, both the stress level and confidence are high.
“The show must go on. The artists need their bus, and that’s what we do,” Ciotti says, acknowledging that work will continue until the last minute. “We are under such a tight window that we’re already projecting that a small crew will be riding with the bus to do the final touches before it gets to New Jersey. I’m literally going to have to be finishing it as we’re driving.”
The rock-star life
Ciotti, who owns a residential construction company in Fort Lauderdale, is the founder and lead designer for Ultra Coach. The company started out building observation decks on buses for NASCAR fans and racing teams, and about 30 months ago moved into retrofitting and leasing buses to musical acts. Clients have ranged from Dierks Bentley and Kesha to Andrea Bocelli and Ed Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
Leasing buses to rock stars — who will spare no expense, literally, to make it to the show on time — is a unique business, says Ciotti, who has been forced to ship parts, and himself, across the country at a moment’s notice to fix problems big and small.
“Pillows. Pillows are a big thing. We did Indigo Girls a long time ago, one of our first tours, and she needed a specific pillow. And we got it wrong, and they flipped,” he says, laughing.
With four buses on the road, Ciotti has stepped in as driver, mechanic, maid and janitor, the last role made worse if someone has broken the code of the road.
“If one guy takes a No 2 on the bus, some artists will kick him straight out of the bus. It cannot happen. It’s a sin,” Ciotti says, not laughing.
That experience creates bonds among those who live it. When Stormtroopers Transportation, a Los Angeles-based leasing company that has worked with Kanye West, Blake Shelton and the Rolling Stones, got a request for a new bus for the OTR II tour, they recommended Ultra Coach, which specializes in a modern, European design that Beyoncé and Jay-Z desired.
Ciotti is all in on the project: He’s sold the four buses and gotten out of the leasing business to focus on designing and building them.
The completed portion of the bus is a study in understated luxury, much of it covered in a rich brown wood-grain laminate. The gentle curves of the walls of the bus are repeated on all edges and openings throughout the space, a subtle, soothing touch.
The bus is capable of sleeping 12, but this one is configured with four stacks of upper and lower bunks, each space 77 inches long, leading to a private lounge in the back where a sofa will convert into a queen bed.
Bill Strange, who is in charge of building the interior of the bus, came to Ultra Coach from Nashville, where he worked for top custom-design and leasing companies such as Hemphill Brothers, whose customer list includes Kenny Chesney, Taylor Swift, Garth Brooks, President Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Pope Benedict XVI.
Ciotti says that while Beyoncé and Jay-Z did not request anything unusual, the job came with implicit conditions.
“From what I understand, they’re both pretty demanding. There’s a certain standard that they expect,” Ciotti says.
The pressure of the client and the deadline does not bother Strange.
“I’ve been in it 25 years, so I’m not intimidated by anything,” Strange says. “We will make it. It looks like a lot [of work left to do], but at the end, it’ll all come together.”
He says Ciotti’s designs are unlike anything he’s done before.
“What Marco has done here is … taken it to the next level. He’s kind of building the bus of the future,” Strange says. “New designs that he has that nobody else has, the way it’s coming out, as far as the laminate and the creativity … he’s using, is just awesome.”
Part of the cargo area is devoted to a system of three marine-grade batteries and inverters that in an emergency can power air conditioning, satellite, TV and anything else on the bus for as long as 12 hours.
“This is what they put on megayachts,” Ciotti says. “No matter what, if something breaks down, they are safe and they’re comfortable. That’s priority one, making sure the artist is comfortable and happy.”
Bus is a rolling green room
Beginning with the shell, the industry standard for building such a bus is 10 weeks, and Ciotti is used to unusual demands: He’s built a bus with a sound studio in the back for a rap artist, and figured out a way to safely display a samurai sword above the bed (on a moving bus) for another performer.
. Beyoncé and Jay-Z order a new bus with every tour, he says.
This is all the more remarkable given how sparingly it will be used. Not only is the tour just two months long, but A-listers such as Beyoncé and Jay-Z fly to most of their shows and stay in hotels, the bus serving as a very expensive green room, merely a space to relax before and after the show.
But, for Ciotti, it’s like building them a home. Amid all the chaos in the warehouse and on the bus, he’s examining the little things, such as the alignment of grain in two pieces of laminate.
He’ll probably be doing it until he gets to New Jersey. He and a technician will be on board when it leaves, no later than 6 a.m. July 31, with a full set of tools and any parts they think will be handy.
“I personally do the ride, the completed ride along, every time,” he says. “I lay in the beds. I look up. I go left. I go right. I sit in the back. I use everything. I sit on the toilet. I listen. I look. I study. I need to see that everything moves and functions and there’s no hang-ups.”
Marco Ciotti, owner of Ultra Coach, a Fort Lauderdale firm that builds tour buses for musicians, is creating a $1.1 million bus that will act as a rolling green room for Beyoncé and Jay-Z during a two-month tour.
Jay-Z and Beyoncé
“The artists need their bus, and that’s what we do,” Marco Ciotti says. “We are under such a tight window that we’re already projecting that a small crew will be riding with the bus to do the final touches before it gets to New Jersey.”