Virginia Beach mom jumps back into workforce touring with rock band and selling merchandise
A Virginia Beach mom makes a lifestyle 180 with a new career selling merch for a rock band.
A year ago, Jamille Decker Alimard spent a day in bed crying.
After a rough holiday season, she had resolved to find a new direction. At age 52 and with her two children nearly grown, the Virginia Beach woman wanted to find a new career. Then the enormity of the task hit her.
The storm passed quickly, though, and the new Jamille came out determined to change her life. She wouldn’t have guessed it would involve touring with a rock band, Toad the Wet Sprocket, helping it to make gobs of cash and connect with fans. She wasn’t planning to work with the jam band Phish, field offers from other bands and make new friends across the country. But that’s what she did with her year.
All it took was saying no, welcoming fear and getting a nudge from a California roller-blader called Slomo.
Toad the Wet Sprocket is about to play at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, and Decker stands behind a
him time to think while greeting the next person in line. In a minute, each fan has happily parted with
$20 or more to fly the colors of Toad the Wet Sprocket.
There’s no hint of hurrying or pressure on this September night. And the folks in line are cool, too, knowing they’ll get the same attention.
“They love it!” Decker says later. “Most of the concert-goers had been following the band for over 20 years, and a phrase I heard nightly was: ‘These songs are the soundtrack to my youth.’ Or, ‘Their lyrics got me through my mother’s cancer ... my divorce ... my abuse.’ I swear, you have never seen a more appreciative and happy crowd at the end of each night.”
It’s not all good vibes and sunshine. (Although, Sunshine is the nickname the band gave Decker.)
When she started selling merch in April, Decker assessed the stakes: how vital that revenue stream is to bands and how emotiondriven customers are. She got her inventory and pricing down cold. She set up her booth carefully. No need for a chair; she doesn’t sit on the job.
Her sales during the tour were almost double the normal amount.
When she decided last
January to make a new start, Decker hadn’t had a “real” job for 18 years.
She lived in Virginia Beach with her husband, a cardiologist, and their two teenagers.
Her father, Sterling, had been a doctor. Before starting her family, she had worked as director of physician services at what was then Henrico Doctors’ Hospitals in Richmond.
She’s had ample opportunity to study the nuts and bolts of success, and points to another gift that’s helped: “an innate ability to care for and reach people.”
Decker has a brother and a sister, and says her father “would introduce us as: ‘This is my son, the future doctor.’ And he became a doctor. And, ‘This is my youngest daughter, the first female president of America.’ And she’s, you know, a huge journalist in D.C. And then he would say, ‘And this is Jamille, the pretty one.’”
He wasn’t talking about looks. In fact, the comment was an inside joke with them. He knew how capable she was, Decker says; he trusted her to run his offices, and they became confidantes and friends.
“He was extremely progressive. It was just me. It was that I always took care. I always made people laugh. I always just care. And he thought that was just my gift. And I needed to take that ball and run with it.”
A year ago, she called a family meeting to talk
“Most of the concert-goers had been following the band for over 20 years.” — Jamille Decker
about her desire to work outside the home. She knew there was a practical value in her ability to connect with people, and she wanted to work with something she felt passionate about — music.
“I did a lot of soulsearching and realized that to be happy, I needed to take care of myself for a change, follow my own passions, and live the rest of my life the way I wanted to.”
She agreed that she wouldn’t start working until her daughter learned to drive, and says she’s always been able to take breaks from work to spend time with the kids.
“The most I was ever gone was for two weeks at a time. ... Somebody else would fill in and then I’d fly home and take care of business,” she says, laughing as she adds: “Yell, scream, clean up, and just touch base and then go back out.”
That day of sadness last year came when she was applying online for a receptionist job at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts. After typing in all sorts of information, she was required to attach a resume, and didn’t have one.
She bounced back and started researching “resumes for moms” and job-hunting tips.
Decker says she kept two bywords in mind as she searched: passion and boundaries.
Contrary to the stereotype of finding success by saying “yes” to everything, she recognized the need to set boundaries and say “no” to things that weren’t on point. One example: She had helped friends organize their homes, and as glowing reports of her work spread she would hear from strangers asking for her help. At first, she had obliged them, but no more.
“I thought that it was a way of being happy or feeling loved or worthy, and it just turned out to be more draining.”
Decker really got some wind in her sails when she watched a video online about Slomo, a retired neurosurgeon who quit the rat race to spend his days roller-blading. The video, posted on nytimes.com, profiled Dr. John Kitchin, who skates every day — really, really slowly and often on one leg — along a boardwalk on San Diego’s Pacific Coast.
He seemed to be speaking directly to her, Decker says, with his message: “Life is too short ... do want you want to!”
She found what she was looking for on Facebook when a singer/songwriter she liked called for volunteers to sell merchandise during his shows. It was Glen Phillips, lead singer of Toad the Wet Sprocket, doing solo work.
Decker got the green light for a gig.
“So the first night he said, ‘These sales are unlike anything I’ve ever had. ... How long have you been in sales?’ I looked at my watch and said four-and-a-half hours.” They got to talking, and he learned of her career quest.
He gave her more gigs, and said his band would start touring in the summer and he’d give her a call.
“I’m thinking, ‘Sure,’” Decker says. “And sure enough, in June I got the call — and it was what started everything.”
Selling merch for an
alt-rock band won’t make you a stack of money, but Decker says it’s richly rewarding.
When the day’s sales were tallied, the band would sing her praises. “Someone saying you’re great every night? OK!”
She was named merchandise manager and VIP manager. Philips eventually got her a side job with another band, Decker says, and at the end of the night the tour manager asked, “What’s it going to take to get you to leave with us right now?”
That’s music sweet enough to rival even the sound of “her” band. And it never gets old.
“Somebody said, ‘Don’t you get sick of listening to the same music night after night?’ And I said, ‘Would you get sick of feeling 25 again?’”
Decker loved getting behind the music world scene, though in her experience it wasn’t exactly glamorous.
“What everyone thinks about touring — sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll — is actually ‘sleep, family and the moment.’”
Band members make sure she’s eating properly; she makes sure they have a place to do their laundry. They carry boxes of merch to and fro; she runs errands for them and keeps fans happy at meet-and-greets.
Phillips says she brought a new energy to the tour, “especially when you’re out there year after year with the same bunch of dudes.”
“The new and the different made her excited and lean forward. Every day she was on fire and bringing that energy,” he said.
Toad the Wet Sprocket formed in 1986, and had its breakthrough moment 27 years ago with its album “fear” and two singles that reached the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 charts: “All I Want” and “Walk on the Ocean.” Its alt-rock songs are life-affirming, not head-banging.
In concert, they perform with passion, but don’t use theatrical flourishes or rock cliches. They focus on delivering songs.
“They literally put it all out there,” Decker says.
And when the show’s over, it’s “showers and sleep.” And long bus rides to the next show.
But fans who want more wait around the bus after the show, she said.
“There are always people out there who would wait and wait and wait and wait and wait. And it sort of broke my heart.”
The musicians will chat a bit, sign this or that, but then it’s on to the bus. Boundaries.
“I said to Glen, ‘If people had talked to me the way that they talk to you every — single — night — my whole life would be different. And it’s not just because they like you because of something superficial, like your looks. It’s because of who you are, and what you’re putting out there. The lyrics that touch them come from inside you, come from your experiences, come from the person that you are.’ And these people love them because of that.”
Sometimes that love, and aura it gives the band, drives people to get demanding. Decker says that’s when her experience working with doctors helps. Fans, roadies, managers, musicians? She’s dealt with many a physician with a bad case of God-complex and many more people who tried to leverage con- nections to doctors to get their way.
Treat everyone the same, she says, not high and not low.
“That’s the way that my family taught me. Hey: What you do for the least of mine,” she said, referring to the Bible verse at Matthew 24:40 in which Jesus says, “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.
Mostly, she uses that guidance to lift people — like the woman at a VIP meet-and-greet standing alone and jittery.
It’s common for fans to stiffen up when it’s time to actually meet band members and pose for a picture, so Decker works to loosen them up as they wait. Decker could tell this woman was feeling particularly awkward, so she approached her to break the ice, give her a sunshine smile and help her relax and approach the band.
“I spent a lot of time with her,” Decker says. When it was time to pose, “Glen said, ‘Hey, prom dates.’” So he held the girl like they were dancing. In the background, bass player Dean Dinning glowered like a father and another band member made a face like a jilted lover.
“And it was the cutest, most precious picture. And everyone saw that and started laughing. So then everybody else would come up there and be ready to have fun.”
Running the VIP events at first scared Decker, because she didn’t like speaking in front of a big group.
“You fake it till you make it. It’s just putting one foot in front of the other. ...
What time do I show? You show up. OK. How do I do that? OK, so then you do what they tell you. I mean, before you realize that you’re just doing it.”
Phillips says he admires her for shaking things up without waiting, as many people do, until a crisis forces their hand.
“She’s taking it under her own steam and deciding to make some changes instead of waiting to get pushed out of the plane, so to speak.”
Since the Toad tour ended in the fall, she’s done occasional jobs — like driving the jam band Phish around town during its three-day stay at the Hampton Coliseum and helping contemporary jazz singer Will Downing when he appeared in Norfolk in December. Decker stays in touch with contacts she made during her first tour.
A year has passed since she was driven to tears while applying online for a receptionist job. She still doesn’t have a resume, but she has new business cards. On thick white stock, the cards bear three elements: her name and contact information, the job title of “Tour Support” and a colorful phoenix taking wing.
Jamille Decker of Virginia Beach poses with a fan of Toad the WetSprocket while selling merchandise for the band during its 2018 tour.
Jamille Decker takes a photo as she leads a VIP event during the 2018 tour of Toad the WetSprocket.
Jamille Decker takes a moment while setting up shop to sell merchandise at a Toad the Wet Sprocket appearance.