Ted Barela has a treasure trove of fascinating stories at his disposal, but his insights and anecdotes don't always relate to his duties as the Cherry Creek School District's head fire alarm technician.
Instead, some of Barela's most compelling tales come from his previous professional life, a time when he toured the country with some of pop music's best-known acts. Barela was part of the crew on one of the music industry's most well-reputed and high-quality sound recording trucks; he repaired gear worth thousands of dollars, he helped to build custom sound racks for the likes of Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen.
Barela has a fount of stories related to the decade he spent rubbing elbows with pop icons.
In addition to being a skilled showman, musician and entertainer, Garth Brooks had an uncanny ability to remember the names and faces of all the crew members and sound engineers on any given tour, Barela recalls. AC/DC delivered the best rock show Barela ever saw in his years on the road, even though the concert was loud enough to permanently damage his hearing. Of all the bands he met as a sound tech, the nicest ensembles often turned out to be the most defiant, in-your-face punk bands, Barela adds. Don Henley, Rod Stewart, ZZ Top – Barela has memories and first-hand experiences to go along with them all.
"Some people were cool, other people weren't. At first, you were star-struck, but after that, you just stayed as professional as possible. You just got used to it after a while," Barela said. "Each event was different. Sometimes, we'd do big music festivals like Coachella or South by Southwest … We did blues, jazz, country, rock, opera. It was never the same, which was cool, but it was work."
The path from a professional life spent in stadiums and recording trucks to one spent in the 60-plus schools in CCSD may seem unlikely, but for Barela, it boiled down to a simple choice. After 10 years on the pop music circuit, Barela wanted more stability and consistency; he wanted a job that didn't require him to work 24 hours at a stretch, one where he could have time to recharge and relax after a work day.
Specifically, he recalls reporting to work after he'd sustained a serious injury on his mountain bike and thinking it was time to find something new.
"I dislocated my shoulder and broke my arm, and I had to go to work the next day. I had to be on a plane," he said. "I had to work like that for three months."
Sixteen years ago, Barela applied for a position with Cherry Creek Schools, and he's been working to help ensure the safety of the entire community ever since. He's found ways of bringing his prior experience to bear – in addition to his work as a fire alarm technician, Barela also supervises the audio and visual setup for CCSD Board of Education meetings, and has offered advice to crews at different amphitheaters across the district.
Barela's current post takes him to sites across the district's 108 square miles, and over the past 16 years, his duties have grown to encompass a diverse set of tasks. But that geographic range is still fairly simple compared to the cross-country journeys and 24-hour workdays he regularly handled in his previous life.
"You never knew when you were going to be home," Barela recalled. "I enjoy helping people and training people now, and one of the biggest perks is that I can be home to go hiking and camping."
Nevertheless, Barela has plenty of awe-inspiring, rock-and-roll stories to share at any given Board of Education meeting.