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Who Is Parnelli?

Rick “Parnelli” O’Brien

Rick O’Brien was born in Boston, and was headed to graduate school for a political science masters’ degree when he took a random job that would change his life forever. He could have just as easily gotten a job driving a truck for a bakery or grocery store, but the truck he drove had the name “Tom Field Associates” on it.

TFA was one of the first world-class production houses in these early days of what we now call the live event business, and immediately O’Brien made his mark. He stunned and impressed those already working there, because he could somehow get around traffic-clogged Boston faster than anyone had ever witnessed before. This lead to the nickname “Parnelli” after the racecar drive, which several believe was given to him by Tom Kipphut, who would become one of Rick’s best friends. (Like O’Brien, the industry would lose Kipphut too soon to cancer in 2008.)

The concert touring bug bit O’Brien hard, and he postponed graduate school indefinitely. The very first tour he went out on the road with was Tony Orlando & Dawn, then at the zenith of their career. From there he got interested in lighting, and then moved into stage managing and finally production and site coordination.

In 1991 he took an unusual gig, and went to Russia as production manager for a 400-piece Peter Max art exhibit. His future wife Kate was working for him at the time, and on the flight over, Rick was in first class and Kate and her associate were in coach. “He came out from behind the curtain, and asked the guy next to us if he wanted to switch seats with him, and of course that guy said yes,” Kate recalls. “We thought he was nuts to give up a good first class seat in a long international flight, but he wanted us three to begin ‘as equals’ and make sure we started off as a team. I thought that was pretty decent of him!”

They would marry the following year, and their first daughter, Madeleine soon followed. The two would take her with them when she was two to the Rock in Rio, which O’Brien worked with his mentor, Gerry Stickells. Stickells and O’Brien worked on many tours, including Queen. He would work with Patrick Stansfield on many small and large shows, including several corporate gigs like car shows.

O’Brien made many friends and was admired for his sense of humor and sense of fair play, but most of all, he was respected for his ability to get the job done. He passed away in 2000 of cancer, and the following year these awards began as a way to remember him and to honor all he stood for.