This post is in honor of my friends The Swellers getting signed and releasing a new CD today.u00c2u00a0 Go buy Ups and Downsizing by The Swellers on Amazon (not iTunes, iTunes sucks! ha!) right now. ;)
We arrive at our home for the night somewhere in the middle of Illinois.u00c2u00a0 The floor is so filthy I’m positive it hadn’t been cleaned in a handful of years.u00c2u00a0 There’s mold in the kitchen.u00c2u00a0 The dogs are barking and running wild.
I throw my sleeping bag down on an empty spot of carpet.u00c2u00a0 Empty insofar as there was no physical obstacle in my way.u00c2u00a0 The dirt was visible in low light from my standing position.
This is now known as Dirt House #3.u00c2u00a0 Not the first, and probably not the last.u00c2u00a0 I learned the best course of action in these situations is to fall asleep as soon as possible.u00c2u00a0 And try to cover your face so as not to breathe in too much dirt.
I wake up at 6 am.u00c2u00a0 It’s Winter.u00c2u00a0 I haven’t showered in days.u00c2u00a0 We have to leave soon to make it to the next venue so I head straight for the bathroom to get clean.
I turn on the hot water yearning for some warmth.u00c2u00a0 As is the case with most old houses in the midst of a Midwest Winter’s wrath I know it’ll take a minute for the water to warm up.
I check every 30 seconds or so and the water is still cold as ice.u00c2u00a0 This isn’t looking good.u00c2u00a0 I decide I need to get somewhat clean so I turn off the water and hop in the shower.u00c2u00a0 I turn the water back on just long enough to rinse my body.
I can’t handle the frigidity enough to actually lather up so I immediately dry off and get out.
Well, at least I’m fully awake now.
Touring, Like Long Term Traveling, Can Be Rough
To be blunt: touring is a lot of hard work for almost no pay. (In that regard, it’s not at all like long term traveling, since travel shouldn’t be hard work.)
If done right (i.e with friends) touring can be the time of your life as it was for me.
I’ve been on two 3 week tours of the US with my friends’ bands (the aforementioned The Swellers and another now-defunct band, Alucard).u00c2u00a0 Not as a musician (although I am), but to help run the show.u00c2u00a0 That is, I’d mostly help with loading/unloading gear, selling merchandise, and partying.
While doing a rock tour sounds glamorous, most bands touring the US right now are living hand to mouth.u00c2u00a0 Tour buses, catering, and road crew are for the select few.
Going On Tour Is Like Traveling On A Backpacker’s Budget
The similarities are numerous:
- You eat many meals offered by kind strangers.u00c2u00a0 In this case, sometimes the venue (small club/bar) will provide you with a meal.
- You sleep anywhere and everywhere.u00c2u00a0 Van, hotels, couches, floors, and department stores (not a joke) are all fair game.
- You pack light. There’s only so much room in a van full of 5 or 6 people.
The Deep Down Dirty Secrets About What Really Happens On Tour
An average day of an underground touring rock band looks like this:
- Wake up, get ready to go.
- Drive 4-8 hours to a new city/state.
- Get to the venue.
- Unload gear and merchandise.
- Set up gear and merch.
- Play show.
- Sell merch.
- Hopefully make enough money to buy gas and some food.
- Pack everything up and load it back into the trailer.
- Head to the night’s accommodations.u00c2u00a0 Hopefully a friend or fan offers up their home.u00c2u00a0 If not, it’s sleeping in the van (likely) or paying for a hotel room (unlikely).
If it sounds rigid and boring that’s because I left out the best parts. Details…
Driving hours upon hours in a van with a bunch of guys might not sound appealing to you, but the drive is actually a really good time.
1) If you didn’t sleep enough the night before now is your chance.
2) Because of constantly changing circumstances/locations the conversation is usually interesting and free-flowing.
3) It’s a great time to read.
4) And my favorite part of the drive, assuming you’re not sleeping you get to see parts of the country (or world) that most people will never see.u00c2u00a0 It’s really scenic out there on the open road.
Sometimes you get to see some crazy things.
For example, have you ever driven through the black smoke of a burning big rig in the middle of the Arizona desert? Check it…
You get to meet new fun people every single night. While I didn’t make any lasting friendships with people I met on tour I had a great time with everybody.
Depending on the type of venue you’re playing the aftershow might start before the show. :)u00c2u00a0 And by aftershow I mean party.u00c2u00a0 I think this is one aspect of rock life that doesn’t depend on the number of records you’ve sold.u00c2u00a0 Whether straight edge or dope fiends, I’m going to bet thatu00c2u00a0 pretty much every touring band parties in some capacity.
It’s a chance to let loose and relax with friends old and new.
We would do everything from singing songs on the streets of Chicago, Illinois to scootering around Billings, Montana to playing flip cup at an Omaha, Nebraska house party.u00c2u00a0 Anything is fair game.
Many of the lessons learned from tour can be applied to any regular long term travel .
- Shower whenever you can because some days you won’t be able to.u00c2u00a0 Bonus: truck stop showers are fair game!
- Bring your own towel.u00c2u00a0 As you know from my light packing list, I prefer the PackTowl.u00c2u00a0 It doesn’t take up much space and dries quickly.
- There will be conflicts.u00c2u00a0 Close quarters for weeks on end has been the killer of more than a few relationships. Get over conflicts quickly or your time will be miserable. Roll with the punches…
- Fatty fast food day in and day out will make you feel horrible.u00c2u00a0 Eating healthy isn’t easy, but it is possible.u00c2u00a0 Stop at a grocery store and stock up on bananas, apples, and other fruit that will keep well in the van.u00c2u00a0 Raw almonds and cashews are also a personal favorite.
- Work out daily. Even simple jumping jacks and pushups will do you wonders.
- If you’re staying at somebody’s house be respectful. Clean up after yourself and offer to help clean the kitchen or any common area even if you’re normally a filthy slob at your own home.u00c2u00a0 I’ve had bands stay at my house only to leave a mess for me to clean with barely a “thanks for letting us use you!”u00c2u00a0 No, they weren’t allowed back.
Thanks to touring I’ve been able to:
- sleep on couches/floors/parking lots in 25 States.
- see some of the most amazing scenery in the United States (seeing the Rocky Mountains on I-90 crossing into Idaho from Montana is some of my favorite scenery; Northern California mountains; the vastness of the Arizona desert)
- become better friends with some awesome people.
For another view of what touring is like, check out this tour video I put together from the last tour I did with The Swellers: