Friday, August 12, 2011

I'm Talking About The Road

There wasn't much time between returning from the tour and moving to Dublin, so I haven't gotten to present my tips for the road. I'd never been on tour before, so all I knew about being on the road I learned from Tenacious D.

Our tour was really wonderful. We met lovely people, sold all of our CDs and then lots of burned discs, saw the country from coast to coast; it was awesome. And I didn't kill anyone after hours in the car, but believe me there were some times... Anyway, for anyone else wishing to go on tour, here's what I learned:

  • Make a plan, but let it break. You have to have a plan before going on the road. That means mapping out locations, finding the best routes, researching venues, and seeking out affordable lodging. If you wing everything, it will get insanely expensive and confusing. However, no matter how much you plan things will go wrong. This happened many times on our tour, but we were flexible, rolled with the changes, and the problems turned out fine in the end. Some examples: our route through Yosemite was closed due to snow, our place to crash in San Francisco fell through, and more. But we did it. 
  • When in need, use the Internet. As I mentioned before, our place in San Fran fell through two days before we were supposed to be there for three nights. I got on Twitter and posted a bunch of tweets with the hashtag #couchsurfer asking if anyone could help us out. A really sweet group of kids in Oakland gave us their living room and we ended up having a great place to stay. They save our butts. And we also broadcast every gig on all of our social presences to keep fans in the loop. 
  • Work your contacts, even old ones. Sure, we haven't talked since senior year of high school, but you live in Denver and I need a place to stay for a night. Grandpa has a condo in Iowa City? Perry, don't you have an aunt in Boulder? Bingo! Shamelessly work your address book every way you can. Acquaintances, coworkers, family friends, etc. You'd be surprised at how many people are more than willing to help musicians out with a gig or a place to crash. It doesn't have to be  awkward, see it as a way to reconnect with old contacts. Remember, everyone appreciates a few songs played in their living room or a free CD as a thank you. 
  • Screw the rejection. We got rejected a lot, calling venues and coffee shops months in advance and getting turned down or even worse, no response. By the time we hit the road, we only had a few gigs set in stone. Sometimes it got us a little down, but we never thought about giving up. Instead we got creative. We went to lots of open mics, which turned out to be very successful. (At one in Santa Monica we met the insanely talented and kind Mars Wright, who goes by Honey Son. Check him out!). In a funny turn of events, we ended up playing open mics held at two separate venues that previously rejected us only to have them LOVE our sound and ask to book us. Although the gig opportunities were missed, it was very reassuring. And whenever we hit the road again, there is a very good chance those venues will be definite gigs.
  • Every place is a venue. Like I said, we got creative. We spent six days in Telluride, Colorado for their incredible bluegrass festival. It was supposed to be a few days off for us, but in my typical fashion we could not sit still. We planned out which festival acts we wanted to see and wherever there were chunks of free time, we booked last minute gigs. I walked into a hotel lobby and asked if we could play for the guests at the bar and restaurant. They gave us two gigs. I went into an independent bookstore/cafe and asked if they ever had live music, they said no. I told them that they should. Brynn gave them our cards and the next day they called and told us to come down during lunch. We ended up playing there three times that week. One coffee shop said we couldn't play inside, so I asked if we could busk outside at their patio. That was fine with them. And it was SO MUCH FUN. We got to make gigs on our terms and actually made a good deal of money. All our food and beer in Telluride was paid for with tip money. In Santa Monica we used Brynn's parents' home to hold two house shows. Brynn's brother Gordon baked treats for everyone and we set out a box for tips. We invited Honey Son to play with us and he did. String up some Christmas lights in the backyard, set out lawn chairs, and you've got a classy venue! Any place can be a venue, you just give it the same attitude and rock it.
  • Get over the shyness. You have to. Yeah, you're living with three other people for six weeks nonstop. There is no alone time, there is no peace and quiet. Shy about taking massive dumps in public restrooms? Hah. Too bad. Brace yourself for very candid discussions about trips to the bathroom. Get ready to smell a lot of farts. Be prepared to see your travelling companions in their underwear or less. It's the road, baby. It happens.
  • Get (or borrow!) a GPS. If you go cross-country like we did, a sat/nav device is a necessity. Smart phones have Google maps and such, but it drains the phone battery fast, and you don't want to get stranded without a phone. Trade off using each others' phones and charge up the batteries at rest stops. If you manage to secure a GPS always take it with you when you leave the car. Those things will get stolen. Brynn's dad let us borrow his and it turned out to be invaluable, especially when plans changed suddenly.
  • Don't freak out. Shhh, it's ok. Just keep cool. If you've worked hard enough to put a tour together, don't get caught up in making everything go just right. Let yourself enjoy it and have fun! Stop at hokey tourist traps, indulge in a nice meal, see the Grand Canyon. It's important and you'll regret it if you miss out. 

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