In our digitally-reformed music industry, the internet has given a big middle finger to sales revenues by offering consumers music for free, or at the very least, super cheap. And while there are good and bad parts to this (let’s side-step that debate in this article), one huge consequence is that artists have to tour a whole lot more to make money. Some of the artists I’ve worked with and interviewed spend over half the year living on the road – a fact I still find crazy, especially because I come back feeling like an older and more weathered Keith Richards after spending only three or four months touring.
But as the saying goes: we make hay when the sun shines, and when the road becomes your home and office, you come to realize some things pretty quickly.
1. Staying Healthy Is So Damn Hard
Unless you’re Tim McGraw, you probably aren’t touring with a trailer containing a mobile gym. This means that if you want to stay fit, for every town you visit, you need to locate a gym and buy a drop-in pass. In theory, this doesn’t sound very hard. Yet, with a crazy schedule of driving, media interviews, sound checks and start times, you may only have an hour or two to spare. It’s not impossible to find the time, but this irregular routine really wears on your motivation. Now, mix this with a seemingly endless supply of drive-through fast food and free beer and you’ve just lost yourself in the Bermuda Triangle of early onset diabetes.
2. Your Stage Personality Becomes Your Everywhere Personality
It’s no secret that when you’re on stage you have to be “on.” In order to entertain, there is a requirement to play a sensationalized or theatrical version of yourself. As Merle Haggard said, you put on your Instamatic grin and kick the footlights out. In other words, regardless of what you feel on the inside (i.e. slightly hungover, bloated from all the sodium you’ve undoubtedly consumed, or just tired and wanting to watch Netflix), you need to be the life of the party because people paid money to see you. But when you’re on tour, the show doesn’t stop after the encore. Backstage, fans will want to meet you and take pictures; the next morning at 6:00, local radio and TV stations will want to interview you and hear you perform acoustic versions of your latest single. The show becomes your life – nearly every waking moment. And instead of constantly flipping between being a normal person and an entertaining act, it’s just easier to stay in performance mode.
3. Every Town Is Just as Familiar As It Is Foreign
If you’re like me, you like to think that your home town is unique from others (after all, people probably wouldn’t have home town pride tattoos without this belief). You find a certain comfort in the familiar sights, sounds and fragrances of home, even if you never really cared for your town in the first place. But when you hit the road, you’ll stumble upon these little familiar comforts in places you’ve never been before. An early morning coffee in a beat up old diner will take you right back to the same cup of coffee you had in the diner back home two months ago. The smell of breakfast frying, the tired and cantankerous waitress, the old farmer in the corner reading the paper – these are all seemingly steadfast pillars in the structure of our societies. You’ll be driving somewhere new and notice that ripening fields of grain sway in the wind exactly as they do at home, the John Deere and New Holland dealerships still hug the outskirts of town, and each grocery store you visit will always charge too damn much for limes. Even though you’ll probably get lost navigating the streets without Google Maps, common things that make a home town home become clear – I guess that’s why we sing about old diners, wheat fields and water towers so much in country music.
4. People Are People, No Matter Where They’re From
While the sub-title above may seem like a line taken from a Doctor Seuss book, the statement that people are people is entirely true. There are differing cultures and attitudes between places you visit, distinct accents and prevailing demographics, but at their base, people are generally the same everywhere. Young people will come to your show with a good buzz and old people will glare disapprovingly when they get too rowdy. Stage managers will always be in a stressed out panic and some security guards will always be dicks. You’ll meet people who are like yourself and you’ll meet people who are different. From the stage each night, you’ll see reoccurring characters and behaviors whether you’re in Northern Canada or America’s Deep South. You’ll realize that a night will not go by without at least one couple deciding that the dance floor is an entirely suitable place for a drunken argument. You’ll also find that Jose Cuervo is always the number one choice for shots (and the number one reason for bathroom vomiting). And if you decided to accommodate the shouted requests from the audience to play “Wagon Wheel,” people of all creeds, ethnicities and ages will undoubtedly take out their phones and chronicle your rendition on their Snapchat or Instagram stories.
It’s a surprisingly refreshing and profound realization to make: no matter who we are or where we live, we all like to party to country music.