I am a semi-professional musician; a hobbyist entertainer. I do not make anywhere near enough money playing music to support a family, much less myself. Nor do I aspire to, or harbor any lingering delusions, of rock stardom or other such nonsense. My band practices once a week and plays a show at some local bar maybe once every six weeks. The Tolex covering my amplifier and speaker cabinet barely has a scratch.
I went out the other night to a local bar to see a couple of touring bands, Zeke and Antiseen. Their speaker cabinets are worn and ragged from the constant loading in and loading out of years and years of touring. The musicians and their few roadies are as road worn looking as their gear. Just like myself, their hair is thinning and graying, their beards are salt-and-peppered, they have beer guts, they have nagging little aches and pains.
I have been a fan of many of these bands for most of my adult life. I discovered them in a magazine or on the internet or by word of mouth when I was in my late teens and early twenties. The guys (and girls) in these bands were younger then too, fulfilling their aspirations to make a living doing the thing that they loved: playing music. For many of them, putting together a band and hitting the road was one of the only ways out of poverty and inopportunity.
Along the way they made record deals and recorded. They relentlessly played shows and went out on the road to tour to promote the music.
With little more than gas money, they hit the highway in vans and trailers with their gear and some merchandise to sell to keep the tour going. Their fortunes rode on these tours and many of them suffered breakdowns, rip-offs, break-ins, illness, accidents, tragedy, and all manner of little setbacks, triumphs, joys, hangovers and tattoos along the way. Life's memories, dreams and bonds were made and broken on the road.
Many of them are still out there, keeping it on the road. For the love of the music. For the bands and the music that was created and nurtured when they were young; they keep it on the road. Because there still are not any better opportunities back home; they keep it on the road. Because all of their friends and acquaintances that they have made and kept over the years are also still on the road; they keep it on the road.
These guys are just like you and me with the same problems that life deals out. They have bills to pay, rent, mortgages, insurance, loans, alimony, child support. They have kids, they have spouses, they drink a few too many beers, they may have had to join a 12-step program, they are getting a year older every birthday, just like you and me.
Perhaps you are like me, a thirty-something, forty-something, whatever-something music fan. You have fond memories of seeing your favorite bands play.
These artists, in all likelihood are still on the road and are still in need of your support. It does not need to be rock music either. Jazz, Soul, R&B, Country, Classical ensembles, all of these different kinds of groups are probably playing somewhere at any given weekend in every kind of venue.
It really is not even limited to music: actors, dancers, poets, artists, professional ballplayers, bull riders, wrestlers, jockeys are all out on the road performing in minor circuits, associations and venues.
For all of these artists and athletes, there are no luxury motor coaches, no instant fame and stardom. There is no American Idol instant success. You will not see their Hollywood exploits on TMZ. Most have no insurance pool to draw from. Most have no one matching into a 401k for their retirement. They are traveling in conversion vans, sleeping in discount motels, living basically hand-to-mouth with very little margin for financial error.
These people all need your patronage to keep it on the road.
So, I make sure that I get my ass off the couch several times a year and get on down to the bars to see these guys play. I get right up in front, even though my hairline is receding and my waistline is a bit larger than it once was. I am not ashamed. Besides, I usually find that I am not never only one pushing well past thirty in the joint. I make sure that I get right up in front, if practical, and I get my fist up in the air. I get pushed and jostled and share in the camaraderie with the rest of the crowd and often get splattered with their beers. I scream and yell in enthusiasm in chorus with the roaring amplifiers. These guys get up on stage and give it all they got, night after night. When I go out, I aim to give myself all to the show too.
Just like Bob Seger sang,
"You can come back baby, Rock N' Roll never forgets"
Here are some suggestions to support touring musicians.
- Look up your favorite bands' websites and the websites of their record labels. It is easier than ever to track their activities and find out when they will becoming to your town.
- Become a patron of local venues and publications that support these acts.
- Go to a show and gladly pay the cover charge and enjoy a few drinks. All but the shitiest places give the bands a cut from both the door and the bar.
- Have yourself a good time. I mean a really good time. Let there be no doubt to the bands that are performing that you are thoroughly enjoying the entertainment.
- Walk up to the band members afterwards and shake their hands. Say things like, "Great set tonight man!" and "Thanks so much to coming to our town, I hope to see you again soon"
- In all but the shittiest places the performing acts get a number of free drinks. If you feel like it, offer to buy the band members and their crews an extra round of beers, they probably won't turn them down!
- On your way out, stop by the merchandise table. Merchandise sales is very important! Sales of stickers, CD's, vinyl records, and T-shirts put much needed cash money into the gas tanks of their vans and RV's. Often a member of the band will be at the merch table, shake his hand again and tell him to, "Keep it on the road, brother!" with a nod and a smile.
I am sure that every professional musician out on the road, away from his home and family, gets down and thinks to himself,
"Why. Why do I keep doing this to myself."
When you support touring musicians, you make the tour a success. In the early hours of the morning, after the beat up gear is loaded into the van or trailer, it will all be worth it for another night.
Keep them all on the road.