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IN A SEVEN- SEATER VAN
‘I’m with the band!’ If only these four coveted words lived up to their romanticised reputation. Sure, it’s great to be in a band, but what about touring with one sans the necessary talent to stake your claim? Thankfully, this untalented chick has lived through a three-year reconnaissance mission of life on the road, touring with an up- and-coming band, and is now happy to finally report back.
This intrepid tale dates back to 2000 – 2002, when we were all still ecstatic that the Y2k bug hadn’t decimated our computers, and Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ was cranked up on everyone’s stereos. A record deal in Nashville and a four-month tour with a well-established band in the USA meant it was time to pack up and leave Australia; no return tickets booked.
My role? Dutiful wife of band member ready to live the touring dream. Pinch me now!
Our journey begins on January 17th, 2000, when we bid farewell to anyone who cares, in search of fame and near impossible fortune. Three band members and three wives en route to Nashville; the fourth member stuck in another country due to visa issues, but hey, that’s rock ’n’ roll. Leaving an Australian summer for an American winter was the more pressing issue as we arrive in sub-zero temperatures to an empty airport. Apparently, the band manager didn’t get the email about arrival times. It’s ok though, we have tiny hotel rooms and a 24-hour Waffle House to help us acclimatise to our new country.
With a three-week window to prepare for the upcoming tour, various shows are booked to start garnering exposure. The band is ready to hit the American stages minus the stranded guitar player. Thankfully, the bass player is multi-talented enough to wear the guitarist’s hat, just not at the same time; he’s not that talented. EMI studios to the rescue. Bass tracks are laid down with a click track onto a Digital Audio Tape which temporarily becomes the ‘fourth band member’ for the next three weeks of shows. This all works beautifully until the audience demands an unexpected encore. Fortunately, nobody notices the repeated songs from the setlist.
With the prodigal guitarist now reunited with his band members, tour preparations are in full swing. Our home for the next four months is a seven-seater van dragging around a U-Haul trailer bursting with music gear, merchandise and overpacked suitcases for seven people. The daily loading and unloading of this trailer can only be described as a frustrating game of Tetris where nobody wins. Every configuration known to man is achieved throughout the ensuing months accompanied by numerous expletives.
First stop on this 67-city tour is Florida. We all pile into our snug van with a strange mix of anticipation and trepidation. This little-known Australian band is about to play to thousands every night in an inflated air dome arena all over the USA. The headliner draws the crowds so the risk of performing to only half a dozen people is one less thing to worry about.
Now, while it’s a given in this industry that every band needs to ‘pay its dues’, before ‘making it’, nobody really outlines what this looks like.
Let’s just say it includes a lot of driving through the night, sleeping on hotel floors, car problems, sleep deprivation, zero personal space, irritability, cheap bad food and poverty. But hey, we’re on tour!
A few days into the tour and we start to get the hang of this new daily existence: checking our itinerary to see how long we’ll be driving and whether it’s worth us all cramming into one hotel room, arriving at our destination and finding the closest amenities to preen ourselves, sound checks, eagerly awaiting the provided catering, setting up merchandise and braving the elements till show time. Having an inflatable dome as the nightly venue means no green room to loiter in. Our seven-seater van has now doubled as a backstage green room as we try to escape arctic temperatures, blustering winds and adoring fans (or fan).
The headliners needn’t concern themselves with these issues, however. Their luxurious tour bus replete with bunks and lounges ensures they are always well rested and comfortable. Each night they’re also whisked off to hotels for showers while we remain stewing in our own juices. The upside to this is that their discarded hotel rooms are now available for us if we choose not to drive through the night. We take advantage of this on numerous occasions and couldn’t care less about the wet towels strewn across the floor.
On days off in between shows, the never- ending stocktake of merchandise takes place as we share hotel rooms, and one-bathroom- to-seven-people ratios, where one cake of soap is stretched to its limits. With very little money in our pockets, exploring each city becomes an interesting venture, but the land of free refills and gargantuan portion-sized cheap food ensures we don’t starve to death.
Blood, Sweat and Food
Four months and 67 cities later, we complete our first ever tour and head back to Nashville. After playing to hundreds of thousands of people and scribbling their autographs on paraphernalia to new adoring fans, the band is quietly confident that selling up and moving across to the other side of the world was worth it. Well, at least for a while anyway.
Putting our roots down in Nashville in a shared apartment, signing up with a booking agent and trying not to kill each other due to personal space issues, the next two and a half years can definitively be described as ‘paying our dues’. Mini tours, festivals and casual shows become our way of life as we experience every high and every low on offer. A montage of this time would include blowing a trailer tyre on the highway, crashing a borrowed RV into a pole, driving off from a gas station attached to the petrol bowser, drinking water in Montana that tasted like feet, an overnight drive contaminated with someone’s dog crap-smeared shoe, toothpaste freezing solid on tour, the trailer unhitching itself down the highway and selling blood plasma to buy food. Fear not, there were great times too, but who cares about those?
Now, if you’re reading this hoping for a happy ending where the band finally makes it and wins a couple of Grammys, you might want to look away. It appears that en route back to Nashville a lone deer prancing across the I-40 highway had other plans for this illustrious band. Swerving to miss the fearless creature, an accident ensues, terminating in a ditch. One injured band member, a smashed-up van and the destruction of various instruments later, Australia, it seems, was calling us home.
We gave it a good shot, had the experience of a lifetime and lived to tell the tale.
But I’m no longer with the band.
Postscript: The injured band member made a full recovery. RIP the guitar amp, drums and bass guitar. Later the band decided to call it quits back in Australia for various reasons.
How very rock ’n’ roll.
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