Posted: Mar 18, 2019
**Guest post written by Michelle McAfee, founder of Songbones, a small magazine/podcast for grassroots singer-songwriters.
"It’s winter. You’re hibernating. And booking shows for next year. For some, the unfun part of being a touring singer-songwriter (aside from booking) is driving 6-7+ hours a day to get to the next gig in time for sound check. Sleeping on strangers couches, in hotel rooms, or sometimes, in our vehicles. It can be exhausting as much as exhilarating living this vagabond life.
In September, I toured the southwest with another singer-songwriter for two weeks. We decided to do this tour differently. To weave other passions into the fabric of our days on the road. This didn’t necessarily make the tour easier, but it certainly made it an adventure! One that I will always remember. A bright shiny drop pin on my lifetime tour map.
Fresh air does wonders. A soothing balm to a body stuck in the sitting position all day brings oxygen to the brain and gives your eyes something else to look at other than the road. When booking the tour, research hikes and points of interest and schedule stops on your route. A half day hike up a canyon in Utah off I-70, a quick pull-off on a tiny highway traverse between towns to stick your face in a creek, a coffeehouse with internet and organic food, a brisk walk around the town you are visiting, hot springs anywhere you can find them. Leave a day early to give yourself enough time for the sanity breaks if you need to. For our tour, it was well worth the added time.
It’s not for everyone. If you dread camping, you may want to skip this tip. But for the ones who don’t mind the earth beneath their bed, try camping on tour. On our two week southwest trip, we only slept inside three nights. Yes, we had stellar weather, bluebird days, and fairly mild nights (if you consider twenty to thirty degrees mild). We cooked on pocket rocket camp stoves and slept under the stars. Sat on a picnic table next to the Colorado river and practiced instruments beneath a full moon. Woke up to a dip in the Arkansas river and saved a bunch of money in hotel room fees. This is obviously, location and season-bound.
If you’re really hardcore, then report back to us on rad winter campsites you poached, because all the campgrounds we stayed in closed at the end of September. Check availability of seasonal campgrounds and if you need reservations ahead of time during the on-season. We discovered that rolling into campgrounds before 5pm gave us a much better chance of scoring a great site. Rolling in at 11pm proved troublesome and either skunked us or took a lot of luck to find a place to pitch tents. Twice we stopped in the afternoon, had our pick of campsites, payed for the night, set up tents then went to sound check. Our camp was waiting for us after the show…except once and that story is for another time :)
The new reality. Video. We have to have them. But they don’t always have to be from a live show. One of the things I love the most about touring cross-country is having the time to stare out the window at the changing arc of light across the day. When the light is magical, stop. Really stop. Set the iPhone on the door handle of the car and make little video clips. In the desert. In the mountains. Wherever you can safely pull over and and whenever you have great light. Videos of the journey. The roads. The towns. Later you can make a video collage of tour and send it out to your fans in a newsletter. Keep the clips short. You may want to reuse some of them to post ahead of shows and let the folks in the next town know what you sound like.
Sometimes you get two days off in a row. Like Monday and Tuesday. It’s tempting to just hang out wherever you land after the show on Sunday night. But planning a forty-eight hour adventure ahead of time can make a tour feel like a mini-vacation. If you backpack, find a hike trail and go. If you like history, find a museum. If you don’t dig the town you landed in, go find another one nearby and explore it. Go see a local band or artist play. Find a cheap place to stay away from everyone and hermit for two days writing songs… or sleeping. Anything to make those two days yours. To delight the kid in you that worked hard all week and has another week to go. Research options ahead of time, near the town where your mid-tour hiatus will happen, to save time and inspire you to commit to creating a fun mini-adventure.
. . . .
Allow yourself a little detour, a little extra outside fun on your next tour when the going gets boring. Or tough. Or burn-out starts to set in. Make your happy breaks intentional. Treat yourself to something out of the ordinary, even for an hour. Your inner-kid will thank you and so will the muse."
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