It’s Father’s Day, so naturally I’m 3500 KMs away from my kids – who seem to have forgotten how to use a phone. Sniff.
Regardless, I’m not a fan of days like this. I don’t need a day to celebrate me, the father. I’m a father, and so I father. It’s just what I do. And I’m often pretty ok at it.
I get that my kids might want to show their appreciation of…me making them stop using their screens, making them go to bed at a decent hour, not giving them money, or not buying them anything but the bare necessities, and continually saying “No,” “Because,” and ” I don’t know, it just is! I don’t want to talk about it anymore!” But, really, I already know how they feel.
What is happening this Father’s Day is that I’m sitting in an airport hotel room just south of Edmonton, waiting to play an outdoor “Bluesfest.” I’m expected onstage in 5 1/2 hours. There’s nothing around, save a truck stop, where I stocked up on a bottle of water, and a chain restaurant that we don’t have in Ontario, where I ate half a beef dip sandwich and some chicken noodle soup, feeling the judgement from my (mostly) vegetarian family, despite the fact they had no idea what I ordered for lunch. And I’m not going to tell them.
So, I’m travelling, something I do quite a bit at certain times of the year. This isn’t a tour, per se; it’s known as a “one-off,” or a “fly-in.” There will be no sound check, as it’s a festival, and that is referred to as a “dump and go,” as the crew (smaller than usual) will simply set up the stage, and hope everything goes as it does when we have sound checks.
It usually takes a song or two in this situation to get everything running properly, something that we try to not let the audience know about. For instance, if I can’t hear myself in my monitors, I don’t smash my guitar into the speakers and storm off, I just yell into our stage tech’s ear as I play, and then he texts the sound guy or monitor guy (depending on where monitors are being run from), and hopes they check their phone.
I’ve written about touring tips before, but that was years ago, and I’ve learned a few more since. So in honour of fathers all over the place, here are some tips to tour like a pro.
Hotel rooms: When we do one-offs outside of an hour drive of Toronto, we will stay in hotels. If we’re on tour, we usually stay on the bus (see below). First thing you should do when you walk into a room is flush the toilet, and turn on the hot water in the shower and sink. If the toilet doesn’t flush, or overflows, that’s not good. Likewise, if the sink or shower doesn’t heat up, go back to the front desk and get another room. Or text your tour manager and hope they check their phone.
All too often In the early years I would get into a room, unpack (see below), stretch out on the bed, and make sure that the TV worked. Now, that is somewhat important these days, but wifi is much more important (see below). The problem is when you want to a) poop, or b) have a hot shower. If you have already made yourself comfortable, dumped (pun) some clothing out, or plugged in your devices and maybe ordered room service, and the toilet overflows (because you didn’t check it out first thing), you have to pack all that crap up (pun), and go to the front desk and get another room. Or, if the hotel is jammed, wait around in the stench of your own mistake for someone to come up and fix the toilet. Likewise with the hot water, although with less poop on the floor, soaking into the carpet.
Also, before checking-out, do a “dummy check.” Look in the shower for that soap you forgot to return to your bathroom bag (remember?). Look under the beds, for whatever might roll under there. Check your pockets for phones or wallets or backstage passes, what have you. Also, it’s 2016, so you don’t have to check-out, just walk the Hell out. There are computers now.
Also also, when leaving your room to go out, or to the gig, leave the TV on, and put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door. That way, potential cat-burglars will think you’re tucked in, watching SNL, and move on to the next room. But be careful if you’re playing with a younger pop-punk band (
Sum 41) who might turn all the “Do Not Disturb” signs to the “Please Make Up My Room” side, and you’ll be yelling at housekeeping at 9 AM, despite the fact that they can read, and you trusted the universe to be on your side.
Unpacking: Don’t. Unless you’re planning on staying for a week, keep everything in your bags until you need to use them. Use them. And then put them right back into your bags again. I don’t know how many times someone I’ve toured with has had a sudden panicked look on their face as they burrow through their suitcase in a frenzy because they can’t find something, only to realize it’s sitting on a chair in a hotel room that we left 8 hours ago.
You’re not on vacation, you’re working; travelling every day. Pretend that everything in your possession is attached to your bags with elastic bands, and they have to return to their place as soon as they’ve been used. That way you get into a habit, and you won’t lose things.
–side note: if it’s 2004, and you’re scrambling around your room for your cd/dvd travel case, and you’re convinced the house keeping staff took it from your room when you went to lunch, go on the bus and check under one of the throw pillows on the couch in the front lounge, because that’s where you left it when your were tanked the night before. Don’t go to the front desk accusing the staff (of a hotel every band stays at when in San Francisco) of robbery. You’ll look and feel like an ass, and that will reflect on your band. Or so I’ve been told.
If you’re on a tour like the ones we often do, you don’t stay in rooms every night, but you have a couple for everyone to shower in. Separately. That means a ton of towels get used, but there aren’t usually that many towels in any given room. If there’s a safe in the room, get in there early, and grab 2 towels. Use one for your morning shower, and put you post-show towel in the safe! It’s a bit unteam-playerly, but you’ll thank me at 2 AM when the rest of the towels have been laying on a soaked floor, used and gross, and you’ve got a totally new one. Or you could just call down for more towels and you’re a hero.
The main tour bus rule: Here’s the main thing you need to know to immediately make you think twice about travelling on the glorious tour bus: no pooping on the bus!!
This might not seem like a big deal, until it’s 3 AM, and that burrito you scarfed down earlier that evening has decided to make a quick exit. Often there are many people on said bus; we’re usually 9 or 10. Dudes (these days). Imagine 10 guys on their 3rd week of bad road food and litres of beer swilling around in their bowels. Then imagine all of them pooping in one portable toilet. Multiple times. It’s not something you would want to experience, no matter who’s autograph you’d die to have.
Busses have to dump (pun but true) their toilets in specific places, and that doesn’t happen every day. There are chemicals that kill the smell of pee, which there will be a lot of. But the sad fact is that if you’re prone to IBS, or react to certain foods, you have to cut out whatever can usually trigger attacks. That can suck for many, because it relegates you to the most bland food, often when you’re visiting areas with unique or exotic foods.
Of course you can also “bag” it. We once had a driver who drove Morrissey (who would have had his own bus, with a few staff). Apparently when Moz had to go #2, he made his assistant carefully attach a plastic bag over the toilet bowl, and he would do his duty ( pun…you’re getting the idea), and then make the assistant dispose of the evidence – meaning wrap it up and through it in the garbage.
Toilets factor into about 75% of anxiety on the road. If you’re like Sloan, you play many clubs where the only option if the need hits is the public toilets, because there are no facilities backstage. Public toilets often have no doors on them, because why would a club fix a broken door? Or both male and female options have never been cleaned. So, a hotel or restaurant close by is pretty much the pot of gold at the end of the cramp rainbow.
Wallets and phones: Geddy Lee’s big advice about touring when asked once was to take your wallet on stage with you. Same goes for your phone these days. No matter where you’re playing, even if there’s security, take these with you. Sure, they leave an unsightly, and recognizable, bulge (unlike the proverbial ’70s bulge we don’t need to get into – see Spinal Tap and armadillos, or Bon Scott), but you won’t lose them. And, if you get a text from your tour manager or sound guy during the show, your phone’s right there, not vibrating away in your dressing room, attracting anyone who might want a 3-year-old iPhone.
Wifi and social media: Most hotels have wifi, which is generally thought of as “unlimited,” so do any heavy posting when you have that going. On the bus, however, wifi can have limits. So, say you do a 3 week run, and someone watches Netflix every night after the show because they “aren’t drinking this tour,” and just want to climb into their bunk and catch up on The Walking Dead, the band may end up with a $2000 bill for blowing through the data the company thought would be enough, despite the fact that these busses are used basically 365 days a year, and everyone uses the wifi. Or so I’ve been told.
So, this is going on a bit, but there are a few things to keep in mind when touring. Happy Father’s Day!