Heading on tour? Trying to survive SXSW? We asked Michigan musicians heading to Austin to list the tour necessities they won’t leave home without. Their answers are revealing and entertaining.
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Touring in a band is a widely romanticized notion.
What’s better than dropping everything and setting sail for some faraway land to play rock ’n’ roll for strangers in a different city every night?
OK, it’s pretty great. But it has its downsides, such as sleeping on a wooden floor in Milwaukee sardine-style with five other humans, or riding for hours in a cramped van that doesn’t have a working stereo – or worse – only plays A.M. stations.
And of course, playing to the inevitable empty dive bar where you get paid in Miller Lite and the bathroom stall doesn’t have a door (seriously why?).
All things that can take quite the toll on one’s spirit and body. Having a strong support system, routines, and a few select “must-have” items can help alleviate the sometimes lonely ache of tour and make the endeavor that much more sustainable.
Ahead of the massive South by Southwest festival which really kicks off in earnest this weekend in Austin, Local Spins asked a handful of Texas-bound artists from Michigan to share their tour necessities with readers and fans. Take some notes from these seasoned travelers on what they never leave home without. And read more about Michigan House at SXSW and Michigan bands selected to play its Austin showcase.
JACK DROPPERS (Jack Droppers and the Best Intentions)
Whenever I travel (whether on tour or not) I always carry great ambitions of what I will accomplish between here and there, however I mostly find myself staring out the window and listening to that live cut of Springsteen’s ’75 Hammersmith Odeon show. With that being said, here are my top five every-tour-carry items:
1. My Green Penny Skateboard – As a band we like to skate around cities we visit and this bad boy of a cruiser fits well in a van or overhead compartment.
2. Books – I’ve been in school for essentially my whole life (currently working on a PhD), so the reading never ends. I usually have the best intentions (pun intended) and pack three books but I actually only get to one while the others stay crammed in a backpack.
3. Huckberry Explorer Cap – Back when I could get away with wearing a baseball hat everyday, I literally wore this hat every day, and when I’m on tour I can get away with whatever I want (read that as a joke).
4. Flask – Before each show we pass around a flask that says, “Best Intentions” on it (usually filled with Grey Skies’ whiskey) and talk about our feelings. It’s a seemingly silly exercise but rituals are important.
5. More Denim -The Best Intentions & I are known for overdoing it on the amount of denim jackets on stage. I have no regrets. (also pictured: my dog Bruce who usually doesn’t join us for tour)
BEAU STABLEIN (Brother Elsey)
1. Bathroom bag – Just because you’re touring doesn’t mean you have to smell like a touring musician.
2. A good book for when Facebook videos just doesn’t cut it.
3. Some headphones when the book just doesn’t cut it.
4. A denim jacket. Always looks good
5. @carhart hats, refer to number four.
Bonus: Tour with your best friends. Makes it a helluva lot easier.
I’m a minimalist at heart so I don’t carry too much and I am ready to ditch just about anything (besides my performing equipment!) lol. But I thought about a few things that I’ve NEVER left without:
1. Some sort of tea – I love tea (and coffee) but tea more frequently, ESPECIALLY before a show. So when I tour, I like to have some leaves on deck so that I can ask for hot water at the venue and enjoy myself.
2. Sleep gear and performance clothing – I love to sleep! I can sleep just about anywhere, lol. But I do like to be comfortable when I sleep so I don’t think I’ve gone anywhere without my go to sleep gear and hoodie, sweatpants, basketball shorts, sleeping socks.
3. Mala beads – Rarely do I leave the house without these but I do not think I’ve gone on one tour without them. They were gifted from a mentor/natural medicine doctor that I used to see when they were alive. I use these to get more in touch with the life and breath that moves through me.
As I perform, I never wish to be unaware of this gift of life. Each tour and show is a blessing. My Mala beads are a great material reminder of how to get in touch with that awareness.
4. Nail clippers – Raised as a cellist, I have a weird animosity toward my fingernails being long, lol. My nail clippers stay on me ’cause I never know when those nails might decide to grow overnight and ruin my day, lol. Even when I fly, I try to sneak them through customs and if they catch me, I buy a new pair for the trip. 😉
5. Laptop, microphone, headphones – I do not always bring these but if I were going to bring something else as an essential they would get added to the list pretty easily. I love to listen to new and old music while on the road so I bring my headphones. Or sometimes I like to sit in an unfamiliar coffee shop and get some work done so I bring my laptop. Or sometimes I get inspired to make a basic recording so I bring my laptop.
AARON SENOR (Michigander) 1. Akai MPK mini – This mini-keyboard is perfect for writing music on my laptop on the road. It makes the time go by super quickly. It’s not only fun but keeps me productive as opposed to wasting time on my phone or sleeping.
2. Air Mattress – Having an air mattress is good not only for having a decent spot to sleep, but having a consistent sleeping situation no matter where we go helps me psychologically. It gives a constant among
the constant changes of the road. I’m a creature of habit, so maintaining constants on the road keeps me sane.
3. Books – I typically bring more than one book in case I get bored with what I’m reading. Books can be a good escape if you’re an introvert, a good way to occupy yourself while waiting backstage, or be a way to learn and grow. Touring gives more down time than you may expect, so it’s nice to take advantage of those down moments to better yourself.
4. Bolthouse Farms drinks/V8 – These are a good way to maintain a somewhat healthy diet on the road. I think there’s 3-1/2 servings of fruit per bottle for Bolthouse and about 2 servings of vegetables for V8.
5. Multivitamins – It’s important to counter the sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating tendencies the road encourages. Multivitamins help ensure you’re not malnourished on long stretches.
1. Headphones – Need to block out all the music being played in the van on tour. It’s hard for me to write otherwise, ha-ha.
2. Gameboy Color – Come on man: Pokémon isn’t gonna play itself, let’s be serious.
3. Gameboy Advance SP – Gotta play Megaman on this. I need those shoulder buttons
4. Manga I’m Currently Reading – Staying current on my reading cures boredom and gives me inspiration for new music.
5. Comfortable (usually cool looking) sweat pants – My Pants are always cool and comfortable
RICKY OLMOS (Local Spins’ SXSW correspondent and keyboardist for Joshua Powell)
I have a Mary Poppins approach to touring – I own this incredible backpack with an uncanny ability to magically produce any item I need – or it feels that way at least. I try to be prepared for it all.
1. Earplugs – Protect. Your. Hearing. Kids. Especially if you want to do this for a long time. I like the brand Ear Peace. Still hi-fi and they come with a little aluminum carrying case. I don’t walk into a venue without these, and I have them on from soundcheck till the end of the show.
2. Knockaround sunglasses (tortoise shell) – For the rock star on a budget. I love the vibe and look of Ray-Bans but I have a hard time justifying $150 on sunglasses that will likely meet their fate by me sitting on them in the van. These look the part, they’re polarized and I’m only out $30 when I break them or leave them at a venue in Connecticut. (Yes, sometimes I wear them inside and it’s the best feeling.)
3. Sleeping bag – The comfort of knowing the full history of the surface you’re sleeping on.
4. Something to read/listen to – I try to bring one psychical book with me, but the Grand Rapids Library also has this lovely (FREE) app that lets you rent digital and audio books. Working on “In Cold Blood,” and “The Great Gatsby” right now.
5. Hydro-Flask water bottle – Great for staying hydrated all day and for coffee in the morning. And you know, sometimes red wine.
6. Boots – Year-round footwear. I’ve had this pair of Clark’s for four years and they’ve been to 26 states in that time. Had ’em re-soled, re-heeled, re-stitched. Actually they’re due for a little super glue before the trek down to South By Southwest.
*Spiritual Tour Necessity – An open mind, a humble spirit, a heart for people and places.
Copyright 2019, Spins on Music LLC