I've been asked a lot of questions about my recent 3 month Nationwide CD Release Tour. Mostly from curious folks asking about life on the road and how I managed for those months. My future mother in law is a great interviewer, so I asked her to jot down some good questions.
• What are some pro travel tips you’ve developed on the road?:
*A lot of musician friends ask me how I’m able to travel and feel safe with all of my equipment in the car. Or how I’m able to leave the car for extended periods of time and go on a hike or walk around a new city. It definitely made me nervous, but one of the biggest travel hacks I developed for this tour were insulated window panels. I custom cut a panel for each window out of reflective insulation material you can buy from any home improvement store. The flimsy kind that looks like bubble wrap covered in tin foil, not the rigid kind made of foam. Traveling in my Honda Element, I was able to take out the back seats. I built out a box system so that I could store all of my clothes and camping gear in the boxes, all of the music gear ran alongside them and I could sleep with a sleeping pad and bag on top of them. Having the insulation panels in all of the windows made for a dark, private space while sleeping in there. It also made it virtually impossible for anyone to see inside the car. They also provided warmth by holding body heat in while camping in freezing cold conditions and conversely reflected heat out when it was hot and sunny outside. I would put the panels in whenever I parked in a strange place for a long period of time. However, this isn’t fool proof and I ALWAYS have all of my music gear insured.
*Also, one of my biggest goals on this tour was to not eat total garbage the whole time I was gone. As you may know, it can be difficult to find healthy food in the middle of nowhere.
One way I attempted to escape this: BAG SALAD. Seems funny, but those “pre-made” bags of salad you find in the lettuce area of the produce section can be a life saver. I’d stock up the cooler on a few different varieties whenever I was in a big city. They typically include dressing (making it so you don't need to buy or lugg around a full bottle) and several toppings. They usually only run $3-$4 each. And in stores like Whole Foods where they also sell the exact same product but in a plastic to-go container for $8 it seems like a no brainer. It may take a little practice getting used to shaking it up and eating out of the bag but it’s worth it for a good salad when you’re in a literal desert.
*Which also brings me to my next point: COOLER MAINTENANCE. Optimal cooler maintenance can be difficult to achieve when you’re in a different place every night and sometimes there’s no fridge to revive your cooler continents and ice packs. I traveled with a small cooler which forced me to not have too many things that require refrigeration. I also only brought a few ice packs so as to prevent any hummus or bag salads from drowning in melted ice. I always kept a can of tuna or sardines on hand, a bottle of Crystal Hot Sauce, a can of Dolmas and a few cups of Mike’s Mighty Good Instant Ramen (as a self proclaimed ramen junkie, I’ve tried all of the brands of instant ramen. This one is the best for sure) Not to mention oranges are the superior road fruit. They’re literally wearing a coat of armor.
*Another technique I employ came from my old Canbassador friend, Phil, from our days of traveling the country for Union Wine Company. CLEAN WATER. Some cities and towns have amazing tap water, some places are so bad, the locals only drink bottled water. After living in the PNW for so long, I’ve gotten kind of spoiled with delicious tasting tap water. I’ve always traveled with multiple water bottles and now a insulated coffee mug and extra Klean Kanteen Party Cup (with a lid and metal straw) but thanks to Phil, I’ve started traveling with a 3 gallon water jug. Almost every Whole Foods in America (and there’s a LOT of them now) has a filtered water machine that delivers Reverse Osmosis Triple Filtered Water for a mere 59 cents a gallon. A small price to pay for delicious drinking water every day. And sometimes you get lucky and stumble upon a good fresh well or mountain spring too.
*Also BACK ROLLER. Holy wow. I’m so glad I brought one of those. If you’re ever thinking about driving 12,000 miles or any amount over 400, bring a damn back roller. You will not regret it. Although I definitely got some strange looks while grunting and moaning and rolling out my back in the grass at rest areas.
• How were you able to travel with a dog for so long??
Traveling with a dog for that length of time can obviously have it’s challenges. Luckily, my dog, Gauley and I have traveled cross country many times together. He’s 11 years old now and knows the routines pretty well. Also, since he’s old he doesn’t want/need as much exercise as he did when he was younger. Back in those days there was a lot more fetch at Rest Areas. Nowadays he’s good for a walk around whatever new city we are in. It’s also surprising how many bars and venues allow dogs inside. It wasn’t uncommon on this tour for Gauley to sleep on stage next to me during the show. One of the biggest benefits of traveling with him: SECURITY. If you come anywhere near the car, this guy sounds like he’ll bite your face off. Which is especially helpful when he’s guarding a slew of expensive music equipment worth as much if not more than the vehicle itself. Cities like NYC and SF are notorious for having band vehicles broken into and gear stolen. Combined with the window panels I mentioned and a snarling cattle dog, I felt pretty safe and secure leaving him on duty most of the time.
Another benefit of having him: he’s just so damn handsome. It can be hard to maintain social media presence night after night. Endless shameless self promotion is exhausting and rather than constantly posting generic press photos of myself or selfies in front of venues, it really helped to have another face of the “company”. And we all know dog photos get more likes than my goofy mug.
• Routines you only do when traveling (morning routine, etc.)?:
I developed a few funny routines. Mostly mindless muscle memory tasks that become part of the daily habit. Like where the water bottles goes, making tailgate coffee at rest areas, keeping toiletries and a change of clothes in my backpack for when I was able to stay with friends or in a hotel. The organization of the box system in my car became pretty engrained after 3 months. So everything had a place (mostly) and I would put things away without even thinking about it. Unfortunately, since every day was so different, no matter how hard I tried, my ideal morning routine wasn’t always acted out. I’d love to be able to get up, make coffee, meditate, stretch, journal and practice banjo before starting my day but that wasn’t always a reality.
• Unexpected thing that happened?:
Hmmmmm. There were many unexpected moments on this trip. From friends popping up in places I wasn’t expecting to impromptu banjo lessons from Danny Barnes in his old stomping grounds of Austin, TX. Every day was different and many unexpected things happened. There were several occasions where I’d show up to the venue in a town I’ve never been to and there’d be nobody there but the bartender. I’d set up my gear and then go hide in my car and give myself a pep talk. Something along the lines of “Ok, this might suck but you’re going to give that bartender the best show she’s ever had. Do your thing. At the very least, it’s an onstage rehearsal” Only to walk back in the venue at show time and see a packed house. Yowza! An unexpected attentive and lovely crowd. Perfect.
• How do you get up the energy to do so many shows, night after night?:
This can be a hard one. It is exhausting. There were some stents in this tour where I’d have 13 shows in 14 days. The only real answer is lots of sleep and no partying but that was rarely the reality. Often times when I really needed it, the afternoon “fika” was the answer. Fika is a Swedish word that almost literally means afternoon coffee and cake break. I’d find the closest espresso shot and something sweet right before load in and that would usually get me through the night.
• How do you keep it fresh?
It can be hard to “keep it fresh”. Most of the time that wasn’t actually up to me. Seeing as this was an album release tour, I played a lot of the same songs night after night. Yet the one thing that was different every night was the crowd. They helped me keep it fresh. Some audiences liked certain songs or jokes better than others. Some crowds had good hecklers and some had positive hecklers (You know the ones. The drunk guy/gal that's really enjoying it and heckling you with positive feedback.) So the energy exchange between myself and the crowd was the freshness. And some nights it was pretty STALE. You win some and you lose some.
• How do you exercise?:
Another tricky item while traveling for months on end or whilst driving a 15 hour day through Texas is EXERCISE. Hot damn it can be hard to come by. I set out with the intention of staying fit and exercising often but sometimes it’s just not a reality. Especially since I was traveling alone (mostly). I did all the driving and when I ended up in the next city/town it was often right at Load In time or I had to race to a coffee shop/bar to catch up on emails, show promotion, or planning the next leg. Often, exercise took a back seat. I am however a member of one of those big box gym chains (24 Hour Fitness) which is pretty amazing. They have locations pretty much everywhere west of the continental divide. They became kind of a home away from home. I could go in, get a good work out, sauna for a while, swim in the pool, hot tub and take a shower. Definitely worth it for the small monthly fee. Although, whenever I was EAST of the continental divide, my exercise and sauna time went way down. Thus the term “Musicians Bod” rings true. Lots of sitting on seats and eating venue food takes a toll no matter how hard you work out. There are some larger gym chains that are nationwide (Anytime Fitness and Planet Fitness) that might right that situation.
• Highlights of the trip?:
Highlights include: eating my way through the East Village in Manhattan and then biking to Brooklyn with my fiance, performing at Alex Grey’s Art Museum: Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, celebrating my engagement with family and friends in my hometown, watching my other friends get married, camping out on a swamp in Louisiana, camping out on the edge of Mexico in Big Bend National Park, Picking Danny Barnes’ brain about picking banjos, beach hangs in SoCal, and friend time in NorCal.
• Low points of the trip?:
Luckily there weren’t too many low points. Things could have been MUCH worse. Despite things not working out as well as I thought they would financially in some regions, only one really low point comes to mind. And that one wasn’t even all that bad. It mostly involves an extremely humid night sleeping in my car in Lake Charles, LA, getting eaten alive by mosquitos and harassed by policemen at 3am.
• What you'd do differently next time?:
Well, I doubt there will ever be another 3 month long tour. That’s what I’d do differently next time, not be gone for 3 months. This tour grew to be that long for many reasons. The first of which being an album release and a desire to lay groundwork in EVERY market all at once. The second being my parents throwing us an engagement party on the east coast, a best friend getting married one month later and Thanksgiving shortly there after.
• Favorite podcasts and other things you listened to? Other ways you passed the time?:
I definitely binged on some podcasts on this tour. I dove down a bit of a true crime rabbit hole which can be easy to do. “Up and Vanished”, “Crime Junkies”, “Doctor Death”, “Happy Face” and “My Favorite Murder” were commonly played. I also like to nerd out on the musical podcasts too. Some of my favorites include: “Disgraceland”, “Cocaine and Rhinestones”, “The Working Songwriter with Joe Pug”, “The Picky Fingers Banjo Podcast” and “CD Baby’s DIY Musician Podcast”.
I also really enjoyed driving in complete silence for hours at a time. It can be quite meditative. Plus I listened to a whole slew of good music. One of my favorite things to do while traveling around the US or abroad is to ask the locals what their favorite local bands are or what’s resonating with them currently. I’m a “when in Rome” kind of guy so I found myself listening to a lot of music pertinent to the area I was in. In New Orleans it was Professor Longhairs, Dr. John, The Meters, Preservation Hall, etc.. In hill country Texas it was Townes, Willie, Blaze, Guy Clark, Stevie Ray Vaughn, etc.. Plus I’d play shows with a lot of bands I’d never heard of and enjoyed diving into their catalogues. Not to mention a lot of my friends have been putting out some great albums lately.
• What do you do when you're driving and you're tired?
Coffeeeeeeee or Guayaki Yerba Mate