BUS LIFE, BABY
I’ve been meaning to do this post earlier in the tour year, but it always goes by so incredibly fast. Suddenly, here we are in the last month of touring for the summer! But, in a way it makes sense because to be quite honest, it takes me about that long to get used to living on the bus and out of a suitcase again. I know some of my musician and touring friends out there know what road life is like, so this may all be redundant for you.
For most of you guys, though, you likely don’t tour with a band and have maybe not ever stepped foot on a tour bus. I actually didn’t see my first tour bus until I started playing with Bob Schneider in Austin around 2008 or so. Before that, it was all van travel with all of our gear in the trailer, loading in and out of clubs and sharing driving duties. That’s a whole other story, though.
Needless to say, my first time on a bus, I was in awe. It was like I had finally made it. I’m on a tour bus! How cool is that!? I was giddy with excitement when I found out that we were touring on a bus with Bob. All the other guys in the band were used to it, but not me. For any of you who’ve ever traveled across the country in a big RV, it’s kind of like that….without the gig at the end of every day, probably.
One of the first busses I was ever on was a trip (yeah, that’s me with suer red short hair). It was older Eagle model and the inside looked like someone had gone on a shopping spree at Spencer’s Gifts in the mall. Lots of neon, a disco ball, posters, lava lamps….it was insane. Of course, I thought, is this what all tour buses are like? Uh, no. Definitely not. Some are way crazier, but most are pretty tame.
With the current tour, we travel with about 13 tour buses, believe it or not. That still really blows my mind. Every department has it’s own bus, for the most part: band, management, production, video, lighting, audio, etc. The bus basically becomes your home for the summer, so lots of people move in and set up shop. Especially on tours that go out and stay out for weeks or months at a time. A friend of mine on another tour put up Christmas lights and posters in his bunk to make it feel a little more like home.
Deanna Kay with No Shoes Radio made her bunk a useable space by putting up stick-on hooks for her hats and making spots to put books. The girls on the Maren Morris tour put up some doorway beads and lights on their bus to make it a little more fun. For us, we are lucky enough to be on what they call a weekend warrior tour: we go out mostly on weekends and are back on Sundays for a couple of days. Although, there are times where we’re out for 2 weeks or so. Some of you guys have asked me how we pack for the summer. It’s pretty easy when we come home every week or week and a half. There are times when you have to do laundry on the road.
I took advantage of a day off in NYC the other day by spending an hour and a half in a coin laundry drinking coffee and people watching while my clothes were finishing up.
I’ve always found that I have to get mentally prepared for “bus life” about two or three weeks before the tour actually starts. You have to prepare yourself for living out of a suitcase, living in close quarters with other people, making sure that you have all of your stuff accessible inside the bus, etc. Everyone does it differently and each bus gets their flow down on how things work the best. We’re lucky in the band; we’ve got six of us on the bus and our bunks are actually a bit taller than other bunks. Those are called condo bunks.
You can actually almost sit up in them and read, work on your computer, etc. On most tour buses that I had been on, the bus had regularly sized bunks, which, to be honest, feel like sleeping in a coffin. I know, awesome! In fact, on my first tour, I remember waking up in the middle of the night and banging my head on the ceiling of my bunk and then panicking because I didn’t know where I was and it was pitch black. I think everyone’s had those “bang your head on the bunk ceiling” moments.
On our bus, we generally keep all luggage in one of the bays, or storage areas, down below so that it doesn’t clutter up the living space. Most of us have back-packs or duffle bags that we keep in the back lounge of the bus with some clothes and our toiletries and we live out of those from day to day. There’s usually a few guitars that come on the bus and we try to keep those up in the junk bunks, or the unused bunks where no one is sleeping. We do have hotel rooms that we can use when we pull into a city, but a lot of us tend to stay at the venue, exercise or work and then shower there in the dressing rooms. Some busses actually have a shower on board, but ours does not.
On every bus, there’s a front lounge area with a TV and a couple of seating areas as well as a table and a kitchen area with a fridge and coffee pot. There’s always quite a bit of storage space, too, which is nice. We are big coffee drinkers on our bus, so we always have multiple bags of coffee and a pot on pretty much at all times. In fact, on this bus, we have a coffee maker AND a Keurig single cup, for those of us that just can’t wait for that pot to brew.
We’ve had the same bus driver on our bus since my first year. A lot of our bus drivers have been around the tour for a while. Once you get a driver that you like, you tend to want to keep them. Feeling safe on the bus at night when you’re sleeping is a big deal to everyone. When we pull into a city, usually early morning, the drivers will make their way to the hotel to sleep during the day. That whole driving through the night thing is pretty tiring. I couldn’t do it! After the show is over, the driver’s come back around 12:30am to get the busses ready to roll on to the next stop.
The whole thing can get a little monotonous, I suppose. I tend to forget what city I’m in on any given day, or what day it is all together! It’s a little disorienting going to sleep in one place and waking up hundreds of miles away, sometimes in a different climate, stepping outside into the sunlight in sunglasses and pajamas, wondering where everything is. But, as I’ve surely said before, even with all of the coming and going, living out of a suitcase, late nights and early mornings, it’s so fantastic to be able to do this as a job. I’ll keep doing it for as long as I can. I don’t think I’ll ever take it for granted!