As an indie band, any measurable distance away from your home-base can prove to be daunting. Regardless of how far away from home your band will travel, fear and doubt will – at one time or another - come into play. And no matter how organized your tour is on paper, at the end of the day all you have is each other.
In January, 2011, we had just completed a year-long string of tours from our base on Florida’s Space Coast to Austin, Texas. By design, we were traveling about every six weeks to build up our fan base along the I-10 corridor – and it was working as planned. We traveled as a four-piece band so we were compact, had a great sound and life was good. And as the lead singer, I could really put my efforts into my performance and make connections with fans. Our next Texas tour would be six weeks away and would also feature an expansion leg which would take us into northern Alabama. Creating the ‘circuit’ tour would be invaluable to our business and, admittedly, we were excited.
This upcoming tour had been planned months in advance. Local bands were already on the bill, flyers and web marketing in place, press releases complete. While our ‘regular’ tour stops were rock-solid, the only variable would be the Alabama stop. On paper, everything looked great – no cause for concern. Communication had been fine with the new venue as well as the local bands, and since we had already budgeted for the extra travel, it would be a low-risk situation.
It is January 25, 2011, and we are three weeks from the start of the tour. Personal life happens and our guitarist has to leave the band. As crushing as this news is we simply do not have time to waste. We reach out to a couple of our ‘stand-by’ players. No joy, both booked. Our only options are to either cancel or reschedule the tour. After debate, we decide there may be another option. Reschedule the I-10 portion of the tour; after all, we know all of the venues and have a great relationship with the bands- and keep the northern Alabama show as a one-off gig. While I had been touring as the lead singer, I knew all of the guitar parts. And while I would rather be completely focused on my singing performance, I knew that our show would still be exciting and successful. Decided, we locked into our rehearsal space as a three-piece for the next two weeks and put it all together. We made our follow-up contact with the new venue to confirm our arrival; took a couple of days to rest and prepare, and then we hit the road. A twelve-hundred-mile round-trip would be in our immediate future to protect our reputation as a reliable, professional touring band.
Now It Gets Interesting...
Though we were excited about the upcoming show – and had a great trip as well – the mood changed when we reached the venue. We were told that load-in would be at 5pm so we arrived at 4:45. The venue was deserted, no one was home. We made phone calls, checked email, walked around the building (maybe there is another door?) – nothing. The flyer stated that doors would be at 8pm so we continue to wait. It is now 8:45pm and a few employees begin to arrive. After a ten-hour drive, we are now into about the thirteen-hour mark of our day – and with a high-energy show scheduled in less than 2 hours.
The local bands that we pulled into the bill were ready to go, excited to be there and had promoted to their friends. However, the employees who let us in are not aware of any show details and, better yet, the sound engineer is not even convinced that there will be a show.
And Now It's Just Weird...
It is now 10:30pm. The show should have started an hour ago. Why it has not is the most amazing thing that we had ever heard of in our touring lives. The owner of the club, sitting at home, had been watching the live security cameras of the venue. He remained unconvinced that there was any need to cover the expense of electrical (yes, electrical) use without a higher crowd turnout. Capacity would have been around 150, and we counted about 70 paying customers. The bands were floored. The sound engineer is the messenger and, like us, perplexed. Afraid of being fired, his message was simply that ‘there will be no show tonight’. The Customers would be refunded for their ticket purchases, the bands were asked to leave – but not before paying for anything that they may have consumed while waiting for the last four hours. Disappointed, we left the venue; ‘driving all night - hands wet on the wheel’.
As a fully self-managed and funded Indie band, we believe that we are completely responsible for the outcome. Successful or otherwise, it is completely up to us. There are neither ‘best’ nor ‘worst’ gig experiences, really. ‘Experience’ is the fruit of effort and without it; there would be no opportunity for growth. Needless to say, we gained a lot of wisdom through this ordeal. We discovered that we can overcome adversity by pooling our efforts as a team. We learned that together, we can travel great distances to support a goal. And we proved that even when things go wrong, your reputation and how you carry yourself is the best measure of your success.
Simone Star is the lead singer and guitarist for her indie touring band, 'Simone & The Supercats'. She has released seven CDs, has toured over 100,000 miles and has received airplay throughout the US, UK and SE Asia. Currently in the studio recording her eighth CD, she can be found at Facebook or on Twitter at @simonestar. Join the discussion!