But if you’re a fledgling or new band looking to create a following in foreign markets, touring quickly can turn into a pretty grim task. AC/DC didn’t call life on the road a “Highway to Hell” for nothing.
“When you’re sleeping with the singer’s socks 2 inches from your nose, that’s pretty close to hell,” recalled guitarist Angus Young to Guitar World magazine.
My days of living in vans traveling from city to city are well behind me, but it takes only a brief chat with current touring musicians for memories to come flooding back. In most places, you rely heavily on the kindness and hospitality of strangers. You’re almost perpetually tired after the first day, and if you’re out for more than a few weeks, the road becomes a blur of venues, late-night parties, fast-food dinners and audiences of varying sizes and intoxication.
And that’s if things are going well.
The technical aspects can be crippling if your method of transportation proves unreliable. Nearly every touring band has had nightmarish vehicle breakdowns. Then there’s the wear and tear of loading and unloading instruments night after night and the general upkeep of music equipment.
The culmination of a myriad of issues can make the road a pretty stressful place.
Local musicians The Speedbumps (Kent), Scott Paris (Canton) and the Ohio Weather Band (Alliance) have spent their fair share of time on rock ’n’ roll’s front lines. Here is an intertwined telling of some of their road worn and weary tales.
Erik Urycki (The Speedbumps): This particular story is rooted in fear. It was our first trip overseas. We were selected to do a music festival billed as 80 of the world’s top “export ready” artists playing together in Perth, Australia. The flight was extremely long with a layover in Hong Kong, so we were stuck there with nothing to do.
Scott Paris: I was playing with Imaginary Cookies, circa 2007 or so. I got a call from a booking agent about a “great club” in Waverly, Ohio. When we get there, we discover that Waverly is the little, inbred brother of West Virginia.
Corey King (Ohio Weather Band): Our story is set in Louisville, Kentucky, at a venue called Third Street Dive. When the band before was wrapping up, we went to our van in the parking deck next to the venue. We got to the van, turned the key, and nothing. Our headlights were on the whole time. We killed the battery.
Erik Urycki: One of the Speedbumps’ longtime supporters mentioned his daughter lived in Hong Kong and that she and her husband would pick us up at the airport and show us the town. She said we should take two cabs to head to a good restaurant for dinner, and that the place was just up the hill. I vividly remember our cabbie yelling in an unknown language at the cab in front of us, and that cabbie sticking his fist out the window as if to say he would be serving up a knuckle sandwich if he weren’t driving. The cabs entered an intersection where it seemed like 20 lanes were reduced to one.
Scott Paris: Our setlist at the time was originals that sounded like the Flaming Lips and covers of ’80s and ’90s songs like the Cranberries and Sheryl Crow. For the best part of four hours, we were heckled indistinguishably by our toothless, draft-beer-loving audience of maybe
12 people. One guy yelled out “Metallica” after almost every song.
Corey King: We had to find some jumper cables, so we yelled from the parking lot to some people smoking a cigarette outside the venue. Luckily, those people, one of whom had a tattoo of a pizza on a stick that he insisted we take a picture of, knew that the band before us had some cables.
Erik Urycki: Eventually the bottleneck grew smaller and we started to crawl forward. Our supporter’s daughter looked at us with certainty and said, ‘You should buckle up.’ We scrambled to find the seat belts, but it was too late. The cab exploded onto the skyway, or what I think was a skyway. There was no way of knowing. Everything outside the window was blurry. Our cab driver transformed from a middle-age Fillipino man to a world-class Formula 1 driver with a temper.
Scott Paris: I finally had to address this guy and say, ‘We don’t know any Metallica.’ This did not calm or sway the heckling.
Corey King: We jumped our car and actually made it to our set on time. The girlfriend of the guy who helped us bought us all a shot and a beer, and the van lasted the rest of the tour with no complications. The coolest part of the story is that ultimately while on the road, we’ve found that these strangers all over are usually down to helping a traveling band. It’s nice to find yourself in a foreign area, unfamiliar with people there who respect what you do and are willing to give a hand. It’s something you don’t always see, but exists.
Erik Urycki: The cab driver, who I’m convinced to this day was a sadist, was passing cars on a two-lane mountain road inches away from a cliff that would have undoubtedly decided our fate with one wrong move. It was the first time I feared death was imminent. It was like a car chase in the movies. I remember thinking, this would be a classic rock star death. But we didn’t die. We arrived to this beautiful restaurant overlooking the night lights of Hong Kong. We jumped out of the cabs and embraced one another like people do when they escape death, and we ended up having one of the best nights of our lives.
Scott Paris: The bathroom door had no lock and was a one-occupant stall. Our bassist went to use it, and we were supposed to stand guard. A cigarette sounded better, so we wandered off. When we returned, someone opened the door to see our bassist sitting there being stared at by a room full of people. All he could do was say “howdy.” We got paid and got out of there. But not before management told us they had really liked us and would love to have us back!