Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lessons From the Road

You will eat junk food, despite all your good intentions. Vending-machine Skittles, red wine, rich cheese. You will visit health food stores but end up buying expensive bags of rice chips and organic dark chocolate... folk band hippie junk-food, but still. Vegetables will become an afterthought. At night before you go on stage you will stare at your image in the mirror with distaste, pluck at your ill-fitting outfits, vow to do better. You won't.

Your days will be spent covering staggering distances, distances that would make your English relatives blanch and shake their heads. You will be on the road for six hours at a time and you will be thankful, remembering other tours where six hours was an easy drive, a short day. As you don't drive, you will end up staking a claim on the back seat of the mini-van, the seat no one else wants. You'll let the others jockey for position in the gold van, which contains all 6 of you, your luggage, and a double bass. The bass will stretch the full length of the vehicle and you will envy its implacable solidity.

You re-learn that fatigue strips away civility, and you discover things you do not like about yourself, and about others. You will fall silent in the face of stronger personalities and become a little bit invisible; you will hate yourself for it, but after a while it becomes easier not to speak up. You will discover that your ego is a dark monster that broods and makes you tired of feeling like second fiddle. Even the word fiddle will make you fume; in your mind everyone loves the violin and no one notices the accordion. The fact that the fiddle player is one of your dearest friends makes this harder, not easier. You will spend the night of the best gig of the tour in a haze of envious pique that feels like poison, and spend the rest of the tour learning to let go of ego and play music as generously as you can. Some nights you can almost do this.

The best time of the day will narrow to the span of the night's gig: just before it, during (of course), and a few hours after. This is when you come alive. Before the show the singers will coddle their voices with tea while the band warms up with red wine and vodka. This is a key to the many differences between singers and instrumentalists. You will play in restaurants where the 10 people in the room are doing their best to pretend you don't exist; you will play to audiences so rapt that they will give you reason to keep playing.

You will drive past munching deer, slinky coyotes. Look down on a snowfield high in a mountain pass and see ribbons of fresh animal tracks. You'll greet stretches of highway like old friends: I remember you! Suck in your breath as you pass yet another semi flipped over on the road, cough nervously as your bandmates whip round corners, overtake large trucks. The features that make this province so beautiful- mountains, rivers, valleys- are the things that make it so lovely and so dangerous to travel.

Onstage and in the back of the van you do battle with envy, exhaustion, insecurity, boredom. You also laugh, share moments of incredible electricity while playing music you love, and sometimes remember why you chose to do this in the first place. Only 6 days: can you imagine what a real tour would do to you?