Road worriers

By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  September 4, 2008

I grabbed a Snickers, a 32-oz. Snapple (large enough to nix at least one future pee stop), and readied myself to take the wheel for the final leg, fortified by this de facto adventure we were on, the unexpected beauty that seemed to salvage every disaster, and (unbeknownst to me at the time) the blessing of gas at $1.50/gallon.

The warped tour
Most tour stories go something like this, with heroic romanticism swooping in just in time to cancel out the anguish of every cracked axle, every flat tire, every police stop, every hunger pang, every Visa charge at every Hardee’s, every show where the number of hours you drove to get there exceeded the number of people who showed up — or, put simply, every tiny, daunting reality of DIY touring. Nowhere does the old adage about the journey being more important than the destination ring truer than in the average band’s van. But these days, it’s a little hard to ignore that the journey has gotten really fucking expensive. Still, a band’s gotta do what a band’s gotta do.

Or do they?

The importance of touring as a rite of passage for a young band has been, for years, a given. That archetypal image of underfed rockfolk listlessly spilling out of a van, rocking the fuck out of Cleveland (or wherever), scraping change from the band room’s couch to augment their lackluster payout, and taking to the open road (groupies in tow), as unlikely (and unsavory) as it may be, is based on years and years of the logic of touring actually adding up.

Suddenly, those numbers don’t look so good. Skyrocketing fuel prices; dwindling attendance at live shows; the slow, charming collapse of the major-label hegemony (along with their ultimate carrot: “making it big”); and an unprecedented glut of new, um, “talent” spawned from significant technological advances in recording (thanks, GarageBand) and self-promotion (way to go, MySpace) have joined forces to make the very idea of a worthwhile DIY tour seem misguided — if not completely masochistic.

In Boston, where the act of traveling past New York to perform comes off like some bold assertion of a band’s legitimacy, the same rings true. Couched in our cushy megalopolis with its abundance of potential mini-markets, bands have it relatively easy here — and going on tour is almost always as frivolous as it is formative.

For the following five fixtures of the Boston music scene — who tour not just willingly, but regularly and extensively — rising to the challenge of the road often means redefining its terms. There’s no one right way to do it, but there’s certainly no shortage of wrong ways. For most of these road warriors, the how of touring is nowhere near as important as the why.

The handsome family
Starring Ho-Ag

“Our love for it is the only reason it works.”

Tyler Derryberry of Ho-Ag could be talking about touring in general, but right now we’re talking about their van: a ’97 Dodge Ram 3000, lovingly referred to as Handsome, which gets, at press time, a smidge above 10 mpg.

“I’m sure the mileage just gets worse and worse,” sighs singer/guitarist (and Phoenix scribe) Matt Parish. “And we haven’t really done anything to compensate for it.”

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