I took a bullet for the cause in late June, when I dragged my new and still gleaming set of red sparkle Reference Pure drums out to Parking Lot A of AT&T Park in San Francisco. I was working at the Percussion Marketing Council booth, where we offered free drum lessons to any and all comers at the 2012 Warped Tour.
Not long after we finished setting up, a guy in a road-worn leather jacket strolled by, checked out the kit, and asked what we were up to. We began chatting and I learned he was going to play drums with Jukebox Romantics that afternoon on the stage nearest the PMC booth.
It turned out he was filling in for the band’s regular drummer for the first half of Warped. I asked how they were traveling, and he explained they were in a 12-seater van, “but we’re not pulling a trailer, so we’re carrying our gear in the back. It’s pretty cramped inside.”
In fact, it was so crowded they had to sleep in the van sitting up, shoulder-to-shoulder. “Wow,” I replied, “are you getting any sleep at all?”
“Maybe an hour or so a night,” he laughed as I faked a jaw drop. “But we’re all friends – it’s worth it.”
Truth is, it doesn’t matter if you’re sleeping in a 12-seater or bunked in a luxurious tour bus, when you’re on the road for an extended tour, it’s vitally important for everybody to be friendly. Otherwise, it’s like trying to survive in a pressure cooker turned on high.
My friend, the Latin jazz drummer and teacher Chuck Silverman, equates the experience to being on a boat in the middle of the ocean. “There’s nowhere to go but into the water,” he says. “You’d better know how to get along in many, many situations.”
But what do you do when there are tensions in the van and you still have months left on your itinerary? I once found myself on the road with a bunch of guys I barely knew in the mid-’80s. The initial run of gigs was great. Everyone was excited about the tour, joking around, having fun. But within a couple of weeks it became obvious that the lead singer had a problem with me.
At first he was just kind of sarcastic. But when his comments became snarkier, I finally asked where the hostility was coming from. “I don’t know,” he said. “You just kind of bug me.”
How do you deal with that? My solution was to clam up and ride it out, but it was too late. The friction had poisoned the atmosphere in the van, and spoiled everybody’s experience, onstage and off.
So if you dream of touring with a band, it’s important to have a good attitude when you’re on the road. Learn to be the type of person other people want to sleep shoulder-to-shoulder next to and your phone will keep ringing.