Tuesday, July 24, 2012

BANDS IN VANS: Tour Lessons

Posted By on Tue, Jul 24, 2012 at 12:56 PM

The latest installation in our Bands in Vans series, local singer-songwriter Liz Rognes updates us from the last show of her tour in Seattle.

By the time I got to Seattle, I was exhausted. This was the end of my first tour, and this last part was solo, without my band. I’d been on the road for a month. For the week building up to that last show at the Rendezvous Jewelbox Theatre in Seattle, I had not spent more than one night in a city—in that last week, I’d been to Minneapolis, Iowa, South Dakota, Montana, Spokane for a hot, packed, fun release show at Jones Radiator, then on to Pullman for a wedding, Portland for a show at the Alberta Street Pub with Matt Lindley and John Heart Jackie, and finally the last stop before coming home to Spokane—the Rendezvous in Seattle.

click to enlarge Murray_Bar.jpg
A few hours before we were supposed to be there to load in, I got a concerned email from the booking agent. There was a mix-up about what time the show was supposed to start. Given the fact that this was the end of my tour, I was going on nil sleep and weeks of crap food (touring while vegan is hard), and that I felt responsible for keeping things organized for all the other bands since I had put this show together, this mix up felt like the absolute end of the world. I wanted this all to be easy and professional! I wanted to be well rested, relaxed, and to prove to that I could be organized and reliable! I wanted it all to be perfect—a desire that, if you know anything about touring (or life in general), is completely unattainable.

So by the time the show finally came around, my anxiety was peaking. I sat outside the theater room, taking money for the door, while the other bands sound checked. My friend and saxophone player Rachel waited with me. I kept telling her I was afraid no one would come. My fears snowballed from legitimate concern into nonsensical paranoia. “Rachel, what if zero people show up? What if I pass out on stage? What if the power goes out? What if we get struck by lightning? What if I totally lose it and throw my guitar at somebody?”

This all seems ridiculous in retrospect, but at the time, I really felt hyper responsible. I have a tendency for imaginative yet nonsensical over-concern. I was already on the verge of wildly unnecessary tears when a paying audience member showed up. He was a friend of mine who lives in Seattle, and as he handed me his cover charge, he could tell I was on the edge of breaking down. He asked if I was okay, and I summed it up by saying that touring is stressful.

“I guarantee you that I have had a worse day than you have,” he said.

I noticed a band-aid on his neck. I remembered that he is an ER doctor. A bad day for him could mean a number of awful things—blood, illness, death. Quickly, my stupid worries were thrown into perspective. I was about to ask him what had happened in his day, but I am one of those dramatic hand talkers—you know, the people who move their hands a lot for emphasis—and before I could form any words, I jerked my hands and knocked over my water glass onto a marble table, shattering it into a bajillion pieces, alerting the sound guy and spilling my tenuous mental state into full on embarrassed, anxious, exhausted crappiness.

I leaned back onto my chair and squeezed my eyes shut to divert the inevitable tears, but my hand caught on a piece of glass and suddenly, I was bleeding, crying, and surrounded by shattered glass while people began walking in off the street to come to the show.
I looked at Rachel, stunned. I couldn’t think of what I was supposed to do.

“Go wash your hand. It’s a small piece of glass. You’re fine. I’ll handle the door,” she said, with the kind of direct, loving instruction I needed at just that moment.

And she was right — I was fine. The cut was minimal, and it stopped bleeding long before my turn to play. The glass got swept up. People came. The room filled up. The other bands — Kate Lynne Logan, Jess Lambert and The Thousand Years, and Autumn Electric — all played beautifully. And I did the only thing I had left to do: I sang my heart out. I think my rocky emotional state was actually a benefit onstage.

In the end, I felt good about the show. All of the performers were fantastic, the sound engineer was attentive and gracious, the room was really cool, and when I was onstage, I was surprised to look out at what seemed to be a full room. It was a great last show of the Topographies Album Release Tour (except for one more show in Seattle next month at the High Dive).

Touring is hard. I’m not sure how bands do it full time. It takes patience, steady nerves, and flexibility, and these are not qualities I excel in. I guess we gravitate toward the things we need to learn, though, right? I love making music, I love traveling, and I love meeting other artists. There is a lot about touring that is incredibly rewarding. In that moment with Rachel, when I was bleeding (a little), crying (a little), and trying to take cash from paying concert goers, I might have sworn off touring for good — but of course I didn’t mean it. I already have the tour bug, and I think a little challenge is good for the spirit.

In fact, I’m already planning a full West Coast Tour, for Spring Break 2013. First stop after Spokane: Seattle!

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