A couple of weeks back, as I prepared to leave for dates in NJ and WV, and I just finished putting my guitar, and overnight bag in my car, I walked back into the house from the garage to see our dog Addison looking at me, tail wagging as if she was saying, "Dad, you're off from work today, and you're spending the whole day with me until Mom gets home from work, right?". As I started heading toward the door, I received the saddest look I have ever seen her give, as she realized that the road was beckoning me once again, and I was leaving for the weekend.
It was at that moment I realized the most difficult part about touring is actually leaving the comfort of the familiar surroundings of home - the people, places, and the pets you love. It's easy to assume that driving is the most difficult part. It's not. For me it's a combination of boring, contemplative long hours, with some beautiful and interesting scenery to look at along the way. Performing the show, regardless of how tired I may be from the drive, is certainly not difficult. In fact, it's the easiest part of touring. So, not unlike painting a room, mowing the lawn, heading out for work in the morning - getting up off of your "good intentions" and starting the project is the hardest thing to do. But once you start, you're on your way, and barring any obstacles, you move along until completion. And once I leave and I'm on my way to the first show, I start to think about things related to the gig - hopes for a good turnout, hopes that I'll play and sing well, and hopes that those attending will want to purchase some of my CD's.
"Is it worth it?", is a question I am often asked. In fact, a U.S. Customs agent recently asked me that very question upon re-entering the States after taking my usual shortcut through Canada en route to dates in Michigan. I guess my first instinct is to just answer "yes". But in reality, everyone has their own definition of whether something is worth doing or not. In most instances, people ask this question in regards to the financial aspect of being a touring songwriter/musician. As in, "Do you make enough money to make it worth ALL of that TRAVEL?" Well, to be completely honest - while I'm certain the line of questioning might come from a well intentioned place of curiosity, is it really anyone's business whether it's "worth it", or how much money one makes? It seems to me that no one questions the worth of the experience of the person who spends a couple of thousand dollars to travel somewhere for a vacation, returning home with a phone full of pictures, a handful of memories, and a bag full of souvenirs. So if I, or any musician decides to head out on the road for a period of time, to return with a boat load of cash, perhaps slightly ahead, a little behind, or break even - if we have the resources to do it, our bills are paid, we're spreading some joy through our music and no one is getting hurt in the process, who business is it to question the validity of its worth?
Over the course of a long period of time doing this, you do (hopefully) become more selective, and smarter about what types of engagements you accept, and you look at things from not only a financial aspect, but other logistical factors come into play as well. For example, I have accepted offers to open for major folk artists, where for some strange reason, there was no budget for an opening act, but the show was sold out, and it was an opportunity to build my fan base. It's a big risk to play a show where your pay for the 20-30 minute opening set you're going to perform is based on how many CD's you sell. I have only done this twice, once was a local show, the other provided routing to another date. But on both occassions, I sold almost $200 worth of CD's. So in the end, the gamble paid off.
So, is it "worth it" to leave home for several days, to travel all of those miles, sometimes uncertain of how many people you'll be performing for? For myself, and other independent artists, I would say it is. I guess if you're in a local cover band, it's hard to understand why anyone would get into their vehicle on weekends, or take a leave of absence from their day job to go on tour for a few weeks playing your original music. But from a grass roots, ground level - that's how a fan base is built. It is a challenge and adventure that not everyone is fit for. And the real reward comes in the experiences you have, the places you see, the people you meet, the friends you make, the relationships and bonds made along the way. It's worth seeing how people in another part of the country live, or how people in other countries live if you're fortunate enough to travel and tour overseas. It's worth sharing your gift. The money - it's just an incredible bonus to be able to make all or part of your living doing something you absolutely love. The life of a troubadour is one to continuously be grateful for. One where the reward is in the journey itself. And it is a journey that is while at times difficult, is most defintely "worth it".