If it was only that easy. I never travel without a supply of dark chocolate and while that helps when I’m bunking in yet another anonymous Super 8, it’s not all the comfort I need. One of the hardest things about being a touring musician is the part that we spend away from home.
In the 80’s, I met a woman who lived in a converted purple school bus. She motored between different jobs, one as a co-op produce manager in Arizona and the other, as a seamstress in different states. I can barely sew on a button without poking my finger and I only recently found out that catsup isn’t a vegetable. I couldn’t do her jobs. I could, however, figure out a way to travel.
With my meager earnings from a warehouse job I bought a not-too-old Toyota pickup. I did a three-week trip with a friend across the south that ended at the Michigan Women’s Music Festival. It wasn’t a tour, although we brought our instruments and played a little. I loved the freedom of the road, even if the coffee in the Midwest sucked. This was BS. Before Starbucks … way before, when you got your coffee at Denny’s and gas stations. It was bitter and weak. If you were lucky, you could make it drinkable by drowning it in real half and half. If you weren’t so lucky, powdery white stuff that could also be used to clean the tiles in your bathroom.
I loathed coming back to a desk piled with papers.
In spite of that, it was several years before I could actually figure out a way to satisfy my wandering nature and make a living doing it. Enter Dakota, my partner at the time. When she suggested I play music full time, I thought she was batshit crazy. I had just finished a couple of years of playing at parties and weddings with a flute player. If I had to play “Wedding Song” one more time, I was going to blow chunks.
“No,” she insisted, “Play folk music or women’s music and travel around the country.”
Travel? Play music AND travel? Sold.
She supported me for a while so I could get my touring sea legs. I was happy to spend half of each year driving to coffeehouses, colleges, festivals and pretty much, any place that would have me, short of a topless bar. I was sometimes gone for two months at a time. When you live in Arizona and you’re going to New England, you might as well stay out for a while. Even when I played in the Midwest, it was a three day drive to my first gig.
I loved getting to play music several nights a week. I loved watching the new scenery whiz by, even if it was yet another billboard for The Thing. After awhile, though, I felt rootless and started looking for ways to maintain that sense of home. I carried my own pillow. I carted around a candle and a crystal for meditating. I brought photos of my partner, my cats and my house. I watched a soap opera — if I couldn’t be in my own home, at least I could keep up with Erica and her family in their digs in Pine Valley five days a week.
Dakota sent me care packages that included homemade chocolate chip cookies, photos and funny little scrapbooks that made me laugh. She wrote letters, even though we talked on the phone often.
I toured full time for thirteen years. For the past few years, it’s been part time since teaching is now my bread and butter. I try not to be out for more than a couple of weeks, but this spring, the stars aligned and I ended up being on the road for almost three months. Even though I spent the whole last month in my old haunts in North Carolina, I started hankering for home in Canada. Sure, enchilada sauce costs $8 a can and you can’t take a deep breath in the winter without your nostrils freezing together, but it’s home, Pine Valley be damned.