Saturday, March 10, 2012

Road to SXSW: Rock Tour 2.0

Posted By on Sat, Mar 10, 2012 at 6:01 PM

The antics of rock bands on the road are the stuff of legend. Google Van Halen and M&Ms or Led Zeppelin and shark if you need some highlights. In a large-scale tour it is almost comparable to war, wherein young people with little to lose are sent out to wreck short bursts of havoc on an area and then split, perhaps never to return and face the consequences. All of their food and housing needs are paid for, as is their agenda and scheduling. All the band has to do is march on stage and kick in the audience's teeth sonically for an hour each night, then return to base and fart around until the next operation in the next town.

But on a smaller independent scale, things are different. There are no big labels to pay for wanton destruction and no booking agent to serve as general. The bands are less conquistadors than they are cartographers, a smaller group that must proceed slowly and with caution into unknown territory, all the time taking careful notes so that the next trip will go smoother.

I am considering these things from the back seat of a tour van doing 75 through the middle of nowhere while watching buffalo roam out the window and listening to Lisa Simpson, guitarist for Finn Riggins, as she takes part in a conference call. In the front, Eric Gilbert, the band's keyboardist and the artistic director for Treefort Music Fest, has been juggling cell phones and swapping back and forth between a road-weary laptop and an iPad, both of which are logged into a mobile Wi-Fi unit the band keeps in the van. At the moment, Gilbert is discussing a conflict between beer vendors for Treefort. Earlier, there was a detailed dissection of the economics of different porta-potty agencies. Gigs are being booked from the road, interviews conducted and many of the details of Treefort finalized.

This mobile office more closely resembles a political campaign bus than it does Keith Richards' interstate harem. And for as much fun as it sounded like Motley Crue had in their collective autobiography, The Dirt, this is far more compelling. This band is comprised of people making the decision to take control of their own lives rather than spin them further and further into chaos. This is a rock tour 2.0.

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