by Nick Pitman
A few times a year, I willingly get into a van (or anything with wheels, really) with 4-8 other people, pack up as much free space as we can with merch, gear, and whatever we need to stay sane, and drive for hours on end all to get on a stage (or, more often, a basement floor) for 25 minutes. I eat more junk food than ever, drink the cheapest beer I can find, and rarely get a chance to shower. DIY touring is unglamorous, frequently messy, and also maybe the thing I love doing the most in spite of all conventional logic.
To be on tour redefines the meaning of “giving yourself over to a higher power.” I don’t mean God or any kind of spiritual entity; rather, the only way I’ve found to survive on tour is to recognize how small you are in the grand scheme of things. You have to check your ego and, in some ways, your sense of self at the door to survive as a unit. You’re operating on a shoestring budget trying to accommodate several other people’s needs, without losing money on gas, losing time on unnecessary stops, and losing your tourmates’ patience with unnecessary complaining. Thus, when I’m on tour I am no longer Nick, a person with interests and desires, but 1/5 of a larger entity that needs to make the smartest decision for itself while trying to accommodate everyone’s essential needs. In practice, this means that you don’t always get to check out that burger spot in Detroit that everyone has been telling you to check out, because it’s on the other side of the city from the venue and costs more than anyone is really willing to spend on food that day (to my friends and tourmates reading this, this is entirely a hypothetical situation and not a sly callout — I don’t even know of any special burger places in Detroit). This can be frustrating if you let it be, but in some ways it’s bizarrely freeing to have to reduce want in the name of something bigger. When you’re trying to leave a low individual impact in the name of a group, you essentially have to learn how to free yourself of desire, and instead thrive on what you have in front of you. I think I just described some basic tenets of Buddhism — whoops.
The tour routine involves a lot of the “hurry up and wait” mentality. No matter how much you drank the night before, days always start in the morning, usually with unceremoniously struggling to roll up your sleeping bag, jumping into a smelly and messy van with the same 5 people you’ve spent every second with for the last several days, and you’re off to find someplace where you can get coffee and an egg sandwich that’s also friendly towards your vegan tourmates (as such, you begin to worship the land of Sheetz — Western PA, MD, VA, WV, and OH). Finally, you’re off for 3-10 hours of driving to get to the venue, maybe stopping somewhere to sit down and eat if you’re lucky and/or not pressed for time. Once you’ve made it to the venue and loaded in your gear, it’s time to consult the state alcohol restrictions on your phone to see if it’s even possible to get a beer somewhere, and then showtime.
The shows are always an interesting experience. As a person with generalized anxiety disorder, I am never without a simmering sense of dread. Hanging out in an unfamiliar place with the options of socializing with either a) strangers, or b) the same people i’ve spent every waking moment with (who I’m sure are sick of my shit) is not always a recipe for success. But once the other artists have played (common courtesy asks that you always try your damnedest to watch the local talent performing with you, no matter how burnt out on live music you may be), and it’s finally time for your 30 minutes to play, things take a turn.
Even on the absolute worst nights (without getting too specific, we’ve all voted that our worst show was next to a frat party where our whiskey cokes were flowing a little too freely), I have always felt like performing is the single most satisfying thing I get to do. I get to have the time of my life on stage, from those late-tour nights where we’re so acutely tuned into each other that we can embellish freely, to the rougher nights that force us to think quickly and adjust on the fly. For me, performing is transcendent; a chance to break out of my own uncomfortable shell and be the best version of myself. It forces me to get out of my head and take everything as it comes, and on the days where I’m most bogged down by my own fears and anxieties, I need that to remind myself that I can take whatever’s thrown at me.
No one (myself included) would tour if the experiences weren’t anything short of incredible. I’ve had the best pizza in my life in Philly, swam on a farm in Maryland, and literally gotten lost in a bookstore in Columbus. I’ve played shows in your typical bars and small clubs, but also in churches, houses, galleries, gardening shops, and in one instance, a bar that we’re pretty sure was a thinly-veiled mob front. I get a chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones, see incredible musicians, and get an excuse to hang out and continue making music with my second family, the incredible people in For Everest. Touring is exhausting, messy, stressful, unhealthy, and above all, probably the best thing I’m lucky enough to do.