The business of touring contains a diverse collection of animals. We all develop our own routine and idiosyncratic way of getting the job done. Some things work well – some things routinely crash and burn. As I’ve have said before in articles, creative types often exist in a loosely managed state of chaos. In the spirit of David Letterman’s Top Ten List, I’ve compiled 10 things that in my seasoned and weary opinion a touring road dog should never leave home without.
1. Smart Phone – in one of my first HC articles here, I opined about the game changing impact that a smart phone can have for a touring professional and I even recommended apps for your consideration. With the astounding access to information, there is no more important tool to guaranteeing that you have the best fighting chance for pulling it off. After all, if you have a smart phone, you can use it to figure out how to get or find the other nine essentials on this list.
2. Road Cases – I make this number two because protecting the instruments or tools of your trade is paramount. Sometimes ¾ inch laminated plywood is not enough to protect your wooden guitar from the perils of baggage handlers – do you really think that a nylon gig bag will fare any better? I recommend that you factor in the cost of a professional flight ready road case with the purchase of any instrument. It might be easier to carry your axe in a nylon shell but all it takes is a quick swerve and you find out that a 50 pound guitar amp always wins the chest bump contest. You’ll be able to afford the chiropractic bill with your show pay…
3. Spare cabling, essential pedals, strings, picks, mic clips, etc. – It’s not a matter of if, it’s when. Eventually mic cables fail, especially if your lead singer thinks it’s cool to emulate Roger Daltrey’s ridiculous microphone aerobics. There’s nothing worse than trying to play your love ballad as a keyboard player without a sustain pedal. Sweet Home Alabama sounds horrible without a “g” string. Obviously, you can’t have a duplicate of everything but being short a $20 patch chord should never stop a show.
4. Basic Tool Kit – I was on a show with a world-class guitar player who didn’t have his guitar tech with him. A Phillips head screw on one of his tuners had vibrated loose enough to where that string wouldn’t stay in tune. He couldn’t find anyone who had one (I suspect that the house production guy took great joy in seeing the poor guy sweat since he had been a pompous ass for most of the afternoon – see last week’s article on etiquette). He literally had to borrow a guitar from another player. You can put together a little duffle bag with basic tools like pliers, screw drivers, box of screws that fit your stuff, hammer, wire ties, gaffers tape, electrical tape for little cost that takes up basically no room in the load. Heck, having a hammer to brain a drunk assailant in the alley can even come in handy.
5. Petty Cash – I include this because it never fails that you need a 5 or 10 for a toll, tip or even a set of strings at the local pawn shop that won’t take your declined credit card. Maybe you need to make change to sell your greatest hits CD. I have a tiny pelican case labeled “feces occurs” that I keep a little stash of cash in for an emergency – eventually it will come.
6. Pertinent Paperwork - Directions to the gig, contact information, itinerary, inventory checklist – these are all things that need to be in one location and compiled for every gig. From the department of redundancy department, over planning will never be the source of your career failure. There’s nothing like getting to the next gig and starting to plug your rig in only to realize that you didn’t make an idiot check and left your 50 ft. power cord at the last club. Inventory checklists rock – and keep you consistently rocking as well.
7. ID/Passport – Although this would seem like a no brainer, you’d be surprised how many people have been left at the border without a gig because they didn’t have adequate ID on their person at the right time. Having a passport in your checked bag will not get you into Mexico for the Cabo trip. I keep my DL in my pocket and my passport in my computer bag that is with me all the time – even when I go to sound check. All it takes is having someone break through your Motel 6 wafer door and rip off all your bags to make you realize the importance of carrying your valuables with you unless they fit in a safe. There is nothing more valuable to your successful travel than your ID.
8. Map or GPS device – If you have a smart phone, you have one of the best commercial map programs available to consumers – Google Maps. If you are old school, buy a map that covers all of your scheduled destinations and make time to take a look at it marking it up if necessary before you are hurtling down the highway at 75 MPH late for the gig.
9. Change of clothes and toiletries – The harsh reality is that you will eventually get stuck somewhere, be caught in a rain storm, slip and fall into a pile of horse manure, or basically just soil your clothes. I always pack one extra set of everything just in case. You will eventually get bumped in Wichita and need to freshen up.
10. Emergency Contact – It’s imperative that someone knows where you are, where you are going, and your basic schedule. I was once in a band in the days prior to cell phones that we got to the gig and the drummer didn’t show. He had gotten into an accident and was taken to a hospital unconscious. He had no emergency contact info on him. The folks at the hospital didn’t have a way of calling us or contacting his family back home. His family didn’t know where he was traveling to or when he would be returning. He was out of it for a couple of days with most of his world scrambling to find him. After that, we made it a point to travel together. We also created band emergency cards with contact numbers for everybody in the band. We printed itineraries and put them in a packet that everyone carried with them for every gig.
These are ten essential things that will make your touring life easier but the list is certainly not comprehensive. If you have ideas that are not listed above, take a moment to comment below or on my Facebook post of this article. We are a brotherhood of travelers and through the collective of insight and knowledge, we all benefit. And as always, tour essentially my friends!