*Ryan Harkrider, lead singer for Austin's The Nightowls, fills CYLT in on life on tour. See video of the band on tour at the end of this post.
Image courtesy of Shore Fire Media
So it's important to understand first that being on tour is not a vacation. Not everyone understands that. We're driving or working for the vast majority of every day, so we don't always get to explore the new places we perform, as much as we may want to.
But that does mean that when we do have a few hours to experience a new city, it feels like an amazing reminder of why we do what we do. Meeting other musicians on the road, meeting the people who support music in Nashville or New York or Wichita -- it gives context and meaning to why this struggle is worth it.
Image from The Nightowls Facebook page
The majority of our day is spent driving The Nightowls' RV, "The Chateau Nightowl." That means that something as simple as making a PB&J makes you feel like a Chinese acrobat. Or at least that's what you feel if you manage not to fall over, slather mustard on your shirt, or bash your knee into a cabinet.
We have two mascots that we always travel with. A stuffed owl named "Hoots" that rides shotgun in the RV. And a plastic owl, painted red-white-and blue, named "Captain Owl-Merica" that is usually displayed prominently on the stage during our show.
During drives, we have many hilarious, hours-long card games. Once we finally get to a venue, we load in, eat dinner, play the show, load back out, drive to the hotel and pass out. Then rinse and repeat.
Image from The Nightowls Facebook page
On our recent Northeast Tour, our favorite venue was The Hamilton in Washington DC -- which had attentive staff, a gorgeous stage, and delicious food.
Image from The Hamilton's Facebook page
After the show, at 3 a.m, we walked together through a dark National Mall to an empty Lincoln Memorial.
Image by Erich Robert Joli Weber (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Musicians tend to be a cynical and irreverent lot, and The Nightowls are no exception, but something about that experience moved all of us in a way we didn't expect. We won't soon forget it.
We've had many memorable experiences.
Image by Silvio Pozatto [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Most New York City tourists get to experience the chess players of Union Square, but Joseph Serrato, our sax player, ended up playing (and losing horribly) to Saravuth Inn, a master chess player from Cambodia. He'd played against him three years earlier during a previous trip to New York, but this time, the chess player had been the subject of a Sundance documentary, Odysseus Gambit.
Though a survivor of the Khmer Rouge and a graduate of Rutgers University who'd lived in the United CStates for years, Inn explained that he was in danger of deportation. Despite circumstances beyond what any of us could understand, he promised to look up the band's music and wished us all the best of luck.
Being an artist can sometimes feel frivolous, but this chess player and poet still made us feel like we were doing something worthwhile. That kind of reminder of why we do what we do only happens on the road.
If I had to choose a song from our album to serve as the tour's soundtrack, it would be "Come Together."
The song was written and recorded long before our first major tour in September, but it speaks to our experience on the road.
When you cram 11 people into an RV, conflicts and discomfort are unavoidable. The first impulse is self-preservation, but learning to accommodate one another becomes essential. Helping a band mate carry equipment, or letting someone else use the shower -- putting other people before yourself is what coming together really means.
By the end of the tour, the meaning of that song had become far more potent for all of us.
Follow, and catch, The Nightowls on tour. To check their schedule visit http://wearethenightowls.com.
Be sure to check out their new album, Fame Sessions, from Super Sonic Sounds.