Every day, working in Nashville, I see tour buses come in and out of the parking lot out side the building. Some buses are loading up, some unloading, and some parking for the day for rehearsals. I’ve hung out on several tour buses and been invited to come out on the road for a weekend with acts. Surprisingly, I’ve not taken anyone up on it yet. It’s hard to schedule that around work and family.
There are so many stories of things that happen on tour buses that would make a great book if anyone chose to cover it. For this blog, I was able to tap into a good friend who I’ve known for over 15 years. Mark Harmon (not the actor) is currently on the road with Country artist/singer/songwriter Jerrod Niemann as his Production Manager and Front of House engineer. In the past, Mark has toured with Hal Ketchum, Delbert McClinton, Joe Nichols, Trace Adkins, Sara Evans, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, and Blake Shelton. Mark has spent a good part of his life on tour buses.
I wanted to get a picture of what happens from the moment of bus call to the time when they might arrive at their destination as well as some things that can happen after the gig.
Depending on the length of the drive to their destination, bus call is usually at midnight. If there’s a 14 hour drive ahead, call time would be 6 pm. When they get on the bus, some of the group will go to sleep right away and some will stay up. Playing video games, watching TV or videos, and gear “geek” talk are some of the activities they do while on the road initially. Once they arrive in the morning at their destination, they will grab breakfast and get the day going.
Sometimes, the artist will spend time songwriting on the bus, occasionally with another songwriter. They will lock themselves in the back lounge and hammer out ideas. Management may tag along on any particular weekend just to keep tabs on how everything is going.
“Every day is interesting because you get to see the country. You get to see other cities, other people, and other lifestyles. Pranks – big time pranks. We’ve had moth balls (on the bus), we’ve had over 4,000 ping pong balls on our bus at the end of a tour. We’ve had our bus filled with packing peanuts before. We’ve had water balloon fights and played soccer on the bus. One time, we had up to 30 people on the bus. We tried Wii bowling that night. People had to stand on the couches, tables and chairs to get out of the way of the bowlers. Pretty funny.”
Some famous actors Mark has met on the bus included, Robert De Niro, Andy Griffith, and Clint Eastwood. He’s also met some Indian chiefs while traveling.
“It’s fun” Mark comments. “I do like it or I wouldn’t be there. If it wasn’t fun, nobody would be there. The comradery of being able to put a show together with different people and to pull the show off, walk away going “That was a great show,” I guess it’s a fix. It gets agonizing leaving the family, especially with kids when they are younger. When they get into their teens, it’s almost like they want to throw you out (on the road). “
“We once had a barn owl smash through the front window of the bus. We were once in Calgary coming down out of the mountains and the bus was sliding sideways on black ice. The bus trailer was once hit by a semi truck, while we were sleeping, and it pushed the trailer into the engine compartment. It rocked the bus from side to side off its wheels. Once we were in Ohio and a tornado picked up the stage, moved it 10 feet and pushed against the side of the bus, lifting it off its wheels. Scary.”
It does take a special person to load up every week and leave their home to go on the road. Most Country tours are great in that they head out mid-week and come back home on a Sunday or Monday to their families.
I would love for more people to chime in and share some bus stories from the road. What pranks do you play (or have been played on you), songwriting experiences, and movies you like to watch during your trips? Please keep it clean and thanks for sharing!