04 - Flower Petals
There's a rule when booking touring bands to "book in a flower petal pattern" and only book gigs within about 400 miles of where the band members live, then drive back home to the center of the flower in time to go back to your day jobs. So, let's say you have a day job, and you have a regular weekday gig (or two, or three) in your home town on Mon/Tues/Wed/Thu nights. Sweet. On Friday you can book a gig in a town 200 miles away and drive there after work. On Saturday you drive another 200 miles to a gig farther away still. On Sunday you drive 200 miles back toward home for your 3rd gig on Sunday afternoon, and then on Sunday night you drive the rest of the way home so you're bright eyed and bushy tailed for Monday morning back at your day job. The next week you do it again but in a different direction, a different petal on the daisy. You pick off one petal after the other in a sort of "She loves me, she loves me not" pattern until you've toured out and back in all directions, then you repeat. Conventional touring wisdom recommends you repeat this pattern for two years, gradually growing the size of your radius... and your fanbase. If things start taking off for you, you can add a Thursday out of town gig to get another 100-200 miles farther out on your flower petal once a month or so, expanding your radius. You can take an extra day off from work every once in awhile without losing your job, your boss will let that slide, right? If things really start taking off you can add a Wednesday gig out of town sometimes. Eventually if all the magical ducks fall in line, you quit your day job and tour full time. That's the concept.
The nice thing about booking in a flower pattern is that it gives you a lot of flexibility and options as it grows. The more places you play, the more places that want to hire you back. The more repeat gigs you get, the easier it is to book gigs that you can drive to but still get back home in time for work on Monday. Gigs pop up as you build your network. A venue has a cancellation and they think to call you to fill it. A friend you met in the next town over hears about a gig they can't do, but they think to call you. It's a very pragmatic approach to building a long-term performing career. It's safe, relatively low-risk, and fits a lot of people's life styles who have reasons why to stay close to home, you know, like a house, a spouse, kids, pets, a garden, a good job. Most people like those comforts. A warm bed, a roof over your head, a kitchen to make hot meals, a place to take a warm bath every once in awhile to decompress. A big screen TV to watch a movie on Netflix. Flower petal touring enables you to maintain a comfort level that suits a lot of people.
That's what we did for the first 10 months, from February through November of 2015 we booked about 80 gigs regionally. But this band had a magic to it I'd never experienced before, it felt like booking gigs was so easy, and the gigs (and money) kept getting better and better, so we decided to jump ahead a bit in the plan, and instead of touring regionally in a flower pattern for two years we decided to tour nationally after only one year. Both of our apartment leases were expiring in February, so we planned a three month linear tour through the western states and Canada from Feb 8th to May 15th rather than find new apartments. When we got back in May we couldn't wait to get back on the road again and just kept booking longer and longer runs so we wouldn't have to get new apartments.
Long distance touring, especially tours lasting over 3 months, pose a much different challenge. Since you're not going home each weekend, do you keep your apartment or house? Obviously, our answer was no. We put what few belongings we had in a 5x10 storage locker and hit the road. Can you even do a 3-month tour if you have kids, or pets, or even plants? And how do you book gigs 5-6 nights a week in towns you've never played, with venues who don't know you at all, how do you convince them to hire you when they can hire a local act more easily, who will play whenever they need them, and probably play for less? And then there's the overhead of traveling, the cost of gas, car repairs, motels, restaurants, PA failures, instrument repairs and maintenance. Because of all these factors (and a bunch more) booking agents know that booking long linear tours at the beginner level is one of the hardest things to do in music. It's easy for established stadium acts like the Madonna, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Bob Dylan, Phish, The Temptations, Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, Jack White, The Black Keys. But for an acoustic duo with no name recognition, booking a 70,000 mile, fourteen month, 35 state tour is just about the most difficult thing you could try to pull off.
Welcome to the full Sugar Still experience. Like I said before, we're not afraid of crazy.
After playing together as a duo for 10 months, how did we book 45 shows out west and in Canada over a three month span without a booking agent... and then continue booking 150 more shows and tour for the rest of the year? How did we survive on the road. What happened along the way? "Dude, did you do the whole tour in that tiny 4-door sub-compact car? Where did you play? Did you stay in motels? How much money did you make? How much money did you lose?"
Good questions. I'll try my best to answer each one. And as hard as it will be to admit to our failures, I won't skip over the moments of sheer fear and panic... like we felt on that one Monday in Oregon when we found ourselves nearly broke, our vehicle broken down, our next three gigs canceled, and our closest paying gig 10 days away. There we were, about as far away from home as we could possibly be, and with no money for bus fare.