Just over three years ago, I had the opportunity to take my big band to Ottawa for a performance with a fantastic vocalist at the Shenkman Centre. Overall, it was a great experience – the promoter covered our bus trip plus one night of hotel accommodation, and the show was sold out – but the logistics? Oy. Making sure 17 musicians showed up on time for the bus pickup, then soundcheck, then show call and then the early morning lobby call the day after the show…I’m lucky that I knew how to conduct a four-beat pattern during the show! (Quiet you TJO musicians who say I can’t conduct a four-beat pattern anyway…)
(Just to give you an idea of what I was up against: I got this photo texted to me literally two and a half minutes after we checked into the hotel. I am still at a loss to explain, using laws of physics, how they managed to do this so quickly:
The caption was, simply, “50 beers in the tub”…)
All that to say – I have the greatest respect for any musician who commits to touring with his/her ensemble.
I remember having a conversation with a former U of T classmate who said – if I recall correctly – that when planning his first ever tour in Europe, he had to make 200 inquiries before he lined up his first gig. And that was just the first gig – it takes at least three, I’d say, to make a tour worth the time, effort and money required to pull it off (and at least three to be eligible for any sort of touring grant). And then there’s the travel and accommodations to arrange, and the bottom line to monitor – because often, especially on a band’s first few tours, the goal is to build an audience and make connections…while being comfortable with taking a loss.
This year at the Festival we’ll have artists from countries including Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, the UK, Brazil and, closer to home, places like Los Angeles, South Carolina, Boston, New York, Edmonton and Montreal. We’re dealing directly with the artists in most of these cases, so that means the people preparing to perform are the same people booking the flights and hotel rooms – an enormous amount of work, especially where this will be an artist’s first trip to Canada (as is the case for several of them).
And I sometimes forget that Canada is a big country. A couple of years ago I noticed a band I liked was playing in Winnipeg, so I dropped their agent a note and asked if they’d like to hop over to Toronto, since they would be so close. Well – it turns out the band was touring by bus, which meant at least two days of travel from there to here. Which makes the discussion much more complicated (the show didn’t happen). Theoretically, there’s nothing wrong with booking a show in Toronto and then a show in Vancouver…but by the time one factors in travel, transfers downtown from the airport, time changes, etc., it can be a difficult prospect.
Routing is, in fact, one of the main reasons you might see a musician in one city – or at one festival – and not another. At first glance, there may seem to be a hole in a musician’s schedule which would allow them to pick up an extra show. But once all of the details are factored in, sometimes it is literally impossible to make it work and still ensure that the musicians get some much-needed rest between shows.
So – kudos to all of the musicians who have been working for the past year on their summer tours – including all of the Toronto musicians (and there are many) who will be traveling elsewhere across the country at Festival time. By the time they hit our stage, they will have spent hundreds of hours in preparation – logistically and musically – behind the scenes. Let’s give them a warm Toronto welcome once they’re here – especially those musicians performing in this city for the first time.
What are your memorable touring moments?