Reflections on a First Tour

Well, just like that, my first tour is over. I gave up calling it a mini tour a while ago. True, there weren’t a whole lot of dates, but I sure covered a lot of ground:

  • Buffalo, NY

  • New York, NY

  • Gasport, NY

  • Burdett, NY

  • Arkport, NY

  • Mendon, NY

  • Pittsford, NY

  • Bristol, NY

  • Fair Haven, NY

  • Fairport, NY

  • Livonia, NY

  • Rochester, NY

  • Geneva, NY

  • Burlington, VT

  • Montreal, QC, Canada

  • Portland, ME

The busiest stretch had me bouncing from Buffalo to Burlington, to Montreal, to Rochester, to Portland. 9 shows in 12 days. I learned a lot, and man was I tired.

from Andy’s Old Port Pub, Portland, ME

from Andy’s Old Port Pub, Portland, ME

Lesson 1: My material works. In the months I spent planning this summer run, I debated the wisdom of even attempting a tour. If you read independent music blogs, there’s a lot out there about how a band or act shouldn’t tour until you’re selling out shows in your hometown. It’s a logical progression of local—>regional—>national. As a solo act who’s still pretty unknown, selling out a show consistently in Rochester isn’t realistic, especially playing as much as I do. I got to thinking that maybe a broader strategy would work in such an interconnected world. In the end, I decided it was worth the risk. Making money wasn’t my goal. That’s what the day job is for. What I wanted most was validation that I was writing good songs. Playing mostly original sets in new places gave me direct feedback that my material works and can appeal to a broader audience outside of Western, NY. It didn’t go over exactly the same everywhere, but the best part was seeing how different lines go over in different places. I got a chance to play directly for college kids and recent grads, adults, baby boomers, and elderly folk from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. The response was overwhelmingly positive and I came home a much more confident writer.

Lesson #2: Practice makes (almost) perfect. It felt incredible to get my songs and performance into muscle memory. I was able to take liberties on songs and push them in new unintentional directions. These are the magic moments of live gigs that I crave, and it brought me back to my jazz days where the mantra was that improve is 99% practice and 1% magic.

A T-Rex can jam too. Record Archive, Rochester, NY

A T-Rex can jam too. Record Archive, Rochester, NY

Lesson #3: It’s okay to be judicious with where you play. Venues abound all across the country, but not all of them are created equal. I played lots of small venues, from breweries and wineries to a barbershop. I played for empty rooms, full restaurants, and listening rooms.I was background noise, ambiance, the main event, and the add-on act. The experience I gained in all of these places was very valuable, even if it didn’t feel that way at the time. Part of paying your dues is delivering the same level of performance where it’s to just the bartender and sound guy or a full room. I also gained experience in the booking process. It’s important to have clear expectations of the places you play and make sure their expectations of you are also clear. I gained confidence that I can and should say no to venues if the fit isn’t right or the deal isn’t fair. At the same time, I learned that you can be pleasantly surprised in the most unlikely places, and those are the places worth returning to.

Rock n Roll Barber, Montreal, QC, Canada

Rock n Roll Barber, Montreal, QC, Canada

Lesson 4: I actually liked the solo tour thing. I didn’t think I would, I thought I might get bored or lonely driving all those miles by myself and playing alone. I’ve always believed that travelling alone is extremely important to personal growth and confidence. Don’t get me wrong, I think I would have liked it more if I had a band to play with every night, but the solitude was energizing as was some affirmation that I am a capable grown adult. I’m not sure I could do it for months on end, but for this period of time, it felt right.

I’m excited for the future. Like anything else I do in my life, I’m constantly finding room for improvement and revising. I started thinking about the next tour mid way through the first. I can’t say exactly when or where that will be, but I can’t wait to start the process over.