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Tour Life: What It’s Really Like to Be a Roadie


Classic movies like Almost Famous and our society’s general obsession with fame and the rock and roll lifestyle has given us an impression of the roadie life as being glamorous, thrilling, and a constant adventure. We picture people partying hard with rock stars, jetsetting around the world in luxury, and mingling with the rich and famous.

Of course, the truth is a little different. Real life roadies — tour managers, instrument techs, merch managers, light technicians, sound engineers, and more — work hard, sleep little, and spend many decidedly un-glamorous days out on the road. But, like anything, the touring life has its ups and downs. Touring professionals get to see the world, learn the ins and outs of the music business, and experience a lifestyle that most people only dream about.

With the help of some real-life roadies, we’ll tackle the most common myths about the gig.

 

First-class travel

Roadies definitely don’t get to travel from show to show in a private jet. Usually, it’s not even a tricked-out tour bus — commonly, the road crew will travel around in a van with a trailer for the equipment and luggage. It’s cramped, and tight schedules mean there’s not much time available to take breaks. That means lots of eating on the go, and occasionally peeing into a water bottle when there’s no time for a bathroom break.

And for accommodations? When they’re not sleeping in the van, the crew gets to cram into a hotel room (with many crashing on the floor). A total lack of privacy and forced intimacy with all your crewmates are two things you’ll have to get used to right away if you want a touring gig.

 

Partying like rockstars

It depends what tour you’re talking about and who you ask, but in general, the idea that tours are non-stop ragers isn’t accurate. There’s a lot of work to be done, and little time for sleep as it is. If the band doesn’t stop playing until 1 am and you still have to spend an hour or two tearing down and loading out the gear, the night’s shift isn’t over until the early morning, and you’ll need to hit the road just a few hours later. Oftentimes there won’t be any free time for partying, or for dealing with a debilitating hangover the next day.

 

But it can be said that most stereotypes have a grain of truth in them, and that’s the case here too. After long stretches of constant travel and lots of hard work, off days provide an opportunity to blow off steam and get a little wild. Buy a current or former roadie a drink or two, and you’re likely to hear some crazy stories of their time on the road. But the bottom line is, like with any job, work comes first, and the priority of any touring professional is to make sure that they pull off every show without a hitch.

 

Work-life balance

When it comes to this one, pop culture largely gets it right. Every touring professional can tell you that the job has a way of consuming you. You’re on the road for weeks at a time, and keeping up with loved ones back home can be tough. You’ll be in a different time zone, working totally different hours than your friends, family, and significant other with 9-to-5 schedules and normal lives.

Maintaining long-distance relationships can be tough, and the job requires making all kinds of sacrifices. But most roadies will tell you without hesitation that the adventure and experience are worth it.

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