Tips for Touring Musicians: The Band Van - Life on the Road
Life On The Road: The Band Van
Loading and Security.
Having spent many years and driven thousands upon thousands of miles in a band van in both semi-professional and professional bands, I can relate to the rigours of loading and unloading the van in the early hours of the morning, a routine that was either like a well organised military operation or utter chaos.
The semi pro-band just wasn’t that well organised, but we did have our own time slots for driving and I particularly liked my stint driving home in the early hours of the morning. I enjoyed the solitude, the peace of mind, discovering my inner self as I explored my own creativity whilst watching the sky lighten to the unstoppable approach of dawn, you know…all that Zen thing ….but I was brought back to reality on so many occasions with a banshee-like scream from the back seats….“Sttttop, turn back I left my guitar at the venue”.
All that changed when I later toured nonstop in a professional band for nearly a decade, it was a top-notch loud rocking outfit with a lot of fans, I enjoyed the big venues and all the noise.
Very few autographs or selfies were taken of the full band, soon as the gig was over the guys were back on stage regardless of any road crew as they couldn’t wait to start to breakdown the gear and start packing the truck. They loved it, and when the load was complete they’d gather at the rear of the truck for an almost ceremonial slamming of the doors saying …that’s the best sound of the night.
All the gear was numbered, from the biggest flight cases right down to individual rucksacks. The guy in charge of overseeing the loading could complete a Rubik’s Cube (that puzzle phenomenon from the ’80s) in ridiculously quick time, so thinking back, he was the one for the job.
I am talking about a self-contained touring band of course, with a large lighting rig, extensive backline and substantial PA system, but the trend for small equipment is ongoing and essential for solo artists, duos and small bands playing smaller venues travelling in separate cars, or even worse, commuting on public transport.
But if you are one of the growing armies of self-contained bands that need a lot more personal equipment and are thinking about a bigger van, don’t overlook the packing and the security.
Measure the floor space and draw up a schematic diagram of the load area, and to avoid that banshee scream in the early hours of the morning, a checklist is vital with someone in charge of loading, they can also lift while the equipment is unpacked and packed in the order, military-style.
More, or Less
You may have enough gear to handle some of the bigger venues but ask yourselves, do we need four monitors tonight, or can we get away with two, half the backline or a scaled-down PA system? Try and pack the truck with this in mind to save doubling up on the lifting.
Scientifically, you aren’t supposed to be able to create space. But believe me, evenly distributing heavy bulky gear first will save fuel and benefit a more stable ride, the last thing you want is a top-heavy vehicle. Motion sickness is no fun early in the morning on the M1.
Weighty PA bass bins and heavy instrument cabs, for example, must be loaded first on the floor and outward from the bulkhead leaving space for the more fragile instruments to go in last.
The Great Barrier Grief
If your vehicle doesn’t have a bulkhead, why not? The laws of gravity do not need explaining. Your load may be secure, but there’s always a chance something might break free if you hit the brakes, you must have a barrier between you and the gear.
I can only talk from experience when at the last minute my professional band had to hire a van, and the only one available didn’t have a bulkhead. Hardened rockers we were, but the likes of hedgehogs, bunnies and stray deer on the tarmac were given priority. Whoever was driving would shout ‘brace brace brace’ and I can recall the said moment when said hire van braked hard and a six-pack of Bud Light unleashed itself from a rucksack behind us and totally wiped out the CD player in the dashboard. It’s essential the crew cab is separated from the gear, it’s not that hard to fit a mesh grill or a sturdy plywood baffle.
Heft or Theft
Sadly, more and more band gear is being stolen these days and there’s a need to take as many precautions as possible. Completely unload the truck if possible when off the road between gigs. If you’re touring and staying in what is considered a high-risk area, take precious gear like guitars into the hotel and make sure the truck is heavily alarmed, fit the biggest padlocks and a tracker device and if possible, park with the back doors against a wall.
Be cautious and vigilant when moving equipment in and out of the van, take turns to stand guard. Many a precious guitar or even a heavy amp has been stolen due to carelessness and not missed until the next gig.
Lock all doors except the ones you are working from, especially the driver and passenger doors. I recently read that a band van was driven away while the guys were loading at the back, sounds obvious, but never leaving the keys in the ignition.
Fit a dashcam as well, front and back which can record all events around the van when parked and on the road, more and more insurance companies are now asking if you have a dashcam fitted when submitting claims.
It’s a long ride home and if no one wants to sleep, make sure you have a varied selection of music, and if there weren’t any showers at the gig, deodorant and an ample supply of wet wipes is essential, and a solid rule is ‘all stage clothes in the bin liner in the bag please’…argh!
About the Author
With over 30 years in the music business, Lars Mullen does indeed wear many hats, as a writer, journalist, photographer, press person for his own company Music Media Announcements. As an extensive traveller, he's a familiar figure reporting from music trade shows around the world. Spending many years touring as a professional guitarist, Lars has also interviewed a host of top bands and artists, continues to write articles for magazines globally and still finds time to track down Fusion artists for our Artist Spotlight column.