I was onstage in Madison, Wisconsin, wanting to double over between breaths. Something I had eaten didn’t agree with me, and I felt like I was deteriorating in the moment, in front of an audience. As I sang a song about the pains of a past relationship, I noted the humor of this momentary pain and smiled. No, I didn’t feel good, but I was having the best time.
My band, Maple Stave, had talked for a while about going on an extended tour, but in thirteen years, we’d never done it. In twenty years of making music, I hadn’t played more than a couple days in a row, so I was eager. Once I agreed, the anxiety started. Sadness would come with being away from my son, and I worried about being without my everyday routines. Would going away for a couple of weeks cripple me?
Our drummer, Evan, and a friend named Steve assured me that touring was “the best thing ever.” It might even be like a vacation, or my version of vacation. I could work enough everyday to stay grounded, and then I’d get to play. I know how to unload a van and set up my equipment, how to play the songs, how to do it in reverse. I would be with my friends, too; they wouldn’t let me fail. A week before tour, reality set in, and I settled down.
Once we left, we worked as a unit. When our other guitarist, Andy, came down with the flu, we tended to him. When our gear broke, we collectively sighed at having to visit the chain guitar store. When UNC played, we found a bar. When we came across friends we rarely see, or when we made new friends, we stayed up late, exchanging stories and telling jokes. Then, for about thirty-five minutes each night, I stood on stage with my friends and got to do this thing I love, playing the songs we’ve worked on for years, the ones of which we’re proudest. After the drinks, a brief sleep, and a long drive, I got to do it again and again.
I don’t think much of myself, but, on tour, I stopped caring about that. I saw friends from far away. Bands that, just weeks before, I had never encountered exceeded any expectations I could have formed. It pushed away the defeat and loneliness, even when I saw that the room was less than full or when I learned the PA was less than grounded. I finally felt like I was doing something good.