Pain At The Pump Curbs Traveling Bands Musicians longing to play live music spend a lot of time playing bars and basements for little more than gas money. But gas money isn't what it used to be, and taking an act on the road isn't happening as much as it used to. Musicians are having to re-think how they tour.
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Pain At The Pump Curbs Traveling Bands

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Pain At The Pump Curbs Traveling Bands

Pain At The Pump Curbs Traveling Bands

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America has a long tradition of traveling musicians. Artists of all types hit the road to play in dead-end bars and dimly lit basements, often for little more than gas money. Nowadays, gas money wouldn't be a bad night's pay, except fewer bands can afford to go on tour. Charles Michael Ray, of South Dakota Public Broadcasting reports on what that might mean for your local aspiring rock star.

(Soundbite of cash register)

Unidentified Man: Great, thank you.

CHARLES MICHAEL RAY: Jay Wailin Porcupine(ph) just dropped 50 bucks in gas into a 1995 Chevy van.

Mr. JAY WAILIN PORCUPINE (Musician): Fifty dollars gives you 13 gallons, and it's kind of sad because this is a 30-gallon tank.

RAY: Porcupine is the front man for the band the Red Men(ph). In the last two years, the three-piece band from Rapid City, South Dakota, has driven about 30,000 miles in this van, hitting small towns and big cities across the country to play a unique version of pop-punk, including this fast and loud piece, titled "This Year's Mono(ph)."

(Soundbite of Music)

Mr. PORCUPINE: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

RAY: This song isn't about high gas prices, but after spending 50 bucks on less than half a tank, Porcupine can't help but to look back at the way things were when a band like his could afford to take its act on the road. He remembers when they could get paid $50 or $100 at a small show and have enough money to make it to the next town.

Mr. PORCUPINE: This kind of lifestyle, this way of life, might go extinct because of the gas prices, really. Just, you know, we haven't toured in a couple months, and it's just, we've been really just rethinking the game plan.

RAY: A lot of musicians are rethinking their plans. One of them is Minneapolis-based Hayley Boehner(ph). The 24-year-old artist is about to release her fourth CD. The title track, "Big Star," seems to lament the desire to reach for fame.

(Soundbite of song, "Big Star")

Ms. HAYLEY BOEHNER (Singer): (Singing) Big star, (unintelligible)…

RAY: To promote her CD, Boehner is planning a cross-country tour this summer. Even with new forms of Internet marketing, she says going on tour makes a big difference.

Ms. BOEHNER: It's a good thing to be in those cities as that's happening because, you know, people are hearing your music, hearing your name, reading about you and whatever. It's really the best time to go and do that.

RAY: For her upcoming tour, Boehner is budgeting $2,000 just for gas. She says if gas prices continue to go up, she won't be able to afford to tour anymore. The price at the pump has forced some musicians to cancel their tour plans altogether. Others are finding alternative ways to travel.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER BELL(ph) (Musician): I'm touring on a canoe from Buffalo to New York City.

RAY: Right now, Christopher Bell is touring in California in his '97 Toyota Corolla, but in mid-July, he'll trade his car for a canoe and head down the Erie Canal, hoping to stop and play some of the towns along the route.

Mr. BELL: I have never done an actual long canoe trip, so I'm planning 20 miles a day, which I've been told by another guy who's canoed the whole Erie Canal that that should be fine.

RAY: Bell follows in the footsteps of troubadours like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, the kind of musicians who were driven more by the love of music than by fame or money. Bell is optimistic that high gas prices won't kill off touring musicians.

Mr. BELL: I think it would be a sad day if it did, but people will find a way, and music will get out. People will still see shows.

RAY: If you live along the Erie Canal, keep an eye out for Christopher Bell this summer. Maybe he'll play you the song called "Oh How We Danced," if, that is, his arms aren't too tired from paddling.

(Soundbite of "Oh How We Danced")

Mr. BELL: (Singing) Everyone here, it seems, is lost from all the dreams, and all I want is for you to come back to me.

RAY: For NPR News, I'm Charles Michael Ray in Rapid City, South Dakota.

(Soundbite of Music)


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