I think we can pretty much face it - gas prices are really never going to drop to where they once were. It's a harsh reality I've felt every time I've gone to the pumps, and I'm sure many of you do too.
While we’ll (hopefully) not feel the full sting we have felt, and the price of gas won't reach the highs it has, gas prices still pinch everyone’s budgets, especially those who drive a lot for a living.
There are of course truck drivers, delivery people and the like, but in this situation I am specifically talking about touring bands. Often, when a band is starting out, simply getting enough money at a gig to buy gas to the next town is what makes or breaks a tour, and also ensures whether or not they’ll be able to tour again.
It’s always been this way; a friend of mine who once toured in a hardcore band has told me stories of the band selling sandwiches out of their cooler in order to get gas to get to the next gig, after a night when the club refused to pay them. Today, though, with the sharp increase in gas prices, it’s even more so.
Live shows by touring bands are an integral part of the punk scene that is being threatened by the high cost of fuel. But we can do something about it. Believe it or not, there are things that you, as a punk music fan, can do to help ensure a future for touring independent bands:
Go to Shows – This is the most obvious answer, but it’s also the most important. The $5-$10 you give to the door of the club makes its way to the band (usually), and helps them on their way. In addition, a packed show in your town is one way to help ensure that this band (and other ones as well) will be back next time.
Buy Merchandise – This is actually more effective than simply paying your cover to get in, because you’re putting money right into the hands of the band. Often, when I am covering a show, I am doing it as the guest of the band. Even so, there have been countless nights where I have left the show loaded down with records, shirts, buttons or patches – not only because I like the band, but because it’s how they get through the tour.
Spread the Word – Is there a local band you're really in to? Let the world know. Sure, it's great to feel superior because you know a great band that nobody else is in to, but if nobody knows about them, then they're not getting people to come see them, and odds are they're going to run out of money to release records and tour, and you're going to find out that your favorite band isn't together anymore. If you have a lesser known band that you really like, you can help them out by telling us all about them on our local band soundboard.
Host a Band – Believe it or not, when a band is on the road, it’s a daily grind that’s often not all that glamorous. There are certain things that we take for granted that mean the world to touring acts. When most or all of the band's cash flow is going right into its gas tank, hotels and restaurants are out of the question. If you have the space and can offer hot showers, a home-cooked meal, and a bed, couch or even patch of floor to sleep on (it's a little known fact that floorspace is even more comfortable than sleeping in a crowded van), then you’ll really be supplying one of the things that help make tours happen. (More on Hosting Bands)
Bring a Care Package – The next time you’re going to small show at a house or tiny club, why not take a care package for the band? Just about anything is much appreciated by a band on the road. It can include snacks, bottled drinks, granola bars or any small sundries that may seem to barely dent a band’s traveling budget, but really add up over the course of weeks, or even months, on the road. Even a package of socks is a big deal to a band that is running from city to city without time to hit a laundromat.
Donate - If you don’t want to do these things yourself, you can donate to organizations that will do it for you. Feed The Bands is one. They take donations that are used to give money for food and hotels to touring bands. You can donate any amount of money you wish – even a dollar goes toward helping bands realize their dreams of successful tours without extreme hardship. (Feed The Bands Online)
Recently, I saw a filthy, beat-up van parked in front of a club, with two guys sitting in the front seat making peanut butter sandwiches on the dashboard. At first glance, it was like peering into the window of abject poverty, squalor and homelessness, until I realized that these guys were members of a band I’d spoken highly of on this site, and were who I was there to see that night. The signs of the financial and physical strain of touring on a band aren’t always this blatant, but they are a constant reality. Maybe we’re often blind to what independent bands go through to make tours happen, or our love of the music prevents us from realizing that the bands we love are often barely scraping by, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We, as members of a scene, can all do a little bit to help make a huge difference.