Archive for December, 2011

Touring With the Babe, Pt. I

There is an air of impossibility about touring with a baby. If you don’t travel with a caregiver, the logistics aren’t concrete: There needs to be a lot of breathing room along with a dedication to adaptation. You need to be able to say, “I guess we’ll both do solo sets.” It’s important for us to remain expectation-less about how a show is going to go or how our child is going to respond to the energy of a venue or the people.

Other parents we meet will say, “You’re very brave.” People who don’t have kids often remark, “I thought life was supposed to be over when you have children.” They also say, “It’s good to know it’s not.” Everyone asks, “What does the baby do while you play?” There are as many answers to that question as there are shows.

Going on the road to perform had become a natural part of our lives. I’d been hopping on the road spinning around the country since I was old enough to drive, and Hawk was touring all the time with his band. We met playing music, traveled together soon thereafter, and quickly set the pace for a life of future adventuring (read: Bellagio-fountain-hopping, neo-nazi-protest-protest, being kicked out of casinos for dancing, sleeping in bank parking lots a block from the strip). Long before Amilio ever saw the world, we dreamt of traveling the country in a motor home, playing shows and finding that special somewhere to call home. We moved in together knowing we’d save some money and soon hit the road. A week later, we found out we were going to have a baby.

Our immediate (and admittedly somewhat panicked) states of mind had us thinking we’d better buy a house and settle down, post haste. For a few days in August we stared at each other with serious faces (the kind of faces people who are going to be parents make) and discussed making down payments, finding a house in the country, or taking over the family business. Little by little, the initial shock wore off, we thawed out, woke up, came to, and realized our vision could adapt. Wouldn’t it be cool for our kid to say, “When I was young, my parents took me on tour with them all over the country” ? Our plans expanded to fit the pending little one.

We decided to start traveling as soon as the baby was “ready.” We didn’t know when “ready” would be. We guessed he might be strong and sturdy enough by the time he was six months old, so we circled a date in October and watched my tum expand (which is nothing like watching grass grow, paint dry, or water boil).

We had a calm, centered birth at home. Afterward, we sat around the living room drinking tea and talking about the experience. Our midwife Sheryl swept her gaze around the room, smiled (more to herself than us), and said, “All these instruments remind me of when I first started attending home births in the 70s. How wonderful for Amilio to grow up around music.” Her observation strengthened our resolve.

Like all babies, Lio loved music from the get-go. Playing his dad’s latest album (which Lio had been there for practically every moment of the making of, in utero) made him coo and instantly relax. He clearly favored and recognized the tunes he’d heard so many times in the womb. We’d shot a Lovedrunk video a couple weeks before the baby was born, and had played the song “It Isn’t Mine” probably fifteen times between the video shoot and band rehearsal for the album release. Now, this is Lio’s favorite song. Hawk plays it, and he just… stops. Stares. Smiles. This is his song.

Lio loves drums. He loves messing around on keyboards and pianos. And he’s absolutely fascinated with watching drummers and guitar players. Seeing Lio as a music lover in training also helped us realize our decision to take him on the road could be incredibly formative.

We did a few show-and-baby test-runs, traveling to Colorado when he was just a couple months old for Blank-Tape Records Fest, then playing a handful of shows closer to home near Des Moines. The shows cast some light on the unpredictability of simultaneous child rearing and show playing, but we were lucky in that we almost always had family in the audience who were eager to hold the baby while we played. We weren’t quite getting the full picture of what shows would be like on the road, where we wouldn’t have the support of relatives and where the number of people and unfamiliarity would turn baby-holding into a mom-or-dad-only scenario – both the baby’s preference, and ours.

We started booking shows for our east coast tour a few months after Lio was born. Instead of the web of bars we’d been accustomed to planning tours around, we turned out focus to look toward house shows, galleries, cafes, art spaces, collectives and DIY venues, coffee shops, record and book stores, and other all-ages venues and clubs. I told the contacts we had a small son. People were very receptive. We booked almost thirty shows from Iowa up to Maine, and down the coast to South Carolina.

Why South Carolina? In the brief (but seemingly endless) space between going on the road and when we moved in together, Hawk and I spent hours each night discussing the place we wanted to live for a spell: Somewhere we’d never been, where we knew no-one, with mountains, and the ocean. One day, I woke up and thought, “I wonder if he’d ever move to South Carolina.” At the beginning of our next marathon phone conversation, the first thing out of Hawk’s mouth was, “What about South Carolina?” Thus, S.C. became an ever-present destination early on.

Fast-forward a little over a year: We gave away or sold everything we owned, put the important stuff in a friend’s garage, bolted the baby’s car seat down for extra safety, and fashioned a crib out of the motor home couch. I sewed little motor-home curtains, and Hawk caulked (try saying that one) extra waterproof layers onto the roof and windows. As the midwest weather turned chilly, we set sail in The Big Ship, headed east.

And what we’ve learned is that traveling with a baby isn’t a whole lot different than a regular tour – you just have, well, a baby. You might stop a little more frequently, or you might not – at least no more than if you have a tiny-tanked bandmate. You still stop to stretch your legs or to get gas, and that’s when you pop on a fresh diaper and feed the little guy. You set out to explore a city, and you stuff the little fella in a sling or carrier, and off you go. You can still stay at friend’s houses, only now you have a bassinet. There’s a lot more stuff – toys, clothes, a walker, baby blankets, stuffed animals – but tour is usually kinda cramped anyway. And there are always non-baby-spurred predicaments: Like how we didn’t plan on campgrounds in New England shutting down mid-September. Lio, though, makes it easy on us: he’s kind of a jackpot baby. He loves music and meeting people, it is fairly easy to coax into a long nap, and doesn’t often cry.

Our nights usually go something like this: If there’s no show scheduled, we’ll explore, find an early campsite, make a fire, and watch movies, read, and talk. If there is a show, we’ll pull close to the venue and one of us will scope the place out while the other stays behind to gather baby stuff and ready equipment for carrying. (Lio is at the age now where he’ll usually fall asleep in the bouncy motorhome, so this is when he slowly comes-to and begins his big Grin!-I’m-awake! Woot! game.) The first person’ll come back with a report: It’s cool in there, and the people are really nice! We go on at nine! Or whatever. We’ll bring Lio in, get him set up with some toys, haul in our instruments, and hang out til the show starts. Sometimes Lio will race around in his walker and make friends. Other times, he’ll drift off to a sound sleep before we even start. Sometimes he’ll be in a Mood, and only Mom’s arms can soothe him. We have a together-set worked up with keyboards, drums, and electric guitars, but have to forgo the elaborate set-ups in that situation – those are the nights we take turns holding Baby Lio and playing solo sets.

If the show goes late and Lio’s not yet asleep, Hawk and I take turns putting him to bed and hanging out in the motor home. Or we’ll bow out together at a certain point to run the heater, cozy up, and talk about the show and the day.

While there are plenty of things that haven’t made touring any more difficult with our baby, there are also plenty of considerations we take that probably seem first nature by now. We have to figure out naptimes. We keep bedtime in mind. We’re always surveying our venues, hangouts, and potential non-motor-home sleeping quarters for baby-friendliness. Luckily, we’re self-sufficient: we have two forms of heat (propane and electric), plenty of blankets, and everything we need inside our mobile house. We’re often offered extra rooms and places to stay, but the motor home is usually our best bet. It’s quiet and cozy, we have the freedom of not having to worry about Lio interrupting other people’s sleep, and we don’t have to run back out to the street in the middle of the night if we’ve forgotten to bring a baby essential inside. It always feels good to pack up after a show, say goodbye, and head off to find a quiet campgrounds.

A few things about touring with a baby are flat-out different. While musicians might often get strange looks when they pile out of large vehicle, we now get even more strange looks. (Even more confused than those from the Californians who stared at Trudy, the 15-passenger It’s True! tour beast with the lettering spelling a former church affiliation still faintly visible, her cargo crass, unwashed, mostly bearded and often hungover.) Something about Glen (our motor home) just makes people stare, sometimes in wonder, sometimes in awe, and often, it seems, in disbelief. The expressions are exacerbated when one of us emerges from the back door with a fresh-outta-the-oven baby in our arms.

One thing I was pretty nervous about is breastfeeding in public. I prefer to feed the baby in the motor home, because it’s more comfortable and private. But at least once a night there’s a point where Lio gets hungry and it just makes more sense to park it and feed him right there, draping a blanket over us. I’m pretty good at it, as I imagine all moms on the go are – so good, in fact, that people often come up to talk without even realizing I’m feeding him. Sometimes they’ll even leave the conversation still not having realized – they’ll just think he’s sleeping. There have been a couple of eye-rolling moments where some dude clearly pointed or motioned to a co-worker to look at my not-even-visible boobs, gasp, in public. (Quick, act like you’ve never seen a pair before.) But, as our story goes, most people are super accommodating, recognizing the extreme importance of a nursing mom. I’ve heard all kinds of horror stories of moms being asked to feed their babies somewhere else, but have never encountered such an awful thing myself. (Though I’ll admit I had plenty of speeches prepared in my mind, should someone say something.)

One thing I was a little surprised by is how some people are not as comfortable around the baby as the baby is around them. We have had sound engineers exclaim, “Hey, little dude!” and pay just as much attention to the baby as they do us – maybe even more – and then we’ve had people who didn’t even acknowledge his presence. The latter just feels plain weird. Bringing a baby to your show shouldn’t necessarily garner extra attention, but it’s a bit of an elephant-in-the-room feeling when someone plows on ahead, clearly uncomfortable. Especially when Lio is obviously smiling at them, ducking away, being “cute” and trying to get their attention with a gigantic grin – some people stone-facedly cannot bring themselves to interact. I know not all people are “baby” people, and for a lot of us, being “into” babies doesn’t happen til you have your own. A lot of people probably don’t even realize when a baby is trying to get their attention, or is trying to make friends. For whatever reason, babies just freak some people out. They’re not used to seeing them, being around them, or being put in a situation with them. So to them, it’s shocking. As time went on, it became apparent that it wasn’t that Lio was causing a problem – he was just hanging out in our arms – it was more what he represents. Adulthood! Responsibility! Life over! Confusion! Why is there a baby HERE? In this coffeeshop? In this all-ages club? Um, because it’s all-ages. That’s what brought us here in the first place. Treating kids (or anybody) like aliens will only cause them to feel alienated. Hopefully bringing Lio around on our tour (and on subsequent tours) will help break the ice a little.

There were a few factors that made us consider getting off the road and hunkering down for awhile after touring for months. As time went on, our downtime was lacking, and the baby clearly enjoyed himself more and was more relaxed when it was just the three of us. His sleep patterns started to be affected by the places we stayed – not wanting him to cry when we were house guests, we were much more apt to take him into bed with us at strange hours or pop up to walk him around instead of letting him cry for a few minutes til he fell back to sleep. When we camped, we worried that he was warm enough in his crib, and would usually bring him into our bed in the middle of the night. Lio’s kind of a bed hog – covers, the whole bit – and we’d usually wake up to his toes in our face or his hands pinching our noses as he stretched out, long ways, taking up more room than either of us on our motor home bed, which is really only big enough for the two of us in the first place. We knew we needed to spread out and enjoy our own space for awhile. With an album on our minds and projects brewing in our hearts, we opened the floodgates for possibilities of places to live – and soon found one. But that, too, is another story!

So far, touring with our son is easily THE favorite thing I’ve ever done. Seeing and experiencing all the places we’ve traveled through our baby’s eyes has been the ultimate reward. Whatever Lio enjoys becomes instantly enjoyable to us. Whereas before we might judge shows based on audience reception or amount of merch sold, our sense of satisfaction now mostly comes from watching Lio learn, pick up new information, and meet all his new friends. Seeing him stare intently at the fingers of a guitarist, or lean forward to soak up someone’s song from our laps, front row, enjoying all of the music around him, is our main satisfaction.

Our methods aren’t foolproof, but they’re ours. We’ve created memories that are a priceless part of our family story.

Still curious? Check out our family tour video, set to the tune of the first-ever recorded The Golden Hearts song: http://vimeo.com/33833286