A long overdue tour retrospective.

I’ve been back from tour for over a month, and have laid pretty low musically for most of it.  Save for the Utah open mic I didn’t perform for all of November, but that’s changing with a number of fun gigs this month, starting with an Oakland house show this Thursday (email me at shareef@shareefali.com for details).  In some ways my re-entry to the atmosphere was a little rocky: annoying fallout with the person subletting my room, who left it a total mess and lost my trash can because she left it *outside* (I know, right).  As anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, I’ve also been putting in a good bit of time at Occupy Oakland, which is by turns saddening and inspiring–I’m trying to stay mindful of balancing my involvement there with keeping focused on my music, which so far feels okay.

So.  The tour.

I loved it.  Every bit as much as I thought I would.  The heart of the tour experiment was really, “Is this really the life you want for yourself?” and the answer is an emphatic yes.  Of course, it was much different that I expected in many ways.

Transportation was remarkably easy.  I loved riding the rails, even wrote a song about it.  Friends often helped me out with rides, but when that failed I could always figure out public transit, or just hoof it.  More than once I decided to walk more than two miles to my next stop, having nothing but time.  The biggest snafu of tour was of course the rail pass debacle, but I done sent in for my voucher and hopefully that’s all getting squared away.

I was very lucky to have friends in every place I visited, who were wonderfully hospitable with lodging and sometimes food as well.  And I got to reconnect with some folks I hadn’t seen in five, ten, and even twenty years.  It’s easy to talk shit about people today being hyperconnected to randoms from their past via social networks, but I think if we’re brave enough to actually engage with each other despite the gulf of time between our previous acquaintance and the present, it can be really rewarding.

I loved playing music almost every single day.  On one hand, playing to mostly strangers who don’t have any investment in you can be unnerving; you have to win it every time.  But this also makes the songs new to you every time you play.  I never got bored of my material.  It was interesting which songs I found I liked to play every night (there were four that made it into every set; can you guess?), which ones I liked to play semi-frequently, and which I only played once.  Bottom line, I think touring is the absolute best training a performer can get.

UPDATE: I decided to rank my 24 shows on this tour into three categories: Good, Fine and Janky.  I’m pleased to report that the most populous category was Good, which had 11.  There were 7 shows I’d classify as Fine and only 6 that I’d call Janky.   And even those were fun. 

I loved all the new places I saw.  Hands down favorite: New Orleans.  I’m particularly drawn to pretty cities: NOLA, Portland, Seattle, obviously SF.  But there was a lot of character in every town I visited, and every stay was too short.

There are a number of things I’d do differently.  I wouldn’t bounce around back and forth between cities on the East Coast like I did, even though it’s technically feasible.  Rather, I think next time I’ll just have my tour either stop or start with that whole region, and maybe spend a month or two on the seaboard.  I wouldn’t do any epic legs of travel, like New York to NOLA or LA to Seattle, mostly because it’s nearly impossible to get truly restful sleep on the train.  I did, however, get some great reading and blogging and writing done while in transit, though it was mostly all in the second half of the journey, and I had to make myself do it.

Here are some stats:

I spent a total of $641 on daily expenses over forty-eight days, coming out to $13.35 a day.  This broke down further to an average of $5.19 on food, $3.58 on travel and $4.58 on miscellaneous expense.

Between merch, cover charges and tips, I made $574 over 23 shows (I’m not counting the Amsterdam show, since 1) I was visiting with family and not yet spending my own money and 2) I didn’t make any money).  This comes out to an average of $10.78 on merch and $14.17 on cover and/or tips.  So, not quite breaking even on the day-to-day, but not bad.

I can’t wait to do it again.  I’m looking at either a Pacific Northwest or Southern California tour (or both?) in the spring.  Who’s coming with me?

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