A tour manager’s SXSW survival guide

Heading back from Austin was a long drive, and all that remains from SXSW are the wristbands that have been freshly cut off our bodies, exhaustion, and that feeling that you ate way too much meat over the last few days.

A lot of bands make the journey down to Austin every March, and it was my first time since 2006, and first time ever as a tour manager. My biggest responsibility back in `06 was to be sober enough to drive The Dutchess (Cuff the Duke’s old chevy astro) back to the hotel each night – this time however was a completely different story.

After doing 8 shows, here’s a few tips that I picked up from my experience down and Austin.

When it comes to advancing these shows, your typical rules apply. Sort out your load-in times, set times, etc as you normally would. Here’s a few considerations you may want to keep in mind:

Loading: If you’re playing on 6th Street be ready to have to push your gear from either 5th or 7th. You may be able to drive down the closest cross street. If your show is an official SXSW showcase you should be given a parking pass to grant you access to do so. Loading times in permitted zones are 15 minutes, so make sure the band sticks together and gets the load happening. Always keep someone at the van to deal with police officials that may want to tow your van.

Backline: Most shows will provide at least a drum kit and bass rig. Use it. Be clear about what parts of the kit are provided. Your drummer will likely want to bring his cymbals, snare, and perhaps kick pedal in addition to his sticks.  Your bass player should bring only the necessary items: pedals, cables and bass. If you’re on a showcase with a band you’re close with, ask to use a guitar and bass from them as backups.

If a guitar amp is provided, try to use it and leave your rig at the hotel or in the trailer.

Dumb it down – changeovers are so tight that you won’t have time to dial in monitors or a ton of instruments. Don’t bring stuff that you only need for one song – cut that song instead or change it so you can drop some equipment.

Getting Around: If you have a van and a trailer, I strongly recommend dropping the trailer, removing a bench or two from the van, and only using the van to move your gear around. You can put your benches in the trailer once the gear is out.

Bring a dolly, or wagon. The crew guys for Lights had this little metal wagon that was fantastic for carting around a few guitars. They loaded the crap out of it and were able to push it fairly easily – they even used a ratchet strap to make sure nothing fell off.

If you can fit it, bring a bike. You’ll thank yourself for doing this after you’ve parked 20 blocks away. It’s the best way to get around Austin. If you don’t want to do that, you may want to take a peddy cab. They drivers all work for tips and it’s a great way to get around.

Hotels: Staying downtown is great, but parking can be limited. Always book hotel rooms early and for as much time as possible. Make sure you find out what the cancellation policy of the hotel is so if you need to make changes to your reservation, you won’t be penalized.

Good luck out there, this spring!

What’s Next: Juno weekend is coming up, and I’m going to have a bit of a vacation in Vancouver in April. May brings a tour with The Great Lake Swimmers throughout North America:

Tue 1st May 2012
Lincoln Hall
Chicago
Wed 2nd May 2012
High Noon Saloon
Madison
Thu 3rd May 2012
Cedar Cultural Center
Minneapolis
Fri 4th May 2012
West End Cultural Centre
Winnipeg
Sun 6th May 2012
McDougall United Church
Edmonton
Mon 7th May 2012
Central United Church
Calgary
Tue 8th May 2012
Southminster United Church
Lethbridge
Wed 9th May 2012
The Royal on Baker
Nelson
Fri 11th May 2012
Commodore Ballroom
Vancouver
Sat 12th May 2012
Alix Goolden Hall
Victoria
Sun 13th May 2012
Tractor Tavern
Seattle
Mon 14th May 2012
Doug Fir Lounge
Portland
Wed 16th May 2012
The Independent
San Francisco
Fri 18th May 2012
Troubadour
Los Angeles
Sat 19th May 2012
The Compound Grill
Phoenix
Sun 20th May 2012
Club Congress
Tucson
Tue 22nd May 2012
Prophet Bar
Dallas
Wed 23rd May 2012
Stubb’s Jr
Austin
Thu 24th May 2012
One Eyed Jacks
New Orléans
Fri 25th May 2012
Variety Playhouse
Atlanta
Sat 26th May 2012
Grey Eagle Music Hall
Asheville
Sun 27th May 2012
The Rock N Roll Hotel
Washington
Mon 28th May 2012
Johnny Brenda’s
Philadelphia
Wed 30th May 2012
The Bowery Ballroom
New York
Thu 31st May 2012
The Middle East
Boston
Sat 2nd Jun 2012
The Music Hall
Toronto

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