As my band returns from a quick five day jaunt, I hearken back to days of my touring with a nation act.
The primary difference is the mode of transportation. The national touring act had a bus (actually two buses and a semi tractor-trailer at the time I departed the ensemble).
The band I’m with now, the Podunk Poets, did this tour somewhat scaled down: in a van.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Our humble mode of transportation.
Yeah, we wish.
The great thing about the bus option, though, is that there are a lot of great things about the bus option:
There is a commercial driver.
There’s an on-board bathroom.
There are beds.
There’s a galley (that’s a kitchenette).
There’s a refrigerator.
There’s a TV with DVD and often DirecTV roving Satellite, actually two: one in the front lounge and one in the back lounge.
There’s a lounge. Often, there are two lounges if the back portion of the bus doesn’t contain a state room. This would be the star’s private bedroom in place of the bunks of lowly band members.
And, open containers are a non-issue.
But the down side is the cost. They are not cheap. We’re talking about more than $1000 a day.
Why so much?
The rental or lease of a bus itself, the driver, the fuel…
Buses come in different configurations and a smart bus company tries to have different classes of buses so they can appeal to all levels of clientele. So, the price ranges from $500-$700 a day or more if you’re seeking over-the-top executive or pimped out accommodations.
A driver can cost $250 or more per day. And remember they have to drive according to commercial rules, so after a certain number of hours, they are required to rest. Some driving situations (i.e. trying to get get from L.A. to Dallas in a day) will require a second driver.
Some groups have band members that have a CDL to serve as a relief driver. They are usually paid by the hour for their drive time.
And, finally, fuel…
At $4.00 a gallon the cost to fill the 220 gallon tank of a typical band tour bus is $880. And, buses are somewhat less than efficient burners of fuel, typically getting 4 to 8 miles per gallon.
But, damn…they sure are comfortable.
Everyone has a bed. Actually, the need for hotels is limited to showers and toilet. (Most buses are “liquids only”, and band members request the driver to stop for human solid evacuation.)
They’re a few bays underneath, so gear and luggage can be stocked in separate bays.
Standing room, sofas, TV, and the ability to drink cocktail while rolling are among the other perks.
And…if you show up in a bus, you are taken seriously and held in high regard, if not high esteem.
A fairly typical layout of a band tour bus.
Okay, now back to reality.
A 15 passenger van, can hold 15 passengers. They are not going to be very comfortable, but it will hold them.
Layout of the rockin’ 15 Passenger Van.
Luckily for us, we’re only traveling with six: five band members and the husband of one of the singers. So, we didn’t need the seats. However, we did need the room. So we removed the back to rows of sets.
This afforded us the room for our PA, lights, drums, guitar and amps, bass amp and the king-daddy killer of an instrument (in oh so many ways) the upright bass. And also six people’s luggage.
Now, there may be an intelligent way to pack this stuff, but we didn’t quite find it.
Getting everything to fit wasn’t too big of a problem (but it is easy to see why the electric bass guitar caught on so quickly); the problem is access to gear or luggage without having to remove either the luggage or gear to get to it. Hence, the comment about keeping the luggage and gear in separate bays on the bus.
Ultimately, touring on this level would be more efficient (at least in a couple of ways) with a trailer for the gear, leaving the back of the van for the luggage…and maybe even returning one of the removed rows of seats which would allow to people to (sort of) lay down to sleep.
The cost of the rental of the van at approx. $100 a day certainly fit our modest budget.
The higher MPG (we averaged 17 MPG) of the van is better than that of the bus by a long shot, and add to that unleaded gas is cheaper than diesel by about 40 cents per gallon.
A picture of a much younger version of this author (Jake Kelly, left) along with bandmate Vern Monnett aboard their bus C. 1996
Driving chores are split among the band members, but usually there are some that like to drive (such as myself) doing double shifts that takes some of the burden off of those that don’t like to drive.
Parking this beast wasn’t too difficult, and certainly easier than it would be to park if we were rolling with a trailer. Parking of a tour bus wouldn’t have been a problem for us at all; it would have been the hired bus driver’s responsibility.
So, in the bus v. van shoot out who wins?
The Podunk Poets loaded and ready to roll.
The bus by a long shot, if you got the dough-re-mi, but a couple of van tours will make you appreciate it all the more when you’re able to grasp the brass ring…or in this case, the door handle
of your own Prevost.
– Jake Kelly