Touring is expensive, whether you're hauling around a KISS-level spectacle or just your own local indie selves in a van. It can be rough on the road. For those of us among the unsigned, every show is a gamble.
What if you don't make enough at the venue for shelter that night, food, and gas to the next? Well, then you sleep in the car and beg on the road in the morning. They tell us it builds character.
Even a Motel 6 can be a lavish luxury in situations faced by the modern indie touring act. Believe us, cramming six people into two beds for four hours of sleep can feel like heaven compared to some of our own experiences.
"Some girl in Dallas said we can crash at her house," our guitar player once told us, and we told him it was a bad idea. The fact that we would save $60 on the trip got us outvoted, but later that night we led a rousing chorus of the "I Told You So Symphony."
Crashing turned into an all-out after party fueled with drugs and Kiss Alive II playing on a constant loop at ear-raping volume. As we tried desperately to sleep on the hardwood attic bedroom floor, cursing Paul Stanley to the deepest depths of hell, we were suddenly accosted by a drunken partygoer who loudly and continuously insisted our resting place was rightfully his.
Acting quickly before our bass player could hurl the guy down the stairs like a Slinky, we packed our stuff and returned to Houston going strong on Red Bull after having been awake for 36 hours at that point.
Thus it's understandable that we were leery when we heard about BetterThanTheVan.com. The social network, which has been featured on Fox News and in The New York Times, is dedicated to helping bands find free bed, and maybe board and bottle as well, on tour.
People wishing to host bands can sign themselves up as den mothers, and bands contact them through the site when they get ready to go out on the road. The site claims that the interaction between members keeps everything safe and un-robbed/raped/murdered, but we wanted to hear it straight from the innkeeper's mouth.
A search through available Houston hosts got us in touch with a personable young woman named Ash. Ash recently moved away from H-Town, much to the detriment of touring acts we're sure after having spoken to her, but she told us that before she left, she really enjoyed opening her place to wandering musicians.
"I started with Better Than The Van after reading about it online," said Ash. "I've always been a big live music fan - spending my 20's in Kansas City in the height of the rocking late-90s made it impossible not to love a great live show.
"I had a big apartment in Houston at the time and no furniture and some of my friends from KC would crash there anyway when their tours brought them through town. So, I decided it would be cool to offer it up to others."
Ash outlined the experiences she had in greater detail, and what endeared her to us were things that so often seem to be missing in the music scene: Courtesy and common sense. If bands contacted her far enough in advance, she made sure there was beer in the fridge, clean places to sleep, clean towels, and basically all the amenities of home.
All she ever asked for in return was tickets to the show for her and a guest, and that you rock your asses off at said show. She took last-minute stragglers if she could, but good planning was always appreciated.
Not that every band did what was asked of them.
"The worst experience was a band that came through and was quite demanding of my time," said Ash. "They wanted pre- and post-showers, and their show wasn't until 11 p.m. on a work night for me... so they weren't going to get back to my place until after 1 a.m. at the earliest.
"Then, after a million back and forth emails and preparations for arrival, they never showed - no call, no nothing. I don't think that is typical and, hey, more beer for me, but I thought it was a dick move."
Signing up is for the site is free and easy for both hosts and bands alike. A quick glance through the comments left by touring bands and their hosts shows that the idea, as strangely innocent and trusting as it may be in a modern mailbomb world, seems to actually be working.
As mentioned earlier, when you make $100 for a performance, $60 for a place to pass out can really make bringing your act to other cities something that you might have to put off. With the people at BetterThanTheVan, some of us just might make some money for a change.
Barring that, we might make some friends.
Jef With One F is the author of The Bible Spelled Backwards Does Not Change the Fact That You Cannot Kill David Arquette and Other Things I Learned In the Black Math Experiment, available now.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.