Touring the country with your band… and your baby (part 2)

Guest post by katey sleeveless

This is part two of Katey and Adam’s journey as touring musicians with their son Lio! You can read part one here, and also sneak a peek at the family’s first tour video here.

Photo by John P. Campbell

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 friends’ 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 him into a long nap, and he 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.

…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.

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 breastfeeding 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.)

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.

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.

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.

Comments on Touring the country with your band… and your baby (part 2)

  1. Yay for part 2!!!
    I just cannot get over how cool it is that you two just kept keeping on, just with Lio added. I think a lot of people (myself included) before reading this and contemplating children make having kids this whole THING when it’s really just squeezing some more love and effort into your life. You just keep living!
    Very cool.

    • “…make having kids this whole THING when it’s really just squeezing some more love and effort into your life. You just keep living!”

      I love that you got that from this. It’s totally my feeling that you can include a child into your present life and dreams. In our experience, it has made everything tenfold more fulfilling and meaningful.
      Thank you!

  2. Needed to read something like this so my h so thank you! Husband and I have been trying for s ha y for 6 months and all our metal head friends think we’re going to just stop everything we love in our life and raise a baby as if our lives stop there and then. I feel do strongly that havinga baby will just enhance the experience of everything in our lives so gave loved reading about your experiences!

    • We heard a few ‘so I guess you’ll be putting the music on hold’ etc. comments while I was pregs. We knew that wasn’t the case, but it has been easier to show by example now rather than trying to explain then. “Enhancing the experience” is such a great way to put it! Babies enhance everyday life at home or on the road – but being able to incorporate the little one into the life we love to lead has been magical.

  3. Awesome! This is coming at a great time for me, as my partner and I have started talking about babies every other day, and my band is also hoping to do a bit of touring over the next few years. I’ll be sure to send this article around, but only once I’m actually pregnant since I don’t want to be misleading!
    Luckily my partner is also one of our roadies, so he can hold the baby during shows, and we’ll likely have a few other folks around as well. Thanks for the inspiration, and hope the rest of your touring goes well!

    • Haha! Oh great! Sounds like you have the perfect set-up in the making!! Maybe our bands will cross paths on tour together some day. 🙂

  4. I love and hate inspiring stories like this! Love because you guys are just amazing parents and hate because you make the possibility of having a baby so much more tangible. You guys make me WANT to have to struggle, as long as some adventures are had along the way.

    Anyway, good luck to the lot of you!

    • Haha. That’s so great. Struggle + adventures = happiness, with a side dose of learning a lot about yourself & those around you. 🙂

  5. I love this. My parents were/are musicians and took me on the road when I was 4 months old. They were in a band together, so they brought along a nanny and they were established enough to have a sound guy and a few roadies. There was never a lack of people to hold the baby! My parents ultimately chose when I was a year old and my mom was pregnant with my brother to call it off and go home, mostly because Mom was worried that we would miss out on making real friends and she was exhausted. They were in a rock band and usually ended the show after 2AM and I would be up around 7, ready to go. She couldn’t fathom that life with two babies in an RV.

    I love that it is working so wonderfully for you and that baby is getting such a unique view of the world!

    • Thank you for this comment! Oh it’s just awesome to hear about. Sounds very similar. 🙂 We’re taking a rock band on the road for our next tour. We’ll have a friend along (as I mentioned in the comment below). I feel like it would be INCREDIBLY hard to lead this lifestyle while pregnant – because of the rapid flux of feelings and energy levels – especially with a small one already in your realm! But I have heard of it working successfully. Stories like yours & your parents’ are truly inspiring to us – the next generation of tourin’ parents!!! Yip yip! Thanks again.

  6. Great post. I took my son everywhere when he was a baby. Unfortunately things got a bit tougher once he was a toddler. Now that he’s in school… forget about it. I’ve basically given up on having a life until he’s in high school 🙁

    • We are definitely going to have to make some traveling adjustments as Lio gets older. We’ll be taking a nannyish person along with us after he’s a year old – but I’m sure there will be a number of other problem-solving opportunities. 🙂

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