By the time we had our child, going on the road to perform had become a natural part of our lives. I’d been hopping on the road spinning around the country since I was old enough to drive, and my partner Hawk was always touring with his band. We met playing music, traveled together soon thereafter, and quickly set the pace for a life of future adventuring.
Long before our son Amilio ever saw the world, we dreamt of traveling the country in a motor home, playing shows and finding that special somewhere to call home. We moved in together knowing we’d save some money and soon hit the road. A week later, we found out we were going to have a baby.
Our immediate states of mind had us thinking we’d better buy a house and settle down, post-haste. For a few days in August we stared at each other with serious faces and discussed making down payments, finding a house in the country, or taking over the family business. Little by little, the initial shock wore off, we thawed out, woke up, came to, and realized our vision could adapt.
Our plans expanded to fit the pending little one. We decided to start traveling as soon as the baby was “ready.” We didn’t know when “ready” would be. We guessed he might be strong and sturdy enough by the time he was six months old, so we circled a date in October and watched my stomach expand.
Like a lot of babies, Lio loved music from the get-go. Playing his dad’s latest album made him coo and instantly relax. He clearly favored and recognized the tunes he’d heard so many times in the womb. Seeing Lio as a music-lover in training also helped us realize our decision to take him on the road could be incredibly formative.
We did a few show-and-baby test runs, traveling to Colorado when he was just a couple of months old for Blank-Tape Records Fest, then playing a handful of shows closer to home near Des Moines. The shows cast some light on the unpredictability of simultaneous child rearing and show playing.
We started booking shows for our East Coast tour a few months after Lio was born. Instead of the web of bars we’d been accustomed to planning tours around, we turned our focus to look toward house shows, galleries, cafes, art spaces, collectives and DIY venues, coffee shops, record and book stores, and other all-ages venues and clubs. I told the contacts we had a small son. People were very receptive. We booked almost thirty shows from Iowa up to Maine, and down the coast to South Carolina.
Fast-forward a little over a year:
We gave away or sold everything we owned, put the important stuff in a friend’s garage, bolted the baby’s car seat down for extra safety, and fashioned a crib out of the motor home couch. I sewed little motor-home curtains, and Hawk caulked extra waterproof layers onto the roof and windows. As the Midwest weather turned chilly, we set sail in The Big Ship, headed East.
Traveling with a baby isn’t a whole lot different from a regular tour:
You might stop a little more frequently, or you might not — at least no more than if you have a tiny-tanked band mate. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
A few things about touring with a baby are flat-out different:
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 nap times. 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.)
While musicians might often get strange looks when they pile out of large vehicle, we now get even more strange looks. 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 baby in our arms.
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.
Our methods aren’t foolproof, but they’re ours. We’ve created memories that are a priceless part of our family story.
(This post originally published on Offbeat Families in January 2012. Katey and her family are still touring — catch up with them clicking her blog link in the bio below.)