After years of interviewing bands, probably the most common complaint I hear from musicians about touring is that it consists of 10 percent action and 90 percent twiddling your thumbs.
Well, there's knowing a thing, and there's living it.
Last weekend, I headed out for my first "tour" with my band to play a trio of shows at an Irish music festival and pub in Louisville, Ky.
An hour and a half after we were supposed to have wheels rolling on the interstate, we were still sitting on a curb in North Chattanooga waiting for some missing equipment to be replaced. There, I was given a good-natured lecture by our guitarist, the first point of which was to expect a lot more cooling of heels during the next three days.
What followed when we finally left was a veritable five-hour master class on inactivity. To the road dogs I was with, their past tours could have swallowed 300 miles whole with room for seconds, or thirds. Lacking that experience, I was in constant search of distraction from the monotony.
Once we arrived, there was more waiting. We killed time in a hotel room where the TV had to be turned on by sticking a pencil into a fairly questionable hole. Then, we killed more time waiting for the rest of the group to get their gear ready to drive to the festival. There, we did even more waiting between gigs.
During the 60-odd hours of our stay, we played a total of about six hours. That's 90 percent sleeping, waiting and driving to 10 percent playing music. The math holds up.
My touring tutor was serious when he warned me what to expect, but he delivered his wisdom with a smile.
Now, I understand why.
Being in a band isn't just about playing music. Really, it isn't even mostly about playing music. Performing is important, obviously, but ultimately, being in a band is a social activity. Playing locally, you get some of that, but I think it takes leaving town and sharing in mutual discomfort and boredom to cement the bond.
Tedious as they were, the low points made the high ones seem higher by comparison.
There were moments of MacGyver-like triumph, such as learning how to eat a bowl of ramen without a microwave to boil water or using an empty 12-pack container as an impromptu iPad speaker.
Curiously, music being a rare commodity on a tour made it all the more precious. As a result, even the hostile stares we faced from a jersey-clad crowd that would rather have watched the football game than listened to us were easier to deal with after enduring hours of tedium together.
So yes, touring is hard. The driving is mind-numbing, the gas-station food is probably toxic and it is, indeed, a lot of doing nothing. It's also incredibly addicting.
By Sunday, I was ecstatic to be back, yet I soon found myself seconding Willie Nelson's desire to "get on the road again."
The chance may not happen again for a while, but what can I say? I've become pretty good at waiting.