Hastily I jerk my head forward, a great sense of elation fizzing through my body, instantaneously shattering as my head comes crashing downwards back onto my pillow, blood streaming down my nose onto my crisp white sheets.
This is not a dream. It’s not a nightmare either.
I attempt to open my eyes and can vaguely make out the stagnant notifications on my phone screen as a searing pain pierces my head and neck. Prior warnings from “Watch your head,” to “Don’t try and sit up” suddenly come flooding back into play.
I’ve spent weeks, months and even years fantasising about what sleeping on a tour bus would be like, but in no version did it include partially knocking oneself out. A definite Rock N’ Roll way to kickstart a morning.
Luckily, I’ve got three more weeks to perfect my awakening strategy and make peace with this narrow rectangular space that is my bunk bed.
I’m setting out across America on my very first international tour with a band, my inaugural lesson in what it takes to be a tour manager, or in this case, a tour manager’s assistant. There’s going to be a substantial amount of firsts on this trip, to the point where I’m unsure if I’m exceedingly nervous or just immensely excited. Either way, my notebook, pen and camera are at the ready to recount every single one. Countless pages dedicated to each city we’ll visit; Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis…' the list goes on.
There’s ten of us taking up residence on the bus. Seven men; five musicians, two crew members, one female; the artist, their separation anxiety riddled dog, and me; an awkward and overly passionate seventeen year old. With my only prior experience, a short three day tour throughout my hometown, fourteen shows in a foreign country unsurprisingly proved a little more daunting.
I cast my mind back twenty four hours prior, clothes strewn all over my bedroom floor as I furiously google, ‘What to pack for tour’ checklists.
“Be safe and call us anytime you need.”
“Don’t be afraid to stand your ground and say no.”
The deluge of instructions my mother showered me with in the weeks leading up to my departure pop back into my head at times. Her worrying mind awash with imagery of the sex, drugs and rock 'n’ roll music industry cliche, as the realisation her teenage daughter is about to be immersed in such a world, hastily sinks in.
Our journey commences in Los Angeles, where the sweltering sun beams down on the palm trees that symmetrically line the streets. I would love to live here some day, I think to myself. Maybe when I’m an adult.
“You mess with her, you mess with me,” the artist concludes my introduction to the gentlemen aboard the bus. Despite her childlike demeanour and edgy, rockstar-like appearance, no one dares mess with her when she means business. I often wonder if it was her strong protective nature that eased my mother’s mind into allowing me to go on this tour at such a young age.
As we pull into the driveway of the venue, a pang of nervous-energy rushes through my veins as excitement for the first show kicks into gear. The desolate space almost lonely as we enter, extension cords and gaffer tape strewn across the floor as the crew go about their jobs; loading gear on and off the stage in an almost trance-like state, showtime inching nearer. It doesn’t take long to understand that everybody has their specific jobs. As soon as you step foot into a venue, your work begins.
“Once you’ve seen one green room, you’ve seen them all,” the drummer remarks, walking into ours for the evening. I spent my younger years likening backstage to the holy grail. A place of excitement and controlled commotion. In reality it’s another unfamiliar room made to feel homely. An escape of sorts from the anticipation that presents itself on the other side of the door, where the smell of sweat, booze and cigarettes already far too familiar waft through the cracks as gig-goers flood through the door to the dimly lit bar.
“How did you get back here?” a disgruntled security guard questions, pulling me aside. A master at sneaking into age restricted venues since the age of fifteen, it seems particularly ironic that now in my underage legitimacy, I find myself being escorted out the back door, their belief being that I’ve stolen the artists’ pass.
“Where’s your ID miss?” While I’m one year away from reaching the legal drinking age in my own country, being four years off America’s legal age of twenty-one is a fact I’m well aware security would not be pleased with. “I left it on the tour bus, sorry,” I lie, hoping they’d just let me get back to my job, knowing the bus was parked miles down the road. Of course the lie didn’t sit well, they’ve heard it all before.
“Wait here,” he grunts. My mind racing with scenarios of being kicked out of the venue and off the entire tour creates a sense of anxiousness that doesn’t exactly help in proving my innocence.
“Are you serious?” a familiar voice echoes down the hallway. “I won’t play until you let her back in, she was doing her job!”
And I guess he was just doing his.
Two hours later we all clambered our way back onto the bus, toasted to a successful first show and laughed about my series of unfortunate events. I’ve survived my first day on tour, I think to myself as I crawl into my bunk and make a note to remember the close proximity of my face to the roof. In eight hours we’ll wake up in another city entirely and repeat the whole days process, ideally blood nose and disgruntled security guard free.
The next morning we’re awoken by a continuous whirring noise. “You packed a vibrator?!” Five males turn their heads towards me in unison, a somewhat intimidating sight. The only other female on the bus is nowhere in sight and I’ve never owned a sex toy in my life. Abruptly, the sound stops, a panicked “Drop It!” echoing from the bathroom.
The dog has eaten my electric toothbrush. My first job of the day, investigate purchasing a dog toy. A small but necessary price to pay.
As the days turn into nights and nights into days, each show more successful than the last, home, clean clothes and a warm shower are but a distant memory. The fresh-faced energy that fuelled us all in the beginning, now replaced with a lurking sense of fatigue as the tour draws to an end.
Fast-forward five years and I still look back on my first tour and reminisce about what I learned, the strangers I met, and those I spent every waking minute with – they are probably unaware of the impact they had on me. It almost seems as if it was all a dream, but as opposed to giving oneself a blood nose, I need now only pinch myself to ensure I’m awake.
While some say that life on tour is nothing but truck-stop burgers and dirty laundry (yes, that's part of it), others say it’s a constant rush of adrenaline and partying. As glamorous as it can be, it’s also not without it’s lows: cold showers and missed family events. These stereotypes do get one thing right, life on tour is made up of a continuous mix of the good and the bad. Combine the two and it’s a great lesson in how to grow up fast. And while the road is a very big place for a seventeen year old, I hope I’m still riding it when I’m seventy.
Poppy Tohill is a music enthusiast whose claim to fame is beating The Chainsmokers in a golf cart race. When she’s not trying to convince everyone that she’s a safe driver, you will find her amongst the crowd at a concert, talking about her vinyl collection, doing handstands and singing Gwen Stefani songs into her hairbrush (not at the same time, although she’s working on it). She posts aforementioned antics at @Poppyrosa1.