Levi Weaver On The Agonies And Ecstasies Of Touring

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

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Singer-songwriter Levi Weaver recently packed up his house and bought an RV so his family could tour the country with him. Weaver’s peripatetic lifestyle weaves its way into the  themes (young love, marriage, death, break-ups) explored on his latest album Your Ghost Keeps Finding Me (Rock Ridge Music, release date – May 13, 2014). Live, he re-imagines these songs as a one-man band, intriguing audiences with loop pedals, dual mics, and a violin bow, which he occasionally applies to his guitar strings. A tireless troubadour, Weaver averages 200 shows per year, often covering upwards of 50,000 miles in travel. Here, he weighs in on the ups and downs of the road-dog lifestyle.

Toto should have left the curtain alone.

I mean, here was this insane world with witches and singing lions and yellow brick roads and flying monkeys. You finally get to the end of the movie and there’s this boss and there’s a technicolor horse and freaking FIRE (which had probably just been invented [right?]). It’s awesome.

And at end of it all (sigh), a nonplussed wiseacre agnostic dog pulls back the curtain and there’s a sad old man clinging to the last bit of petrol in his tank. It’s a letdown.

But perhaps even sadder was the moment when you learned how movies actually worked. There was no real-life tin man; that was a guy who got a job because Jed Clampett was allergic to paint. WHAT IS EVEN REAL.

Here’s the thing: going on tour is like that.

You grow up watching Axl Rose or Dave Matthews or whomever saying things like “how you feeling tonight, Miamaaaaaaaaay?!”  And you watch as the crowd screams an inordinately enthusiastic response, as if to say “WE ARE DOING GREAT SO GREAT LIKE UNBELIEVABLY GREAT, MAN I’M SO GLAD YOU ASKED WOOOOOOOO”  and you think “Man. If I could just ask Miami how they’re doing tonight, my life would be complete.”

When I ask Toledo (collectively) how they’re doing, they just …grunt. Like, not even whole words, just “uhh.”

So you practice your songs and you re-practice them, and you’re certain they’re ready – oh sweet Miami just you wait – and…no one invites you on tour.

Eventually, you do one of two things: Either you decide that having a job is a nice luxury, OR you decide to do your own tour.

Option B, you say? Welcome to my life for the last 8 years.

Here’s a secret. Most people never get to “ask Miami how they’re doing”. Most of us touring musicians have stories about the worst shows we’ve ever played, and they’re hilarious, but mostly in the same dark way that Bukowski is hilarious.

You probably won’t be Bruce or even the Avett Brothers (and if you are, and you’re reading this PLEASE take me on tour) but if you’re lucky, you’ll get to play your songs in front of some people who aren’t your mom or your wife.

Sorry to be Toto here, but seriously: if you’re fortunate enough to play your songs in a state you don’t live in, in front of strangers, you’re a 5%-er. And 5% might be a generous number.

If you get to play music past the age of 25 or if you play more than 3 shows in one week, YOU DID IT.

I toured alone for a long time. Recently, I moved my wife and two kids into an RV and started dragging them along with me. This was for two reasons: One, because traveling alone sucks and is really hard on a marriage. Two, because I needed to make an already-difficult life even more difficult. I succeeded.

And it’s totally worth it.

The thing is, you can be unhappy anywhere. You can be unhappy at a crappy job waiting tables for boring people, or you can be unhappy because only 3 people showed up at your show in Colorado.

But there’s a flip side. You can also be happy in either place.

Going on tour won’t fulfill your every fantasy, because what you saw on MTV was just that: fantasy. Touring is not an easy life. But it’s a good life. Or, as Calvin’s Dad (of Calvin and Hobbes) would say: it’s a good “character-building experience.”

But back to the movie. Once the initial disappointment faded a little, there was a new perspective I gained. (Later… as an adult… just now as I was writing this.)

Even though it was all a story, it wasn’t fake. Someone wrote that story, and then a team of people planned it, cast the movie, acted it, shot it, edited it, and brought it to life. They made a movie so good that even though I haven’t even said the title until this point, you all knew I was talking about The Wizard of Oz.

So dreams do happen. They just don’t look anything like the audience 12-year-old you imagined. And that’s okay. You’re not the sad old man behind the curtain, you’re the writer who put these words in that man’s mouth: “Frightened? Child, you’re talking to a man who’s laughed in the face of death, sneered at doom, and chuckled at catastrophe… I was petrified.”

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