Gas prices and rising costs leave itinerant musicians in a difficult situation

Undated photo of a live concert venue (Photo by Vishnu R Nair)

Sydney, 2022-06-26 08:56:18. Gas prices and rising costs leave itinerant musicians in a difficult situation


Toronto –

When Josh and Katie Pascoe charted their multi-county summer concert tour earlier this year, they didn’t expect how much it would cost to fill the gas tank in their truck.

They focused most of their energy on securing performances for their alternative popular band Fresh Breath after more than two years of a pandemic shutdown that left them without a profit. With over 30 buggies booked into the We Driving Everywhere Tour, they plan to go across Ontario to Alberta and back.

Now a few weeks into their tour, fuel prices are hovering around $2 a liter, and the husband and wife duo pass around a tip jar at shows to keep her from running empty.

“We take our profits and put them back in the gas tank,” Katie said.

“What are you doing? I won’t cancel the tour because of the gas prices. We have no choice at this point but to just eat it.”

Josh said Fresh Breath is hoping to book additional shows at bars and breweries in an effort to cover the windfall costs. The couple also cut back on eating out, which means less contact with local music industry players to build relationships.

“Now it’s like, get your head out of broccoli and season Mr. Noodles – that’s what we eat,” said Josh.

“You have to make the dollar stretch so far.”

They are not alone. Thanks to soaring gas prices, staggering inflation, and other waves of the pandemic, few corners of the live music industry have been affected by financial troubles.

Some artists talk about their hitches on social media. Folk singer Donovan Woods has expressed shock at the shortage of rental cars while other artists have pointed out the rising costs of those able to secure one. Popular husband Madison Violet pointed to the high hotel prices.

“Stompa” singer-songwriter Serena Ryder fears the impact of rising costs on emerging Canadian artists who are unable to afford the new reality.

“How are we going to make space for them to be able to take a tour and get their name out there?” She said.

“It’s not just about gas prices, it’s people’s livelihood.”

Danno O’Shea is familiar with the vice stress in his pocket. The musician heads up the brass funk band My Son the Hurricane and is responsible for making sure all thirteen players and four technicians can survive from the more than 70 shows they booked this year.

The group travels together in two large vehicles, which means fuel costs can be “intensive,” but O’Shea said the group benefits from a solid reputation that allows them to negotiate guaranteed payments, rather than relying on door cutting.

“What is frustrating is that this has been our year to replenish accounts that have been damaged during COVID,” he said.

“Now we’re at a point where our band members have to live on our band. Gas is the thing that prevents that from happening.”

O’Shea is sometimes reminded that even his fans are aware of the growing pressures of a traveling musical outfit. At a recent show, a fan walked up to the merchandise counter and handed the band a gas station gift card.

“I thought, what a good thing,” he said, noting that anything to cut back on would help. “We have a lot of members and it is very important that they get paid for their time, effort and talent.”

O’Shea worries that these small gestures won’t be enough on a larger scale.

“I think you’ll see smaller tours in smaller geographies,” he said.

“I feel bad for the people in the prairie counties. I can imagine the teams getting through that because they’re going to lose so hard.”

For some musicians, gas prices are just the tip of the iceberg of problems ahead.

Popular artist Eamonn McGrath said he’s done about 200 shows since June of last year. Between January and May, he said his expenses quadrupled.

“Last year has been tough for a whole list of other financial reasons, but at least I’ve been making money. Now I’m almost zero,” he said.

McGrath has stripped costs. His four-man band is now a trio. He once had a tour operator and driver, but more recently he’s been driving himself around the country. He’s also doubled his performance fees, which means some places can’t afford him.

“The idea of ​​bidding for $500 now is out of the question because there is no possible way to turn that into a profit,” he said.

“I’m now at the point where summer and fall may be the last time for a really long time that I can ever afford to bring a band on the road.”

McGrath fears that the potentially devastating impact of gas prices has not affected some musicians who may be just weeks away from their first real tour in years.

“If only the other components of the machine were working properly, it would be able to adjust to gas prices,” he said.

“But we get through it because I mean, what are you going to do? It’s not like musicians have never had challenges before. Those challenges seem to be a lot more complicated in terms of trying to find a solution.”

Gina Walker, half of the sister duo, Reklaws, sticks to her fighting spirit and a healthy dose of optimism.

She said that while filling the gas tank on the tour bus is the biggest cost this year, they are also facing rising costs of hiring back-up musicians and paying for rehearsal space.

“We’re spending money that needs to be spent,” Walker added.

“Our fans are important to us. Our show is important to us. Whatever cost it ends up being, we hope you get back to us with the work we do.”

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