HomeBlogsDekeSharon's blogA Day in the Life

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People ask me what it's like to be on tour, and I'm not sure what to say. What do they actually want to know? Sometimes it's the simple, everyday elements that people find interesting.

So, although I risk including too much mundane information, here's a typical day in the life on the road.

But first, an explanation: Every tour has it's flow, it's patterns, and its variations. For the House Jacks, a European tour has a rather specific flow, in that we go for 18 days (three weekends, and the connecting weeks, since the weekends are where you usually make the most money), and during that 18 days, we perform in a different city every single day. It's the rare tour in which we have even one day off. Yes, we're crazy, but that's rock and roll...

9am(ish): wake up. I'd usually like to sleep later, but the sun is streaming in past the blinds. Exception: when a hotel has those cool European thick metal garage-door-style blinds, which repel every single light ray. And perhaps bullets.

At this point, logging onto the internet is usually the first thought on my mind, as much has happened in America while I was sleeping, although occasionally a journey through the various morning shows can be entertaining. Nothing like watching a children's show in a different language to reinforce the notion that the people educating our children are all nursing significant drug habits.

10am: head down to breakfast before it ends (usually 10am, but on lucky days 10:30 or 11). Breakfast in this swath of Europe (From Denmark down through Austria) usually has a few consistent elements:

* a variety of cereals, almost always including musili and some form of chocolate flakes. To the side of the cereal is invariably a white ceramic pitcher with rather warm whole milk, along with a few smaller bowls allowing you to customize (dried fruit, flax seeds, fruit salad).

* bread rolls and sliced bread, with a variety of meats, cheeses and sliced veggies (tomato, cucumber) on the savory end of the spectrum, and butter and jam for your sweet tooth.

* coffee or tea, as well as juices (in the order of frequency found: orange, bright-orange-multi-vitamin-mixed-fruit-and-carrot, apple, grapefruit) and sparkling water.

* soft boiled eggs (that were sold boiled at 6am, so after four hours of gentle heat they're effectively hard boiled).

Scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon and other typical American breakfast items are rather rare, which is fine with me.

Breakfast is a great time to rehash the previous night's activities (or lack thereof), and plan the day with the other guys. Ok, there's little planning to be done, other than check our show length (usually a full show unless we're a part of a festival), consider which friends and fans we'll see this evening, and prod our memories to remember the club, the sound system, the dinner (if we've been there before).

11am: back to the room for a shower and suitcase repacking. We're almost never in the same hotel two nights in a row, so it's more a matter of reshuffling your clothing, pulling out the day's "look" (this tour had 4 distinct themes: burgundy, grey, blue and black, which we rotated in order).

12pm: Jump in the van. Planes and trains work for long distances or travel from big city to big city, but when you need door-to-door travel, nothing beats your own wheels. We've rented large vehicles (even a 60 passenger bus in Japan), but when you're flying down the autobahn, what you really want is a lithe 9-passenger van, streamlined, with good gas milage. 3 rows of seats afford us plenty of space,

We've been lucky enough to find a superlative sound engineer in Germany who doubles as our driver, navigator, occasional translator, late-night companion, nuanced critic, and all around 6th House Jack. He drives us everywhere, so that our trips (which can be anywhere from 1-8 hours, with most days in the 3-4 hour range), are a relaxed flow of movies, books, computer work, emails, music and podcasts.

2pm: half-hour lunch stop/pee-pee-pause/email check (thanks, T-mobile, for being ubiquitous) and frisbee break. Rest stops are pretty uniform in that they have an assortment of warm food (Germans love pork and potatoes in every imaginable form), cold food (salad bar and sandwiches), drinks, and very clean bathrooms which cost 50 cents, but you get a receipt which gives you 50 cents off any purchase at any rest stop, so it's a wash.

3pm: if it was a short drive (less than 3 hours) we'll stop and check into the hotel, which is always nice, because we don't have to hassle after the show. And if the drive was particularly short, there's time to stroll around the city/town/village, get your bearings, perhaps descend on a local tourist site, or more likely, town center (for snacks, books, and a glimpse of the local color).

A brief side note: whereas I have had an opportunity on many a tour to do some sight seeing, my image of other countries is very different from your average tourist, as we travel to a wide variety of places, many of them not often tourist destinations. As such, we see how people work, eat, sleep, live. It's fascinating, and has changed the way I travel for leisure as well, choosing off-the-beaten-path locations, with a desire to see a place as locals do.

4pm: Arrive at the theater, at which time the sound crew descends on our van, loads in our equipment (our sound man brings his own board and microphones), and preps the theater, setting monitors, lights, etc. Our sound man "rings out the system" (gets rid of feedback), "tunes the room" (balances the various frequencies coming out of the speakers so it sounds uniform and pleasing), and checks everything by listening to a few songs (he hears the exact same songs in the same order in every theater, to help create a uniform sound. It's essentially the same as having a photographer balance colors.

We play frisbee.

5pm: Sound check. Jake goes first, focusing just on the vocal percussion sounds and his monitor. We never use effects live, so we can't rely on electronics to make our voices sound a certain way. As such, we need to make sure we're used to a room, and our monitors are clear (same "color balancing"). Once the drums sound good (they're the hardest, since they accentuate very specific frequencies), then the bass, then everyone all together. Sometimes we'll rehearse a new song or fix something from the previous night, but usually the job at hand is getting our ears used to the sound of a new room, making sure we can hear everything clearly.

6pm: Dinner. Sometimes good, sometimes great, occasionally lousy. Lots of German food on tour (which, if done well, is excellent), as well as Italian. Turkish and Greek cuisines are the most common "ethnic" options, with usually one Chinese or Thai meal per tour. We never pay for dinner (or breakfast, for that matter), so it's usually an opportunity for us to try local specialties as well as old favorites, order a fancy bottle of wine, and act like you're out for dinner on a Saturday night with friends (much laughing and many stories), except that you're going to work 30 minutes after you finish your meal

8pm: Showtime! A show on tour is usually a 50-60 minute set followed by an intermission (20-40 minutes, depending on the audience size) and a second set. Exception: a cappella festivals, corporate events, outdoor fairs (usually a couple per tour).

Northern European audiences are very attentive and very polite, so we've found it's good to come out swinging (a couple uptempo songs) and some audience participation by song #3. They're happy to loosen up if they're given the license (in other words, if we allow them to, and the people sitting near them are similarly along for the ride), so we give them the license early in the show.

11pm: Drinks and/or Doner. It might seem as though one would be exhausted by 11pm after such a long day, but the opposite is true: the audiences are where all the energy is generated, and after a show I most certainly can't sleep for at least two hours.

So, if a theater or club has a nice bar, we stay there and drink (for free) with the locals, fans (old and new) and friends. If things wind down after the show, we retire to a hotel bar or proximate club, unless we're hungry, in which case we descend on the reliable ubiquitous eateries known simply as "doner"

Doner is known by the same name in Canada, and goes by the moniker "gyros" in the US. A large, vertical spit teeming with lamb from which thin slices are carved and shoved into a pocket of fresh bread along with some vegetables and garlic or chili sauce. Always cheap, always delicious. There were definitely downsides to the Austra-Hungarian empire, but Turkish Doner restaurants dotted across Germany remain a silver lining.

Occasionally, we'll have a late night drive, getting us closer to our next location. We might not arrive at the hotel until 1 or 2am, but it's far better than staying in town, as it keeps us on the same schedule (we rarely go to bed before then anyway), allowing us to leave the hotel at noon (or perhaps 11am if need be).

This account is easy to write because of the constance of our tour schedules. With over 30 tours of Europe under our belts, we've hit a stride and figured out how to work hard (18 solid days), and yet leave on the last day looking forward to our next trip.

There are a few secrets to a successful tour, if you must ask:

1) If you wash your shirt in the sink after a show, lay it on top of a bath towel, then roll the two up together , twisting tightly, then unwrap and hang. It'll be dry the next morning.

2) If you have a long drive, make a "Jimmy Mac" at breakfast (named after the sound man on our first tour, James MacLane): 1 roll, a couple slices of meat and/or cheese, a few veggies, and wrap in a napkin.

3) Pre-schedule a laundry mid-tour, when you have a short drive so you can hit a wascherei mid-afternoon and get your clothes the next day. Pack accordingly (if it's on day 9, bring 10 pairs of socks, etc).

4) Never, under any circumstances, willingly consume "Appenzeller." The cheese by this name from the Swiss town Appenzell (I hesitate to call it "swiss cheese" because our American "Swiss cheese" is most certainly not swiss) is superlative, but the digestif by the same name is horrific. Makes Jagermeister taste like freshly pressed apple juice on a bright fall morning. However, if you somehow think Jager already tastes that way, I politely suggest you're living in the wrong country.

5) Skype.

6) Be sure your plug adapters are not loose, so you don't get 220 volts upon removal. I speak from experience, and would again like to apologize to the German people for the very inconsiderate things I said about them.

7) Expect people to know unheard-of songs by famous musicians/bands. Yes, they know many of our biggest hits, but they also seem to have gotten some pretty sketchy D-list tunes as well. It's as if there was a clearance sale on pop tunes, and the ones that didn't sell in America or England got exported. Apparently Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath" was bigger than "Thriller."

8) CNN World is FAR more interesting than their US channels. They actually report actual news overseas. And MTV Europe actually plays music videos. Who knew?

That's about all I can think of right now. If you have any questions, fire away (in the comments section below).


Great to hear the inside scoop

As a big Jacks fan, and general a cappella junkie, this blog is like candy. Or maybe it's like doner. In any case, thanks for sharing!

--Dave Brown

now: Mouth Off host | ICCA & CARA Judge

then: CASA president, CASAcademy director, CASA Bd of Directors | BYU Vocal Point | Noteworthy co-foun

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