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The Crushing End of Summer Festival Season

09/22/2015 08:03 EDT | Updated 09/22/2016 05:12 EDT
Nikada via Getty Images

As the sun sets on summer festivals for the season, is the quality of live shows, or more pertinently, the health of rock musicians, going to suffer?

As a band, we often joke that touring is submitting oneself to a series of boxes: the airplane, the van, the hotel room, the venue. A claustrophobic collection of confined spaces where most of a "rockstar's" time is spent waiting for someone else to finish their job. Waiting (albeit while moving very quickly) in the van to get to the gig. Waiting for the promoter to show up. Waiting for the drums to be set up (no offence to drummers, but nobody else can set up until we know where the drums are going). Waiting for the stage to be wired. Waiting for your turn at soundcheck. Waiting for the rider to show up. Waiting for showtime. Waiting for the venue to empty before you pack up, load out. Sleeping, too, often become a form of waiting. Waiting for the next day.

Oftentimes, booze is the best way to kill time. After all, many of these waiting moments are spent sitting at the bar, soundtracked by the unmusical "Songs of Soundcheck:" the THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD of the kick drum, BA-DUM-BUM-BOODILLY-DOOs of the bass, or the unforgiving wails of the electric guitars from across the room. Another pint, barkeep.

It is no wonder that a recent study reported by The Guardian in the UK revealed that 60 per cent of musicians suffer mental health issues, with 71 per cent of this group stating that touring was the most psychologically detrimental aspect of the job.

Enter the summer festival. Big corporate-funded paydays, curated and catered food, clean backstage lounges and, of course, sunlight. This re-activation of normal levels of vitamin D and melatonin in the human body is as if unicorns and rainbows descended upon the touring musician. Like vampires we emerge into the daylight, shielding our eyes with Ray Bans comped at a gifting room during some SXSW of yesteryear. Yes, now we can see all the bugging out and hippie dancing going on in the audience, and we can see how many people are totally not paying attention, yapping loudly or taking selfies on their phone. All the while the lighting guy is pulling out his hair, overworking the smoke machine to get enough haze so his lazer lights will show despite the sun.

These now pampered indie rockers have been schmoozing backstage, in common VIP areas with other, bigger artists. "Here comes Snoop Dogg! Check his entourage!" or "OMG it's the guy from the White Stripes! Is he wearing makeup?" Suddenly musicians you've barely cared about are giant celebrities, fodder for future war stories to tell your children, your friends.

But now, as the summer draws to a close, we look forward only to the rigidity of back-to-school bro-fests organized by student unions. Oktoberfests will be the near-final tolling of the bell, signalling that the festival markets are now closed. And what of the artists: in our free jeans, sunkissed cheeks, properly nourished for the first time since moving out of our parents' houses. Now back to the dungeons of bars and pubs, the "classic venues" we have played time and time again, that smell of stale beer and bleach that welcomes us at load-in. How do we reconcile being relegated to the drudgery of what now feels, finally, like actual work?

We have a term for this: suck it up. The life of a touring musician is far from glamorous, summer festivals or winter club shows. But at the end of the day that adrenaline rush of playing a show -- any show -- makes it all worthwhile. That 75-minutes of connecting with an audience, of sharing in something that allows us all to escape the normalcy of daily life -- that's what makes waiting for the next gig a little easier.

At the end of the day we inevitably come home exhausted and broke. Those we've left behind, boyfriends, wives, kids, families, may resent us a little yet won't ever understand this beast we've grown addicted to: touring.

Natalia Yanchak is a keyboardist/singer in The Dears. Their sixth studio album, "Times Infinity Volume One", is released Sept 25. They play Beau's Oktoberfest in Vankleek Hill, ON on Oct 2.

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