Diary of a Touring Musician: Wedding Bell Blues

Life as a traveling musician can be very hard on any kind of romantic relationship. Fortunately for me, my husband John and I work together. This does not mean that we are free from strife and annoyances, but we do manage to sidestep a lot of the issues associated with a significant other being left at home.

Sometimes, however, the significant other just can not be sounded. One of our former drummers, Ken, had a girlfriend who was constantly miserable; she was angry when he went on the road without her, and consistently complained about everything when she came along. Ken finally had enough and broke up with her.

About this same time, he started talking to Sylvia, which he knew from his "real" job. They hit it off right away, and while we were out on tour, he texted and talked to her constantly. He said he had finally found someone who would support his dream of being a working musician, and was the happiest that we had ever seen him.

I had known Ken for many years, and had worked with him on some previous projects. He had been with my current band for over three years, and I felt we all had a strong "family" bond. After he and his new girl had been dating for a few weeks, he invited her to go out on the road with us. She appeared happy to go on our little adventure, and things went well. Two weeks later we went out on an extended run, starting with a week in Cheyenne, Wyoming, several days in Mescalero , New Mexico, then a deadhead run straight up to Bismark, North Dakota for a week. Sylvia seemed like she was having a good time, and she even got up onstage with the band to dance and sing some backup vocals.

Just before we left Wyoming, Ken announced that they were going to get married in New Mexico. The gig in New Mexico is one of the few gigs that does not include lodging, so in order to save money, we all agreed to share one room. This was a slight inconvenience, especially for newlyweds, but we made the best of it. They decided to get married on Sunday morning before we left for North Dakota. With the help of some local relatives, the happy couple located a pastor, and the wedding ceremony was a nice, simple success. Although we had a very long drive ahead of us, and had to be in Bismark by Tuesday evening, we decided to stay in New Mexico for one more night in separate rooms so they could have a proper wedding night.

The following morning, we loaded up and hit the road. The newlyweds were traveling in their own vehicle, so we said "see you in Bismark" and parted company. Everyone survived the grueling drive, and we settled into the band room. The band room was basically a motel room with a large extra bedroom attached. To get in and out of the room, my family had to pass through the newlyweds area constantly, and there seemed to be some growing tension in the air that worsened every day.

The day after our arrival in Bismark, our booking agent called to see if we could head up to Minot, North Dakota for the following week, and then on to Montana for a week. This is often how we work. Everyone connected to the band agreed on doing the shows, so we "signed" the contract (electronically). We were now legally committed to the appearance. Minot is only a two hour drive from Bismark, but we were having some tire issues with our van. We told Ken that we were going to stop and buy some tires before heading up. Since we had another two weeks of work lined up, we spent most of our cash on tires, oil, and other vehicular needs.

After a couple of hours, we were on our way. About halfway to our destination, I received a text from Sylvia saying that the newlyweds were not going to Minot, but have headed home instead. My family and I were put into a very difficult situation; we spent our cash on our van, and had no gas money to get home to Utah (800 miles away). We were also under contract, so not showing up for the gigs would have meant a lawsuit and loss of work. I immediately called some good friends in Minot, who were musicians. Gary had played steel guitar onstage with us in Minot before, and his wife Julie just happened to be a drummer!

They saved us from a horrible fate, and the weeklong gig was great. They were unable to continue the tour, so I called another drummer out of Salt Lake City, Utah to meet us in Montana for our next show, and he turned out to be a great asset and decided to stay on as a permanent band member. Although I am glad we got through the tour okay, I'm still very sad about losing our friendship with Ken, and we have not heard from him or Sylvia since.