Touring 101 - Life on The Road pt.1 - Chris Shrom Lighting Design

Posted by | November 29, 2013 | Lighting, Touring | 2 Comments


Readers, Roadies, Skeptics and Crew,

Happy Thanksgiving!
When I was thinking about my next post, most of my thoughts required some form of understanding of “the road.” For those of you that see something I missed, please comment. You veterans may find this review boring, but this post is for those of you that would like a better understanding of what we do out here. Remember while reading that this is an overview; I am planning on revisiting a lot of the topics listed here… I should put up a vote on what I should write about next…

What is “the road?”
I like to imagine a world-sized pinball machine; you barely get to touch a location before you’re shot of to another part of the globe. People ask what Europe, South America, Canada or other places are like and most the time the only thing you can tell them about the place is what the airport or the venue looked like. Very rarely do you stay in one location for more than 1 day, but I can tell you when you can leave your rig in the air for a night, its a nice break. Even more rare, but much appreciated, is when your client takes you sight seeing in a foreign country – hold onto those stories when your family asks you about what the rest of the world is like.

BussesIn North America, normally, if you’re full time with an artist, you travel by bus, a suped-up Prevost with 12 bunks, 2 lounges, a bathroom and little to no personal space. Good thing you’re only on it for a matter of hours, but if you have to travel by vehicle, its much nicer than the alternative greyhound… or van with a trailer. When traveling by bus, your Tour Manager will give you a “bus call” time and location – this is not the time you show up, it is the time the bus leaves from that location. Don’t be late or you will get to experience an “oil-spot.” An oil spot is when your tour leaves you due to your own poor planning; its called this because when you show up late and the busses have gone, all you see are oil spots.

~ If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late… don’t even bother showing up. – Vince Lombardi.

If you’re on a smaller tour, opening acts usually, you’ll have a trailer behind the bus with as much as you can fit into it; packed floor to ceiling. As your act gets to do larger shows, they’ll need to amp up production, which means a semi – 53’l x 96″w x 108″h of space to cram as much gear as you can get into it, until you can convince them that they need a second truck.

As a music group starts out, most of the time the band begins in smaller clubs or bars, building their audience. The highly creative, yet appropriate name for this kind of tour is a “club tour.” I have known bands that have made a career out of club touring. A Club Tour generally travels from city to city in a van, or van with a trailer and plays the smaller music venues that “seat” anywhere from 100-500 people. Every now and again you’ll come across a small theatre which generally seat 1200-2500. Some bands do decide to carry lighting and some P.A. but its a smaller scale, and most of the time you’ll need to be able to power your whole rig off of a few 15-20Amp electrical outlets, plan accordingly.

TheatreA Theatre Tour is exactly what its name suggests. When your band can draw a few thousand people per city, they’ll go on a theatre tour, which is when life gets a bit easier. There’s stage hands, a P.A., a lighting rig, catering and most the time a fly system – not to mention that you don’t have to load out to 130 decibels of the electric slide while the club patrons block your path to the trailer. Power is more available at these locations, plan for at least  one 400 amp service for lighting and a 200 for audio. Most theaters have more available, if not, you’ll need to bring in a generator.

Then there’s the big-time: Amphitheaters, Arenas and the mac-daddy, the stadium. A fleet of busses and trucks haul gear crew and band all across the world to entertain thousands upon thousands of people. Amphitheaters, fondly called “sheds” generally feature a covered stage and seating, with a unique lawn feature. You learn to love and hate each amphitheater as each one has a generally unique personality and set of features that can make your day easier… or an absolute nightmare.
I like arenas. Generally an arena is a hockey arena with ice covered with a protective layer. They’re cold, and static builds up in the winter, but you don’t have to deal with the risk of bad weather and there are usually plenty of dressing rooms. The wind doesn’t blow the haze away and the sun doesn’t mess up my lighting looks. I like the control of the environment in arenas.
Stadiums are another world of entertainment altogether. Everything gets bigger and takes much longer to get set up; some acts choose to have 2 stages that play leap-frog across the globe: one crew sets up one stage while the other crew does a show and tears down the other stage. There is usually a large power requirement for large stadium tours, so large, semi-sized generators are needed to provide electricity for the tour, which are also carried with the tour. The technical specifications behind a stadium tour are immense.

JetThe other travel alternative is called a “fly date.” On these particular shows your client flies you out to a part of the world because it is unfeasible to bus there. You will have a “curb call” – which is the time that you are expected to be at the airport. Don’t be late or you may have to suffer a wide range of unpleasantries, being left is probably the most unfortunate.
Most the time you fly in the day before, and they put you up in a hotel. The next morning you have a “lobby call” which is when the caravan for the venue leaves. Again, don’t be late. The vans will drop you and your gear at the venue which you will then do an abbreviated load-in. Hopefully all your production needs are locally provided and in place for you when you arrive.
Those of us in the corporate worlds get to experience longer days and some additional pressure, but less load-ins and load-outs. Corporate shows require a high level of professionalism, and a small ocean freighter worth of patience. The phrase “hurry up and wait” fits this aspect best. You most likely have a day or two to load in, depending on the size of the show. You’ll have rehearsals that will require some note-taking, and then there’s the real thing that will require you to pay close attention and be ready for almost anything – especially in the video / visual media department.

That’s it for an overview in a nutshell – trust me, there is plenty more to come. I had initially wrote a much longer post and had to split it into 2, so stay tuned for part 2 in December.


  • Chadwick Ray says:

    I just got around to reading this. Is it weird that I’m both fearful and jealous of this post?
    Oh the lives we lead. Miss ya buddy.

  • RIc says:


    Greetings from Chicago. I totally loved your articulate and accurate portrayal of a side of “show-biz” that is completely beyond the frame of reference of most folks. Oh, the stories we could tell. Problem is, most folks wouldn’t believe ’em.

    Kudos, and rock on!

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