After hearing repeated newscasts about the ways high gas prices are affecting four-wheeled travelers of all income levels, we asked local indie act the May Fire to document the price of hitting the road in a band van. Vocalist and guitarist Catty Tasso, bassist and keyboardist Rob Gwin, guitarist Johnny Beane, and vocalist and drummer El Pipe recently embarked on a cross-country trek with Los Angeles–based acts Astra Heights and Monte Negro, meaning they had plenty of chances to hit the pump.
The band is celebrating the release of its latest EP, The List, which added more wonderfully fuzzed-out, '90s-influenced alt-pop to its merch table just last month. Before you carpool to the May Fire's homecoming show on Thursday, Sept. 4 at the Red Devil Lounge, read about the band's trials, tribulations, and burger 'n' beer buffets below. — Eds.
8/12 Las Vegas, Nevada
We played the Revolution Lounge inside the Mirage — the huge-ass luxury casino. Big-boobed bartenders and old crusty gamblers mixed with hipster yuppies and tourists. After soundcheck we were all starving, but couldn't find our tour manager. Johnny finally spotted him on the casino floor in front of a slot machine. When we confronted him, he said, "Oh, hey, sorry guys, but I just won $10,000." And sure enough, he had! Holy crap! We immediately envisioned a big, shiny new tour bus, but he was playing with his father-in-law's money, so he had to split the winnings, and then taxes take a big chunk, and then our manager could finally fix that hole in his roof, blah blah ... funny how quickly $10K can evaporate. So he was happy, but the rest of us didn't gain much from the win. Luckily, the gig earned us a good guarantee and free hotel rooms (which we didn't use much, instead spending our time at the bars and the employees' cafeteria until 4:30 a.m.). We met some cool British folks who wanted to steal Scooter, our band tiger. We said no.
Pay: $333. Merch: $20. Gas: $97.
8/13 Tucson, Arizona
We were very excited about Tucson because of our past experience with this town. A few months back we had played the Congress Hotel with two great local bands. This time things were different. The Congress was all booked way in advance, so we had to settle for Sharks ... kind of a sports bar, not much vibe or coolness to it. So this date was kind of underwhelming. Plus, there was a huge thunderstorm, which made for a low turnout. The stage setup was cramped and complicated. The sound wasn't great. But we drank plenty of beer (at one point we all had three beers each — the tour manager and Monte Negro's manager kept fighting about who could buy us more booze) and spent the night at our friend Ricky's house.
Pay: $12. Merch: $15. Gas: $98.
8/15 Austin, Texas
It's been a pretty rough beginning of the tour: We've been going to bed at 3 a.m. and waking up around 9 a.m. (at the latest). So basically we have to pick between sleeping one more hour or sitting down for a good meal. We always pick the sleeping. That means we've been going from Jack in the Box breakfast to Subway lunch and Sonic Burger dinner. We finally decided that Austin was the place to spend some money that we don't have on sushi and be divas for 30 minutes. The meal was okay, not like California sushi, of course. The rolls were smaller and expensive. But we were so desperate for good food that we paid the money and then later we got some pizza for $2 a slice. Pipe's grandma showed up to this show and asked us all to sign a CD for her.
Pay: $66. Merch: $60. Gas: $140.
8/16 Monterrey, Mexico
As you might expect, it's not easy to bring 12 musicians and two vans full of equipment across the border to play one show, what with tourist permits, vehicle permits, insurance, and bribes to worry about. After two and a half hours at the border and six hours of driving, we hastily stuffed ourselves with tacos and beer before getting on stage at El Garage, which was sort of a cross between a rock club, a psychedelic art gallery, and an Aztec ruin. It was about 100 degrees outside and inside, with no air conditioner in sight. We played at 1 a.m., loaded out at 3:30 a.m., and had to hire a taxi to guide us to our friend's house where, completely exhausted, we slept for 10 hours. We then spent the next 11 hours basically getting lost (trying to navigate streets with really long names like "Manuel Ruiz Garcia Vesquelaveda Boulevard") and getting harassed by the police. It took us forever to get back across the border, and we were all pretty strung out by the time we rolled back into Austin at 4 a.m. On a positive note, Mexico has really cheap gas prices: 7.32 pesos a liter, or $2.77 a gallon!
Pay: $33. Merch: $50. Gas: $60. Permits, insurance, tolls, taxis, and bribes: $200?
8/18 Dallas, Texas
After our Mexican adventure, we rolled through Dallas like zombies. Club Dada is a nice, mellow bar with decent sound. The door guy had the same conversation with almost everyone in our group at some point. Door Guy: "So you're from California ... you know Coronado?" Musician: "Uh, no." Door Guy: "It's near San Diego. You don't know Coronado?" Musician: "Well, California is a big state, like Texas." Door Guy: "Texas sucks."
Pay: $33. Merch: $53. Gas: $89. Hotel: $90
8/19 Houston, Texas
Warehouse Live is a big, cavernous place, even in the smaller room where we were supposed to perform. At the beginning of the show, while the local band played, the scene resembled a high school dance, with everyone sitting in chairs along the walls of this square room. By the time we got onstage, it had filled in and turned into a great night, as evidenced by higher than usual merch sales. This was Astra Heights' hometown, so everyone stayed after the show, talking and drinking. At about 2:30 a.m. we got started loading the vans. That night we stayed with an uncle of Pipe's, and like any good Latin family, his household was loud and superhospitable. When we rolled up at 3 a.m., the whole family got up to say hello. They had prepared for us homemade paella, which we ate happily. After the feast — which included Chilean wine and guava cookies — they gave us their beds to sleep in. Johnny got Pipe's little cousin's pink room. She asked him politely, "Do you feel comfortable with pink?" Johnny was very happy to have a bed, no matter what color. You just can't beat family.
Pay: $167. Merch: $93. Gas: $53. Hotel: $0
8/20 Manhattan, Kansas
After two hours of sleep we got back in the van and drove 13 hours to Manhattan, Kansas, alternating naps on the floor. It was painful. By the time we got there we didn't even want to play the show, but with the help of a $30 bar tab, we struggled through. We met some cool people there who really appreciate musicians, from an army kid with a punk heart (he recommended a Ukrainian punk band) to a very nice, older Midwestern guy who bought our vinyl and gave us some words of wisdom and inspiration. In the end, Kansas was fun and full of humble, awesome people. We capped it off by partying at the hotel room with Astra Heights until 4 a.m. And, excluding Mexico, Kansas had the lowest gas prices so far: $3.48 a gallon. Of course, you need a whole lot of it to get there!
Pay: $150. Merch: $43. Gas: $133. Hotel: $80
8/22 Chicago, Illinois
The easternmost stop of the Circo Rocktastico tour put us in the Metro, a classic Chicago venue with a killer stage and a professional staff. Quite a change from all those cozy little bars. We had to load in really early to avoid traffic from the Cubs game across the street, but they had plenty of couches and beer downstairs, so we made ourselves at home and felt like rock stars for the afternoon. Cat sneaked out among the swarming baseball fans for a Cubs T-shirt and Pipe found himself a Chicago hot dog. Once again, we loaded out at 2 a.m., tired and spent. We stayed at our friend's loft nearby, where he and his girlfriend were waiting for us with cookies and OJ! The next morning it was so hot we woke up to find Rob curled up under a desk just to be near the air conditioner. Johnny was already up, enjoying an excellent homemade breakfast and telling stories about being hung over.
Pay: $200. Merch: $10. Gas: $123. Hotel (on the way to Chicago): $70
Okay, let's add it up:
Total pay for eight shows: $994
Plus merch: $344
Minus gas: $793
Minus hotels: $240
Which leaves $305 to feed four people for eleven days — a little under $7 per person per day. Taco Bell, anyone?