Peach Pickers’ Rhett Akins and Dallas Davidson take some “Back Roads” on the Luke Bryan Farm Tour 2012

By Eric Normand

What an amazing run of shows we had with Rhett Akins and Dallas Davidson on the forth installment of the Luke Bryan Farm Tour! The sold out tour embarked on eight shows across the Deep South, with Rhett and Dallas performing acoustically on the first four, and me and the boys joining in for full band performances on the second leg. The weather for these events was picture perfect, the crowds were huge, and the shows an amazing encapsulation of kinetic energy!

Me and the rest of the band (Nick Forchione on drums and Tom Good on bass) converged at a bus yard in Nashville on Tuesday night and hopped on Luke’s band bus. You never know what to expect in these situations, (as the two bands began this run as total strangers) and we were pleased to learn that Luke’s band and crew are some of the nicest people you could ever hope to work with. Gracious hosts, they made us feel instantly at home.

After a good night of sleep on a smooth riding Prevost I awoke in Villa Rica, Georgia. This first show was on a football field, and by the time I wandered over to catering around 10 AM the mobile stage was already up, the field buzzing with activity. Luke went all out on the production for this tour, and there were no less than eight buses accompanying the five semi’s full of staging, audio, lighting, video, and pyro it took to put on these mega-shows.

I was thrilled to find out that there were some other health-conscious folks in Luke’s entourage, and me and Nick joined several of Luke’s band-mates on a trip to the fitness facilities at the University of West Georgia. By 4 PM the stage crew was ready for our sound check, quickly dialing in our in-ear monitor mixes and a bigger than life sound through the mains of the million-dollar Claire Brothers sound system. As a guitar player, I’ve always struggled with in-ear mixes, lack of warmth and ambience being my main gripes, but on this lucky day I learned a new trick. Upon the suggestion of the Claire Brothers monitor engineer, we put a little reverb on my guitar in my ear mix, and this created some extra depth.

Later that night and after the first two openers, Chancie Neal, and Cole Swindell, we took the stage for the first full-band show with Rhett and Dallas. As members of the red-hot songwriting team known as “The Peach Pickers”, Rhett and Dallas have 13 number one songs and countless top 20 hits between them, including a few of Luke’s recent hits “Rain Is a Good Thing”, “Country Girl Shake It for Me”, and “I Don’t Want This Night to End”. This fact makes it pretty easy to create a blockbuster 45 minute set which included Blake Shelton’s “All about Tonight“ and “Honeybee”, Rodney Atkins’ “Farmer’s Daughter” and “Take a Back Road”,  and the Trace Adkins chart topper “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”, among others. At times the crowd was singing along at a volume that was as loud, if not louder than the band! The action-packed set went by at warp speed, and it seemed like no sooner than we had started we were walking off the stage.

The stagehands helped us get our gear off the stage and by 9 PM our workday was done. A short workday is characteristic for an opening act on a major tour – you’re the last to sound check and the first to play. Now it was Miller time, or in this case “Coors time”, or for a few of us “Crown Royal time”! After a quick cocktail and a little chill time on the bus we went out to check out Luke’s show. The level of musicianship in Luke’s band is nothing short of exceptional, and their 90 minute set was a rocking good time with some stunning visual aspects as this night was a dress rehearsal for the following show which was being taped for a television special.

The following day I awoke and looked out the bus window to the view of an open, grassy field in Athens Georgia – this concert was actually taking place on a real farm! After a little morning chow I decided to take a jog down some of the surrounding roads of this picturesque farming community, Rhett’s song, “Take a Back Road” having some real relevance on this warm autumn day. The day evolved similarly to the previous and the ultra-professional crew did an outstanding job erecting this mega-production in less than ideal circumstances. I later learned that the stagehands on this particular tour traveled from show to show (unlike many touring situations where stagehands are local to each venue) and this creates a continuity that helps the production run smoothly. The performances on this night went off without a hitch, with all of the bands delivering outstanding performances. Luke’s show was filled with special visual effects for the filming of the television production – including a laser show, pyro, and a massive finale of fireworks to end the night.

The next day would find us in Tallahassee, Florida and I joined up with some of the guys to go work out at the fitness facilities of Florida State University. After a great workout at a great facility we were ready to get back for some lunch, but not before winding up in a “runner altercation”. The runner informed us that he needed to stop at Lowe’s to get some stage pins for the production crew. Of course they didn’t have what he was looking for and sent us to another store that didn’t have it either. An hour and a half later we caught a lucky break at a John Deere tractor store and were finally heading back to the venue with the necessary part, and some growling stomachs. Another sold out show, another night of great performances and we were off to the tour’s grand finale in Macon, Georgia.

As Luke’s buses were returning to Nashville after this final show and we were going on to play one more show with Dallas and Rhett at the Georgia Throwdown in Dallas’ hometown of Albany, Georgia (a festival that Dallas helped organize), we had another bus arriving in Macon late morning. After the bus arrived we loaded our stuff onto it and continued about our day. As Macon is home of the final resting place of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, a couple of us took the mile and a half walk to the Rose Hill Cemetery, a place from another world where a young Allman Brothers Band once played guitars, wrote songs, and partied into the hot Georgia nights.

Later on we took the stage in front of 16,000 fans for a final, climactic performance on this epic tour. I’ve played countless big shows over my decade in Nashville, but on this particular night a special energy was present. The songs just seemed to play themselves and the crowd was singing every chorus (and many verses) at a near deafening volume. At one point I pulled out one of my in-ear monitors to really internalize the feeling of the moment. As a musician it’s almost otherworldly to hear and feel your guitar coming out of 100,000 watts or so of PA speakers, and to feel the interaction between artists, band and audience on a show at this level is truly amazing! Our band was really on and Rhett and Dallas were at the top of their game, putting on a dazzling show for what looked like a sea of humanity that stretched to the horizon.

A little while later Luke and his boys played their final show of the Farm Tour, and their epic performances received over-the-top responses after each song. When the show ended all of the artists, musicians, and crew members gathered on the stage for a group photo of the entire entourage. I was sad to see this run end, but we left for Albany with the knowledge that we made a lot of people happy over the course of this week, and we had also made some great new friends! See you next year, Farm Tour!

To view a slideshow of some pics from the tour click here.


My First Road Gig and What Not to Do on a Tour Bus

It was a hot summer night in July of 2003, and I was hanging out at the Fiddle and Steel, when my good friend, Dave McAfee, told me that there was a job opening up on the Toby Keith tour. The position was for that of guitar tech, and Dave, who had been with Toby since the early days, felt that he could make it happen if I was interested.

“I know you came here to work as a player, but I think you could gain some good experience working on this tour for a while.” he said. I had been in Nashville for a year and, despite having built up some steady in-town gigs, was ready to take this next step. “I could definitely use the experience of working on a major tour, not to mention some real income, but I don’t have any experience working as a tech.” I responded. “Don’t worry about that, the job is mainly restringing and tuning guitars, and taking care of backline. They’ll teach you everything you need to know.” He said. “Okay, count me in! When do we leave?”

The next step was a brief phone call the following day with Toby’s tour manager, Sean Sargent. Based solely on my commitment to work hard and my obvious hunger for the position, and of course the good word Dave had already put in for me, I was hired. I was now about to officially become a “road dog”. I had no idea whatsoever what I was in for.

To give a little perspective here, prior to landing this gig with Toby, the most extensive touring I had done was a couple weekend outings with Vern Gosdin and BB Watson, basically one-offs within 500 miles of Nashville with 8 to 10 people traveling on one bus, our backline stowed in bays underneath. The Toby tour that year, dubbed the title “Shock’n Y’all”, touted an entourage of 50 plus band and crew members, traveling by six buses, and carrying full production in six semis.

My virgin outing with this mega tour was a doozy of a trip. We were scheduled to play in Cheyenne, Wyoming on Saturday, July 19; Harrington, Delaware on Monday, July 21, and then returning to Nashville for a few days before departing for Toronto, Ontario. This is what is known in the touring industry as “deadheading”, or in the country music industry as the “dartboard tour”, meaning that some of these runs seemed so illogical that you might as well throw darts at a map on the wall to determine the routing.

Here’s what my first five weeks of working on this tour looked like:

07/19/03   Cheyenne, WY  Frontier Days

07/21/03   Harrington, DE  Delaware State Fair

07/23/03   Paso Robles, CA  California Mid-State Fair (fly date)

07/25/03   Toronto, ON  To Be Announced

07/26/03   Ottawa, ON  Corel Centre

08/01/03   Maryland Heights, MO  UMB Bank Pavilion

08/02/03   Tinley Park, IL  Tweeter Center

08/03/03   Bonner Springs, KS  Verizon Wireless Amphitheater

08/07/03   Pelham, AL  Oak Mountain Amph.

08/08/03   Charlotte, NC  Verizon Wireless Amp. Charlotte

08/09/03   Raleigh, NC  Alltel Pavilion @ Walnut Creek

08/14/03   Corpus Christi, TX  Concrete Street Amphitheatre

08/16/03   Selma, TX  Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre

08/19/03   Meadville, PA  Crawford County Fair

08/22/03   Albuquerque, NM  Journal Pavilion

08/23/03   Phoenix, AZ  Cricket Pavilion

08/24/03   Los Angeles, CA  Staples Center

08/28/03   San Diego, CA  Coors Ampitheatre

08/29/03   Las Vegas, NV MGM Grand

08/30/03   Mountain View, CA  Shoreline Amphitheatre

08/31/03   Kelseyville, CA  Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa

I quickly learned that I was going to be gone a lot and living on the road with my new “family”. Realizing that my in town gigging was about to grind to a halt, I decided to buy a “zoom” style guitar unit so I could practice my guitar via headphones on the bus to keep my chops up. I also had a laptop, a video camera, headset for my cell phone; I was totally geaked out and ready to “embrace the road”.

With good intentions, but totally green behind the ears, I said goodbye to my wife, Kelly, and set out for the bus at 7:00 AM on a Friday morning. Still not completely familiar with Nashville, I got lost on the way to the bus and called my wife in a panic for a little help with MapQuest. She set me straight and I arrived to a Kroger parking lot in Hermitage at about 7:30. There were several buses parked together and, not knowing a soul other than Dave, I introduced myself to the first person I saw and told him I was looking for the “audio crew bus”. “That’s the bus I’m on too, the blue one right over there. You must be Eric? I’m Marty.” he said. “The bottom front passenger’s side bunk is available, or you could take one of the top two junk bunks.” “Junk bunks?” I asked. “Those are the empty bunks that we can use for luggage.” he answered, my greenness showing already.

Nashville to Cheyenne, Wyoming is 1200 miles, or about a 22 hour bus ride with a few stops. Wyoming to Delaware was another 1800 miles, or close to 40 hours with stops. So while I was loading my luggage, laptop, box of food, guitar, and briefcase full of practice equipment, the other guys were all making a food run into the nearby supermarket to stock up. It was at this moment that I committed my first bus foul (albeit unknowingly), and took a big ole’ dump in the bus bathroom. The few bus trips I had previously made with BB and Vern were so short, that as chance would have it, I never had to use the bathroom, and no one on those runs had informed me of the “no poop” rule enforced on most of these buses. The reason for this rule (as I would later learn) is that anything other than peeing on a bus requires a much higher level of daily water and septic maintenance, so most tours instill this rule to save time, money, and to prevent the interiors of the buses from smelling like a sewer hole.

A few minutes later the rest of the crew returned and we set out for Cheyenne. A little while later “Pork Chop”, one of the audio guys, used the bathroom, and when he reentered the front lounge exclaimed “Did somebody shit in there?” I instantly felt a sinking feeling in my stomach but instinctively chose to just sit there and say nothing, staring straight ahead, kind of like the scene in “A Christmas Story” in which Ralphie and his cohorts play dumb when Flick gets his tongue stuck to the frozen flagpole. As I was just making the acquaintance of these folks and trying to make a good impression, I didn’t want to admit to being so utterly clueless. I’m pretty sure that they suspected it was me anyway.

Most of these buses have a small table in the front lounge, with a small bench seat on either side, basically enough room to seat two people somewhat comfortably. A little later in the day I decided to practice some guitar, and brought my stuff out to the front lounge. I sat down at the table and proceeded to take over the small space, spreading out my electronic gadgetry, music books, and guitar gear. For an hour so, I sat there playing guitar with headphones on, finding it somewhat difficult to do this in such a confined space. If I had ever bothered to look up, I’m sure I would’ve received some annoying looks from some of the other crew members, all of whom were veterans of the road.

After a while, I got up and went to go sit in the co-pilot seat next to the driver for a few, and this would be when I committed my second bus etiquette offence. Not yet realizing that seating and table space are considered prime real estate on a bus, I left my guitar and gadgetry strewn all over the table and seat. So when I returned a little while later, I was confused to see the table cleared and my stuff nowhere in sight. Apparently, somebody had moved it all to my bunk.

“I wasn’t done practicing yet.” I stated to a front lounge full of glaring eyes. “Yeah you are, you left that stuff there for an hour.” “Oh, I didn’t know you can’t leave stuff out in the lounge.” I said apologetically, beginning to feel like a real dork. “Oops. Sorry guys.”

This is not how I wanted my introduction to the Toby Tour to begin, but it was too late, like they say, there’s no such thing as a second first impression. In time, I would get the hang of how to live with others on a bus, the importance of not taking up too much space, and the communal approach one must take to live on a tour. But at this moment we were only a few hours into a trip that would span 4000 miles over five days, and my new comrades weren’t exactly taking a quick liking to me. Not to mention the interior of the bus was now starting to smell kind of foul from my first debacle.

It was going to be a long ride.

What Does It Take to Be a Good Tour Bus Driver?

It’s about 1:00 AM and were traveling east on Interstate 40 on our leased Prevost XLII tour bus, just a little bit east of Knoxville, Tennessee on our way to Manteo, North Carolina. I’m getting kind of sleepy so I say goodnight to our bus driver, Steve and the rest of the guys and crawl into my bunk. After a while I am lulled to sleep by the soft cushy ride and steady drone of the diesel engine. Barring the occasional pothole, the sensation of this ride from the interior of my bunk is almost boat-like – more like floating down the highway. I fall into a deep sleep and awaken some hours later, unsure of whether the bus is still in motion or parked and idling, as the diesel moan is unwavering at this point. When the pitch of the engine raises slightly a few minutes later I realize we are still moving, although you would never know it because the ride is so smooth. I fall back to sleep and wake up several hours later, again unsure of whether or not the bus is still in motion. Upon walking into the front lounge I now realize that we are parked at a rest stop. I never even felt the bus stop.

A few minutes later Steve returns to the bus after topping off the tank. “Good morning Eric!” he says in a cheerful tone despite the fact that he was fairly tired from 8 plus hours of driving. I greet him with the one question he is asked the most “Are we almost there yet?” “About an hour out” he announces. With that I return to my bunk for some more sleep. After dozing off for a bit I awake, again unknowing whether or not the bus is stopped or in motion. This time when I walk to the front lounge I know we are at the hotel as Steve has checked into the hotel rooms and left the extra room keys and a note on the table. A short while later he returns and we taxi the bus over to the venue for load-in.

“The generator has a bad voltage regulator.” he notifies me “I’ll need to get a part to fix it or we won’t be able to use it today.” I set him up with a runner and he’s off to the auto parts store. A little while later we’re loading in and he returns with the new part and begins working on the bus on this sweltering 95° day. I know he must be exhausted by now as he’s just finished a long drive and now into mechanic duties, but you’d never know it as he continually projects a positive attitude. A little while later and the ‘genie’ is fixed, he empties the trash, does a quick vacuum of the front lounge, and is finally off to the hotel for sleep. As a tour manager, it is my duty to take care of the bus driver – to make sure he has whatever he needs – be it a ride, a meal, a quiet hotel room, etc. Even though he works like a machine, he is still human and gets tired like the rest of us.

While this story doesn’t contain the apparent drama of some of the more obvious ‘hell ride’ stories regarding bus travel, perhaps what is most interesting is what doesn’t happen. We don’t get tossed around like concrete in a cement mixer. We don’t get scared to death because we hear the rumble strip more often than we don’t. We’re not made to feel uncomfortable because the driver is socially inept. We don’t have to worry about not getting a good night sleep because we will. We don’t have to worry about any of these things because our driver is a consummate professional and a great guy.

The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide contains several chapters pertaining to bus travel – including a chapter about bus drivers, and an extensive interview with one of the best in the business, a driver we are extremely fortunate to work with, Steve P. (Steve is such a great driver, that I am omitting his last name for the time being, in fear of him being stolen by another tour) The following excerpts were taken from that interview.

Steve P has been a professional tour bus driver since 1989 and has logged hundreds of thousands of miles driving some of the biggest names in rock, pop, and country to concert destinations throughout the US and Canada. Included in this list of touring artists and bands are: Hank Williams Jr., Rascal Flatts, Faith Hill, Rod Stewart, Dave Matthews, Jeff Beck, Creed, The Other Ones, Jimmy Buffett, and many more.

A native of Bowling Green, Kentucky, Steve is retired from full-time driving, now working as an ASE certified mechanic at the Nashville based Prevost bus shop as a team leader/shift supervisor. He still enjoys driving part time, going out on weekend runs regularly.

{Eric Normand} In the world of commercial driving many drivers including those who drive semis, delivery trucks, Greyhound buses, city buses, aspire to drive entertainment coaches. Why does everyone want to drive an entertainer coach?

{Steve P} I think they all think it’s a glamorous position to be out there on the road with some top name touring act, the draw of the prestige. It’s just the simple fact of driving a very nice entertainer bus that’s polished up and shiny. It just kind of draws them in.

{EN} What is different about how you approach driving an entertainer coach compared to these other types of commercial driving?

{SP} Well I’ve never driven a truck, but to drive a bus you just have to be smooth. Even though you’re sitting in front, you have to put your head in the back, to where the passengers are riding, and every move you make effects what’s going on back there. You can’t be hard on the brakes, rough on the in and out of parking lots. You can’t make sudden and drastic moves unless absolutely necessary.

{EN} Many of these other commercial drivers that aspire to drive entertainer coaches think they are qualified simply because they drive a large, heavy vehicle. In what ways are they not prepared?

{SP} Just sitting in the driver’s seat and driving a bus isn’t all of it. You have to be able to get along with the clients. Sometimes you’re a maid, sometimes you’re a babysitter, sometimes you’re a plumber, an electrician. Driving’s the easy part.

{EN} It’s no secret in the touring industry that good bus drivers are not only in demand, they are well paid. What is an average yearly income for a bus driver working on a busy tour?

{SP} You could easily make $100,000 a year. You could make as much as you want to be gone basically. If you don’t mind being gone year-round, you’re a single guy, no kids, and don’t mind being on the road, you can easily make 100 grand or more.

{EN} What do you love about being a bus driver?

{SP} Just the travel and the experience. To go all over the United States and Canada, I don’t think I would have gotten that opportunity with any other career that I would have chosen. And, meet some interesting people on the way.

{EN} What is one of the things you like least about being a bus driver?

{SP} It sounds contradictory but, being gone all the time. Yes, I enjoyed it, but when you’re on the road for six months, it gets old, especially after doing it for years and years. When you’ve been to the same town, and the same venues, and the same hotels again and again and again, it’s kind of like Groundhog Day.

As Steve mentioned, there is much more to this job than simply driving. While safety and delivering a smooth ride is of the utmost importance, keeping the bus relatively clean, keeping the fuel and water tanks full, addressing mechanical problems, even checking into hotel rooms, are common duties for tour bus driver. And of course, getting along with the clients and contributing to an overall “good vibe” is key. More from Steve later…

The Exceptional Bus Driving Skills of ‘Les the Wingnut’

It was a warm Wednesday night in July of 2007 when the Rhett Akins tour left Nashville, Tennessee, bound for Macon, Georgia, on what would be a four city run across the deep South. The bus, a still shiny and new looking 2005 Prevost XLII, wreaked of personality, while the driver, Les, was somewhat reserved and looked a bit less than shiny and new. As is typical in the world of one-off bus leasing, this would be our first and only trip with this driver, and although he seemed to drive okay, we knew almost nothing about him. Well, over the next four days we would learn everything we needed to know about ‘Mr. personality’.

The six-hour ride to Macon was uneventful enough, and I didn’t even wake up when we pulled into the Ramada Inn parking lot. The rest of the day went pretty smoothly, and we even managed to fit in a visit to the infamous ‘Rose Hill Cemetary’, the Allman Brothers early stomping ground and eventual resting place of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley. Our show at the Cox Capitol Theatre later that night went well, after which we taxied the bus back to the hotel to sleep over as our next destination, Thomaston, Georgia, was only 50 miles away.

We left Macon at 11:00 AM on Friday morning for the one-hour trip to the small town of Thomaston, Georgia, eventually landing in front of ‘Q’s Downtown Grill and Music Hall’, and had a little down time between our arrival and load-in. Most of us were hanging in the front lounge when Les began his first in a series of rude and inconsiderate commentaries. “I was just offered an $85,000 a year driving job, but I think I’m going to turn it down” he boasted. “Why? That sounds like a great gig” one of us asked. “I usually make a lot more than that. Last year, I made $120,000” he continued in an annoying offhand manner. “What an asshole!” we all thought. We all knew that bus drivers make a ton of money but didn’t need to be reminded just how much more they make then the rest of us.

A short while later we sent Les off to his hotel room for sleep and went about our day. Rightafter load-in the wind picked up outside and it began to pour. Some severe weather had moved in and the power was knocked out for a while. We later learned that a tornado had touchdown a couple of miles away, but fortunately the weather passed, the power came back on, and we continued about our day. We played our show that night to a packed house, loaded out, and enjoyed some late night partying on the bus while we waited for our driver. As luck would have it, the runner was late picking up Les, who apparently had to wait in the hotel lobby for about 45 minutes. So by the time Les arrived back to the bus, he was somewhat agitated and had a hard time concealing this.

Sometime around 3 AM we began the 7 Hour drive to Augusta, Georgia, although now, the quality of the drive was noticeably rougher. Other than some hard braking at a few points, we assumed that the rough ride was just due to some poor road conditions across that part of the state. By the time we pulled into ‘The Country Club’, the happening nightspot in which we would be performing on this Friday night, a red carpet had been laid out for our arrival. Band and crew quickly attacked a huge platter of chicken fingers, shrimp cocktail, and a veggie plate that had been set out for us in the green room.

We sent Les off to his room, loaded in, and sound checked. This was of course followed by dinner, hotel time, and a blistering performance to a packed house of 1000 plus concertgoers and parties. The crowd was overly enthusiastic on this hot summer night and the party spilled out into the parking lot after the show. By the time Les returned around 2 AM the front lounge of the bus was full of nightclub patrons and in full ‘K-tel dance party’ mode. There was also 30 or 40 people hanging out in the parking lot near the bus, and this is where Les delivered his next uncanny remark. “Does Rhett party like this every night?” he said judgingly. “Every night’s different, sometimes we party a little bit, other times we’re tired and go to bed. Why do you care?” I answered, now  annoyed with this would-be high school prom chaperone. “It just seems pretty irresponsible to me. Not a good way to run a business.” he grumbled.

About an hour later we set sail for Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the final stop of this five legged bus ride that was getting rougher every minute. Apparently annoyed by our after show activities, Les tossed us around pretty good for the five hour trip, perhaps as some sort of punishment for having “too much fun”. A lot of side to side sway, hard braking, you know, the kind of bus driver tendencies typical of a moron. We pulled into the parking lot of ‘The Boathouse’ which was the venue we would be playing,  and this time I was instantly awoken as the bus jerked to a quick, hard stop. A little while later I sent Les off to his room at the adjacent Holiday Inn, notifying him that we planned to depart for home at 11 PM that night.

Saturday proved to be another great outing for Rhett and band, an outdoor summertime concert behind a nightclub on the banks of a river. Again, the day’s activities and concert went quite well, with the biggest drama being delivered by our wing-nut bus driver at the end of the night. Our show had ended at 9:30 and we were all hanging out inside the bar waiting for the 11:00 PM bus call. Around 10 of, I walked out to the bus to see if Les was ready. Upon opening the bus door I was astonished to see him sitting in the driver’s seat smoking a cigarette (In case you’ve never ridden on a tour bus, in general, this is a no-no). Smoking on our busses is only permitted while the bus is in motion, as this will allow the smoke to ventilate out an open window. I asked him to not smoke on the bus while not moving, and he reluctantly extinguished his cigarette.

I told him I would go get the rest of the guys and that we could leave shortly. Upon returning to the bar I quickly realized a couple of the guys must’ve gone over to the hotel, and called them to tell them we were ready to leave. When I returned to the parking lot I was dumbfounded to see the tail lights of our bus growing smaller in the distance as Les was apparently more than ready to be done with us. When I called him on my cell phone and asked “What are you doing?” he sarcastically answered “Are you ready to go yet?”. “Well yeah, I was just rounding up the guys. I told everyone were about to leave, and next thing I know I’ve got guys running after the bus across the parking lot carrying suitcases. What the hell are you doing?” “All right, I’m coming back now.” He said in a cocky tone of voice, almost as if this was some sort of weird game of bus driver/tour manager chicken.

He brought the bus back, we hopped on, and took off down the highway, more than ready to be done with this jack-off. About an hour Into the drive, our drummer, Cliff, informed me that he had left his suitcase back at the hotel. I was horrified. I was already at a breaking point with this driver, and it seemed like he hated driving us. This is the last thing I wanted to do, but I had to do it. “Hey Les, I hate to tell you this, but Cliff left his luggage back at the hotel and we need to go back and get it.” After muttering some sort of offhand comment under his breath, he literally locked up the brakes, sending people flying as bottles fell off the counter and smashed on the floor. Again, I was dumbfounded. “What the hell you doing? He didn’t forget his bag on purpose. We want to be done with this trip just as badly as you do. Do you really think we want to spend an extra two hours on this bus with you?” I unleashed.

“Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to hit the brakes that hard.” he said. I then added “So far on this trip, each night your driving has gotten rougher and rougher. We don’t care about making good time on these trips, we want a smooth ride so we can sleep. Do you think you can lose the attitude just long enough for that to happen?”

With that, he turned around, went back for Cliff’s bag, and then began the 600 mile trip home two hours later, and for the second time. I guess the only satisfaction we got out of this was the knowledge that we made the final leg of the trip two hours longer than necessary for “les the mess’.

I’ve been on a lot of buses, with a lot of different drivers, but this particular trip was a first. Never, and I mean never, have I had a driver just drive a waiting tour bus off into the night without telling somebody. Never have I seen one smoke a cigarette in the driver’s seat while the bus was parked. Never have I had a driver question our organization, or our right to party after the show. But then again, never had I ever experienced the exceptional bus driving skills of ‘Les the wing-nut’.