Four weeks after my daughter was born, we played our first show. “We” being the Battenkill Ramblers, the folk band my husband and I play in together. Our daughter was there—outside with that night’s babysitter—and she cried the entire time we were onstage. Shows with her have gotten easier (and she has been at all but two of them in the last two years), touring harder. She doesn’t like that singing takes me away from her and though she loves it when we sing together, when she thinks of me singing onstage she says “Don’t like when mommy sings.” I’m waiting anxiously for the day she can join the band, and we don’t have to worry about a babysitter when we’re onstage anymore. When we tell people that we play concerts and tour with our daughter, the reaction tends toward surprise. But why not? Why not share our musical passion and life with our daughter? It can be difficult, but in the end we’re sharing something meaningful and beautiful as a family every time we pack our instruments and hit the road. Our first long(ish) tour with our daughter was seven days long when she was seven months old. For all the parents thinking about touring with their child and looking for advice and for all the parents who are feeling a bit timid about trying something of the sort, I offer up my thoughts and tips from that first tour.
A seven day tour with a baby? Why the hell not? Then again, why? Why why why? Secretly, I wasn’t very excited. I have very mixed feelings about touring, with or without getting a needy little human involved. A few months before, we had been on a three-day trip with our daughter —our first string of shows further than an evening’s train ride away—and it had been stressful. By and large it went ok, but the car rides were long and full of her screams and tears. At that point we hadn’t started giving her bottles (supplementary feeding, which we have had to do because of some problems I had. breastfeeding I always did with this crazy gadget that allowed her to nurse and drink milk from a bottle at the same time), and the van we used only had a car seat-appropriate seat belt in the front. What that all meant was that she was pretty damn hard to console, and either the Beard or I had to be standing in order to even try. That was when I implemented the “at least one of us has to be buckled up at all times so that if we get in an accident she’ll at least still have one parent” rule. We were a three-piece at the time, with our daughter’s Oddfather along to do the driving. I’m amazed either of them made it through the weekend. There was a lot of screaming. So it was with a low level of dread that I watched our October tour dates approach on the calendar. I was excited too, but when I thought about the car rides, of the potentially horrendous sleeping situations, and of the late nights, I had to wonder if saying yes to the trip had been a good idea after all. I like the idea of being able to tour with a baby. I like playing music, and I like seeing new places and meeting new people. But what I like more than all of those things combined is sleep, something that can be hard to come by even on non-baby tours. Without enough of it I start forgetting lyrics, and at that point we might as well not even get up onstage. in the end I shouldn’t have worried so much; it went surprisingly well. I got enough sleep, the car rides were short and (almost) painless, and I found myself having a better time than I have had touring in a long time. In part this was because the Beard had planned our route to involve the shortest possible drives. With only about an hour in the car each day (the longest drive was just short of three hours), there wasn’t much time for our daughter to get upset. When she did, I was able to unbuckle myself and tip into her car seat for a bit of nursing (uncomfortable, but better than listening to screaming), or offer her a bottle, a new development in our feeding routine. A couple of times she even fell asleep all by herself. With shoulder seat belts on all the van’s seats, the Beard and I could plant Pickles right between us, which meant no standing, unbuckled, to entertain her from the backseat. Hallelujah. When she was awake, she particularly enjoyed chewing on the laminated band pass for a festival we had played during our last three-day tour. Not too shabby.
When our daughter was small, I always wore her in a wrap. That wrap was essential on tour. Every time I put the damn thing on I see the little label with their motto printed on it, “Freedom Together,” and I think to myself, how fucking cheesy. Then I sigh inwardly and think, and how fucking true. Since you’re hanging out in all sorts of random places when you’re touring with a baby, having a carrier, no matter what kind, where the babe can get comfortable while you have your hands free for eating and packing and sound checking is great. The fact that wrap carriers can be folded up into a small little bundle only adds to their essential-ness when traveling. I had wondered if the “new bed every night” thing might upset the Pickles’ sleep in some way, but she was generally in a rollicking good mood. My main concern when it came to sleep had been being able to get enough myself, sleep-grubbing monster that I am. Concerts have a way of always starting just when I’d usually be putting on sweatpants and falling into bed, but as we were the openers this time around, we got to play first aka a tad earlier than usual. Score. The other problem with getting to bed early on tour is often that the sleeping quarters are somewhere far away from the venue, somewhere that needs to be driven to, somewhere that you can’t get to until every one else is finished playing and drinking and enjoying themselves. This worried me most of all. But! Oh sweet fate! This tour that was only the case once. So every night I watched the other bands play a few songs before slipping off to bed. Even though I was still getting much less sleep than usual and napping remained essential (aka baby juggling between the Beard and I needed to be planned around meeting times and car rides), I felt much better than I expected and much better than I have on any other tour. See, on tour without a baby you almost always end up drinking too much—the drinks are free, the night is young, you’re high on stage adrenaline, etc. On tour with a baby you just don’t. I mean, you could, but I didn’t because I am breast feeding, and with a milk shortage problem, I am absolutely horrified at the thought of having to pump and dump. Some nights I drank two beers, some nights two Radler (that’s beer mixed with lemonade), and some nights nothing at all. Which is a really good way to never get a hangover. I sometimes vaguely miss the ruckus, but I sure don’t miss the headaches. And did I mention that I still can’t stand the taste of whiskey? Sigh. One step at a time.
Packing for a baby is basically the biggest bitch of the whole baby-on-tour ordeal. I always end up packing too much clothing, but then again, with the potential for a baby to get covered with food/spit/pee/poop and cod knows what else, I would say that more is always, always more. Then you’ve got diapers, feeding gear, toys and before you know it, your baby has taken up all the space in your suitcase. Good thing that since having a baby you’ve gotten into the habit of forgetting everything you might need to bring along for yourself. (True story.) This trip we had the added challenge of starting in a van, but ending on a train. Because the band we were touring with would be driving back to Berlin from Amsterdam, they dropped us off at a train station rather than drive hours out of their way to drop us off at home. I packed with this in mind and still cursed myself for every extra gram on that last tired day. But as far as baby gear went, it was worth it. It was good to have enough to keep rotating the baby distracting devices in the car or for a few minutes of peace before going onstage.
But oh the diapers. On our three-day tour we brought cloth. I have a sweet wet/dry bag that I fucking love and that makes doing this pretty easy. (One pouch for the clean diapers, one water-tight pouch for all the used ones.) But this trip around we weren’t really on top of the laundry. We have a hell of a lot of cloth diapers, but a hell of a lot of cloth diapers is roughly enough for three days. Which means that in order to have them all clean and dry (when you don’t have a dryer) takes some serious planning. Because we played a show in Frankfurt (aka home) on day two of our tour, we only needed enough for five days, but shit. 1. We don’t own enough cloth diapers for five days so we would need to get our asses to a laundromat sometime during tour and 2. Did I mention that we totally weren’t on top of the laundry situation? So we used cloth during our first show, and when we returned to Frankfurt for show number two, I did more wash. When it was time to leave for show number three, it wasn’t all dry. And so, boo hoo hoo hoo, we decided at the very last second to use disposables for the tour. Compromise and flexibility: without ’em I wouldn’t recommend trying a trip like this. With ’em the world is yours.
What I figure is this. Touring with your baby can be totally awesome! Plan a lot! Bring lots of extra clothes! Make compromises for the sake of convenience and sanity! Bring a babysitter if you can! Most importantly though: do not let the thought of the potential stress of it all scare you into not leaving the house. Your baby will get to have a lot of awesome experiences because of it, and so will you. In the end, that’s what family is all about.