The New Van Life for Musicians

For musicians, the term ‘van life’ doesn’t necessarily conjure up happy memories. It’s what they did when they were starting out broke but optimistic, high on youthful energy and big dreams. They’ll regale you with tales of sleeping 5 to a van, lugging their own gear and living on vending machine food. Pick up a few rock n roll memoirs and you get the picture. Some musicians reminisce fondly; others shudder in horror. Either way, once they’d “made it” (that is, the small minority that ever does), they thought those days were behind them.

Along Came COVID…

Enter: global pandemic. Every industry was affected by COVID, but the music industry, with its heavy reliance on live shows and touring, was hit harder than many. For many musicians the COVID pandemic became a 2+ yearlong game of wait-and-see, an extended forced hiatus from live performance. They hunkered down and hoped for the best.

For some musicians the pandemic inspired a back-to-basics, DIY approach. Canadian Singer-songwriter Michael Bernard Fitzgerald hit the road in the fall of 2020 with a trailer and a tent capable of accommodating up to 10-20 socially distanced people and some basic equipment (mics, speakers). It’s a concept he actually tested at home over the summer before taking it to the road (he actually came up with the idea pre-COVID), and this “Summer Nights Series” of 55 intimate performances sold out in no time, paving the way for the fall tour.

And Here We Are

So now, 2 years later, things are finally starting to get back to normal. But musicians eager to hit the road again are finding that a lot has changed. Now that they have started playing catch-up in earnest, they’ve been in for more than a few rude awakenings.

Airline travel is still pretty much a mess, as much as they try their best to convince us otherwise. Last-minute cancellations. Delays. Lost or destroyed luggage; customers not getting properly compensated for said loss and destruction. Would you trust a $4000 custom modded Fender Stratocaster to this chaos? 

Tour buses, vans and even cars are scarce and expensive (tons of factors at play there; COVID of course played its part). Musician Art d’Ecco got a nasty shock when he was quoted $14,000 for a one-week van rental! Even if you manage to luck into affordable transportation and accommodations, there’s the price of fuel to consider. Tour buses are huge gas-guzzlers. With the price of petrol so high and the price of diesel expected to rise, that’s not good news.

To put the poison cherry on top of the downer sundae, many musicians are being paid 2020 wages (for tours that have been on hold since then) — while paying 2022 prices for everything on their end!

And this is at a time when they’re trying to make up for years of lost earnings. Far from recouping loss, more than one band has found itself in financial disaster after a tour, out way more than they managed to earn.

At best, all this could really put a damper on enthusiasm for touring — and a live show without enthusiasm is like a Ferrari without fuel. At worst, it could make touring almost as impossible as it was during the height of COVID restrictions.

What’s a struggling musician to do?

Some just might take a cue from the past, and/or from Michael Bernard Fitzgerald.

Enter: The Modern Campervan

Or, back-to-basics with a modern twist.

Today’s vans  — particularly electric or hybrid models — could potentially offer a fix (or at least a partial fix) for some of these problems. Even a few years ago the notion would have been laughable, but despite the pandemic the world has come a long way since then. Especially when it comes to electrifying transportation and making EV charging points available.

Admittedly, for many bands this simply isn’t a viable option. It works best for solo musicians or very small groups who don’t use a lot of equipment. But a decked-out campervan is a lot more comfortable than what your dad’s band rode around in.. 

Imagine, if you can, that you’re the lead guitarist in a small, up-and-coming band itching to hit the road.

For starters, a campervan provides transportation and living quarters in one. Full-size camper vans can accommodate small bathrooms and mini-kitchens, so no more reliance on vending machine food and petrol station restrooms. It’s a lot more affordable to run than a bus that gets 2-3 km/L, with petrol prices still sky-high even as they come down from the record high of summer 2022. It’s way more affordable than having to put your band members up in a hotel for days at a time due to flight cancellations! And it’s more practical and less humiliating than begging fans to let you crash at their place for a few nights.

Some campervans available now, or soon to be available, are able to tow at full or near-full capacity. You can imagine using the van itself as a living quarters while your gear travels safely behind, always in your possession and never at the mercy of airline staff. It’s starting to look pretty attractive, right? 

Especially for a UK tour, which doesn’t require weeklong drives across expanses like the Canadian prairies. Especially with van and motorhome rental companies like Cowbridge Campers popping up all over the place, offering comfy pre-converted vans ready for the road. There are rental companies that actually specialise in campervans, motorhomes and trailers specifically for travelling musicians! Take Florida-based Rock-It Ships: started in 2012, they hoped to revolutionise touring, and they’ve done alright for themselves. But now… the current circumstances, combined with recent developments in EV technology — are businesses like this about to get the boost they need to really take off in a huge way?

Are we going to see a campervan tour revolution? Stay tuned.
The T7 Multivan Evolved

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top