Life on the road: A recount by Derek Abt of Liver Down the River

We all know the life of a musician is a glorified one. But not all of us realize the all-encompassing commitments of being in a band. As the great Bon Scott of AC/DC said, “it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll.”

Touring really has its ups and downs. I mean, you’re in a 6-person marriage living in a van. For people who have issues regarding personal space, it’s probably not the best career path for you. That being said, it is some of the most fun you can have. Traveling around the country with your best friends, free from the traditional 9-5 rat race, with the goal each night to rock as hard as possible and get people smiling and moving. There’s nothing like it. It’s truly magical to be able to do such a thing and make it work.

It’s funny. When you’re out on the road you’re really exposed to what life has to throw at you. But you’re in it together. I remember on our first national tour (2015) we blew the transmission in our van in the middle of nowhere. We called AAA and this tow-truck driver, Schmitty, picked us up. We ended up riding inside our van on top of the rollback trailer to our next gig in Jackson, WY. Then we were stuck there for a couple days and made enough money busking to rent a vehicle for the remainder of the tour while our van got a new transmission installed in Jackson.

Oh, and this other time (2017 tour) we played Floydfest in Floyd, VA. Mind you, this was after playing probably 3 gigs in a row that paid less than 100 bucks, and that’s for the entire band. You can get an idea of how bare-bones it can be on the road trying to gain popularity in new markets. But, boy, that festival was fun. So, when the festival was all said and done, we saddled up and probably made it 45 miles on the highway when our engine (same van as before) blew…completely. It was smoking and there was coolant pouring out of the tailpipe. The thing was complete toast and we had a gig the next state over. We were stuck by the side of the highway broken down for probably an hour until we got a tow. I was making use of my time by standing on top of our trailer waving a pirate flag, causing a ruckus. We actually had a cop come over to check on us. We laughed about it together and he ended up being a bluegrass lover and bought a CD.

That was one summer where we were continuously in situations where we had no idea how we would get through them. After the van broke, we had a gigs in Greenville, SC, Atlanta, GA, and then 4 days later in Albuquerque, with no clue how we would make the trip. Honestly, we were graced by angels. Dylan’s (our guitarist at the time) parents, came to rescue us and luckily had a truck that could pull our trailer. They were able to get us to the next two gigs and drop us off in Atlanta.

After that, we ended up buying a shuttle bus on Ebay, but the catch was that it was in Chicago (no joke). So, two of us flew there with AA flight vouchers we had, to pick that up while the rest of us bought a cargo van in Atlanta to pull the trailer back to Albuquerque. The two respective teams then proceeded to race across the country on our 1400-mile trip back to the Southwest.

I mean, to this day it still baffles me that all that went down. There are so many nuances of that experience that saved us from utter catastrophe. I guess it honestly WAS a catastrophe, but somehow it just kept going and all worked out in the end.

I think it’s really important to get out of your natural routine and into the raw elements of life; to really experience the groundlessness of uncertainty and be forced to “fall into the arms of the universe.” Blind faith, if you will. Touring in a band really gets you out there in a special way where you are in it together with your band mates.

This last summer (2019) was really fun. We got to play some pretty awesome festivals. Yarmony in Bond, CO is one we’ve always loved, and we played on a floating stage this summer. We also got to play Arise Music Festival, which has been on my personal bucket list for years. It was really a dream come true to be a part of that one, and have a long-term goal manifest like that.

I will not lie, the road can take it out of you, but looking back, the memories I have are absolutely priceless. It’s really beautiful to be in a team like that, battling the worst, but destined for glory. It is one serious ride, but totally worth it.


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