As a musician who performs and tours independent of record label support, I have had to learn how to scare up quality meals on a scant budget. For several years I toured as a soloist so it was easy enough to supplement a vending machine snack for an actual meal when I was laid over in a bus stop. But now that I have band mates, I try to remain vigilant about making sure we all get fed. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned along the way:
A great way to save bucks and make sure you get a hot, nutritious meal is to tour places where you know people. If you are visiting friends or family you are usually guaranteed dinner, a place to sleep, and sometimes breakfast. If you’re traveling outside of your social network, you can always use the Internet to hook up with people who regularly host bands, sort of like a rock-and-roll bed-and-breakfast. If you’re staying at a cheap motel you can always load up on the continental breakfast and complimentary coffee before you hit the road again.
Some of the venues we play at offer free meals. If we’re going to be at a venue that offers meals we can stomach (my bass player/husband and I are vegans), we’ll eat something cheap and small while we’re en route, then eat a big free meal once we get to the venue or while on a break from our set. If you can’t secure a free meal as part of the guarantee, you can still usually count on free drinks. This helps if you are a beer enthusiast like me and my band mates. You can indulge in free aperitifs and then spend your drinking allowance on food.
If you are a vegan struggling to maintain your diet while your band struggles to make money on the road, you’ve got two strikes against you. But both things can be done and they are not mutually exclusive. If you can keep in mind a list of easy-to-locate staples, you’ll eat every day, in every town, in ways that don’t hurt your bank account or animals. Here are some of my staples:
- Bagels with hummus or margarine
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
- Mexican food without cheese or sour cream (but make sure the beans aren’t cooked in lard)
- Italian food without cheese (e.g. spaghetti with marinara sauce)
- Veggie subs at sandwich shops
If you have a little more than five bucks to spend on your individual plate, you can always head to an Indian or Thai restaurant (but be advised: restaurants in small Northwestern towns claiming to serve “authentic” Thai don’t always serve food that tastes authentic or healthy). It’s a good idea to ask a local, perhaps someone at the venue you’ll be performing at, where one might find something cheap and appetizing.
If you are a vegan band touring a remote area and can only find one restaurant that specializes in traditional American diner fare, you still have options. If they serve burgers but not Garden burgers, you can still probably get the staff to make you a veggie sandwich on bread with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles and mustard. If not, you can always order fries and a salad with a non-dairy dressing as a last resort. If they serve breakfast, you can usually get hash-browns with margarine, toast with jelly, oatmeal without milk, and a bowl of fruit.
Vegan, vegetarian and meat-eater bands alike can agree that sustenance is important for maintaining your energy on stage and on the road. There are several books that were written by independent musicians who wanted to ensure that people like them can find healthy food on the road. If you can find a good guide book, this could be a big help, or compile your own list by doing research on the Internet. There are many sites designed for people with dietary restrictions to find restaurants where they can eat in cities they plan to visit. There are also web resources for travelers on a budget looking to plan their meals beyond the perfunctory stop at McDonald’s. You can also find forums for travelers and/or bands who want to exchange tips, and, through the miracle of social networking sites, you can send out a mass message to let all of your friends and acquaintances know that you are in need of some ideas.
Experience has shown me that by making sure you have the right people around you – supportive band mates, hospitable friends and family, kind venue owners and staff, and like-minded bands to share shows with – you won’t go hungry. At least, not for too long.
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