My husband and I are musicians. And we’re parents. When we are onstage, we do our best to really be ON stage. But all our “backstage” experiences with our son (our little frog) deeply affect who we are as people, thus musicians. Recent insights:
After an epic tour with Matt and Shannon Heaton (where we honed our Toddler on Tour strategies at venues throughout Germany, Switzerland, and Holland), I thought little Nigel and I were ready to hit the road sans dad with my band Long Time Courting.
With just 3 shows and babysitter contacts in each town, my son and I left with the essentials. You can see my packing list in my last blog: the 4 (or 6) essential items that musicians touring with toddlers should carry.
Here’s a clip of our second show, the biggest “disaster” of the weekend with thorough account below:
At our FIRST show in Brattleboro, Nigel raised hell backstage with a local toddler. This would have been great, except for the fact that the neighbors complained about the noise! I guess kids shrieking are more trouble than amplified music… Our dear friend who was helping with Nigel did her best to sit with him during the show, but he was pretty amped up on toddler glee. It took him until 11:15 to get to sleep. Also, I went right from Nigel care to onstage. I didn’t have time to transition. This is not a new phenomenon for me. But it is taking its toll.
On the second night, the night of the video clip, we played at the lovely, nourishing Dragonfly Yoga Retreat Center. This was an incredible setting for a show with a wonderfully warm audience. Upon arrival, our host Declan gifted my son with his very own Gordon and Henry trains (two of Thomas the Tank Engine’s friends whom we did NOT already have in our collection!).
Like the night before, I had no transition time from kid care to walking onstage. No matter. Bridie and Caitlin were ready to look after Nigel at the start of the show. And as it turned out, there was a cozy spot near the stage where a cluster of kids were sitting. Nigel led his sitters to the kid corner, which we all thought seemed very fine. It didn’t occur to me that this gorgeous venue was unlike many of the venues in which I’d been playing–here performers and audience were on the same level, with no barrier or stage.
After 3 songs, Nigel requested to come onstage. His caregivers tried to dissuade him, and of course he expressed heartache. Snap judgment: I decided to sing a song with my kid in my arms. As we neared the end of the song Nigel asked to “get down and get funky.” I set him down, still unsure of what I was going to do from here.
With a surety I crave onstage, my 2-year old picked up my low whistle and set up between cellist Val and fiddler Sarah. Keeping his eyes moving from the low music stand (just his height) and all of us musicians, Nigel proceeded to “play” the next set of tunes with us. After the last note, he told the audience, “That was called ‘Thomas.’ I wrote it.”
Following this unforgettable performance, I swiftly escorted our youngest player off the stage while Liz (guitar) introduced the next song. After just a few tears, Nigel agreed to watch Jungle Book with his caregivers. We finished the set. All was fine.
Sure, this was a brief and hilarious moment of non professionalism. If it had happened with my husband, I wouldn’t have worried. But immediately after the show I reassured my band mates that this is not how I plan to play it onstage. Cute and hilarious though Nigel might be, of course he takes light and focus away from the music and the band. It is important for me that my colleagues know that I respect this and respect them so deeply. And I do want my audiences–and my son–to know that parents can still be professionals, even when they are travelling with their families.
For the third show I arranged child care for six hours. I took my time to travel to the gig SLOWLY in the freezing rain and black ice. I was able to focus, warm up. And guess what? This was the one poorly attended show of the weekend (no doubt because of the weather, because we’ve always sold out the wonderful Studio 99 in Nashua, NH–great place for music!!!). And of the folks at the show, at least 4 of them could have looked after Nigel without trouble. Go figure…
So, the lessons from the weekend:
- It is really hard to travel with your kid WITHOUT your spouse/other parent.
- I *must* arrange child care for an hour before the show until 30 minutes after the show.
- More intimate venues without elevated stages and formal backstage areas (like house concerts or less formal yoga barns) are WAY harder to negotiate with a kid! Ideally we will find a room out of the way.. and we will save snacks, favorite books, a new toy, a video for gig time.
- It means a lot when people reach out and say stuff like, “That was great! That was totally me. I had 4 kids, and there were times when I was giving lectures while holding my youngest.” Deep thanks to the hilarious mom I met after the show.
- All petty challenges fall from importance when another audience member hugs you and says,”I sang that last song with you for the victims in Newtown. I know you did, too.” [I did.] And with that I hugged Nigel, and I hugged Matt when we got home. And I knew that we could just try it again, together.
so lovely Shannon. You are one lucky bunch. XXOO
love it Shannon – all so true. I remember back in the 90s when I was travelling singing acapella with my family, including my 2 brothers – then 2 and 4, and we had no sitter. The kids would roam about in front of us whilst we sung, picking up cigarette butts, talking to strangers, “joining in”… suffice to say after doing it like this for about 4 months we caved and asked a friend to join on the road so we could sing without the kid panic. I applaud you for being game, and to Nigel who will clearly be a confident little boy!
Oh, Hannah! It cheers me to have support, commiseration, ideas. Yeah, I'm learning when it makes sense to bring along a sitter. Probably a lot of the time…