CELEBRITY MEGA COMMUTING by Auntie Lori Allen
If you spend 90 minutes or more traveling one way to work every day you are now classified as a “Mega Commuter.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are nearly 600,000 Mega Commuters on the road daily in this country. Driving 90 minutes one way is rough enough, but what happens if you’re an entertainer and have to travel hours or even days and nights one way to get to your next job?
Grammy award winners and American Western Music icons Riders in the Sky know what it’s like to commute long distances to a paying gig, and have done so for almost 37 years. And while they honor the traditions of cowboy music with a vaudeville wink onstage, in getting to that stage they utilize very modern travel from their home base in Nashville to all parts of North America.
Ranger Doug Green, rhythm guitarist (known by Riders’ fans as “The Governor of the Great State of Rhythm”), vocalist and peerless yodeler of the band says The Riders use an RV to travel to their gigs. “We have a motor home that we’ve had for years. I mean, this is the 13th one but …“ he laughs. “Sometimes if the jumps are long we fly but we like to drive, and flying is somewhat an uncomfortable experience these days. You always have to take your second or third best instrument and you can’t take all the props and it’s just better to drive.”
Riders in the Sky started out in vans but quickly moved to driving a motor home.
“You can buy them pretty cheap if you get an older one, and often they don’t have too many miles because it’s just a thing somebody does for a couple of weeks during the summer,” Ranger Doug says. “So Woody retro-fits it inside and he’s a pretty good carpenter and he puts in bunks and it’s very comfortable. And much cheaper than a big tour bus.”
Woody is the same Woody Paul who, in addition to being an award-winning fiddler with Riders in the Sky, also has a PhD in Theoretical Plasma Physics.
“How the atom works,” Ranger Doug chuckles. “He can explain that but he can’t tell you what day of the week it is!”
A side note: At a concert in Taylorville, Illinois years ago I witnessed Woody Paul’s fascination with how things work. The electronic step to the RV Ranger Doug refers to was on the blink and Woody was determined to fix it. Despite his focused efforts, the answer to its repair eluded Woody, but nobody else in the band seemed to be bothered by its malfunction.
After the show I asked Woody if he found out what was wrong with the step. He sat back hard in his chair and slumped with sadness, “I don’t KNOW what’s wrong with it!”
So then, who does the driving for Riders in the Sky?
“All of us,” says Ranger Doug. “We take turns.”
The rest of the The Riders include Too Slim (aka Freddy LaBour) and Joey Miskulin. Too Slim adeptly plays the bunkhouse bass, face, and also handles lead vocals. Slim occasionally posts pictures from the road, literally, like a shot of a beautiful Canadian sunrise from the outside driver’s side mirror and the clearing side of a nasty storm in South Dakota thru the windshield (Don’t try this at home, kids!). He also posts reality from being on the road, like in this Facebook post:
“Fans of the Riders’ Dept. of Useless Information will be pleased to learn that the windshield on their current RV, number 12 by the way, is now cracked, keeping alive the streak of Every Riders’ Windshield Being Cracked. Thanks to Montana Dept. of Transportation’
In his Riders bio, accordionist Joey Miskulin (The Cow Polka King) proudly lists an impressive resume that includes “recording with everyone from Roy Rogers to U2, and is also the Riders’ album producer and a licensed driver.” A well-rounded Rider, indeed.
And who’s the best and worst driver?
“If Billy Maxwell is with us, then he’s our driver,” says Ranger Doug. “I’d say Slim’s probably the best driver. We know Woody’s the worst!” he laughed.
UPDATE 03/07/2015: WKYT Article: Riders Stranded on Kentucky Highway during Winter Storm
UPDATE 12/23/2016: from Riders’ Facebook: Christmas the Cowboy Way 2016 was a mighty fine tour full of western wit, Yuletide favorites and high-yodeling holiday celebration. But early this morning, as the Riders headed home from an extensive twenty days on the trail, a treacherous patch of Colorado black ice had other plans.
Fortunately, no one was hurt, and after taking inventory of all basses, cac-ties and tour managers, all valuables remain unscathed.
“I wish the same could be said for the bus,” said master navigator Woodrow, staring at the now sideways bus. “But I think I can fix it.”
“Give it your best shot,” suggested a less-than-convinced Too Slim, “and let’s hope Christmas miracles cover questionable mechanic work.”
With a generously stuffed U-Haul and a sturdy rental car to haul it, the Riders are back on the trail and headed home. Safe travels to all this holiday weekend, and Merry Christmas!
Comedian Jim Gaffigan works hard to be funny with edgy, modern family material developed for his all ages audience.
He commutes to his comedy gigs from his two bedroom apartment in New York City that he shares with his wife and business partner Jeannie Noth Gaffigan and their five children. But there are times when the entire family hits the road and goes on tour with him.
“We get on the tour bus and we travel around and check out different things. But I’ve got a lot of kids so I’ve gotta get out there and make the money, really,” he laughs.
“But it’s a good time.”
The close-knit family uses a driver for their lengthy commutes.
“It’s definitely a luxury but it’s a pretty amazing experience when we do it. We try and drive at night because during the day, it’s pretty hard to convince a kid to not walk around. We drive mostly at night and then we get to a city and we’ll see the local sights and we’ll hop in the hotel pool and it’s all good.”
“Everyone gets their own bunk and it’s pretty exhausting but it’s fun. And they get to see things and different sights and go see cousins and stuff like that so it’s always a good time.”
Canadian singer/songwriter and Juno award winner Fred Eaglesmith is no stranger to long commutes to get to a show. The name of his band, The Fred Eaglesmith Traveling Steam Show, pretty much sums up their life on the road. The band tours constantly all over North America and in 2012 spent a whopping 266 days traveling in a converted Bluebird RV.
“People think it’s a school bus,” Eaglesmith cracked. “When we got it, it was an RV set up for a couple and we changed it into a band bus so, we took out the inside cooking stuff. We don’t cook inside, we cook outside. We put some more bunks in it and you know, we run real portable because we don’t camp that much. We have bays and then we take the stuff out of the bay and set it up and cook then. We also converted it to grease, of course. It runs on grease.”
No, not petroleum oil grease, vegetable oil grease.
Eaglesmith converts his touring vehicles to run on vegetable oil. Restaurants and Eaglesmith fans (known as “Fred Heads”) along the tour route donate the used grease. And the much-coveted filtered grease is easier to get than you would think.
“It’s working better all the time,” he says. “People know we need it so they get it for us. It’s more in the news so when we ask people for their grease they know what we’re doing now. They used to think we were terrorists or something! And now they sorta get it. I bet about 60 percent of the last tour I burned grease, which is a tremendous saving, of course.”
On stage, Eaglesmith jokes about how the band always smells like French fries but that’s not so far from the truth. And of course, like for the rest of us, mechanical problems can occur. A lot.
“Well, you know, I’m the driver and the mechanic and in August (2013) we were on a 71-day tour and we broke down every day in August. Yeah, for about 10 or 11 days we broke down everyday. Which means I just get up at about 8 in the morning and I work until we have to leave and hopefully I got it going by then. But mostly we can get it fixed; mostly I can keep it going to get to the show. Sometimes I’m fixing it at the show, but I get it there.”
Eaglesmith uses a GPS to map out the band’s route.
“I use a GPS mostly because we travel a lot of the back roads. GPS is reliable 85 percent of the time. We have a lot of mobile devices with us and sometimes we have to make them all agree so we don’t end up in the creek!”
One time in Northern Canada the band took a wrong turn in the back woods and literally had to place stones in a creek to get across it. Yet they made it to the gig on time.
“We got so far back off of the road,” he laughs. “At the show, we told people how we got there and they go, ‘You took a wrong turn!’ But the right turn wasn’t much better!”
Eaglesmith passes the time while driving long distances by occasionally putting on the headphones and listening to audio books (he is a student of Zen Buddhism) and also mentally works on his albums that he’s recorded in the studio at his house.
“But mostly, I just drive. I like to drive with my ears. I like to listen to the motor. I was raised on a farm where I would listen to the tractor all day, you know? That’s how you knew if it was broke or not. You could tell by the sound of it.”
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