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Gas Prices Make Road Trips Tough for Bands




P1000245-new.jpgWhen the price of fuel started its monumental climb a few months ago, The Influence, a Virginia Beach-based band, started looking for alternative ways to travel. Their solution: a tour bus converted to run on waste vegetable oil.

“[Travel] was eating up any profits we might have made at any shows,” said Dave Cogan, The Influence’s manager, who is from Falls Church. The engine on The Influence’s tour bus is now from Grease Car, a New England-based company that converts diesel engines to run on waste vegetable oil from restaurants. Falls Church-based Bubba’s Restaurant and Old Hickory Grill provide their waste vegetable oil to the band whenever they come through the D.C. area.

“The bus is able to run most of the time on waste vegetable oil, although it also converts to regular diesel if you can’t find [vegetable oil],” Cogan said. “Sometimes when it’s in the mountains or if they’re driving it at high rates of speeds and the engine needs to be running most efficiently, they have to shift back over to diesel. It’s this little onboard computer that does it automatically.”

While not everyone can convert their vehicles to a more efficient engine, other musicians are also using alternate means of transportation. In a recent trip to Charlotte, N.C., Shane Hines, of Shane Hines and the Trance, and his road manager took an SUV instead of their normal 15-passanger van. “Normally we would take the van but because of the gas, we [took] a car instead,” Hines said. According to Hines, who is based in Arlington, it costs about $100 right now to fill the Trance’s van, but most gas stations only allow purchases of up to $75.

Unfortunately, that is a downfall of being merely an opening act, especially for out-of-town performances. “You’re out of state, you go out of town, you play 45 minutes and you get paid 100 bucks – so all your 100 dollars goes to your gas.”

Daniel Brindley, the booker of Jammin’ Java in Vienna, explained the reason for the low pay is that when bands open for others, they receive “payment” through exposure. “At Jammin’ Java, [opening is] more for the exposure and [acts] get their basic stuff covered,” he said. “Well, what used to work was [50-100] bucks; now it isn’t cutting it.” He continued to say that if a band is traveling from New York City to the D.C. area, $100 would hardly cover their gas expenses.

Brindley noted, however, that he has not seen a downward trend in acts because of the economy. “A real band – it’s their livelihood,” he said. “They’re not just going to stop because the gas prices are high, so I have no experience saying no to shows or confirming shows because of gas prices.”

Local bands aren’t the only ones feeling the economic strain: Maroon 5 and Counting Crows are co-headlining a tour that launches July 25. They will be working with Reverb, a non-profit organization that will set up an Eco-Village at each tour stop to educate fans about different aspects of sustainable energy and various environmental groups.

“The whole tour is going to be using sustainable products: bio-diesel fuel on the buses and eliminating our carbon footprint, which is great. It is essentially just paying for the emissions we’re putting into the world, which is a lot, given that we’re touring with 10 to 15 buses and trucks and all that, so we have a lot to take care of,” said Adam Levine, lead singer of Maroon 5.

Despite the rising costs of getting to gigs, musicians are steadfast in keeping up what they’re doing. “[The economy] will make us think twice about the quality of a gig we’re taking. You definitely have to take that into account – you always do – if it costs more money to go places,” Hines said. “Hopefully it won’t be this bad for long, but it doesn’t look like things are getting better any time soon.” However, Hines promises that the economy will never affect the quality of the band’s shows.

In deference to the lengths The Influence will go to in their waste vegetable oil van, Cogan said, “It’s a real spartan, vagabond type of existence that they’ll suffer through to continue to play their music.”