Rock Fiction Primer, Part One: The Tour Bus

This is Part One of a series I’ve entitled Rock Fiction Primer. I’ve read some head-clutchingly inaccurate descriptions of some of the basics of the world of rock ‘n roll, so I thought I’d give you a peek at what some of it’s really like. I’ll be covering the tour bus, custom jets, backstage, the itinerary, and the crew. If there are any subjects about rock bands (on tour or not) you’d like to know more about, just shout out in the comments.

Ah, the mythical rock band tour bus. I decided to begin the series with it since the majority of the inaccuracies I’ve seen in rock fiction have to do with the bus. For some reason it’s often described as a much more spacious area than it really is, with ample room to stretch out, rehearsal rooms in the back, bathtubs, and hanky-panky going on in the sleeping berths. In reality, tour buses are cramped, they often don’t smell that great, and as for that bathtub? On a real tour bus you’d better not use more than a cup of water for anything or you’ll have your head ripped off and thrown out the door onto the highway.

Juli Page Morgan

After a moment, the car came to a halt beside a row of three identical buses. Well, Rhett supposed “bus” was a good enough term, but to her they looked more like enormous RVs. Painted a deep, iridescent purple, they had swirling designs of electric blue along their sides and front. Rhett was a little surprised that there was nothing on them to indicate they were Illicit’s mode of transportation, but she kept her mouth shut. Even though she was sure she was going to end up looking like a fool before the evening was over, she didn’t want to speak up and remove all doubt. — From “Sister Golden Hair,” ©2014 by Juli Page Morgan, All Rights Reserved Carey On Publishing LLC

Though the outside of most tour buses are fairly fancy (the photo above is what I used for the band’s buses in my Illicit novels; I just changed the colors), nine times out of ten you won’t find anything to identify who’s inside. True, some bands do feel the need to advertise their presence, but most of them would rather go unrecognized. After all, these buses are big and fancy enough. You see two of three of them rolling in tandem down the highway and you know there’s someone famous on board.

A solo artist will travel with the least amount of vehicles. He or she will have one bus, usually to themselves, or maybe with their head of security along, or their family if they’re mean enough to torture the ones they love by making them live on a tour bus. A second bus will be for wardrobe and makeup people, lighting techs, and instrument techs. A band will usually have two buses for themselves, and one or two more for the crew members that travel with them.

Juli Page Morgan

Sara exited the car, and climbed aboard the middle bus, and Rhett followed close behind. Once inside, she tried to keep her gawking to a minimum, but it was hard. Not that the interior was Liberace-worthy, but it was still pretty damn nice for a bus. Except for …

“Really?” she asked Sara. “Leopard print walls?”

“Cheesy as shit, isn’t it?” Sara shook her head. “But they just rent ’em, they don’t decorate them. Just drop your bag and coat there.” She gestured to the cream colored couch that stretched along one wall. “I’m not sure if you and Rhys will get the back, or you’ll have to make do with one of the bunks. But it’s only about three hours to New York anyway, so I don’t guess it matters, does it?” — From “Sister Golden Hair,” ©2014 by Juli Page Morgan, All Rights Reserved Carey On Publishing LLC

Like the artists themselves, their tour buses come in all styles. Some are tricked out with neon lighting, plush carpet, and space-age furniture. Others could almost double for your aunt and uncle’s RV. The photo above is a shot of the interior of Amy Grant’s tour bus, and it’s the closest thing I could find to how I envisioned Illicit’s bus. Except for the leopard print walls. I took those straight from the buses used by Motley Crue one tour. (NOTE: Amy’s bus has a slide-out that expands when the bus is parked. When it’s rolling, that couch takes up most of that aisle space.) Since Amy is a solo artist, though, her lounge area is a little more spacious than one used by a band. Behind the door in the center of the photo, Amy had a bathroom with a sink, toilet and small shower, and a bedroom. The kitchenette is tucked into the front lounge, and it’s tiny. There will be a small countertop with a sink, a microwave, and tucked under it a mini-fridge. Usually there will be a one or two burner stove top, used for heating up the occasional cup of tea. No gourmet meals will be prepared aboard a tour bus.

A band’s lounge area is smaller, because their buses are equipped with sleeping berths. The number of berths depends on how many band and/or crew members are on each bus, but the minimum number is usually four, and can go up to six or even eight. The berths are normally right behind the lounge area, and cramped doesn’t even begin to describe them. There’s barely room for one person in a berth, and even if you cram two people in there they won’t have room to move, much less get up to anything. See for yourself:

Juli Page Morgan

Black Stone Cherry on their bus. Image via Getty Images

Juli Page Morgan

The bathroom is usually tucked behind the sleeping berths. It’s always small, with a sink, toilet and tiny shower. The shower never gets used, though. Bands have ample access to much roomier showers at the venues and in their hotels. Besides, no one’s going to waste water on a shower. Yeah, we’re back to the water thing again. Buses have to carry their water in holding tanks, and when you’ve got four to six (or even more) people aboard, that water doesn’t last long. Nor does the room in the holding tank where all the used water (and everything else) goes. Even the biggest diva in the world doesn’t want to be caught on a long haul and run out of water, to say nothing of having an overflowing waste tank. So, no, you’re not going to find a bathtub on a bus. And even if someone was stupid enough to install one, no one would use it.

Juli Page Morgan

Jonathan gritted his teeth. Tonight had been his turn to have the spacious bedroom built into the rear section of the bus. He’d rather been looking forward to sleeping sprawled-out in its custom-built king-sized bed, but he also understood all too well his bassist’s hunger for flame-haired beauties. For Tony, this was a major score indeed. Tonight was sure to be reminisced about for many tours to come. — From “A Million Miles Away,” ©2014 by Elizabeth Corva, All Rights Reserved

Most of the time the back of a tour bus is reserved as a bedroom, the only one on the bus. A solo artist won’t have to fight anyone over it, but it’s a different story for bands. Schedules are made for who gets the bedroom on which night, and these schedules are jealously guarded and adhered to. Occasionally someone will trade nights (as Jonathan and Tony did in Elizabeth Corva’s book) but you can be sure that whoever gave up the bed for a night will make sure it’s noted so he or she can get that night back later. If you had to make do with one of those berths for several nights, you’d fight over the bed, too.

Juli Page Morgan

Sometimes the bedroom is absent, replaced by a secondary lounge area. The couch in this space is always larger than the one up front, and sometimes will curve around all three walls. It’s good for napping, or getting away from everyone else for a while.

So there you have it, the rock band tour bus. I hope I didn’t demystify it too much. But hey, it’s still the mode of transportation for rock bands, and as such those buses could tell some tales. One of these days we’ll talk about the Yard-High Club, sometimes called the Mile-Long Club. 😉 Next time I add to this series, I’ll take you up in the air on a charter jet used by those bands for whom tour buses are too lame.

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Heart of Gold, the sequel to Sister Golden Hair, is now available for pre-order at select retailers! Reserve your copy today for just 99¢. You’ll find the buy links and a bit more about the book on my Heart of Gold page.

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5 Responses to Rock Fiction Primer, Part One: The Tour Bus

  1. Rachel Cross says:

    This is GREAT! Keep ’em coming 😉

  2. Elizabeth says:

    THANK YOU for taking the time to write this! Nobody has an excuse for getting tour buses wrong in fiction anymore. Unless you’re writing a pure Fantasy novel set in a world of your own creation, they’re one of those things you can’t take poetic license with or your in-the-know readers will laugh their asses off at you. Bathtubs, indeed! And yes, the bunks are hatefully small.

  3. Lily says:

    Excellent resource. I found this googling tour bus interiors as I was trying to be accurate, but your guide is perfect and answers all the must-know questions! Just writing fanfic but I still want it to be believable.

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