Travelling for the love (of live music)

A fun, fan survey analysis

02/07/2015 -

Just popping over for a gig be back soon thxbye

Just popping over for a gig be back soon thxbye

Our social media scientist and live music ambassador Valerie Gritsch arrived in the UK for her fifth music-related trip to our fair isles on 5 July 2015. The XMR Summer In The City party on Wednesday 8 July 2015 at The Monarch in Camden — featuring The RPMs, PJ Bond, Will Varley and headliners Skinny Lister, get your tickets here — is one reason why she's flown all the way from the States to visit. She'll also rep XMR at 2000trees festival before heading home.

In that spirit, she investigated this undeniable roaming spirit that she has, and how it encourages her to travel in search of live music. Surveys about this subject went out to fans and the results are fascinating. Val writes about her findings on the need for fans to get to gigs however and whenever they can. - XMR

Words and photos by Valerie Gritsch

Something that has interested me for a while now is the act of traveling in the name of music. I have personally done it for about 10 years, and I know many others do too. But why? What is it that motivates us to travel for shows that are far away, or to do a string of shows following a tour? I know my reasons, but I was curious if it was universal thing. Earlier this year I made up a survey and asked some folks to fill it out. This is what I found out from these fellow die hard music fans, mixed in with my own experiences.

I am currently 25 years old, and the first time I traveled what I considered 'far' for a gig was when I was around 14 or 15. My friends and I piled into my mother's minivan and we went the 30-odd miles from Queens, NY to somewhere in the middle of New Jersey (another state!!) to see a local band we were friends with in a VFW hall. It was great fun. It was a chance to feel more grown up, a way to hang out with friends and make new ones, and see bands we adored more than our local proximity bubble allowed. When I was 16, we even went about two hours north to a city called Poughkeepsie to see this same band open on a tour with a dream line-up. That time we had no choice but to make the trek, as the local NYC show had sold out too fast. I caught the bug. I wanted to keep traveling, seeing this band, and others, as often as I could. ‘What better way to spend my time and money?’ I thought. I’m happy to say that ten years later I’m still seeing that band, Patent Pending, all over the place and it is still something that allows me to see old friends and sing my heart out to songs I love.

Pie charts and reasoning

The fans that took this survey were the average age of 33, and at the average age of 19 when they first made a fateful trip that led them far away from home for a concert. The distance they traveled varied greatly, from 10 miles (the lowest response) to 6,200 miles (the highest - literally a ‘go big or go home’ situation!) - these averaged out to approximately 540 miles traveled for that first trip. Beyond impressive. The bands seen ranged from Bon Jovi, Led Zeppelin, and Bruce Springsteen to The Spice Girls and The Backstreet Boys, with - of course - some Frank Turner thrown into the mix. When I asked why they traveled for that very first concert I was able to boil their answers down to five responses, with many fans ticking off more than one of the five. These reasons were:

  • The trip was made to the closest date of that tour, so it was either travel or not go at all;
  • They really loved the line-up of the tour or festival, or couldn’t imagine missing the special event;
  • The concert was a good excuse to travel, and potentially catch up with friends / family;
  • They wanted the experience of traveling for a gig and all that went with it;
  • They were just a fan of the band, and they wanted to see them more often than local gigs allowed.

The pie chart of their responses is pretty fairly distributed, however I thought it was interesting that the largest reason cited was simply “I liked the band”. Here’s some elaboration on their reasons for traveling that first time, in our survey-takers own words:

●     “I really enjoyed the music of the band and around the time I graduated from high school (2003, aged 18) some of my internet friends were traveling around for bands and I really liked the idea of going to another city/country to see a band. On this (and many other) journeys we were going to gig after gig so that was a part of it too — seeing more than one show, traveling with friends seeing new places, making memories…but the first gig was about the music; I didn't know about the other stuff and it was definitely an added bonus” - Devon, New Hampshire

●     “I knew it was going to be a special show and wanted to be a part of it.” - Remco, The Netherlands

●     “That was the closest concert on that tour in the summer and I had seen Bon Jovi for the first time in spring and wanted to see them again.” - Rebekka, Germany

●     “I had seen Frank and the Sleeping Souls twice before and they blew me away. I knew a lot of people I'd been talking to on the internet from all around the world would be there too and I really wanted to meet them.” - Lena, Austria

●     “It was the closest the Backstreet Boys were coming to us and I was (am lol) obsessed.” - Lex, Canada

●     “It was the first in a string of back to back shows. I combined it with a chance to visit family.” - Susan, Maryland

●     “The idea of combining a great show with discovering new places and meeting folks from different countries.” - Steffi, Germany

●     “I wanted to see Frank play as often as possible. I found the travel and tickets were affordable and that there were friends I knew going to each show. Why should the artist be the only one to travel for the gigs? Plus I wanted a glimpse into life on the road, how it would feel to be a touring musician. At least that's how it felt to me at the time!” - Stephen, Ireland

Like me, everyone who took our survey has traveled more than once to a non-local show. Some have only done it a handful of times since their first, reserving it for more special occasions (reunion shows, big festivals, once-in-a-lifetime gig experiences) while others have made it a regular habit, saying they’ve done hundreds of non-local shows since. Depending on where you live is a big factor in all of this. For someone like me in a major city, you would never really have to leave that city too often to catch an artist you wanted to see — it is almost guaranteed major artists will come to you at some point. However for people living in smaller cities, states or even countries that don’t get much touring action,traveling is a necessity if you want to see live music, and see it often. This all contributes to your perception of distances for a gig. When I was younger, New Jersey and Poughkeepsie, NY seemed so far to travel and I felt so fancy for doing those treks. I would think I was so dedicated to the band: man, look at my mileage! But now I’m older, and more well-traveled, those two locations are pretty much nothing in comparison.



How far is 'far'?

Many of our music fans noted as well that their radius for what they consider 'local' has grown and changed over the years, given their extensive travel history, but that it now sits somewhere between a 30-minute to two-hour journey. They also seemed to largely agree that a 'far' gig is one where they couldn’t get home overnight, and had to book a hotel/hostel or find someone to crash with. Even if the distance of the journey isn’t terribly large, if they are relying on public transport and that stops running at a certain point,  that is a gig they class as 'far away'. Public transportation is a huge monster to wrangle when traveling for gigs. Usually this won’t stop our fans from seeing their favorite bands in far off places, and they’ll still try to make the arrangements for buses or trains if possible. You do however have to keep an eye on the prices because that could ruin your musical adventure before it starts. Susana from Portugal wrote: “‘Far’ and ‘near’ for me depend mostly on the price of public transport access. Many times flying abroad to Spain, Germany or the UK is cheaper than seeing a band play in a remote city in my country, where I'd have to get different buses/trains/taxi.”

For a few people who took our survey, the opposite is true in their perception of distance. Over time as they’ve become older and gained more responsibilities, what they class as 'far' draws closer to home.

‘Far’ is becoming closer and closer over time. With my regular work day obligations and my commitments to family and my own music work, carving out time to go to shows has become increasingly difficult. If such time involves the hassle and expense of travel — such as getting myself to Philadelphia or even to northern NJ — the chances of my getting myself out decrease.
— Simon, New York

I have traveled to the UK four times so far for concerts I wanted to attend, and to Canada twice, so the thought of going one state over to New Jersey now is a no-brainer for a band I love. Like Kim from Germany said: “When you start flying to other countries for gigs, 'far' gets a new definition.” 

At the same time, if a band I like but am not madly in love with is playing in Brooklyn, NY, the very next borough over from where I live, I might skip their show all together. Why? Simply put, the amount of transfers on public transportation that it would take to get from my home to Brooklyn (or a hefty taxi fare) class that particular gig as 'far' because it’s annoying to get to. Traveling for music is very much dependent on how much you like the band in question, and how much you’re willing to spend. I also have to acknowledge that my traveling for music comes from a place of privilege, that I am fortunate enough to be able to travel, and have the free time and can budget things accordingly to do so. I do at times take that privilege for granted, as I’m sure many others do, but I always try to enjoy the experiences as much as possible. I don’t want to become jaded to traveling, and lose sight of why it’s worth the time, energy, money, and stress.

Due to the cost involved with traveling — not just the financial cost, but the time you spend planning, booking hotels, sorting transportation, etc — many people will try to make the most of their trips. Responses varied here but, if circumstances allow, they’ll try to extend the trips out to squeeze some sightseeing of the new cities in and meet up with friends or family not attending the gigs. On other occasions, the travel is strictly for the show itself, with little room or time for anything else. It largely depends on whether they have the time off work, other obligations to tend to, or if they can afford to do more than just the gig, though most preferred to make little getaways out of their gig-going habits. Steffi of Germany wrote: “Combining vacationing and shows. Best of both worlds”.  

I tend to use gigs as a chance to see the world around me. In a venue, the lights look pretty much the same, the songs tend to sound the same. There’s a whole culture and community outside of that venue and I’d feel that my efforts would be wasted if only came for the music. Music for me is an integral part of life, but life experiences happen before and after the show too!
— Stephen, Ireland

What makes you want to travel for some bands and not for others, and what makes the hours in cars, buses, trains, or planes worth it?

●     “I think the live show is probably the biggest part. If a band doesn't put on a good live show, then why would I go out of my way to see them?” - Jeremy, New Jersey

●     “‘If you're all about the destination...’ Travelling makes me feel free. I can shake loose the shackles of everyday life, bills, responsibilities, missed appointments, and just be who I want to be. I can meet new people along the way who are interesting and interested in me. I see new sights and enjoy new experiences and all before I even get to where I'm going! All the build up makes the show itself even better. Some bands and musicians make it personal, and that can be possible in a tiny pub with no stage or in a huge arena. There's an honesty and integrity to some musicians, who are doing what they love and making a difference, which is eternally inspires me and draws me to them.” - Stephen, Ireland

●     “You meet other people as dedicated to the artist as you are. Meeting new folks is the most important reason along with experiencing new places, locations, cultures etc. Would only travel far for my top 3 or 5 fav bands (or if I am friends with the musicians)” - Steffi, Germany

●     “How much I like the bands I suppose, and knowing that certain bands or performers ALWAYS deliver. Knowing I'll see a quality performance, and one that will make the trip worthwhile to me for the uplift and enjoyment it brings. Or if it's a unique experience or one-off event, or a festival with a great lineup.” - Jake, Philadelphia

●     “I'll only travel for bands I really love and feel a connection with. I tend to only travel when a lot of my friends will also be at the show, it's a social event.” - Rachel, Wales

●     “If you like the bands, and they don’t play your town, you have to travel to see them live!” - Chris, Germany

●     “I’ve made friends all over the place thanks to some bands and festivals so its nice to catch up with them and see our favourite bands and artists play again. I love travelling too. Its great to see new sights and venues. Our local music scene is very limited... A lot of bands miss the midlands off the radar completely so when an artist offers a gig at a pub 20 mins walking distance from my house I get super excited.” - Hannah, West Midlands

●     “It's the live experience for the most part. Some bands, like Rancid and Cock Sparrer, are so good live that it's worth the expense. In most cases, those bands also have a good relationship with their fans.” - Melissa, California

●     “The energy and passion of the band. Also friends I made through certain bands who travel with me. Ticket prices play a role as well.” - Kat, Germany

●     “I'm more likely to travel if a group of friends are all hanging out at the gig.” - Elly, Cornwall

●     “The amount that I enjoy their live shows. Some bands are fun to see once, but don't immediately make you want to see them again. Others are so great that you want to see them as soon as possible again. In those cases, I've never been disappointed so far - so yes, it's definitely worth it.” - Remco, The Netherlands

●     “The connection I have with the music, artist(s), or other fans of that particular band.” - Lex, Canada

●     “Some bands are just better live than others and make better music than others. What is important for me is that the artist on stage is in to it and that I can see that he likes to play a gig. I like crowd participation and setlist changes. Often my bands bring good bands with them on tour, that also influences how many gigs of a tour I am doing. Meeting friends also is an important factor.” - Rebekka, Germany

●     “No idea. There is a draw that pulls you that isn't there for others.” - Susan, Maryland

●     “Frank Turner will always be worth travelling for and he is the one artist that I have travelled extensively for, for more than one date on a tour. However, if I like the band and haven't seen them before I will travel to London, if I have seen them and I enjoyed them I will travel further. “ - Paris, Wales

●     “If I said it was the way going to those shows makes me feel, it would be a true statement but somehow just wouldn't cover how utterly amazing it is and why I want to do it again and again…” - Bella, UK

●     “People you're with - where the venue is - rarity of opportunity to see the band.” - Brian, New York

●     “It's not only the show itself but getting to meet friends and talking to the musicians who are usually lovely people and also getting to see new places makes it totally worth it.” - Lena, Austria

●     “I think live music is one of the best things there are. When you know that a band is great and they become one of your most favourites, traveling many hours is worth it just for the fun you have at the show and the happiness from hearing those amazing songs being played right in front of you!” - Susana, Portugal

●     “Friends… meeting up with good friends for shows. Shows have become an annual way to reconnect with friends, relive past experiences, pretend we're still young, etc.” - Jeff, Oregon

●     “I only for my most favourite bands.  It is fun to travel somewhere for a gig, to hang out with other fans and also to witness a gig with a different crowd… I also travel for festivals, because they are an opportunity to see lots of bands in one go.” - Helen, Ireland

●     “My list of bands whom I would like to go see is much longer than my ability and patience for getting to them.  So it's mostly a question of circumstances: if the right companionship and funds are available, and the calendar allows the time, I am more likely to go see an artist.” - Simon, New York

●     “I DONT KNOW. The music is what pulls me in I think - and seeing bands in other cities is also an experience, friends that are made online that will be in other cities, or meeting friends who are also traveling into a city. You both know how much the music means - and meeting up with them for shows makes it an even better time. Most of the bands I will travel for now aren’t American bands so they've come (mostly from the UK) to the US and maybe don’t have many fans so when you’re there and they know you’re not from the city they are playing in they’re very appreciative that you like the music/band that much you're willing to travel xxx distance to see them…” - Devon, New Hampshire

●     “The decision to travel is driven by the desire to see the band in a different context & more often than waiting for them to play a local gig. I guess there hasn't been another artist/band yet that has got to me in the same way. i.e. get me to travel further. I've often gone further to see FT because I know he's got different & new (to me) bands supporting him. Also I like to hear the songs being played from a current album when they get a lot of air time before he moves on to the new songs & the next album.” - Helen, London

●     “Passion for that band or act and the experience of getting there with friends who are equally as passionate about the music.” - Douglas, New York

●     “I must LOVE the band to spend the time and money to travel by plane, and have hotel, food, booze money. I only like 2 or 3 bands enough to do that. Also, the band has to be known for putting on a great show, and if more than one night, the show cannot be the same setlist. DMB does 3 shows at the Gorge, and normally all 66 songs are different, if they are not promoting a new CD.” - Andrew, New Jersey

●     “First you just want to see this one band, but then you also will travel for the people you got to know at gigs.” - Kim, Germany

●     “It is the band, the songs, the atmosphere and the crowd/friends. Everything combined is special to me with certain bands. Some bands have it, some bands simply don't. It's so worth it to have travelled for so long and to feel free and at home at these gigs.” - Katarina, The Netherlands

●     “I don't know. It's the adventure. It's the fact saying "I will travel to XY to see", knowing it's crazy but doing it anyway. It's about meeting new people, discovering new cities and countries. Making friends, meeting people, who do exactly the same.” - Arabell, Germany

●     “When you see a band play at the very beginning of their career - you get a big sense of pride for their success. Plus, I noticed the more I showed up, the more I bonded with the guys in the band and we became friends. Therefore, their success meant even more and I'd do whatever it takes to see their growth and success and experience it all with them.” - Hopeann, California

●     “The overall experience and who I will be with, if I know I love the live show a band puts on and I'm with my friends, it’s completely worth it. Even if I travel alone, I’ll go to meet up with those friends.” - Traci, Massachusetts

The power of the live show

A major reason for seeing a band more than once, and traveling for that band, is their live show. Which Bella expands upon here for us in a great way: 

Something I have noticed over time is that the bands I always go to see more than once are also nice people, as opposed to people who think they are gods and should be worshipped and don’t care about anyone other than themselves.

I think it’s a combination of things — well written songs with fun, easy-to-remember lyrics and melodies, good stage presence, the ability and willingness to perform, the skill to engage with the audience, and to make emotional connections through the combination of all those things. I think it helps when a musician/band are really passionate about what they do. They love it so much they would do it anyway regardless of the venue or how many people were there. That passion shows in their writing and performance and can make a good song truly great or a good performance go from just good to amazing.

One way to explain stage presence and delivery of performance might be to imagine going to a lecture — you go to two of them with the exact same slides and both people say the exact same words. One of those lectures has you leaving the lecture determined to see/experience every single thing included in the lecture. Everyone leaving the lecture with you is talking about it in the same excited way and encouraging each other to share knowledge. The other guy sent you into an uncomfortable sleep. Same words, same slides but two wildly different experiences based on delivery and performance of the person on stage. It’s the same with bands — you leave gigs with new friends knowing you have all had a great shared experience and wanting to do it all again. Some gigs make you want to immediately order the musicians’ entire back catalogue and hunt out tickets to the next gig, and the next, and work out transport to get to more of them...

And then there’s the other bands: good enough to see next time they are passing, but maybe not good enough to warrant spending money on when you could use that money to travel to see the people that really excite you.
— Bella

Community is good (not the TV show, though that's still good)

The other obvious reason for travel? The community you can find around music! It’s a chance to have a mini trip with friends from home, or explore on your own and find new friends, or meet people you’ve been chatting to on the internet face to face finally. Most of our survey takers were on the same page with me here; saying they’d travel alone and make friends at the gig, travel to the gig with the purpose of meeting up with already established friends there, and travel with friends from home to the gig. I have been able to add new locations to my ever growing list of cities visited because I was meeting up with wonderful people I had spoken to online first. They’d offer me their couches to sleep on, show me around their cities, and we’d see these bands we loved together. Then when these friends came through my town for a show I’d extend the same offer to them. You’re able to grow a network of friends, and when a band’s tour is announced you automatically start planning your own tour to see friends along with a great performance from favorite bands every night. Personally, I’ll look at tour dates and think along the lines of: I can go to these shows AND see Kayleigh in Boston, Anna in Philly, Kate in Amityville, Kelly in Toronto, etc.

The Internet makes the world smaller, and easier to find those with similar interests. Melinda of Australia wrote “I think the internet and fan communities make travelling for gigs more common now than when I was younger”, and I think that is definitely true. I also think that is why, for example, so many people from all over the world converged on Wembley Arena in 2012 to see a certain Mr. Turner perform. Part of the trip was for this incredible milestone in Frank’s career and knowing he’d put on a fantastic once in a lifetime show, but a big part of it was also the chance to meet these friends you found online in the flesh. What better opportunity is there then making the queue your own line party - complete with snacks, drinks and games. That day I met people from Germany, Austria, France, the Netherlands, Ireland, all around England and even some fellow Americans - all who I never would have met in person without that one show happening.

Adding to the musical community are the artists and crew members themselves. Occasionally fans are able to form friendships and bonds with the people whose music they enjoy so much, either by happening to be around at the beginning of their careers, or by going to numerous gigs over time. Hopeann of California mentioned that as she got older she was less likely to travel for shows, but “most the artists I do make an effort to see, I know on a personal level. Very rarely do I go to a show where I don't know the artist (personally) or one of the crew.  Guess it's cause I'd rather work my job than take a night off unless I have a personal connection with the band.” She has a point, the feeling of a personal stake in the tour can also be a major driving force in the desire to travel a gig and while Hopeann is the only one who touched upon this in the survey, I can relate. There have been shows where I was not too fussed about the line-up, or venue, etc, but I have made the trip anyway because I wanted to see my friends who were performing - on top of seeing my friends in the crowd, the chance to travel, and all that other good stuff. When an artist makes themselves accessible to fans in any capacity, there is a fondness that grows and fans are more invested in that artist in many ways - a major one being showing up to a concert to physically show your support in person. This is just another layer to the rich community that could be waiting for you at the next gig you attend.

And one more thing...

The last piece of the survey allowed our music fans to share anything else that was on their mind, and I loved reading these most of all I think. It gave them a moment of reflection of who they travel for and why, and yielded some heartwarming and smile-inducing responses:

●     “I'm very fortunate that my job, which I love, pays well and affords me the opportunity to travel for the bands I love.  I just wish everyone had the same opportunity.” - Melissa, California

●     “I made some of my best friends through travelling for concerts. And I hope I will continue to do it until I die.” - Beatrice, Switzerland

●     “All the UK bands I like should do an American tour together so I can follow it because traveling for bands is awesome, especially if you like more than one band on the tour!” - Devon, New Hampshire

●     “I've loved the energy and enthusiasm Frank Turner brings to a performance, the smiles when he's on stage and the funny stories. At the time I came across him my father had recently died and, although I didn't know it, I was about to go through a period when some miserable things were going to happen to me over which I had no control. I don't think being miserable is a prerequisite for enjoying a gig but FT opened a door for me to a world I didn't know. I've been places and met people and enjoyed more musical experiences than I could possibly have imagined when I was waiting for a transplant.” - Helen, London

●     “I love live music. I still go to other shows that are local. Just not willing to spend too much time and money on those.  So recently I’ve been to Billy Joel twice, and I’m seeing Rush this summer, and also U2.” - Andrew, New Jersey

●     “I wish I had more money and time to travel for gigs so I could go to more, including more gigs abroad.” - Bella, UK

●     “Travelling for gigs is part of the fun!” - Paris, Wales

●     “Live music rocks! Especially when musicians jam and weave together their music into unique and interesting versions of their songs.” - Jeff, Oregon

●     “Go see live music! No matter where or when, live music is what most musicians live for. And it's the best kind of party!” - Susana, Portugal

●     “Music is a driving force in my life and sometimes it seems I'm chasing the next show.  It keeps me focused and driven as it is an expensive habit.” - Douglas, New York

●     “Punk rock saved my life.” - Traci, Massachusetts

If you love music, and have the means to do so, I encourage you to travel for an upcoming gig for a band you really love. It doesn’t have to be thousands of miles from home, sometimes going as far as the next city over is enough to open up a whole new world of experiences and friends for you. Travel safe, and maybe I’ll see you down the road one day.

Tell us how you feel about travelling to see bands and artists play, about what motivates you and where the furthest you've travelled is. Get at us on Facebook, Twitter @Xtra_Mile or email on contributions[at]xtramilerecordings[dot]com.