How to Hike Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park

Sunrise at Torres del Paine.While traveling through the Patagonian region of South America, I encountered many a befuddled traveler who was a bit miffed by the planning process required to enter Torres del Paine National Park. I will go ahead and include myself in this stack of confused, well-intentioned hikers.  For years I have fawned after photos of Torres del Paine, but it wasn’t until I actually started the process of researching how exactly to pull off a visit, did I meet the gut-sinking moment of “Oh, no. I’m too late.”

It’s really an awful feeling to have as a traveler. The stars have finally aligned in life, and you are on the cusp of departure, only to stumble across this one little detail that has the potential to derail everything. Reservations? You need reservations? I simply was unaware. Now, with that said, the 2016-2017 season is the first year to see the implementation of  required reservations prior to entering the park. I was not the only one caught in the crosshairs of a new system.

Torres del Paine National Park is one of the premiere hiking destinations in all of South America, and with the influx of new visitors, restrictions on how many people can enter the park are being put into effect. It is understandable, and long term, definitely a good thing to protect the fragility of the park. I am hopeful that as word spreads, more travelers who wish to enter the park will be aware of the requirements, and less headaches will abound for everyone.

With that said, I was able to finagle dates in the tail end of February to make my “O” trek a reality. Below I’ve put together a guide that will hopefully streamline the leg work required to visit such an incredible destination. Take a gander, and hopefully it will allow you to spend less time planning, and more time enjoying your visit!

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Understanding Tour Routing and Drive Times

There are two different ways you are going to come about a tour routing. Your tour is either going to be self-booked, or it is going to be booked by someone else, typically a booking agent. Being able to look at a tour routing and understand what it’s going to take, along with identifying trouble spots is going to go a long way in helping the tour to succeed. An experienced tour manager is able to be able to offer expertise and suggestions on situations that have the potential to derail a tour.

There is nothing worse than watching a band get worked too hard while on the road. Rest is important. Remember that. Rest is important. Watching a band get chewed up on the road because they have shoddy tour routing, and an impossible press schedule is one of the most frustrating things in the world. Not getting enough sleep, and pushing it too hard on the road quickly leads to fatigue and sickness. Ultimately the live performance is impacted, and in the worst case scenario, performances are sometimes cancelled.

I am not saying to be lazy and turn down press events. Press is an integral part of growing a band, and sometimes it’s simply going to be difficult with scheduling. You mean, being in a band isn’t all glitz and glamour?! What I am saying is that if you have seven shows in a row, and on that 7th day, you are going to have to drive overnight to make three more press events on the 8th show day in a row (and this is the first week of a 6 week tour), maybe that isn’t the best approach for the long haul? It’s good to understand tour routing and scheduling so you know when it might be time to say no to something.

Tour Routing

Understanding tour routing.The first thing I do when I receive a tour routing is create a spreadsheet* with all of the dates, cities, clubs, drive time, mileage, timezones, show number, and overall number of days on tour. This is a document I typically keep open and readily available when advancing a tour. This helps me to conceptualize the tour as a whole, and begin to see where the tour pushes and pulls. How many shows in a row are there? Are there some crazy drives? Do we have days off? Where are the days off? Do certain cities have notoriously bad traffic? Are there timezones to think about? Are there any major holidays? Do we need to drive after show on any of the dates (on a van tour)? You are asking all of these questions because you have to keep the bigger picture and the health of the tour in mind.

Having the drive times in front of you will help with updating shared online calendars. It’s a good habit to list departure and arrival times into a city well in advance, along with how long the drive actually is. This is helpful for the entire touring organization. It also helps to save time in flipping back and forth between emails, or a Google Maps tab. It’s important to remember that certain elements and timings will not be available until closer until the show date. Sometimes this could come in the form of a set time at a festival.

*If you need a spreadsheet software, I recommend Open Office.

Drive Times

In my experience, I’ve found that any drive over 6 hour on a show day begins to noticeably affect a band and crew. On a van tour you’re typically going to be loading in around 3:00pm. For a 6 hour drive, it’s good to build in 2 hours for stops and traffic. That means for a 3:00p load you are leaving at 7:00a to make it to the next city. Assuming you got to the hotel at 1:00 – 2:00a the night prior, you can quickly begin to see how a few consecutive nights of 5 hours of sleep begin to negatively affect everyone. If you are support on a bus tour, and are chasing buses, 6 hours is likely on the lower end of the drive time spectrum.

On a van tour it’s important to share driving duties if at all possible. Obviously a number of factors come into play here. Maybe someone isn’t a good driver, and it’s better for the sake of everyone’s anxiety to avoid putting them behind the driver’s seat. Maybe you are touring with an international band, and they don’t have the proper license to help split the driving duties. Unless you have a dedicated driver, having someone drive for the duration of an entire tour is going to leave them utterly exhausted and unable to perform their other duties while on the road (or at least at an extreme disadvantage).

It’s also important to remember to allow yourself enough time for stops. As I stated earlier, sleep is important, and it’s important not to run everyone ragged as there is definitely some leeway in how you build in time for stops. With that said, having enough time to comfortably stop and get lunch will go a long way to increase morale on the road. There is nothing worse than having not built in enough time, and sitting in traffic outside of Los Angeles as your scheduled load in ticks away. It goes without saying, but if you run into any kind of transportation issues, make sure to communicate that to where you are headed. It’s a professional courtesy, and I assure you that people appreciate receiving a heads up much more than radio silence.

Days off and Fun Stuff

One of my favorite parts of a tour is figuring out some extracurricular options for the touring party. This could come in the form of a National Park, booking a hotel in a walkable area, oddball roadside attractions, a sporting event, you name it. Go ahead and take a look at your days off and see if you’re going to have to drive on them or not. Or, if you do have to drive on them, since you will have some more time off, look at the potential route you are going to take, and see if there are options along the way. Even something as simple as having a nice sit down meal with everyone can go a long way in adding some variety to your day-to-day. If you’re on tour in the USA, I suggest taking a gander at Road Side America. With all of that said, if the band and crew need to rest, please give them the option to rest!

How to Create a Backline Rider

What is backline?

Backline is the musical equipment that a band uses for a performance. This can include, but is not limited to amplifiers, instruments, effect pedals, drum kits, cymbals, percussion, keyboards, synthesizers, you name it.

Why would you hire backline?

At some point in time you are going to have a performance where it is going to make considerably more sense both logistically, as well as financially to hire backline locally. Maybe it is a one-off half way across the country, or perhaps you are finishing a tour and need to get to a press event quickly where there would be no way for your gear to make it in time. Perhaps you simply can’t afford to pay the cost of freighting your gear, or maybe you just want to try out a new amp. A number of situations abound, and this is where your local backline vendor is going to come into play.

How to put together a backline rider

Putting together a clear, concise backline rider is important, because this is what you’re going to service to the backline vendor, in an effort at getting exactly what you want. Emphasis on being specific. Don’t casually omit important information that the backline company needs in order to fulfill your order. Make, model, version, etc. The last thing you want is a surprise when showing up to an engagement on a tight schedule.

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Professional Touring Personnel – The Road Crew

The Road Crew

The term “roadie” is slang that is often used to describe touring personnel, and for many people it conjures images of a rag-tag bunch of drug using, hard drinking road pirates, dressed from head to toe in nothing but black. While this most assuredly existed at one point in time, this notion is something that now belongs to a by-gone era. Every once in a while you’ll encounter someone who stood next to a speaker stack for a tad too long, but I digress…

Behind every successful concert tour there is a highly skilled road crew working behind the scenes to make sure the show goes off without a hitch. They are the support network that helps to deliver that amazing performance by your favorite artist. These are the people who get into the venue first thing in the morning, and are the last ones to leave, long after the last note has rung out. Who are these people? What exactly do they do?

Below I’ve outlined some of the more common roles you would find on a typical tour. This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what roles you might find on a tour. With the increase in size and scale of the operation, you will typically find more specialized roles. On smaller tours you may find some of the roles doubling up to save money. Regardless, these are the people who work together on a day to day basis to make sure the artist and fans alike have the best possible experience.

Tour Manager

The tour manager oversees all departments and is responsible for the health and day-to-day function of a tour. The position is logistics heavy, and involves long hours. The tour manager handles transportation, hotels, press, hospitality, backstage, security, settlement, guest list, and most importantly, the needs of the artist. This is not a comprehensive list, as there is a minutia of daily tasks that inevitably arise. On smaller tours, you will find a TM wearing multiple hats. On a larger tour, certain tasks will be delegated with oversight.

Production Manager

A good production manager is indispensable. They are the ones who oversees all of the technical aspects of a performance. Sound, lights, staging, rigging, backline, power requirements, you name it. They work with local crew, alongside touring crew to build the show each and every day in a variety of environments. Attention to detail is paramount in this role, as the smallest oversight can lead to the derailment of the performance.

Front of House

The front of house engineer is in control of the mix that is coming out of the speakers that face the audience. If you’ve ever attended a show, what you are hearing is being controlled by the FOH. They have a deep knowledge of acoustics, electronics, microphones, and what works well in different situations. Different rooms have different acoustic properties, and watching a touring FOH engineer navigate the nuances of a difficult room is quite remarkable. By knowing the songs of the artist they are working for they are able to enhance the songs by highlighting key parts. You will more often than not find them located towards the back of the room, in front of the glowing soundboard.

Monitors

Located on the side of the stage is the monitor engineer, or MON for short. They are the one who is in control of the mix that the band hears on stage. Sometimes they are mixing wedges, other times they are mixing in ear monitors, or sometimes they are mixing a combination of both. If the band can’t hear themselves on stage, understandably this is going to impact the performance in a negative way. When you can tell that a band is really enjoying themselves on stage, they likely have a great monitor mix.

Lighting Designer

The lighting designer is in charge of all things visual relating to the performance. They will consult with the artist and management prior to the start of the tour and design a light show that compliments and enhances the artist’s live show. On a daily basis they work with local crew to set up the tour’s lighting rig, supplementing what is already available in house. Once completed they will focus the lights and make sure there is appropriate coverage on the stage. They are typically stationed alongside the front of house engineer, at the back of the room. Click here to see an example of a professional lighting designer’s work.

Backline Tech

Backline refers to all of the gear on stage. This could include instruments, amplifiers, drums, pedal boards, synthesizers, etc. The backline tech’s role is to set up, maintain, and tear down the backline on a day to day basis. On a smaller tour, you might have one backline tech setting up all of the gear on stage. On larger tours, these roles become more specialized and you might have a guitar tech, drum tech, keyboard tech, etc. They will help to line check, and prepare all of the gear for the band’s soundcheck. During soundcheck trouble spots are realized and fixed. During the performance they will watch the stage, handle instrument changes, and fix any issues that arise on the fly.

Merchandiser

The merchandiser sets up the artist’s store on a day to day basis. This position involves foreseeing inventory needs, discussing product designs with the artist, ordering stock, setting up the store, interacting with fans, settling merchandise rates with the promoter, hiring and managing local sellers, and counting out at the end of the night with a fervor. They deal with cash and credit transactions and are very much the face of the tour, as they are the ones who are interacting with fans on a very personal level.

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There are a number of touring roles not covered here. Bus drivers, personal assistants, massage therapists, carpenters, personal security, catering, etc.. Also integral to the daily operation of a tour (but not covered here) are managers, day-to-day managers, booking agents, business managers, publicists, radio reps, label folks, the list goes on and on.

The Difference Between a Buyout and Per Diem

Understanding the difference between a per diem and a buyout may seem elementary to those who have been touring for a while, but for those who are very new to touring, it can be quite confusing. Imagine the scene, someone approaching you with a wad of cash. “Ok, here is your buyout for today, along with your per diem for this week. Sign here. Thanks.” You are left with a pile of money, and you don’t really know why you are receiving it, or what it is for.

What is a buyout?

A buyout is the amount of money you receive in lieu of receiving a meal. This money is coming from the hospitality budget of the show. Generally speaking, this money is meant to cover the dinner meal, but it can be used for whatever you want. The amount of the buyout will vary show to show, especially depending on how the show is selling.

In this scenario, you will have to source your own food. When the club is in an area with lots of restaurants, this can be a great way to take a break from the venue and get out and see what the city has to offer. For those who cannot leave their work stations, the tour manager will coordinate a food order that will be delivered to the venue.

What is a per diem?

A per diem is an agreed upon amount of money you receive from the tour. This is a daily, agreed upon rate that is typically paid out weekly (IE: 7 days at a time), in cash, by the tour manager or tour accountant. For example, if you agreed to a $35 per day per diem, you would receive a weekly cash payment of $245. This is typically given out on the same day every week, and you will be required to sign a receipt of some sort. This amount is not taxable. Per diems are received regardless of what the hospitality situation is for any given day.

If you’ve toured for any amount of time, you will definitely have the moment of, “Did I receive my PD this week?” Thus why signing the receipt is very important for both you and the tour accountant. In some instances, it is possible to arrange for a direct deposit of your PD’s, but most people like to have some walking around money in their pockets.

In practice

So, for example, let’s say you have a show where breakfast, lunch, and dinner are provided in the form of catering. In this situation, you would NOT receive a buyout, but you would still receive your per diem. To make it super simple and avoid any confusion, if you receive a hot meal, you will not receive a buyout. If you have any outstanding questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Getting Connected in Cuba

People queue in line for Cuban internet.While standing in “line” to purchase an internet card, I was reminded that this particular arrangement of humans is but a distant figment of my imagination, in a different world. Here, the art of squashing together serves as both a defensive and offensive mechanism. By eliminating space between yourself and your neighbor, entry is prevented from others, and your own position is advanced at the same time. No take a number and have a seat here, folks.

Coupled with misunderstandings of language, I slowly began to wriggle my way towards the front. This goes against all feelings of learned patience I have conditioned myself to have. Blast! Defeat! The most petite and unsuspecting damsel has usurped my position by politely pushing me out of the way. My mind wanders back to Japan where a form of queueing exists in its most distilled, pure form. Cual es el ultimo?! Cual es el ultimo?!

Up until this point, I had been purchasing overpriced internet cards from nice, entrepreneurial gentlemen and their cohorts in the park for an unspecified, marked up price. In a way, it’s almost worth it to not have to deal with the line, and the early AM pushing and shoving. I had mixed success with this method. One time I was sold a card that where the code had not been scratched off (think of the gray bit on lotto tickets), but upon trying to use it, there was zero time left on the hour clock. A reminder to myself to do things the right way. Anyways…

Finally! Entry into the hallowed grounds of the state owned internet provider. Again, the pleasant feeling of what-do-I-do-now-anxiety creeps over me. Perhaps I will stand here, I think to myself. I will be out of the way! Incorrect again, but inching closer. Then, our eyes met. I could read it on her face. Not another bumbling transaction with a haphazard Spanish speaker. She signaled for me to approach the counter. I read somewhere that you should stock up on cards when given a chance. Having learned the hard way the past few days, I struck. “Cinco, por favor.” The most scathing “Please, honey” espanol eyeroll was offered to me. I lowered my bid to three. Success! The most beautiful 3 hours of internet was purchased for a hefty 4.50 CUC.

Having experienced the fledgling internet services of Cuba, I have garnered a deeper appreciation of the connectivity available at home. No lengthy queues, or uncertainty if I’m going to be able to send or receive news to a loved one far away. It’s easy to romanticize a world where people are not on their phones all day and wifi is not present in the home, but I would point out that not having access to information is anything but romantic. With wealth and government connections, certain Cubans are immune to the current system.

My understanding is that hotspots in some Cuban cities have been around for 2-3 year, and certain homes are currently being equipped with routers on a trial basis. When you are walking around, and suddenly see everyone’s face lit up by their mobile device, you have likely stumbled across a hot spot. I remember being in Playa Larga, and a hot spot was available, but there were no cards available for purchase. I asked when they might become available again, and was only told “mas tarde,” aka later. The cards never arrived, and I ended up in a 4 day black hole of connectivity. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to unplug, but in this particular moment, it was quite unwelcomed.

Communication is changing rapidly in Cuba. It will be interesting to visit in the future, and see how it has changed people’s lives.

Understanding a Day Sheet

A musician friend of mine recently reached out and asked if I had a template for a day sheet. After ten years of touring, one would think that I would have one in my arsenal. At one point in time, I definitely had one, but through the use of Master Tour, and other online formats, I have relied on them less and less. Perhaps some will think of a day sheet as antiquated, but I do believe there is virtue in posting hard copies, and I would argue that there is a large contingency of the touring community who would agree with me.

What is a day sheet?

A day sheet is a document that presents the day’s schedule. What information you include on it is going to vary based on the tour, who is reading it, and what your band and crew deems as important to their day. As the tour manager, you are the one who is responsible in making sure you are communicating this information in a timely manner. Remember advancing, and all of that information you collected? Well now it’s time to let some of that info see the light of day.

What do you include on a day sheet?

As stated above, this is going to vary, but here are some examples of timing to include: arrival, load in, line check, sound check, support arrival and sound check, any dark stage requirements, doors, support stage time and length, changeover, headliner set time and length, any hard or soft curfews that may apply, along with arguably the most important part… bus call! (Bus call is when you leave for the next city.) There are other elements you can include such as press, phone calls, travel schedule, flights, ground, meetings, hotel info, the list goes on, but sometimes you will want to omit certain items from a day sheet for reasons of privacy.

When do you post it?

Ideally, you should post these as early as possible. For some, this may come in the form of posting them on the bus the night prior. For the venue itself, these should be printed the night prior, and posted as early as possible, in key locations. Being the first one into the venue and doing a walk through with venue staff, is most definitely to your advantage as a tour manager. When your touring party begins to wake up, you are going to want to have those answers of location on the tip of your tongue.

Where do you post it?

Post day sheets in a high traffic areas of the backstage. This could dressing rooms, catering, entries and exits, you name it. The goal here is to get people to see them, and even better, to read them. Receiving less questions about the daily schedule means more time to spend on what the day actually requires.

Why omit certain items?

Say for example you have a principle artist. Their day is going to look considerably different from the the rest of the touring party. Certain core elements will overlap, such as soundcheck and set time, but a call into business management isn’t necessarily information that the rest of the touring party needs to be aware of. Going beyond this, sometimes it is necessary to keep hotel information or travel information discreet. Generally speaking, hotel staff and security are good about being discrete, but do yourself a favor, and don’t put yourself in that situation to begin with.

Other ways to share

Online calendars and touring systems are here to stay. Arguably, the most popular system is Master Tour. People can simply take their phone out of their pocket to see what the day’s schedule is. A beautiful thing! But, with that said, sometimes it is nice to NOT have to take your phone out of your pocket. Having information posted in the venue and on the bus solves this problem. I always post a copy inside and outside of my production office to quickly have this information available. If you don’t use Master Tour, or are on a smaller tour, email is a great way to communicate the daily schedule, or via a group text thread.

Other info you might want to include

In addition to the basic schedule, sometimes it is nice to include information such as venue staff phone numbers (General Manager, Box Office, Runner, FOH, LD, MON) for quick access. This is something I would probably keep in my production office. Some venues will post this on their own accord. I’ve always enjoyed this because it says to me, “Hey, we are here for you, let’s work together and make this the best show possible. Contact me any time.”

Timezone, hotel information, hotel amenities, production info, time it takes to get to the next city, security info, merchandise rates, the list goes on and on. Again this needs to be tailor to WHO will be reading it, and WHERE it will be posted. If there is a big event coming up later that week, go ahead and start including it early on as to avoid surprising anyone.

Additional Idea

Sometimes reading over droves and droves of daily schedules can be a bit mundane. For a bit of encouragement for your band and crew, try including a word of the day, or fun fact about the city you are in. When someone walks up to me, and tells me, “Hey, I really like that word curmudgeon,” I know that they’ve at least LOOKED at the day sheet. Half the battle is getting folks to look at it. Encourage these habits!

Day sheets come in many different forms. The main idea behind all of this is to effectively communicate information, so people know what’s going on. Treat other’s time as you would treat your own; don’t waste it.

Jose Fuster’s Fusterlandia

I’m not entirely sure where I first stumbled across Fusterlandia. It was most assuredly online somewhere, and immediately my interest was peaked. For a while now, I’ve been so intrigued by large scale, outdoor art spaces. Traveling the United States, I’ve been fortunate to encounter a number of them: Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain, Joe Minter’s African Village in America, Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden, Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, to name a few.

Fusterlandia

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Primeras Impresiones de Cuba

For a passerby to accurately attempt to summarize Cuba would be fool hearted. It’s a complicated country with many layers that requires a deeper understanding of events current and past. “Why are things the way they are,” is a question that I often found myself asking. Why are there two currencies? Where are all of the advertisements? Why are all of the classic cars still in use? Why haven’t I been able to come here until now?

For most Americans, Cuba has been thought of as an unattainable destination that floats a mere 90 miles south of the United States. Undoubtedly this has enhanced its allure and luster, especially for the American traveler. With policy changes between the two countries, there is a misguided notion that one needs to come here before things change. What does that even mean? I am guilty of uttering this sentiment prior to departure, and I’m still better trying to understand it.

The idea of a switch being flipped in which things are suddenly Americanized, is a misstep of the American paradigm. With no doubt, the relationship between the two countries is storied, and things are in fact, changing. With recent and upcoming elections, things do feel in many ways, in a state of flux. What will happen in 5 years? 10 years? No one can say for certain.

You should visit Cuba not for the fear of missing out on a time gone by; rather, you should visit Cuba because it is a country that is in possession of a vibe unlike anywhere else. It’s a vibe that runs deep; in the people, in the landscape, and in the way of life. It’s something that has to be experienced first hand. The only crime being committed is not allowing yourself to arrive here sooner, rather than later.

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