From the fan’s perspective, the band that hits the stage is all that matters. After long-awaited anticipation for a show, the moment the lights go down and the spotlight takes center stage, nothing else matters. However, behind that band sits a slew of help who are often overlooked when it comes to the success of an artist. From the crew to the tour manager to the bus driver, the team behind any artist is what keeps them going.
Will Roth is a tour bus driver based out of Nashville, Tenn. Since 2006, he has worked as a tour bus driver for big name acts such as My Morning Jacket, The Offspring and The Decemberists. In his most recent tour, he was with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Getting to interact with musicians is one of the most intriguing aspects of his job, but it does come at a price.
“You wake up around midnight, depending on what time we have to leave, and drive anywhere from 100 miles to 500-600 miles and then get there, get parked and get situated. If anything on the bus needs to be fixed, this is the best time to do it,” Roth says. “Eventually I disappear to the hotel, and it’s time to go to bed. It’s usually mid- to late-afternoon, which gives me just enough time to get enough sleep before midnight.
It’s definitely not the most appealing job in terms of hours, but the right people can do it and get the job done.”
As a tour bus driver, Roth plays a major role in the success of a tour. Between keeping the artist happy and making sure the bus runs properly and smoothly, he’s got his hands full, driving from city to city across the country and experiencing life as a professional road tripper – good and bad.
“Bigger cities are usually better, there’s usually more to do,” Roth says. “But then again, sometimes you find better things to do in the smaller cities. You definitely get to see America, on all fronts – mostly the highways.”
Roth was doing band merchandise for a college summertime job when his company closed up shop. Shortly after, he was offered a job as a driver and quickly switched gears and hit the road. Just a week later he was on the Warped Tour, and since then it’s been non-stop.
Roth serves as both the driver and the mechanic while touring with the bands. “I gotta keep up with the bus, which is a part-time job within itself. Cold weather can be just as bad for a bus as warm weather. Salt on the roads causes damage and corroding,” he says as he mentions that regular maintenance can keep the bills down on the bus and keep the work requests flowing. “I try to keep everybody happy and take care of it. The show’s always gotta go on.”
“The second to last night on Warped Tour, the artist I was driving decided not to ride on the bus that night. He decided to go on another RV, and just to mess with me he pretended he was driving and was able to convince the driver to mess with me,” Roth says. “I tried to get him to pull off, but the driver was swerving all over the road, and almost had the truck on two wheels. I was afraid something was going to happen to them, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.”
In general, he said, the artists he has worked for have been friendly and easy to work with. “Some of the nicest people were The Civil Wars. I was with them for almost two weeks, and they don’t have a bad bone in their bodies it seems like,” he says. “They were in good spirits the whole time.”
Traveling for a career definitely comes with a price tag – sometimes he only spends a few days at home, but his years of touring has allowed Roth to garner a solid collection of stories and unforgettable memories.
“You get to hear some interesting stories from the band and from the crew. Actually, sometimes you get better stories from the crew,” Roth says. “But you get to interact with people from all walks of life. Whether its people you’re on the road with or random people you meet.”