Roberta Donnay: Notes From A Road Warrior

It’s funny, when I started out as a singer/songwriter I always assumed everyone had roadies to move their equipment around. They just appeared, right?  But boy, did I get a dose of reality at my first real gig, when I found myself having to load in two PA speakers in the rain, each weighing 95 pounds, while I weighed a mere 110.

This was back in Washington, D.C., and I was thinking, “Is this glamorous or what?”  It never dawned on me that we had to load and move our own gear.  To this day, I still dream about having a roadie.  I’m sure one day I will meet one.  And maybe they will even lift one of my suitcases. Which brings me to touring.

When we get to a new town, fans will often ask me if we’ve checked out certain monuments, parks or “the world’s biggest ball of string” along the way.  Somehow, people mistake being on tour as some kind of vacation.  Well, yes, it is, when I think of being away from bills, taking out garbage and doing dishes.

Touring is an altered reality in a world all its own. Besides the two hours you live for onstage, the rest of the time you’re just suspended in space.  At least it feels that way to me.

For instance, you’re in a city for barely one day, you arrive in town to a hotel/motel maybe by 3:00 if you’re lucky. Then you have about an hour to regroup (for me it’s about cleaning the room, makeup and clothing) and then you leave for sound check.  Sound check is at 5:00 so we leave the hotel at 4:30. Sound check ends at 6:30 and we usually get fed dinner backstage. Dinner can be anywhere from a restaurant menu to homemade food, so it could either be super good or completely questionable as a meal. Now, this is possibly the only real food we find all day because we’re dependent on the highway truck stop places ie: fast food. But on a really lucky day, there’s a Subway.

You’re onstage by 8:00. You do one long set or two shows, ending at 10:30, and talk to the fabulous fans afterwards if you’re lucky. Then you get to pack up your stuff, sell CDs and collect the money. By this time it’s 11:45.

Now you have to drive around getting lost looking for a 7-11 to get some orange juice for the next morning, maybe stop at a bar for a drink, and for those who are more reckless, employ various recreational substances. Back to the hotel by 12:45.  If you’re lucky you have a fridge in your room. If not, you take your trash can and fill it with ice from the ice machine so you can actually drink your orange juice cold in the morning. By the time makeup comes off, you call home to speak with your loved one and hit the sheets, its now 2am.  (And, since you’re not at home and the pillow may not be the kind that you can sink into, you’re now wide awake until about 4am.)

And why can’t you wait till next morning for your orange juice at breakfast downstairs provided for free? Oh yes, since breakfast ends at 9am and you can’t seem to lift your head off the pillow because there’s a 2 or 3 hour time difference and your body thinks it’s still 6am, you’re not really thinking about food.

Then you get in a van, crunched in like a sardine, and drive from two to seven hours to the next town. And it starts all over again. It’s like you’re living in a bubble.

So, what do you do with all these endless hours in “the bubble”?  In the van, there’s many games you can play with your musicians.  Like your homemade version of “Name That Tune.” Or you sing the bridge of a totally obscure song and make ‘em all guess. Or you satisfy your “Words With Friends” addiction on your iPhone. Or you do your emails and text your friends.  In the hotel room you watch crappy TV or HBO if you can find it, you rehearse endless hours or write a song or like in my case, write a blog for some wild music magazine.  And you think “Are people really gonna read this stuff? Who would care about this?” and so on..

Finally, it’s your last day and you’re at another airport, waiting for a plane and going thru’ security.  Now I’m on the plane going home.  And I’m reading the magazine and there’s an article about the world’s largest ball of string outside of that town you left behind.  But which state and what town and which stage and what gig and where did you sleep ?  It’s all like an endless blur.  And you realize it would be cool to see that ball of string in person.  Oh well, back home to pay the bills, take out the trash and wash the dishes.  It’s all good.  Oh yeah. It’s definitely glamorous on the road.

Peace and happiness y’all !

If you have questions or want to share something personal that’s in your heart, please feel free to contact me directly: or just go to my site.


~ Roberta Donnay

To share this article, copy this link:

Roberta Donnay is an award winning singer and songwriter, jazz recording artist, producer, arranger, coach, music supervisor, currently touring with Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks as a singer and percussionist.

Outlaw Magazine. Country, Rock and Roll, Blues, Folk, Americana, Punk. As long as it is real, it is OUTLAW. Overproduced mediocrity need not apply.