The State of Touring: an Asheville Perspective, Part 2 of 2

Continued from Part One…

Quality over quantity
Before the pandemic, Bask toured incessantly. In 2015 alone, the heavy rock band based in Asheville played nearly 20 dates on its European tour. Touring was a central component of the group’s existence. But when concert tours and festival gigs disappeared of of the schedule, the four members returned home and got on with their lives. And in the process, their perspective on touring changed a bit.

As soon as I got the vaccine,” says guitarist Ray Worth, “I felt like I did my part. My approach was, ‘I’m ready to invest everything back into the industry.” But despite determination and optimism, he says that an undercurrent of uncertainty affects everyone involved. “There’s always a sense of, ‘When’s it all going to crumble again?’”

And the landscape seems to have shifted since 2020. With his dual vantage points as band member and independent show booker, Worth reports the same kind of changes regarding ticket sales that McWalters has observed. Before the pandemic, Worth says it would be typical to say, “Okay, we did 75 tickets in presale, so we might get 200 in here tonight.” Now, he says, the script is flipped. “If you don’t have [sales] up front, it’s going to be bleak.”

Time off the road gave the members of Bask an opportunity to re-evaluate their own priorities. “Four or five years ago,” Worth says, “we were hitting it really, really hard with 100-150 dates a year.” He doesn’t see the group returning to that kind of heavy-duty touring. “We’ve all stepped back and said, ‘Let’s focus a little more on quality over quantity.’”

One of the band’s most recent run of dates was a short, four-city mini tour. Worth believes that this new, measured approach “has created healthier dynamics within the band. We don’t want to do shows just to do them.” And for now, that means “hunker[ing] down and focusing on [making] the next record,” he says.

So while Worth and his band mates – bassist Jesse Van Note, drummer Scott Middleton and guitarist/vocalist Zeb Camp – don’t seem to be in a hurry to resume touring just yet, they’re at least thinking about taking to the road… eventually. “Things have been hitting my inbox,” Worth says, noting inquires for Bask bookings “in Europe later this year and early next year.”

Off the Road
Some artists have all but given up on the idea of live concert touring.

King Garbage is the duo of Zach Cooper and Vic Dimotsis. The two are a self-contained musical unit: they both write, produce and play multiple instruments. Perhaps by design, their sound is difficult to pin down, spanning many genres from soul to rock to funk, all wrapped up in a hypnotic and psychedelic melange.

In addition to releasing two highly regarded albums – 2017’s Make it Sweat and 2022’s Heavy Metal Greasy Love, Dimotsis and Cooper put a great deal of emphasis into composing songs for or with other artists. That growing list includes Ellie Goulding, Travis Scott, SZA and the Weeknd. In 2021, the team co-wrote “Sing,” a track on Jon Batiste’s We Are. The album earned eight Grammy award nominations, with a win for Album of the Year. Another track the duo composed, “Sweeter” was featured on Leon Bridges’ 2021 album Gold-Diggers Sound, another Grammy nominee.

And while King Garbage ventured out of town for live performances before the pandemic, their current focus on songwriting and recording means that it’s not currently a priority. lists only two shows in the last three years, both local: one at Asheville Music Hall and another at Salvage Station. “King Garbage hasn’t done much touring,” Dimotsis says. “And I don’t plan on doing much in the near future.”

Touring, he says, has become a war of budgets. “Only those backed by support are able to take the risk of going on the road,” Dimotsis believes. While conceding that touring is “one of the few ways to make money as a musician,” he says that he doesn’t plan on doing much of it in the future. Instead, he says, he and Cooper are working on their next album.

Though King Garbage has been earning recognition in the music industry, Dimotsis doesn’t seem interested in becoming part of its machinery. “This is a time to make live or recorded music out of love and intention,” he suggests. And for his duo at least, touring doesn’t figure into those intentions.

Unwritten future
Just over a year ago, Covid-19 cases in the U.S. were just coming off their peak of nearly 90,000 per day. But now, for touring musicians as well as the population in general, life seems to have returned to normal with remarkable speed. Still, if the pandemic has taught anyone anything, it’s that the future is uncertain. So while there are anecdotal clues to what the future of concert touring will look like, it’s too early to know for sure.