Gas prices affect how, when bands hit the road

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ATLANTA – The price at the pump has affected how nearly every American has spent their summer, be it the way they do business or the way they have fun. But one group that may be overlooked by many is touring musicians, who use the road as their lifeblood to succeed in the business.

Although the schedules are still busy at the clubs and venues across the metro area, the rising cost of fuel may prevent some acts from being able to get here and play. Some acts who tour nationally, but aren’t as well-known as heavyweights who have hit the area recently such as Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay and Tom Petty, may have to reconsider when and how they are able to hit the road on a long tour.

One of these acts is Atlanta’s own Five Star Iris, a rock band who has toured extensively across the country and world, including Suwanee’s recent Life is Good Festival. They just returned from a pair of shows in Japan at the beginning of July, playing in front of soldiers at the Natsugi Naval Air Facility. Lead singer Alan Schaefer said that after a few trips this summer he and his group have had to think long and hard about certain shows.

A recent trip to Chicago and Milwaukee for the group cost nearly $600 in fuel, and the band is headed back to the Windy City this weekend for a gig. Schaefer said that his group had to turn down another show in Schaefer because it would be a side excursion and leave the band on the road for another day, needing to cover hotel costs and everything else.

“It would be a Thursday show, causing us to be out there on Friday with nothing to do until our show in Chicago until Saturday,” Schaefer said. “We’re planning on staying with friends and family just on the way up, but this would cause us to have to look at hotels. And with gas prices that’s a tough decision to make.”

A year ago, the group would jump at any chance to play in front of a crowd, but now that’s not the case. They typically hit the road for 10 to 14 days at a time, but also go on many short jaunts that only last a few days. Last year they played approximately 100 shows. So far this year they’re up to 40, but only expect about 25 more.

Part of this is because Schaefer said his group is to the point of beginning a new record. He anticipates hitting the road heavily next year.

But that extensive touring likely won’t happen unless the band can round up some sponsors to help defray the costs.

“I think that sponsorships will be the new trend in the music industry,” Schaefer said, who spent last weekend in Indianapolis singing the national anthem before the start of the Brickyard 500. “Right now it’s just us in a 15-passenger van with a trailer, and that certainly doesn’t get good mileage.”

The other option for the band is flying, which certainly doesn’t get any better, as airlines are in the midst of perhaps the largest crisis in the industry’s history, causing ticket prices to skyrocket. Sometimes the people responsible for bringing the band in will cover airfare, but sometimes they do not. That makes for a debate on the cheapest means of getting to the show.

When the band plays acoustic shows, it helps some because they don’t need nearly the amount of equipment as with the electric shows, so that certainly helps some. More shows in this vein may be on the horizon for Five Star Iris.

As the band is growing in popularity, Schaefer hopes it will all get better. He said that they give a modern version of classic rock, taking influences from the likes of Led Zeppelin and U2, which really helps to bridge the generation gap. The demographics they attract to their shows are all across the map from teens, to middle-aged adults, to people all the way into their 70s.

But even though the oil market doesn’t look too bright in the near future for consumers, Schaefer points out that the name of his band is taken from a flower that thrives in normally adverse conditions, so in the end maybe it won’t all be so bad after all.

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