The band, which is giving its freshly refurbished 1990 Ford 350 Clubwagon to the band that records the best cover of a song on the indie pop act’s new album Heartworms, has the best intentions in mind for this van, which has probably seen a lot of big cities and small towns over the years.
“It ought to be passed on to a band that uses it to get out there and play shows and spread their music,” Mercer explained.
But does it make sense to own a van, if you’re a rock band? David Combs, a punk rocker best known for his band The Max Levine Ensemble, wrote about this very issue back in 2015 for the public radio station WAMU, in a piece about DIY touring. Per Combs:
You can cut out rental expenses if you own your vehicle, but the liability is a real gamble. Say a deer runs into your car on the highway, knocks a part in your radiator loose and that leads to a busted transmission. There goes your tour fund, and probably a good portion of your savings. (Not that this happened to me. OK, it did.) Plus, the cost of maintaining a van driven tens of thousands of miles a year adds up.
Fuel-efficient vehicles, alternative fuel, driving shorter distances between shows — they’re all useful tricks to cut costs. But paying for gas adds up no matter what.
There are always other options if you want to be a touring troubadour. You can always rent a van, whether from a pal (which Combs notes is nearly as dicey as owning your own) or a company.
And if you even want to tour on the cheap, it’s not unheard of to plot out a tour using a Greyhound bus or an Amtrak train—something suggested in the above tongue-in-cheek Greyhound ad. But it’s not really a joke if you don’t treat it as one: The gig-finding company Sonicbids says that if you’re willing to pack light, you can even save a ton of money by touring on a Greyhound.
But then you have to be willing to live on a Greyhound. Talk about chutes too narrow.