May Rio (Poppies) Actually Kind of Misses Being in “Party Jail”

On touring, and being at the social mercy of people you may never see again.

Party jail — Ben explained to me — is, you know, when you’re on tour, sleeping on floors every night. All these kids want to show you why Nashville is the best city ever, or why Columbus is the best city ever. All you want is to sleep for a night, you haven’t slept in days. But you’re in party jail until they tire out. 

Ben and I were talking at a party back in NYC. I was having a great time — I love parties. I  sipped beers from the door of our friend’s apartment fridge, occasionally threw a song I needed  to hear into the Spotify queue. I laughed at a funny picture my friend showed me on his phone,  met some new people from the group gathered on the roof, despite the darkness. It was really  like any party I’d expect to find myself at on tour. Except of course, when I got tired, which was  early (it’s always early), I gave out hugs goodbye, see-you-soons, and then slipped out the door  and down the seemingly endless flights of stairs. I was able to leave. 

Back in my room, the AC was switched to medium, the humidifier was switched to high (I’m a  singer, ahem), and my thoroughly cleaned face hit my cleanish pillow. I thought about this new  term — new to me — and how it so perfectly described what I had experienced on tour, and what I was scheduled to soon be experiencing again. Someone else had named this feeling; there were others out there like me. Other musicians who, though grateful to be put up for the night by a stranger who’d enjoyed their set, were exhausted, and exhausted by the whole exchange. Usually strangers, sometimes friends, would give you their couches and living room corners, and you’d entertain, or let yourself be entertained. Does it not sound so bad? No, for one night it isn’t. For one night, it’s fun. But for thirty nights back to back? In every city it was this way. Our hosts wanted to show us the best time we’d ever had. Night after night after night after night. Some nights — my most dreaded nights — our hosts would want to jam. I know, I sound awful! 

I’ve always loved touring, even during the not-so-good tours. But it was hard to miss all that  racket from the comfort of my second-hand full Casper mattress, which I stretched myself to  cover like a starfish. I listened to the stillness of my apartment. I heard nothing, and it sounded  like peace. 

Any musician who’s been on tour will tell you — you can’t stop them from telling you — tour is  grueling. It’s hard being away from all the friends who didn’t sign up to live out of a van with you.  It’s hard being in the van, every day for hours on end, with the friends who did sign up. It’s hard  on your body, which sits for, could be eight hours a day, in a car seat. It’s fueled with gas station bagged snacks and coffee and candy, which you promise yourself you’re not going to get into this time… But on day three you crack. It’s a special occasion because — it’s Monday, and Mondays are notoriously not special, you have to create specialness for yourself with just this one bag of Sour Patch Kids. Just one bag. But just one bag opens the gates, and flying out of them are sour straws, and fruit mentos (because they take longer to suck on, kills the time), and peanut M&Ms (which are a little bit healthy because of the peanuts being involved, you reason), and maple hard candies if you happen to be in Canada. Et cetera. But the sugar high is nearly worth the comedown. Any comfort you can get. 

But OK. Touring is also so beautiful. Aside from the obvious things anyone would cherish —  seeing new places, meeting new people, playing your music for people who paid to see it. After  the months of all sorts of planning, you get to… let go. With the exception of off days, your day is  set from the moment you wake up. Roll up your sleeping bag, load up the van in what you’ve all  agreed is the optimized stacking order, drive to your destination for load in, soundcheck, play  your set, go to sleep somewhere, rinse and repeat. Sure, you get to make some choices. You  can get your coffee hot, or you can have your coffee iced. You can eat a Subway sandwich, or  you can stop at a diner someone told you about. When you get a rare moment away from the  rest of the band you can call friend A or you can call friend B. But for the most part, if you’re on  tour, you have no control. And that is beautiful — It’s meditative almost. You’re along for the ride,  and it often feels as if no one is steering. It was only in the later hours of the night (OK, the not-

so-late hours too), that I’d miss this control. I would miss being able to leave. And I would really  miss sleeping. 

Later on, I thought about party jail again, again from the comfort of my room. Only now, after  months of social distancing, my room no longer felt so comfortable. My place of refuge had  become my only space — the party jail had been replaced by solitary bedroom confinement. I found myself missing talking to strangers. Staying up all night with people I might never see  again, and being at their mercy.

(Photo Credit: Kate Bowman)

May Rio is a New York City-based artist, and a member of the band Poppies. Her debut solo record Easy Bammer is out June 25, 2021 via Dots Per Inch Music.

(Photo Credit: Grace Pendleton)