Imagine a world where artists are free to tour the country as they please, flitting from mega-capacity arenas in metropolises to intimate clubs in small cities as easily as they bounce from the stage to the mythical after parties of touring legend. In this world, Beyoncé plays a show in rural West Virginia; Bruno Mars hits up a club in southern Illinois; King Krule plays a bar in Nowheresville, Washington, and no one thinks twice because popular music is hiding everywhere.
These are just pipe dreams, but there is a glimmer of hope in them. In the olden days (aka the early ‘90s), artists could have clusters of fans in secondary and tertiary markets without ever knowing about them. Today, your favorite band is only a tweet or an email away and begging them to play your town is as easy as sending a well-worded message.
Of course, actually getting a band to where you are is as hard as it ever was. Touring outside of major cities isn’t always an option for rising artists looking to hit it big, or big artists looking to remain relevant. Nevertheless, they are still finding ways to play cities outside of their normal routes. Recently, Mitski announced “a solo tour of beautiful places,” on which she’ll be visiting nine medium and small-sized cities — places like Bozeman, Montana; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Oxford, Mississippi; and Gainesville, Florida.
Her reason why is simple and open-hearted. “This was a self-indulgent thing that I’m doing for the enjoyment. I've always wanted to visit these places and meet new people,” she told The Outline in an email. And while the tour won’t necessarily be a financial gain, the chance to travel is worth it. “They’re a collection of places that hold a sort of mythology in my mind, for one reason or other, and I wanted to see and feel them for myself, and maybe even exorcise those myths that I’d inherited from the media or literature or the culture and replace them with my own lived experiences and encounters. The Paris of the imagination is very different from the real Paris that people live in.”
This summer, Mitski will be touring solo to American towns and cities that she doesn't usually get to play on tour. Tickets on sale Friday at 10AM local time - mgmt pic.twitter.com/H3DRRgb4k4— mitski (@mitskileaks) March 7, 2018
If you live in a place you can only dream could be a destination for your favorite band, fear not. The Outline reached out to some people in the know to find out how folks can bring their favorite bands where they are.
Know how it works and adjust your expectations
The obvious reason artists flock to the major coastal cities (and Chicago) is that’s where they can make the most money. The venues are as plentiful as the audiences, and considering even well-known performers aren’t able to make ends meet without some careful decision-making, only megastars could afford to make a living playing only small cities and towns. You may be thinking: Why would anyone as big as Weird Al Yankovic or Dua Lipa, ever want to play Anchorage? But it’s actually artists with a bigger audience that are more likely to have the freedom to explore new places. “It’s harder for [newer] bands. Secondary markets will be on bands’ second or third tours on a record,” said Bekah Zietz, Sub Pop’s head of Publicity and International Promotions. “A band like Father John Misty or Beach House [both bands that have toured smaller markets] has a higher profile than some of our newer artists. They can they can play shows and actually draw in places like Oklahoma or Arkansas or places that are not traditionally places that smaller newer artists go.” Bottom line: Get all your facts and then reach for the stars.
“Going to a show is such a wonderful, unique, and connective experience that can’t quite be replaced with listening to music digitally or watching a stream online.”
In addition to keeping in mind bands’ own interests, Zietz recommended teaming up with local institutions that can back your request with funding. Enlisting the help of a nearby non-profit or college may be the easiest way to go. That, plus offering your help to your hardworking (but reputable) local promoter, is a big step in getting the bands to you want.
Play up your good side
If you live in a place that isn’t regularly romanticized, it’s all too easy to become blinded to what makes where you live special. But playing up what makes your home different is the key to bringing artists your way, says Bobby Missile, artistic director for Arkansas music non-profit Low Key Arts. When he invites bands to play Valley of the Vapors, an independent music festival in Hot Springs, Arkansas (population: 36,000) he plays up the main thing most other festivals can’t offer: the chance to play in a beautiful-ass nature reserve. “We’re the only city in the U.S. with a national park located inside of it,” he said referring to Hot Springs National Park. “It’s kind of an advantage whenever we’re trying to attract all these cool touring bands that come through. If we just throw in you’re going to be playing inside a national park then you know who wouldn't be interested in doing that.”
Additionally, be sure to highlight if your town is along the way from one big city to another. “If your spot is right on the way between two destination cities for touring we will love cutting a long drive and giving [y]our town a try,” the band Screaming Females wrote in an email to The Outline. “We love getting in the van and driving between gigs. It makes the most sense financially and allows us to us[e] the very particular gear that we are comfortable with. Being from NJ/PA this means that if we want to play LA or San Francisco we have to book a full USA tour.”
Roll out the welcome mat
Missile was quick to emphasize the importance of hospitality. “If you’re lucky enough to catch a band that you like and you're in a small town you know you've got to treat them well. [At] South by Southwest or Coachella or Bonnaroo a lot of the bands are just going to get lost in the mix. But here we’ve got all this hospitality stuff lined up for them,” he said citing the VOV Adopt-a-Band program, in which residents of Hot Springs make care packages for visiting bands and offer them places to crash. “You know that if the band has a great time, they’re going to want to come back.” Basically, beyond the standard rule of “Don’t be a jerk” reach further to be your most welcoming self, even if you weren’t the person who brought the artist to town.
Lastly, have hope
Asking your favorite artist to play where you live (and having the reasoning and cost/benefit research to back it up) really can work. Screaming Females say they frequently play shows because fans simply reached out to them. “One time we flew to Costa Rica for one show because of a Facebook comment. It was great,” they told The Outline. “We’ve had some really memorable experiences in places like McAllen, Texas; Minot, North Dakota; Pomona, California; and Bellingham, Washington because people asked us to come and we did. We are currently routing a fall tour where I can think of three spots we are hitting up for the first time because people recently reached out to us.” As futile as you think your digital message may be, send it anyway because there’s really nothing to lose.
Like anyone else, tons of artists have the desire to travel where they’ve never been before. One only hopes it soon becomes en vogue for major tours to add non-traditional routes along their routes just for the fun of it; for someone as huge as Rihanna, it’d be worth it for the pure shock factor and surprise Instagrams alone. In the meantime, the bands literally going out of their way are reaping the fruits of travel and sharing the gift of live music at the same time. “Going to a show is such a wonderful, unique, and connective experience that can't quite be replaced with listening to music digitally or watching a stream online (although those are wonderful in their own right), and I want everyone to experience it!,” wrote Mitski. “Live music should be more accessible! I just don't know how to make it more accessible in such a vast country when artists have to think of making a living too.”