The South by Southwest festival odyssey from a Fredericton rock band
Fredericton rock band Motherhood suffered the mishap of their career last week on their way to their biggest gig ever.
“It’s been a wild ride,” said bassist and keyboardist Penelope Stevens from a rest stop about 45 minutes outside of Austin, Texas, where Motherhood plays South by Southwest, one of the continent’s biggest music festivals.
“That was sort of the whole point of this tour,” said Stevens. “It is great.
“We’ve wanted this for a long time and it finally came together.”
Motherhood is one of three New Brunswick acts on South by Southwest this year, said Jean Surette, executive director of Music New Brunswick — the others are Julie Doiron and the Hypochondriacs.
“It’s a very significant event,” he said, and a good place to engage with fans and industry contacts to get a foothold in the US market.
It’s quite difficult to make a living in the indie rock world, he said, and while venues and crowds are returning after the pandemic shut down, spending has also risen sharply.
Stevens and her bandmates didn’t have a lot of money in the bank when they set out on March 9, and they knew the trip was going to be “a little crazy.”
But after illness, van breakdowns, missed shows and 24-hour driving shifts, the Odyssey has surpassed anything they’ve seen in more than 10 years as touring musicians.
“I think a lot of people think touring is always fun, and you just party every night and play great shows,” Stevens said.
It’s not always like that, she said. And this tour had even more obstacles than usual.
The first came “pretty straight out of the gates”.
After a show in Fredericton on March 8th, they were scheduled to play in Portland, Maine the next night, but a band member fell ill so they had to skip it.
After a break and a show in Northampton, Mass., they rolled on to New York City. That’s where things started to fall apart for their 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan.
As he pulled into a parking lot in Brooklyn, something “strange” happened and the power steering failed, Stevens said.
To get to their show on time, they loaded their gear into someone else’s car and called a cab. But they had no idea how to pay the repair bill.
Asking for help
Just a few days into the tour, they hadn’t made much money from shows or merchandise sales. In desperation, they posted a financial appeal to their fans on social media.
“You don’t like doing that,” Stevens said.
Normally they would offer something in exchange, like a show or a jersey, but at that moment they had nothing to offer.
The response was “absolutely overwhelming,” she said.
Within two minutes, five electronic transfers were made to her bank account. Within an hour they had more than enough to pay the repair bill.
The band posted another video saying thank you and saying they don’t need any more money. But the donations kept coming, from people who said they wanted them to have a little more just in case, or enough for a reward.
“We’ve always known that our community and our fans are really kind and generous,” Stevens said. “But we certainly didn’t expect the support we got.”
Almost $5,000 came in, she said. And almost half of the donors were people they didn’t even know.
“Just strangers who say, ‘I know what it’s like to be on the road. Good luck.’ Or “I heard your music on Spotify, so now I’m paying for it. Here’s $100.”
“It was amazing. We certainly had a bit of tears in our eyes.”
Surette is not surprised.
Motherhood has earned a lot of support from the community, he said, by doing things like free shows for all ages.
“There’s a lot of love for them and they’re a great band,” he said.
Rusty a fitting name
The band managed to have some fun while stranded for three days in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, where the steering failed.
But they lost a few more paid gigs after New York, then had to drive 26 hours to do their next show in New Orleans, and then immediately hit the road again.
All of the “calm” and “aggressive” driving might have something to do with Rusty, the van, deciding “she needs a break again,” Stevens said.
A patchwork was carried out after their latest mishap that should at least get Rusty to Austin where more extensive work was needed.
“She’s so rusty that a lot of the mechanics down south don’t work on her,” Stevens said. “They’re not used to so much rust.”
However, at this rate, Rusty will be a brand new vehicle when they get home, she said, because all of her parts will have been replaced.
The Motherhood tour is scheduled to continue through the US and Canada through the end of May.