Oooh boy, this one is a doozie. I have had some of the best touring experiences of my life in the south as well as some of the worst ones. For the record when I refer to the South I am referring to Virginia on down and all the way over to Texas and Oklahoma. The traditional South if you will. Obviously that’s a huge tract of land and some of these places barely even count as truly Southern but they remain valuable to think about and you should try to study them in order to help build up a better future for your band. The South has both ridiculous benefits and terrifying fucking downsides. As a general rule though, it’s a cool place to tour – as long as you are fully aware of what you are doing and are comfortable with a few more… colorful elements showing up at your shows.
What is important to be aware of when touring the South is that the cities you will probably be playing are the least stereotypically ‘Southern’ places you can go in the South – which is why so many young people flock to them. You are probably going to see some shit if you find yourself playing outside o a common hub, or even taking a stop. Remember, especially if you are from the North, that folks in the South can often have a very different set of ideals from you and you need to respect that. Otherwise you will find yourself in Hattiesburg, Mississippi wondering where your booking agent went wrong and genuinely afraid for your safety. Remember that the people out here might not have similar political views to you and probably own guns. That’s not a stereotype – that’s just a general factoid taken from public records. It’s stuff like this you need to keep your eyes open for in the long run.
In terms of sheer economics the South is generally very poor and you can expect limited merch sales. That being said – there are a ton of people out here who work in he trades who might be willing to spend more than the usual customer at your merch stand. These folks are like you and me, they appreciate kindness and people who are just down to chat and hang out. A lot of these people are aware that they have lucked into making good money in a traditionally economically depressed area and are willing to spend a little more money because of that. Of course, the benefit of the region being poor is $25 hotel rooms, $2 sandwiches and gas so cheap you could cry for joy. Sure you might not be making as much and might have some truly shitty evenings financially, but there is also a lot of stuff to enjoy about the affordability of everything.
Another thing I always look forward to when going to the South is the notion of Southern hospitality, which is both as excellent as it is legendary. I’ve had strangers get me a hotel room because I was nice. I’ve had waitresses bring me free food they had leftover in the kitchen because I flirted and told them that I was on tour. Even fast food workers, generally some of the most downtrodden folks you can meet, have a certain kindness to them. You should be extremely grateful for this, especially since a lot of it circles into the fact that not nearly enough bands go through their cities. They have a lot of love to give and not nearly enough attention paid to them, even if the drives through the South can be rather short. You have to love their dedication to the madness of this whole thing and ability to shrug off the pains of a day to day that is extremely hot, muggy and in many ways devoid of hope.
This is the key thing to remember about the South – the suicide rate is high, there is often little possibility for advancement, healthcare is scarce… it’s hard. It’s really really hard. These are people who have been ground down upon for their entire lives. It’s why you need to realize that Trump supporters aren’t unreasonable, they just have a totally different life experience from you, one that has a lot more poverty and pain in it. The South is always the butt of the joke, and if they protest they are just ‘racists’. Don’t get me wrong – there certainly is some racism in the South, but there’s racism all over America. You need to be patient with these people and show the love. Sure not a lot of them can always come out to shows and the market for a lot of music outside of country is minimal, but the ones who are there care and we need to be sure to honor that.
The South can be a lot of fun. As a general rule even the drives are reasonable, especially if you are willing to hit some secondary markets in Texas. There are bands who kill it out there and who are recognized as truly ‘Southern bands’ and the ones that are able to do that find the region to be a comforting one to visit. But if you treat it poorly and are a dick and act superior to these good Southern people then they will remember, and when the time comes for the South to rise again they will remember that and fuck you up.