Hardest Working DIY Bands on Tour in 2019

Below is our list of the Hardest Working DIY Touring bands of 2019 keeping the DIY dream alive!

Photo by Lisa Foldenauer Thompson

Lung (Cincinnati, OH)

157 Shows

Cincinnati rock duo Lung sound HUGE. With only an electric cello, drums and vocals, they have a sludgy post-rock sound that could fit inside a stadium. Formed in 2016 by Kate Wakefield on cello/vocals and Daisy Caplan on drums, the duo met after Daisy’s former band Babe Rage had Kate collaborate with them during a residency. They have since played over 500 shows in the US and toured Europe. In that short period they’ve made a name for themselves sharing the stage with bands like Screaming Females, Fucked Up, Priests, Downtown Boys, Shellshag and more. Their sophomore record All The Kings Horses was released in fall of 2018 on Sofaburn Records, and they’re currently working on their third album.

AF: What is your craziest tour story from this year?

Kate Wakefield: We played a show in Tallinn, Estonia that was incredible but went super late. After the show we took a 5AM ferry across the Gulf to go play a benefit show in Helsinki for Girls Rock Finland. So many people came out to support, and all the bands were amazing! The folks putting it on also fed us delicious vegan food, and the night ended with us all hanging out in a sauna.

AF: What are the advantages and challenges of DIY touring?

KW: Advantages are that you immediately are immersed in so many great music scenes. We like playing anywhere and everywhere and some of the best shows are in the most unexpected places. Challenges are being as frugal as possible and living without a kitchen. We’ve become pros at sleeping anywhere and cheap grocery store meals.

Snailmate (Tempe, AZ)

More than 100 Shows

Snailmate are a nerdcore duo that have been touring since their formation in 2015. Composed of Kalen Lander (vocals/synth) and partner in crime Ariel Monet (drums/vocals), they book/fund their own tours, screenprint their own shirts, design all their posters, make their own buttons, and do basically every other aspect of managing a tour with a master DIY work ethic. Kalen was formerly in TKLB? (The Kalen Lander band), but after he tired of touring with a DJ in the traditional hip hop sense, was inspired to perform everything in Snailmate live. Snailmate has racked up 15 releases on their Bandcamp and claim to have had a “light” year of touring because they are working on their new album. In total, they did nine shows in two weeks in Japan, sixteen shows in three weeks in Europe, and over 100 shows in the USA. In 2020 they have plans to return to Europe and Japan as well as tour Brazil for the first time.

AF: What is your craziest tour story from this year?

SM: Well, touring is a never ending stream of crazy events. Sometimes we begin to feel like we’ve seen it all, and nothing is surprising. But being in another country turns everything upside down. Not only had we never been to Germany before, but we were scrambling to salvage a tour that had been tossed together by a “booking agent.” When we realized that their promises were not going to be fulfilled, we started piecing the tour together despite not having any contacts in Germany. A friend of a friend of a friend led us to a wonderful little house party in Braunschweig. We had a great time performing for the friendly locals, and everyone was smoking lots of pot. Suddenly there was a knock on the door, and eight German police officers came storming in. We were all seated on the floor, with the cops barking orders and asking questions in a language we didn’t understand. All of our bags were searched and we were patted down. It was all very surreal. Everything ended up okay – we don’t smoke – but it was still scary. Once we got past the language barrier, the police ended up being far more polite and chill than we are used to here in America. But it was all an experience we never expected to have, and hopefully don’t have to go through again. Yay tour!

AF: What are the advantages and challenges of DIY touring?

SM: DIY touring definitely has its pros and cons. We make our own schedule and route, and get to go to the places that we love. All of the money comes back to us, which we funnel back into printing more shirts and supplementing our merchandise. Since we already screen print our own merch and design all the artwork, it can leave us feeling stretched thin. We are just two people trying to book shows and promote ourselves, while also writing and drawing, driving and navigating. Sometimes we feel like we could use some help. But we also know people who’ve hired tour bookers and have gotten stuck with totally fucked up routes, dropped shows, and endless days off. We like to keep a rapid pace and play every night, and that’s a lot to ask of a booking agent. We even tried a different approach with our European tour, and ended up getting screwed over by an individual who didn’t care about our band and just wanted our money. Nobody cares about Snailmate as much as we do, so we find we are usually the best qualified people to do Snailmate work. It’s exhausting but so incredibly rewarding.

Soraia (Philadelphia, PA)

90 Shows

Fronted by ZouZou Mansour, Soraia (which means “bright guiding star” in Arabic), are a four-piece rock band with influences ranging from ’90s alt-rock and the early ’00s garage rock revival to the entire classic rock gamut. Since the band formed in the mid-2000s they have released three albums, one featuring five songs the band co-wrote with Jon Bon Jovi. Their latest record Dead Reckoning was recorded at Steven Van Zandt’s Renegade Nation Studios, featured two songs produced by Van Zandt, and released on his label Wicked Cool Records in October 2017. They didn’t stop there and have released two more 7″s since. They play everywhere from dives to arenas, and credit their love of the non-stop tour life to a thick skin they’ve developed from being a Philly-based band. Soraia haven’t toured as much as usual this year due to a line-up change, but still managed to play close to 100 shows.

AF: What is your craziest tour story from this year?

ZM: We played The Viper Room in Los Angeles this past April, and we had a lot of people there that night, including Clem Burke from Blondie. During our last song, “Beggar,” I always get really wild and climb on things I find on stage, jumping around a ton. I climbed onto the bass rig and did not have a sturdy stand, totally threw my head right into the corner of the bass cab and came down on the stage, just short of knocking myself out. I finished super dizzy and semi-blacking out. But spent a lot of time after talking to people who were thrilled with the fire of the last song, but basically knowing I needed to go to the hospital right after. I still performed with our friend’s band the same night – so it’s not sooooo crazy – but a feat of modern humanity still.

AF: What are the advantages and challenges of DIY touring?

ZM: The advantages are you get to plan your route, and play at places where you already know the sound and areas, and also, delve into new places that you’ve wanted to for a while. The disadvantages is the not knowing if other bands are going to show – we had that happen last tour, and it was a surprise to us. But in new areas where you don’t have that foothold, it’s expected at times.

Radiator King (Boston, MA)

84 Shows

Radiator King is the solo endeavor of punk/blues singer-songwriter Adam Silvestri. His songwriting captures the essence of old blues mixed with modern songwriting pirates like Tom Waits, Dropkick Murphys and Fugazi. Radiator King has perfected this folk/punk/blues sound over three records and countless tours since his project’s official inception in 2011. His most recent EP Roll The Dice was released on SoundEvolution this year, and features many great musicians including drummer Brian Viglione (Dresden Dolls, Violent Femmes, NIN), bassist Mark Stewart and guitarist Adam Brisbin. He is most recently coming off a month long solo European tour, and closing out the decade with shows in upstate New York and Asbury Park, NJ.

AF: What is your craziest tour story from this year?

RK: The craziest story that comes to mind was when I played in Berlin, Germany on a solo tour about a month ago. The place I was staying in was about a 15 minute walk to the venue. After dropping off my bags at the apartment, I made the walk to the club for soundcheck with a backpack and guitar in hand. The route to the venue required that I cut through a park. At the time I was heading to the venue, which was around 6pm, there was still daylight and the park seemed like any other ordinary park.  However, after the show on my walk back around 2am, the park took on quite a different atmosphere. There were not many people around besides a few homeless folks who were sprawled out along the pathway. As I walked along I noticed a man coming out from a wooded area had started walking behind me. He began to get closer and started saying in broken English “stop for a minute, I want to talk to you.” At first I ignored him and walked faster. However, he began to walk faster, pleading with me to stop. I told him no, that I was in a rush and kept on walking, as I figured I would soon be out of the park and onto the streets where there would be people around again.

As the man continued to harass me from behind, I noticed that three other men came out of the wooded area up ahead of me, blocking the pathway where I was to walk. I quickly realized that they were in cahoots with the guy trailing me and that I was going to get mugged if I didn’t act fast. Getting my guitar stolen would mean that I could not finish the rest of tour and there was no way in hell I was going to let that happen. As the men closed in, my mind quickly recounted a lesson my father had once told me: “If you are ever in a conflict and are outnumbered, lose control and go crazy. Scream, yell even punch yourself in the face if necessary. Because no one ever wants to fight a crazy person.” So that’s exactly what I did (although it never got to punching myself in the face). I screamed obscenities, threatened violence, and flailed my arms like I was scaring off a grizzly bear. One by one they began to retreat, receding into the woods in which they came. Thanks for the advice Pops – who would of known it would one day save my guitar from getting stolen!

AF: What are the advantages and challenges of DIY touring?

RK: I’d say the biggest advantage in DIY touring is the personal connection you develop with the people involved with the shows. In doing all the booking and managing on my own, I am in effect building a relationship with whomever handles booking at a venue; whether it be the talent buyer, owner, promoter etc. In most cases this is usually a person who is involved with the music scene in their community quite heavily, whether playing in bands themselves, booking shows or just going out and seeing shows in their neighborhood regularly. And usually these folks introduce you to their crew of friends who are also involved with the music scene in the area. It’s usually these people that we end up crashing with after the shows. So really you are building lasting relationships with a community of like-minded people in the places you are going and that’s an amazing thing to be a part of.

Since it’s just myself who handles tour booking duties, the biggest challenge would be ensuring that all the moving parts of tour come together as they should. After the show is booked, it’s my job to make sure that we get to where we are going on time, load in and do sound check, sell merch, play the show, break down and load up equipment, get paid out at the end of the night and find us a place to crash. It’s really involved and is a lot of work but it’s undoubtedly worth it.

Remember Jones (Asbury Park, NJ)

81 Shows

Remember Jones is a soul/pop band that has toured close to six months of this year as a 12-piece band led by Anthony D’Amato. The band has played clubs, ballrooms, and theaters of all sizes over the country and opened for bands like Darlene Love, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Ronnie Spector & The Ronettes and more. They toured in support of their two records released in 2016 and 2017, and also do runs of shows that adapt beloved albums like Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black, Jeff Buckley’s Grace (in collaboration with co-writer Gary Lucas), and Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak with 15-25 piece orchestras. Their next US tour is set for February/March of 2020.

AF: What is your craziest tour story from this year?

RJ: Craziest story of 2019? We were about to go on with an outside show in Duck, NC and there was a hurricane-like storm minutes before we started! It was absolutely wild. Another: after slammin’ shows in Victor and Hailey, Idaho… we had a day off that we couldn’t find proper housing. We really wanted to relax and enjoy the Grand Teton Mountains and beautiful scenery of Idaho or Wyoming. By some chance, after a show, the owner of a house he called “The Cowboy Spaceship” offered to host us for a day/night. After some proper vibe-checking, we decided to go for it. There was great hospitality, but the experience was completely wild. Many bathrooms or bedrooms weren’t functional, many locals were stopping by to hang and see “what the party was,” neighbors loudly fighting, etc. While we were welcomed to anything in the fridge and many libations, we were unsure all throughout the day as things evolved where exactly things would go. But hey, we were able to crash for the night – all of us!

AF: What are the advantages and challenges of DIY touring?

RJ: DIY touring with a band this large has many unique challenges. While we have a great agent and are growing as we see the country, it’s maintaining a great vibe that overall keeps us tight. We have had different band members over the past few years because having people that really get it and really want to be on the road to see the vision come to light is important. Respecting everyone’s time, effort, space, etc. is just as important as the music and promotion (which in itself has its own issues). I also find that trusting a promoter or venue to take care of your show is not realistic. They are just as busy and consumed as you are… you really need to sell your show and spend time doing the DIY stuff you would do in your own home town.

Calliope Musicals (Austin, TX)

67 Shows

Austin’s Calliope Musicals have the most colorful show in any town that has ever existed. With a plethora of stage props, lighting and sequined body-suits, the band brings a stage setup like no other. Frontwoman Carrie Fussell has a presence akin to Freddie Mercury and Prince, and her banter makes you wish she had a show on Nickelodeon in the ’90s. The six-piece psych glam rock outfit spent this year touring in support of their latest record Color/Sweat, and also recorded a Wild Honey Pie Buzz Session featuring a cover of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.”

AF: What is your craziest tour story from this year?

CF: Wayne Coyne came to our show in OKC this year – that was pretty bad ass and exciting. One night in Brooklyn, five of us ended up sleeping in our van after a show. Turns out peoples’ favorite opening line on Tinder is not “hiiii so can me and my four very nice and respectful bandmates crash at your place? <3 we make breakfast :)” – but it was okay because $1 slices and whiskey.

AF: What are the advantages and challenges of DIY touring?

CF: I think the advantages would be all the amazing people you meet. You’re kinda putting yourself at the mercy of the universe and the people around you and you’re counting on people to be honest and generous and helpful, and when it works out it’s very comforting and inspiring. Challenges for me are self care and quiet time, and I think the rest of my bandmates might say the same thing. There are definitely financial challenges, especially having more people on the road; we’ve become quite good at quietly piling into one hotel room.

Zach Ellis of Dead Tooth + Wives (Brooklyn, NY)

63 Shows

Zach Ellis spent the year touring in two bands, Dead Tooth, which he is the frontman for, and the Queens, NY quartet, Wives. Dead Tooth is the new incarnation of The Adventures of the Silver Spaceman, Zach’s solo moniker that he put out music under from 2011-2016. He renamed the project Dead Tooth when it started to feel more like a band than a solo project, consisting of members Dylan DePice, Andrew Bailey, Jason Smith and River Allen. At the beginning of this year, Zach embarked on a three month cross-country tour with Dead Tooth and his bandmate/partner River Allen’s sparkle-house bedroom-pop project Ghost Piss. Zach also spent most of spring and fall touring Europe as a member of Wives as they supported their latest record So Removed.

AF: What is your craziest tour story from this year?

ZE: In Switzerland this really sweet Swiss guy gave me handful of ‘shrooms on stage to which I ate immediately. They looked small and different than any mushrooms I had never seen before and after I ate them I couldn’t help but wonder if they were poisonous and I was gonna die. I was fine but there was a moment there where I thought “I just ate a random fungus from a complete stranger.” I caught up with him later and he assured me he knew what he was doing and had actually foraged them from the Swiss Alps earlier that day. I thought that was pretty neat.

AF: What are the advantages and challenges of DIY touring?

ZE: Touring DIY is advantageous in that you get to really hang with the people who set you up for shows. You get to choose your own adventure and connect with friends who’ve moved to different cities or towns all over the world. You also get a truer experience of the place you’re in when you stay with someone living there as opposed to just playing a show and going to a hotel outside of town; they show you their favorite cafes and bars. On the flip side of that it can be extremely exhausting self managing, booking, driving, loading in and out, running social media, and selling merch all yourself. All of that is part of the job and sometimes things go haywire. You’re constantly rerouting and adjusting and glued to your phone while trying to remain present for the people who set you up as well as put on the best show every night. It’s a real balancing act and definitely not the vacation it can seem like from an outsider’s perspective. It truly is a job but one I love to do.

Bethlehem Steel, May 2019

Bethlehem Steel (Brooklyn, NY)

59 Shows

Brooklyn’s Bethlehem Steel toured for seven weeks this year after their sophomore self-titled record was released via Exploding in Sound. Originally a three piece formed in 2012 with Becca Ryskalczyk (guitar/vocals), Jon Gernhart (drums), and Zephyr Prusinski (bass) their latest record features guitarist Christina Puerto, who has been touring with them since the band’s debut. In 2019, along with their massive post-record release tour, they played regularly in NYC and the surrounding area all year!

AF: What is your craziest tour story from this year?

BS: Hate to have to say that the craziest story is get getting roofied after a set in Oklahoma.

AF: What are the advantages and challenges of DIY touring?

BS: A big advantage is that you basically meet the best people this way. You’re able to constantly meet new people who share the same values and are doing the same work as you. A challenge to DIY touring would be sometimes having to suck it up and play to no one.

Shadow Year (Brooklyn, NY)

52 Shows

Brooklyn quartet Shadow Year is co-fronted by Tyler Wright (vocals/guitar), and Scout Gillett (vocals/keys/guitar), with Terd Germison on bass and John Mason on drums. Their debut record Hush Hush Panic showcases their ’80s-esque vocal duets and minimal arrangements that float between dream pop and post-punk. After the release of their debut record summer 2019, they spent a few weeks on the road touring from Florida to Chicago. Scout recently started her own booking company Road Dog Booking and in 2020 Shadow Year are set to release an EP titled Godspeed. They are leaving for their first 2020 tour (probably of many) on January 24th. 

AF: What is your craziest tour story from this year?

SY: Shadow Year was gifted a mini short bus in June of 2018 and we got to tour the nation three times in our short bus Rene. On our last tour our bus Rene broke down in Chattanooga after our Nashville show. The band had made an agreement that if the bus were to have any more problems that we would have to sell it… We still took it to a mechanic just to see if it was a little problem. The men working said they don’t work on diesel but could give it a try. After waiting for two hours they said the bus was fixed and ready to go. We paid them $150, hopped in in the bus and start driving away. Fifteen minutes later the bus overheated again – bastards fucked us over! We had to make some serious moves to make our gig in Atlanta. We slowly got the bus to the Chattanooga airport and rented a tiny Kia Soul just to get our guitars and bodies to the gig. I started posting the bus on Craigslist. We get to the gig. No one’s had food or enough sleep – we take the free drinks at the bar. We play a show and were planning to stay at our friend Alejandro’s (from Dinner Time) place after the show. Tyler drove the wrong way for an hour and after realizing it we decided to just crash at a Walmart in this small Kia Soul. The next morning we woke up to a ton of responses to our craigslist add, traded the smaller renal car for a passenger van and got back to the Chattanooga airport, cleaned out the bus and took the bus to a shell gas station to sell it to a man named Salamon, who had gold grills that read ” Salamon” across in case you forgot his name. It was very cinematic. It was pouring rain and there were no restrooms nearby and we had to walk far with no umbrellas to an Office Depot to pee and clean up. Salamon gave us $800 cold cash for our little bus Rene. We didn’t miss a show and we had to do some serious game planning. I laugh out loud every time I think of how dramatic it all felt.

AF: What are the advantages and challenges of DIY touring?

SY: I’d say the advantages are you have a better chance of making money touring DIY, and all ages shows rule. Kids like to move their bodies more. I don’t know what happens to people at 21 or why after 21 people try to take themselves more seriously and are concerned about looking cool. Kids usually don’t give a fuck and just love to let loose and that’s really fun energy to play off of. A disadvantage… is it’s a lot of work… but that’s also good because you learn and grow a lot… and that’s something we are all trying to do.

Miss Eaves (Brooklyn, NY)

43 Shows

As a solo artist, Miss Eaves (aka Shanthony Exum) really does do it all herself. The feminist electro-rapper and multi-media artist is self-managed, books every show, directs and edits her own music videos, and drives herself from city to city as she tours mostly alone. In the summer of 2017, “Thunder Thighs,” a track off her debut release, became a viral body positivity hit, leading to an op-ed in The New York Times, and getting on lists alongside Aretha Franklin and Beyonce. She has successfully booked four DIY tours, playing shows and festivals with Tune-Yards, Wheatus, and MC Frontalot, and chronicled her experiences for The Creative Independent. This year she toured in support of her follow-up EP Sad and brought her empowering and hilarious tracks like “Bush for the Push” and “Fuccboi Salute” to new crowds in the US and Europe.

AF: What is your craziest tour story from this year?

ME: Me and my tour mate were playing in Chicago and we found out there was a huge blizzard coming into town that night. We had a gig in Madison the next day, so we decided to drive to Madison that night after our show (around 1am) to avoid potentially being stuck in Chicago. She fell asleep, so I had to drive by myself playing Robyn really loudly, singing the whole time. We made it luckily, and the storm was really bad so we made the right choice!

AF: What are the advantages and challenges of DIY touring?

ME: The advantages are really connecting with my community, and establishing great relationships with promoters, venues, and other bands. It’s also nice to not wait around for someone to “discover me.” I have the power to make my own path, which is quite liberating. One huge challenge is everything seems to change frequently, so I have to stay really flexible and also be really quick to problem solve.

I usually travel totally alone, so things can get really lonely. That being said, that loneliness also makes me more open to meeting new people (which ultimately is a good thing). It can be a bit discouraging when I have a show isn’t well attended; however, having a sold out show feels even more amazing because I know it’s from DIY efforts.

Previous Year Honorable Mentions

North By North: 204 Shows + completed their first UK tour, and finished their third album which will be out February 2020 on their label Double Hex Records.

Thelma & The Sleaze: 130 Shows + released their record Fuck, Mary, Kill.

A Deer A Horse: 87 shows + released their EP Everything Rots That is Rotten.

photo by Tim Nagle

Stuyedeyed: 62 shows + released Moments of Terribleness EP.

Vanessa Silberman : 60 shows + relocated to NYC from LA and released Brighter In Bloom EP.

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