Clean Socks and the Touring Musician
Here’s an article in yesterday’s New York Times about Hans-Jürgen Topf, a German man who has created a successful business in a microscopic niche — he handles the laundry needs of major touring acts:
His company, Rock ’n’ Roll Laundry, provides equipment and laundry staff for touring productions. […]
When on tour, he often spends three to four hours every afternoon ironing the performers’ clothing, his least favorite part of the job, while simultaneously washing the crew’s garments. On some tours, he spends up to 20 hours a day doing laundry, he said. After a show, the machines go into specially built rolling cases, so they can be loaded onto trucks and brought to the next location. […]
Joe Pomponio, a stage manager for numerous festivals in Europe who has worked frequently with Topf, said by phone that, for many acts that have spent years on the road, comforts like professionally done laundry have become vital. He added that he did not know anybody who offered services comparable to Topf’s, and that Rock ’n’ Roll Laundry was a fixture on the European festival circuit.
The article goes into detail how Topf happened onto this business idea (trigger warning: Ted Nugent is involved). This business is fascinating because, in a way, it’s a no-brainer. When a band is on tour, reliably getting laundry taken care of is a source of much stress. Any major group would be happy to dedicate a portion of a tour budget to have this worry off the plate. That Topf stumbled into this by chance makes one realize all the other unserved niches out there waiting to be filled. It’s also brilliant that Rock ’n’ Roll Laundry travels with their own machinery.
Clean clothes were a constant concern on the four extended bus/van tours I traveled with as a performer. We anticipated and planned for concert venues on the itinerary that had washing machines on premises or nearby — these were the holy grail of touring — and panicked if there was nothing definite on the horizon. On the bus tours, we rarely slept in hotels, but we’d sometimes get a hotel room for a day so we could use the laundry facilities. And then there’s one artist I toured with whose solution was to wear cheap white t-shirts. He’d toss a shirt after a couple of days and, once he ran out, would take a cab to the nearest Walmart to buy another shirt, socks, and underwear pack.
I’m mostly romantic about my touring days, but this article reminded me of all the grit, dirt, and sweat. Tour-life is an alternate reality that helps one appreciate the simple luxuries, like clean underwear.