A New Documentary Takes A Long Look At Life On The Road

What happens offstage when bands hit the road? 'Long Way To The Top' shines a light on the slower, quieter, even darker moments.

By Frida Garza Dec 9, 2016
via Long Way To The Top
via Long Way To The Top

There's a lot to envy about rockstars: the fame, the ability to travel the world and perform nightly in very fancy venues, the adoring fans, the opportunity to raise a fist in the air and lead a crowd in song and then yell something like, "THANK YOU, CLEVELAND."

Less enviable, perhaps, is what happens off-stage. Touring is one of the most mythologized aspects of the lives of musicians, but there's never been a movie or documentary to showcase all the highs and lows, according to former musician and filmmaker Rob Montague. "Nothing ever really shows the reality [of touring]," he tells me over the phone. "You gotta find a place to do your laundry, or [worry about] how you're going to pay your bills at home."

Montague's new documentary, Long Way To The Top, wants to shine a light on these lesser-known moments—the slower, boring, more monotonous and even emotionally grueling stuff that happens on the road. To make it, he and his team followed singer-songwriter David Ramirez, alt-rockers Grizfolk, and heavy metal band The Sword on their respective tours, to capture some of the darker moments on the road. All told, the filming took nearly two years.

Long Way To The Top started out as a bigger idea, according to Montague. Initially, he had set out to do a documentary on what it's like to be a musician—but in all his interviews, artists just wanted to talk about touring. So he pivoted, sensing—as someone who came from the "rock world"—that there was something universal about the experience of touring among musicians. Despite his roots in rock music and the AC/DC reference in the title, Montague tells me that he wanted to make something that spans genres.

"The biggest theme in the film is that, whether you're a singer-songwriter, [or if] you do hip-hop or metal or rock, if you want to do this for your career, the experience is the same. The sacrifice is the same, the details are just different," he says.

David Ramirez puts it another way. Montague joined him on a solo tour—"I was legitimately going out alone, no tour manager or sound engineer," Ramirez tells me—for about two weeks. The singer explains that the long days while touring, especially those hours cooped up in a van (when traveling with Montague, his car was actually a very small Kia Rio) can be draining. More than that, coming home is often a challenge. "You don't really know how to explain the experience to folks," he says.

Touring, then, doesn't just take a toll on you, but also on your relationships. Still, when I ask him if he has any advice for young musicians eyeing their first tour or a career in music, he says he doesn't really have any. "I think if you really want it, you'll do it, and those who don't really want it, then they won't." If those two hours behind the microphone aren't worth the other 22 packing up, sleeping, commuting, and setting up all over again, then don't do it. To Ramirez, though, those moments onstage have been "completely worth it."

Long Way To The Top is available on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play starting today.