On Tour Again (Like a Rock Star)

After vowing several years ago that we would never tour again, it seems that, sort of like Mardi Gras float rides and over-the-top Christmas decorations and childbirth (or so they tell me), somehow the subject of a tour comes up nearly every summer, and before we know it we’ve got 15 cities on the roster.

We’ve scaled back quite a bit (the late 1990s meant anywhere from 25-50 cities in a two month period), but autumn still means we’re hitting the road, especially with the release of a new book. In the old days, we might see 800 people in one location (thus the rock star reference). It was insane and wonderful and exhausting, and inevitably at some point we worried that we had let people down, because maybe we didn’t smile as much on stop 34 as we did on 33, and maybe the woman who spray-painted her dog blue seemed more cruel than cute now, and maybe the unfairness of the question, “Will you sign my Jazz Fest poster?” – the one you paid less than half as much for unsigned as others paid for signed – just tipped the end of my patience scale and caused me to snap at a genuine Rodrigue fan who was only asking a hopeful question, not knowing they were the fiftieth one to ask that week (my sincere apologies if you’ve been on the other end of my occasional attitude at some stop over the years).

It’s not that we don’t enjoy seeing everyone on the road. It’s just that, like all things in life, this too has changed, and the early book tour days of major press and huge crowds and class visits have been replaced by internet e-mailers, advance orders, and e-bay retailers. There was a time when George could sign anything a fan brought him, but those days are over, since most of those sorts of items are forgeries or derivative works, and we cannot risk their showing up on e-bay and, worse, some unsuspecting fan paying hundreds of dollars for a page cut from a book. Even large stacks of books have to be dedicated, lest an on-line retailer charge inflated prices for signed copies, when in fact George is happy to sign his books for free at any scheduled event.

The internet that makes information so accessible also changed that very special scenario — the ability to do certain favors for a fan. So we try to make up for it with things like this blog and personal responses to emails and of course photographs at book events and extra attention to school classes and children’s projects. In the end, perhaps it’s not a negative at all, but rather, as I said in the beginning, just “change.”

This year’s short tour focuses on George Rodrigue’s second children’s book, Are You Blue Dog’s Friend? (published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, October 2009). The book is a follow-up to the wildly successful Why is Blue Dog Blue?, (2002) which encouraged children to use their mood and imagination to paint however they want, as opposed to painting things as they really are. The new book features the same fun call-and-response rhythm, but also includes many classic Blue Dog paintings, some with animals such as monkeys and cats, and others with celebrities like Louis Armstrong and Elvis.

A children’s book tour is unique, because it gives us a chance to read these short texts in their entirety and involve the kids. This is our first in several years. Last year we toured for Blue Dog Speaks, a small but very thick picture book featuring more than 300 paintings (Sterling Press, 2008). As with this year much of that tour was by car. The driving tours are our favorites, because we have more freedom to explore, such as our detour through Tupelo, Mississippi last October, which took us to the birthplace of George’s favorite rock & roll star.

This year is probably half as many stops, but we’ll still have some adventures, and I’ll keep this blog updated with stories from the road (including some special visits we have planned for children’s hospitals in Memphis and Austin). For a complete list of cities, dates, and bookstores, visit http://www.georgerodrigue.com/rodrigue/books.htm where we’ll post the tour by the end of this week. First stop: San Jose, California on Saturday, September 26th.

Hope to see you on the road.