All about that road life: traveling music family makes a stop in Sapulpa

“Turns out you can’t drive a big blue school bus into a small town without causing a ruckus, and we’re not mad about it.”

That was from a Facebook post from Shane and Emily Anderson, the husband and wife indie/folk music duo that make up the band Arbour Season. Their big blue school bus, affectionately named “Skoolie,” made a stop in Sapulpa on its way to Shawnee, and yes, a few people noticed.

Of course, it’s not just any school bus: the 1991 Blue Bird has been the family’s home for the last 18 months—and no, not like a tour bus home-away-from-home that takes them back and forth to shows—they’ve repurposed the bus to be their permanent nomadic domicile as they travel the country performing concerts.

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Where does one get a 1991 Blue Bird school bus? “Facebook Marketplace,” Shane said. “Took us about three months to convert it. The entire thing runs on solar.”

The bus, which looks every bit like a small apartment, is perfect for the couple and their two small children, 3-year-old Sawyer and 18-month-old Juneau. The band’s YouTube channel features many videos of the Anderson family driving Skoolie through states all across the U.S.

Living life on the road full-time wasn’t always the plan, and in fact, for years, the Andersons saw the beginnings of their career in a more traditional pursuit of making it big in the music industry.

“We were in Florida and this guy saw a show and asked if we could do a four-hour cover gig for him. I said yes, even though I didn’t know four hours of music,” says Shane, who is a native of Toronto. “So we went home and learned a bunch of songs and then we did the show, and it just kind of snowballed.”

The Andersons’ unique blend of familiar cover songs with their own comfortable folksy touch became popular. Before they knew it, they were playing Disney, Busch Gardens, Hard Rock Casino, and more. They went on a college tour, playing at different campuses around the country. Eventually they were working 361 days a year.

A view of the inside of the 1991 Blue Bird school bus that’s been converted into a full-time residence for the traveling indie/folk duo as they tour the country as Arbour Season. Choquette Photo

When asked if it was this strenuous lifestyle that led them to embark on a new direction, Shane admitted, “Emily would say that, but honestly, I loved it.”

Still, it wasn’t a pace they could keep, and ultimately, they turned to a new business model for the traveling musician: living rooms.

The idea is instead of booking a large concert venue or event center, a person or family will hire the musician to perform a private show in their living room or back patio. The event is much more intimate and friendly, and Shane says it’s a great way to make a living. “Probably 90 percent of our shows are house tours,” he says. Since they started the new business model three years ago, they’ve grown to 500-600 contacts across the country for their home shows.

Arbour Season still makes time for festivals and larger clients (they just finished a string of shows at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, Emily’s home state), but they’ve found everything they’ve ever wanted in the lifestyle they choose to live now, one mile at a time.

It’s not hard to see the appeal of living life on your own terms, and the permanent nomad lifestyle is picking up. Also called “van life,” the movement has grown exponentially during the pandemic and is being celebrated by those who want to live a life free of being tied to one location, as well as, unsurprisingly, the auto industry. Mercedes, Ram, and Ford have seen an uptick in their commercial van sales, according to USA Today.

Shane Anderson laughs as he prepares sandwiches for the family before they leave Sapulpa in their school bus that they’ve converted into a full-time residence. Choquette Photo

Arbour Season is taking advantage of the growing trend in a couple of ways. In January, Shane says that the duo will be going on tour with another husband/wife folk duo called The Octobers to help fulfill the growing demand for “house tours,” while continuing to meet the needs of a family that goes everywhere together. “They are going to watch our kids for us while we play,” he says. Meanwhile, he also believes the “living room model” of music is something that other musicians should at least consider. “I’m writing a book on it, actually,” he said. “We want to teach other musicians what we’ve learned, and how to make a decent living at it,” he said. 

For Shane and Emily Anderson, the journey has been more about embracing where they are now instead of hoping that one day they would arrive at the door of mainstream success.

“In the beginning we were like a lot of other musicians, pushing for that hit song on the radio,” Shane says, “But honestly, the reason we wanted all that was so that we could live the life we’re living right now. If it happens as part of this, that’s great, but we’re already doing what we love.”