A Fredericton rock band's South by Southwest Festival odyssey

From left, Penelope Stevens, Brydon Crain and Adam Sipkema — the regular members of the band Motherhood. The band is one of three New Brunswick acts at South by Southwest music festival this year. (Vanessa Heins - image credit)
From left, Penelope Stevens, Brydon Crain and Adam Sipkema — the regular members of the band Motherhood. The band is one of three New Brunswick acts at South by Southwest music festival this year. (Vanessa Heins - image credit)

The Fredericton rock band Motherhood has had the misadventure of their career over the past week on the road to their biggest gig ever.

"It's been a wild ride," bassist and keyboardist Penelope Stevens said from a rest stop about 45 minutes outside Austin, Texas, where Motherhood is playing at South by Southwest, one of the biggest music festivals on the continent.

"That was sort of the whole point of this tour," Stevens said. "It's awesome.

"We wanted this for a long time and it's finally come together."

Submitted by Penelope Stevens
Submitted by Penelope Stevens

Motherhood is one of three New Brunswick acts at South by Southwest this year, said Jean Surette, executive director of Music New Brunswick — the others are Julie Doiron and the Hypochondriacs.

"It's a very significant event," he said, and a good place to get exposure to fans and industry contacts to break into the U.S. market.

It's pretty tough to make a living in the indie rock world, he said, and while venues and crowds are returning after pandemic shutdowns, expenses are also way up.

Stevens and her bandmates didn't have much money in the bank when they hit the road March 9, and they knew the trip was going to be "a little crazy."

But after illness, van breakdowns, missed shows and round-the-clock driving shifts, the odyssey has surpassed anything they've seen in more than 10 years as touring musicians.

"I think a lot of people do think that touring is always fun, and you're just partying and playing great shows every night," said Stevens.


It's not always like that, she said. And this tour has had even more obstacles than usual.

The first came "pretty straight out the gates."

After a show in Fredericton on March 8, they were supposed to play in Portland, Maine, the next night, but a band member got sick, so they had to skip it.

After a rest and a show in Northampton, Mass., they rolled on to New York City. That's where things started to break down for their 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan.

Pulling into a parking spot in Brooklyn, something "weird" happened and the power steering failed, Stevens said.

To get to their show on time, they piled their gear into someone else's car and called a cab. But they had no idea how they were going to pay the repair bill.

Asking for help

Just a few days into the tour, they hadn't made much on shows or merchandise sales. In desperation, they posted a financial appeal to their fans on social media.

"It's not something you like to do," said Stevens.

Normally they'd offer something in exchange, like a show or a shirt, but at that moment they had nothing to offer.

The response was "absolutely overwhelming," she said.

Within two minutes, five e-transfers were made to their bank account. Within an hour, they had more than enough to pay the repair bill.

The band posted another video saying thank you and that they didn't need any more money. But the donations kept coming, from people who said they wanted them to have a little extra just in case or enough for a treat.


"We always knew that our community and our fans were really kind and generous," said Stevens. "But we certainly weren't expecting the amount of support we got."

Almost $5,000 came in, she said. And almost half the donors were people they didn't even know.

"Just strangers saying, 'I know what it's like to be on the road. Good luck.' Or 'I've been listening to your music on Spotify, so now I'll pay for it. Here's 100 bucks.'

"It was amazing. We were a little teary-eyed, for sure."

Surette isn't surprised.

Motherhood has earned a lot of community support, he said, from doing things like free shows for all ages.

"There's a lot of love for them and they're a great band," he said.

Rusty a fitting name

The band managed to have a bit of fun while stranded for three days in the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Bushwick, where the steering failed.

But they lost another couple of paying gigs after New York, then had to drive 26 hours to make their next show in New Orleans and then had to get right back on the road again.

All that "steady" and "aggressive" driving may have had something to do with Rusty the van deciding "she needs a rest again," said Stevens.

After their last breakdown, a patch-job was done that was supposed to get Rusty to Austin, at least, where more extensive work would be needed.

"She's so rusty that a lot of the mechanics in the south won't work on her," said Stevens. "They're not used to that much rust."

At this rate, however, Rusty is going to be a brand new vehicle by the time they get home, she said, because all her parts will have been replaced.

Motherhood's tour is supposed to continue in the U.S. and Canada until the end of May.