Coronavirus

Artists Stay Digitally Connected On Buses Without Borders

Hemphill Brothers Coach Company
Paul Wharton/Courtesy of Hemphill Brothers Coach Company

Interior of a Hemphill Brothers H3-45 coach. 

As the North American market for live events expands with the addition of new venues in Canadian cities Edmonton, Toronto and New Brunswick, the demand for connectivity on both sides of the 49th parallel has spurred large tour bus and coach companies to upgrade their vehicles -- essentially turning them into motorized smart homes without boundaries. “Usually what happens when you get up to the Canadian-U.S. border is your internet cuts off,” says Trent Hemphill of Hemphill Brothers Coach Company, one of the world’s biggest tour bus/coach enterprises.

In 2016, he contracted with a Canadian wireless company to enable his fleet’s wireless routers to switch over to Canadian services when crossing the border, a first in the business. The innovation keeps the rig’s complex network of 4K high-definition TVs, music systems and gaming consoles operating. The modern tour bus is part smart home, part secured fortress as the needs of headlining artists and their touring teams change in the digital era. “There are a number of artists that want to tour with their kids, so we’ve outfitted our buses with nanny cameras in the kids’ bunks,” says Hemphill. “An artist can say ‘good night’ to his or her kids over an iPad, take the stage to perform and then look in to see them sleeping when the show ends.”

Most buses now come with multiple USB charging stations per bunk, as well as iPad-powered climate control and safety functions that let passengers remotely lock their vehicles and use a network of cameras and sensors to see who is outside. Gone from the bunks are the pull-down TV monitors and LED screens -- “They were expensive, clunky and were always breaking,” says Doug Oliver, GM with Nashville-based Pioneer Coach. The TVs are now replaced with smartphone apps where riders can tap into satellite TV and movies from their mobile devices.

“A lot of what we do is adapt to how people -- increasingly, millennials -- use technology,” adds Oliver. “What powers the modern touring bus isn't necessarily hardware-driven -- it’s about having a network in place that can handle the technology needs of our customers.”    

This article originally appeared in the April 14 issue of Billboard. 


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