An international rock band’s first U.S. tour is a moment to be celebrated, a sign that years of hard work have paid off. But just a few days into their American debut, the members of Forests, an emo rock band from Singapore, endured another rite of passage for some musicians traveling the United States when they stopped for the night at a California hotel.
When they returned to their rental van a few hours later, they realized they’d been robbed.
“In Singapore I kind of made a joke about it, like, oh, you know, your band is only legit if your stuff got stolen,” said Darell Laser, 36, the bassist. “Then it really happened.”
Forests and the Oklahoma band they were touring with, Ben Quad, are hardly the first musicians to be robbed while on tour in America. (In 1999, Sonic Youth famously lost an entire truck’s worth of gear to a thief, also in California.) But the experience was still a shock for a band from a country as safe as Singapore.
“It was the worst luck ever,” said Chris Martinez, 29, a Forests fan from San Diego who discovered the band years ago on a business trip to Singapore.
The robbery prompted an outpouring of concern from both bands’ fans, and more than $9,000 in donations allowed them to buy replacement instruments. They did not miss a show, and they ended their tour in high spirits with a sold-out concert at a bar in Queens on Tuesday.
“They seem to have moved past it,” said Mr. Martinez, who donated $200 to the bands’ crowdfunding campaign after learning of the robbery. “Keeping a positive attitude and trying not to let it bring them down.”
The May 1 robbery made for a surreal early leg of a cross-country tour — entitled “Get in losers, we’re going to Walmart” — that Forests had spent months planning and years looking forward to. It happened a few days after their tour began in Seattle and a few hours after their gig in Oakland.
When the tired musicians from the two bands straggled into a Hampton Inn in Hayward, Calif., at about 1:30 a.m., they left their gear in the 15-passenger rental van they were sharing for the tour. They parked next to a security camera as a precaution, but it didn’t help: When they returned to the parking lot after 11 a.m., they noticed that some of their guitars, a bass, pedals, clothing and a box with cash from merchandise sales had been stolen.
The theft was the latest in an area of California where property crimes like shoplifting and car break-ins are on the rise. The hotel management told the bands that its security footage did not show a theft. A location tag on one instrument appeared to show that the stolen gear had been taken to an Oakland apartment building, but the police said there was no easy way to get it back.
“The cops told us, ‘Hey, there’s nothing we can do unless it ends up in a pawnshop,’” said Edgar Viveros, 27, Ben Quad’s lead guitarist. The pawnshops they called said that it had not.
Instead of canceling the tour, the bands decided to play on with borrowed gear. They also set up a crowdfunding page and were surprised to see how quickly donations rolled in — $6,000 in about four hours.
The robbery was “kinda heartbreaking,” Imre Griga, 23, a fan in Columbia, Mo., who attended three of the bands’ tour dates this month, said in an email. “I think the entire community felt Forests deserved much better for their first tour in America.”
Within a few days, members of both bands were playing with new instruments. They went a little longer without the pedal board that Ben Quad typically uses to play samples, like the theme from an “Austin Powers” movie, between sets. But a replacement for that, too, was eventually found.
Back home in Singapore, the story of the robbery, and the fan support, made headlines. Some readers commented about their own experiences of getting robbed in the United States. Others wondered how the three members of Forests, who all have day jobs and tour on their vacations, could have been so naïve.
For Forests, it was not their first international tour: They have performed across the Asia-Pacific region over the years. But on their first tour of America, they loved watching the landscape — deserts, trees, snowy mountains — whip past the van’s windows.
They also kept a list of “crazy things” they had seen, like people fighting in convenience stores, or the woman in Seattle who threw her luggage down three flights of stairs in a subway station. The band’s drummer, Niki Koh, 31, said he particularly enjoyed visiting a store that sold guns, knives and hunting gear — “ everything that we won’t find in Singapore.”
“It’s culture shock,” he said, speaking in a video interview from Kansas City. “But at the same time, it’s very interesting.”