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Halfway Along, Long Half Done

 

            Western Canada, goodbye. For now. It’s been swell. We shan’t be long. Just picture us, driving out past Edmonton, tears flowing free, a burning in our toes and eyelashes, clinging to each other for support, bidding farewell to the mountains, dabbing our eyes with lacy handkerchiefs. So marked our first excursion out into the prairies and beyond. Toy Story ain’t got nothing on this. Now, I’m sitting in the van on the way to Sudbury, listening to Django Reinhardt, legs a little cramped from the drive across the prairies and western Ontario, and reflecting on the past few weeks.            

           The first weekend on the islands was one of our favourite yet. In Saltspring we played a beautiful house concert on a farm with horses grazing, and aerial silks hanging from a 60-foot, burnt-orange arbutus tree on the hillside. Sounds like a postcard, looked like one. It was a short ferry ride to Maine after that, Marley’s hometown, for Dirty Grace’s album release at the town concert hall. As a grand finale for the weekend, we got to play at the Waverly, whose walls are covered with more legendary posters than I’ve seen in a venue yet, and had the rowdiest crowd that we’ve ever played for. A huge thanks to Vig for the fantastic promotional work that he does. Had a spontaneous offer after the gig to play at a bachelor party afterwards at the hostel down the street, which we did, of course. We heard later that we kept some people up, for which we are very sorry. Cumberland, as the locals told me to tell anyone who asks, is: “a shitty, awful, stinky place that no one would ever want to live in, trust me.” Since they’re definitely, totally, for sure not trying to keep a hidden gem hidden, I’ll stick to that line for now.     

            Although we didn’t get to Tofino, as we would have liked for the full coast-to-coast trip, we started the journey east to Kelowna for Cinqo de Mayo at Fernando’s.  Sang songs with Annie Becker, and Nils Loewen opened his living room for us. It was a quick hop to Vernon, where we camped at Stand-Up Steve’s place, next to a gurgling creek. We were playing at the Gallery Vertigo that night, a beautiful art space with poems penciled all along the walls. We played totally acoustic, which always makes for a close, intimate show, but people surprised us, and it turned into a crazy dance party. Might have had something to do with that cheap, french malt liquor they were selling. We spent the night by the fire, drinking wine. A short and sweet visit to the Okanagan, but then it was off to the Kootenays, to Silverton to regroup with DG. Had our first dip in a river of the summer. The hall there was gorgeous, and sounded amazing. We had a slightly disproportionate audience for the size of it, but that’s what we have imaginations for, right? The drive through the Slocan Valley alongside the river was breathtaking. There were definitely a few concerned glances down the cliff to our right, weaving around those curves. In Winlaw, we were welcomed by Beth’s friends. The vibe was warm, with kids and dogs running around as we played from the woodshed. And at last our final show in our cozy BC circuit came at the Rockwater in Golden. Pat from the Taps had taken over booking there, and it was the best show that any of us had had there, ever.

            Then it was on to the great land of oil and trucks, Calgary. Or so the stereotype goes, but we arrived just on the heels of a historic provincial election which saw the NDP (yep the NDP!) voted in, wait for it…as a majority! It was the first time in 44 years that the PCs lost an election. They started shredding documents shortly after their defeat. Gotta wonder what kind of interesting tidbits of information would need to be destroyed in such a timely fashion? Hmmm. In such splendid political timing did we slip into the big city. Our lovely friend Amanda Noelle put together a house show for us for which her three-piece band, Rosalind, and Colton from I Am the Mountain opened. They were both fantastic, with beautifully constructed songs and harmonies. My own silly, totally unreliable, but indispensably vintage Harmony Archtop’s pickup had broken a few days earlier, and Jesse from Rosalind actually offered to let me frankenstein his guitar to retrieve a part to fix my own, a selfless gesture of generosity which I thankfully couldn’t follow through on.

            After that, we found ourselves in the most beautiful place in Alberta, Jasper. Jasper is kind of like Banff, but better, with about a quarter of the tourists, and a tight-knit small-town community. There, we played at the Olive, for a nearly sold out crowd (!!!). And of course the unbeatable hospitality of Steph and Darryl, not to mention the best food a travelling band could possibly hope for. The next night, we couldn’t help but take advantage of the scenery, so we set up camp alongside a river, with the cool mountain air blowing down on us from the valley. The next day we drove out into the great flat towards Edmonton. We haven’t been able to quite nail down a good show there yet, but we’ll keep trying. My friend Karen stayed up until 2:30 just to see us, even though she was volunteering at 6:30! We took our last turn for two provinces, and drove out into the prairies.

            Now, Winnipeg does have a reputation that precedes it, but we certainly missed it, whatever it is. The gig was at the Cavern Club, which is a rad, brick-walled venue sunk underground beneath the Toad-in-the-Hole restaurant. Made some new friends in Falaxies, and the Greg Arcade Band (Manitoba’s Joey Onley) who opened up proceedings. The crowd was just the way we like it, unruly, loud, and a hell of a lot of fun. James Brown (yep, James Brown) not only booked us there, but led us back to stay at his place…on his bicycle…in the absolute pissing rain. Legend.

            This just about gets us up to speed; the last show we played was at the Apollo, in Thunder Bay, a longtime homecoming for Jesse. It had possibly the best sound of any venue we’ve ever played, excepting the Occidental. Thanks to Alex for doing sound, and Sheila for hosting us for our first ever show in Ontario. Now we're off to Beth's parent's place in Freelton, just outside of Hamilton, which we will use as a landing base for a few days from which to strike out, snake-like, at the surrounding towns and cities. Shazam.