Another early morning call and another 4 hour drive down that f@c#ing highway. If life is a highway, I'd hate to be the poor sucker who happens to pick up Highway 2. I think I hear a new song coming on. Through the snow squalls and freezing rain we drove until, finally, coming around a bend, the prairie disappeared and the mountains reared above. Banff…..it doesn't get much more impressive: set in a valley with the Bow River snaking through it, ringed by truly awesome, snow packed peaks and ridges. The healing power of nature. It was cold today, but clear and bright and the mountain air was what one would call “bracing”. I walked half way up Tunnel Mountain, and called home. I got caught up on the madness that is home, while watching the river tracing its route through the valley below and the snow sweeping off the peaks above.
We have a personal attachment to this town. In the summer of 1971 my dad was working out of Calgary so he rented a house on the side of Tunnel Mountain a few blocks from Banff's Main street. The whole family along with our grandmother decamped for the summer to Banff, Alberta. It was a magical summer. For half the time we were feral and had the town and the mountain as our open play ground. For the other half we went on family adventures to one unbelievable natural environment after the other. We saw bears and elk and mountain goats and meeses and scores of beautiful white tail deer. It was a summer that burned itself in to our memories. So its always a great feeling to return and stare at those mountain peaks: Rundle, Norquay, Cascade, Sulpher Mountain haven't changed a smidge over these past thirty years even if the town is almost unrecognizable.
We played Harvie Hall at the Banff Art Center. This center is an amazing resource, a place for artists of all stripes to go and extend their studies or workshop an idea or just escape to the mountains to be inspired and refreshed. It's an amazing place and full of positive energy. We had a great audience tonight. Big and boisterous. We played a pretty decent set. It wasn't perfect and it we seemed to lose each other at the end of the second set…but we channeled the positive vibes and delivered a very good show.
These last five nights in Alberta have been fantastic. The audience has shown up and contributed to the show every night in a positive way. The days have been long and grinding but the nights, thanks to the good folks of Alberta have been rejuvenating and fun. We've had a bunch of great shows, sold a ton of music (always a good sign), and experienced firsthand what makes Albertan's…Albertan, their land. Tough and gnarly and unrelenting. Tomorrow we have another early morning, a 90 minute drive to the Calgary airport, and a three hour flight to Whitehorse….and all the other stuff that involves flying with seven people and twenty pieces of checked baggage. This has been fun…hopefully we can make it a regular run, so that we can check out some more of this hard tack land. North to the Yukon we go.
Pete's ipad sketch of the Alberta landscape (part 2):
The drive between Calgary and Edmonton has always been one that I dread. It always feels much longer that it should. It's kind of like the middle part of the drive along the 401 between Toronto and Montreal, it just goes on and on….Gasoline Alley, the oasis of gas stations and fast-food joints that sits on the outskirts of Red Deer, is almost a welcome respite, a break in the bleak sameness of the landscape.
We did the drive early this morning in order to get to a live radio interview with CKUA in Edmonton. CKUA is a small gem. It is a publicly funded and listener supported radio station that broadcasts throughout Alberta and its prime focus is arts and culture. They have been big supporters of the Canadian independent music scene for many, many years. If every province had a CKUA, life would be just a wee bit fuller.
We had two shows over two nights at The Arden Theater in St Albert, which is a small mall encased community just north of Edmonton. These are the two shows that this entire tour has been built around. They have been on our books for about two years and thankfully, with all of that lead time, they were both very sold-out. We had two extremely satisfying shows. The first night was excellent and the second night was very, very good (maybe a wee bit less intense than the first night). A great sounding theater and stage and two very engaged audiences. Sometimes all those highway miles pay off in a very nice way.
This morning we drove back across the prairie from whence we came: heading to somewhere between Calgary and the Rocky Mountains, to a little town situated on the banks of the Bow River, named Cochrane. The word is that this town is fishing central when the season finally gets underway, but at this time of year there doesn't seem to be a whole lot going on. It's an ugly time of year, not quite winter, not quite spring, the dominant colours being brown and gray. Cochrane does have an “old town”, but it looks more like an “olde town” to me, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of architectural heritage lining the streets. Once again there are lots of malls, lots of Tim Horton's, lot's of convenience.
We played tonight in the The Cochrane Alliance Church, which is home to the Cochrane Folk Club. Performing in churches is always difficult, the acoustics generally aren't designed to absorb a drum kit and an electric bass amp, but this hall was particularly difficult. Jared had a tough time at front-of-house and we struggled all night with the sound on stage. The good part of the equation was that we had a sold out show and an audience that was excited to be there. I think we played ok, despite the challenges.
This is going to be a weird one. Planes, trains and automobiles…except there won't be any trains. We flew to Calgary yesterday, picked up a cargo and passenger van and headed East. Three hours later we found Medicine Hat and a hotel with an indoor water-slide.
On our flight from Toronto I sat behind the former captain of the Montreal Canadiens, current hall-of-famer, ten time Stanley Cup Champion, Yvan Cournoyer….numero douze….”the roadrunner”. Jeff sat beside him and endured his elbows….lucky dog. He was sitting in the middle seat of the economy section of a budget airline…If he had played 20 years later he could have owned the airline. Timing is everything.
The drive across the Prairie was stupefying in its intensity, ferocious in its sameness, unrelenting, inexorable, grim, numbingly static. Miles and miles of power lines and pavement, a scattering of pumpers, a few collapsing homesteads and an unreachable horizon. God this country is huge. We skirted the edges of the badlands. This is very unforgiving land…in any season.
I don't have much of an opinion on Medicine Hat. It must be quite spectacular when everything is blooming and the river can be fished. But its economic heart has been ripped out by the malls on the outskirts. It's clean and tidy and slowly disappearing into the suburbs, which look much like any suburbs, outside of any town, in any corner of this continent. There is not much to recommend it to the tourist.
We played a beautiful hall tonight: The Esplanade Arts Centre. It wasn't a huge crowd but not bad considering we are truly outside of our normal touring territory. There seemed to be an appreciation and an understanding for the Nomad set and a buzz for the second. It was a great sounding stage and I think we played really well, especially in the second set which had a nice controlled groove about it. Day 1 done and gone.
If you are a Westerner please note that our Nomad Tour is heading your way in less than a week. On April 17th we will be starting a week-long run of dates through Alberta and then heading north to Whitehorse, on to Victoria and then south in to Washington, Oregon and Northern California. Most nights we will be playing two sets with the first set dedicated to our just completed Nomad Series and the second set full of songs from our catalogue. If there is a song of ours that you have always wanted to hear us play, please email the title to us at JunkieInfo@aol.com and we will do our best to play it that night (make sure you tell us what show you'll be at). Check out our Tour Page for relevant venue and ticket info. It will be a while before we are back in this part of the country so we hope to see out there.
For those of you in or near Quebec City, we'll be heading your way on May 11th for a show at the beautiful Palais Montcalm.
I'll be in Berkeley on Thursday night in conversation with the great Chinese musician Zuoxiao Zuzhou (who is featured on Renmin Park and wrote I Cannot Sit Sadly By Your Side). It could be interesting, it could be wierd, it could be enlightening, it could be uncomfortable, it will definitely be different.
So if you are in the San Francisco Bay area and are looking for something to do on Thursday night, drop on by and come up and say hello…..
In case you missed it, our main man, Jeff Bird has just released a new album on Latent Recordings under the guise of his band The Potion Kings. It's hard music to describe, but if you are a fan of some of Miles's eccentric early 70's electric wanderings you should feel comfortable in the hands of The Potion Kings. The band is made up of Jeff on bass, guitar whiz Kevin Bright, mad-man Randall Coryell on drums and percussionest Howie Southwood. It's a wild and wooly ride, just hold on tight and enjoy.
We did it. Fourteen shows in sixteen days. Two sets a night. Many, many road miles. One hotel room. Many bad movies….and other things. But we did it. We are toast. Luckily we finished this off in an easy little town like Tarrytown and had the benefit of playing in an old spooky venue like the Music Hall. Most importantly we had a sold out house full of energy. Margo, heroically, found enough of her voice to pull the whole thing off. I have no idea how we played…I'll leave that to be decided by those in the audience, at this point we are too disassociated with our selves to be any gauge. I think it went well…but I have no idea.
This has been a very fun and successful little tour. One of the best attended in a long time. None of it would have been possible without our crew, Jared and John. As exhausting as this was for us, it was doubly so for them, but you would never know it. They go above and beyond everyday and still have enough left over to keep us entertained. They rock.
We are home tomorrow (Jeff's Birthday), re-enter our real lives, carefully, and then, around mid-April, just when things are settling down and getting back to normal, we'll be out the door again and heading West. Enjoy the coming of Spring (it is coming, right?).
Today was a tough day. We woke up in downtown Newark, it was cold and it was necessary to dig our winter coats out from the bottom of our bunks. We're heading back in to Winter and we are all a little hung-over from our three days and nights in Alexandria. I know that they are trying here in Newark (the Performing Arts Centre that we played tonight is evidence of that) and they have come a long way in the last ten years, but man, there is a long way to go. Downtown is still a wee bit post-apocalyptic. On the bright side, we found another St Patrick's Day Parade, only two days early this time, and there were lots of high school bands. There were also a few drum corps and a few flights of bagpipes (at least I think that is what you call a parading set of bagpipers). It was fun to watch the band kids enjoying not-enjoying themselves….anyone who has a teenager at home will understand.
A very nice modern hall tonight…perhaps a little cold and very sterile back stage, but a definitely a nice place to play in. Margo has been fighting a cold and exhaustion for the past few days and tonight it caught up with her. Her voice is hanging on by a thread, I wonder if that thread can support one more show. In the theater next to us tonight was a Classic Albums band (from Toronto) who were performing Led Zepplin I and IV….note for note. In our hall we were performing The Trinity Session, not quite note for note, but we felt a little bit like a cover band tonight, like we didn't have any true connection to the material. I'm sure it was a decent show from an audience perspective, but it was a hard one on the stage. Margo did a great job at working around the limitations placed on her by her cold. We have one more show tomorrow night in a very nice little theater in the cool little village of Tarrytown. It's a sold-out show and it would be nice to go home with one more win under our belts.
When we arrived in Alexandria yesterday we were pummeled by a full-on Southern Rain. But it didn't matter, we all took to our rooms and most of us didn't re-appear until it was time to go to the venue this afternoon. This was our first non-moving bed in the last 12 days….pure luxury.
Two nights at The Birchmere…the first night was a Trinity night and the second night was the first time that we ever performed Black Eyed Man in its entirety. The Trinity night went like a dream. A very excited audience (especially for The Birchmere which can be a bit staid at times) and we played with a lot of energy and invention. It was an excellent night.
We have been working on the songs from Black Eyed Man for the past couple of weeks in soundcheck and have been playing a few of them each night. This is not an easy album to play…way too many chords. Songs like A Horse In The Country and Murder Tonight In The Trailer Park have been in our repertoire for decades, but about half of the material hasn't seen the stage in ten years. After listening to us in soundcheck for the past week Jared has decided to buy a clicker and keep track of the amount of mistakes that we make during the performance. The show went well. We only had one little train wreck during the bridge in The Last Spike, I lost track of where we were and then Al followed suit, and I also screwed up Jeff during the solo of Winter Song (we have never played this song live). There were a couple of other minor hic-ups but all-in-all I think we pulled it off. It wasn't the most relaxed show that we have ever done, but the challenge was exciting and it felt like the audience was in to the whole premise. A very succesful two nights.
We also had the pleasure of visits from the ghosts of Tour Managers past. Blair Woods and Craig Chapman were there for the first night and Mike Sponarski, who is in town with The Chieftains, came down after the show and kept us up all night. It's always fun reliving old campaigns with comrades in arms.