Friday, November 21, 2008

Home Safe

On the road, pointed for home. Too bad the road didn't look like this for long. But that's the adventure, isn't it?

Got in yesterday, catching a WestJet out of Winnipeg for Toronto. Pretty uneventful. Thank goodness. All my gear got back unscathed. It's cold here in Ontario, but not like it was in Winnipeg. My friend Susan Harris drove me to the Winnipeg airport, and there was ice and snow everywhere. The good thing about all this snow is that it will likely fill the sink hole on Big Dave's lawn until spring. Then he can get on with his trapping projects.

Overall the return by land was OK. A stop in Vancouver to visit a friend. On to Golden, BC, from where I met a winter storm on the Kicking Horse Pass. I would of taken pics if I'd thought of it, but honestly, I was too scared and too focused on staying alive to consider it. Here's a winding, two lane highway, at very high elevation, cliffs on either side, at night, with clouds covering the road, dense, fog-like, snow covered road, slippery, can't see beyond a car length or two, nobody else up here but a couple of big semis, down to an eighth of a tank of gas, no where to pull over and stop. I've had some crazy drives over the years, but this was one of the wildest. I was glad to see the last of the mountains. I just kept going until I hit Brooks, Alberta, where I pulled over and slept in the truck.

Actually, in Golden I was lucky enough to pick up another guitar. A woman in a cafe recognized me and said she had an old steel guitar she might be willing to sell, as she was not a player herself. Turns out it was a 1935 National Duolian, and I bought it for cash, on the spot. It came with a cardboard case I had to leave at Long & McQuade's in Regina, where I purchased a hardshell for the flight home. You'll be hearing this guitar on the next album. It's a 14 fret guitar, and quite a bit louder than my early, Type O National. Needs some serious neck work first however. Still, I'm very glad to have it.

Over the next couple of weeks I will wrap the paperwork on this Tour, write up a little summary for this Blog, and send my thank yous out to everybody who played a part in making the National Steel Blues Tour a success. And there are a few holes in the Blog where I need to go back and put in pics and so on, so I'll take care of that, too.

The next Tour will be announced in early January.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Post Tour Rambles- Part Two, Running and Art

Things are good here on the coast. I had a great run yesterday at Long Beach, between Tofino and Ucluelet, BC. The tide was perfect when I got there, so off I went. I ran for about 25 minutes along the beach, and then the same back. Pretty smooth going, and a great firmness for running. I would of kept going, except I'm a bit of a neophyte with the tide, and the ocean was clearly coming in as I ran. As it was, my feet got wet. But this was surely worth it. The song of the ocean, the wind on my face, the smell of salt. Big piles of drift. I saw a couple of other runners, but don't know where they went.

The sun did come out eventually, for a few minutes... Great spot whatever the weather! The surfers were out on another nearby beach. Wearing wetsuits, going way out there. Wow.

Today I run the Wild Pacific Trail. There's a loop out of Ucluelet which is about 10km of mostly wild ocean and huge trees. It is raining, and it's off-season, so I have the trail pretty much to myself. This is probably the last run of the Tour. I've got to turn that truck around and drive it east for something like 2500km before catching a plane for home. But right now, here's what it looks like on the Trail— this is a great Canadian run, for sure.

The sign doesn't look so wild... but the trail is a trip to take, as I discover...

That's a Canadian dollar, a "looney," next to this snail. Everything seems to be oversize in this part of the world.

So where's the art? Well, the snail was kind of cool, eh?

Actually, I did get a song list together. Michael will be doing some recording in November and December towards his next album, and I may drop by the same studio and lay down some tracks, too. I think this record will be a little more hard core than my last one. I've got to talk to Colin Linden and also to Ray Kennedy... Hmmm... Things are cookin' in Bluesland. In the morning I'll point that truck east and get back to the real world.

Back at the shack I end up frying my insoles on the electric heater! Crap! Well, I'm bound for home anyway, and maybe I can pick something up somewhere along the way.

There are sea lions out back. They bark like dogs, maybe louder. They seem to bark all night. The leader of the pack is Sammy. I try to take a snap of him, but it doesn't work out terribly well. He's the top sea lion, and he has to bark all night to prove it. I don't know if he actually gets time to get laid, what with his busy barking schedule. Anyhow, this is pretty novel to me— a very authentic ocean experience— so I'm not too bothered by the racket. I'm wishing he'd stop by midnight. I've got a long drive to make... but tonight Sammy sings the blues. I drink wine and listen for a melody. It rains.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Post Tour Rambles- Part One, Books and Art

Quite strange not to be on my way to a show. I feel at loose ends, and wonder if I should even blog. It's just one guy in an empty truck now. There's no show left to play. Here on Vancouver Island I've come north to Port Alberni, and then to Tofino, where I've cut a deal on a small cabin for a couple of days. I've got a bottle of California red, a little BC green, and the mood is quiet. Mostly cold and raining here, so I boot up the lap top and try to catch up. Tour spread sheets are complete. These I have updated daily over the last few months, but today I do a cross check with the paper merch records. Everything adds up, thank goodness. I use a spread I've developed in Excel to track all the shows, contacts, and revenue streams. It's not bad, but I think I could tweak it to make it even more helpful.

I've always kept personal and Tour expense records in a separate, account book with receipt compartments for each, and I keep a fuel/mileage log on the side. This stuff we need for balancing the books on a tour, and later for the taxman. Also, post-tour I do a detailed analysis of where revenue actually comes from, and the nature of the expenses incurred against it. Individual shows cost way more than one might think, so the linking of shows into a Tour make it all possible. In the past I've been able to do rough, on-route calculations as to how well the Tour is actually doing, but now that the Tours are— typically— 65- 100 shows, this is more problematic. Next time out I'll see that I have daily spreads on the expenses in all significant categories as well. I hate the calculator and bucket of receipts part of the wrap-up. I know pretty much what this tour has made after costs. I'll need to figure out the exact costs and gross when I get home. It's important that all financial aspects of a Tour are documented, up-front, and transparent. I never want to quarrel with my friends and associates about money, and great books are the way to avoid disagreements and misunderstandings. Good books maintain good relationships, so they are worth the trouble. It's just part of being a professional.

So what the hell happened to all the art? Oh, you mean actually hanging out and writing songs? I keep a notebook with me and jot stuff down, but as you may have gathered if you have been following the Tour, there's not really much dedicated time out here for an Indy guy. Today I get the National out, put it away again. I'm tired. I want to go outside and wander around. As I walk I'll think of which songs should go on the next CD. I wish my team was a little bigger. Bigger than one. I'd get so much more done. Now I'm going down to the local java joint to sit with the young surfers, buy a late breakfast and look at the ocean.

Tell me I'm not lazy, I'm just tired today. I bet Michael is in Crystal Beach, Ontario, asleep. We've earned a little rest.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Parting of Friends, Good-Bye

It’s an early start this morning. This Tour has been made of early starts. We’re set to make Victoria International Airport for about 11:30 AM. I’ve got Michael booked on a 1:PM flight to Toronto. So his mind is set on home. He’s up and about early, packing bags, moving stuff to the door. Don’t want to be late. Want to make that plane. I feel that way, too. It’s a non-refundable ticket, and you don’t want to mess with these messed up Canadian airlines. Well, Air Canada, anyway. WestJet has been very good to us, but there’s no WestJet out of Victoria today, and that means we have to fly BagBasher express. Neither of us discuss this. We’ve got Calton flight cases for the guitars. That’s about as good as it gets. And so far so good. But now it’s a quick breakfast, more hugs and good-byes to our hosts, and down the road to the ferry. We’ve been told that we’ll get on without any problems, but it’s Monday, so we’re not taking any chances. Thanks, Ron. Visiting you and Oni is magic.

We get to the Terminal about twenty minutes early, and there is already a line. We’ll be OK— we’re close enough to the front. Still, I am glad we got here with time to spare!

It's a short wait and a quick ride to the big island. We've done the Swartz Bay terminal a couple of times now, and know the route to the airport. I think we do anyway. Yes, we do. We are pulling up to departures almost before we know it.

Yes, this is Victoria International Airport. Could be Oz, with those big lolipop things standing there. Unpacking Michael's bags, loading an airport carry cart... This is it. A handshake and a hug. It's been a good adventure. We're still friends. Good friends, I think. But now we're lone dogs again on this big blues highway. Good-bye, Michael. Travel safe. I hope our paths cross often. It's a blink, and he's swallowed up by the terminal.

I put the van in gear and head back to the highway. It feels empty now— but it is kinda nice to have this little space to myself. I like company, but I also enjoy my own company... Alone with my thoughts on the road, stop and go when I please. It's been a long tour— a good tour— but I am relieved that it's over. I'm pretty good at planning and running these things, but there is a certain amount of stress involved. Still, it's a bit of a shock to be alone after all this time. I'm going to miss Michael Pickett. Maybe we'll do it again sometime...

Michael's going to get into Toronto sometime after 10:PM this evening. I'm going to spend a day or two here, decompressing, before taking the truck back to Winnipeg and flying home from there. This was my major screw-up of the Tour. I build the land legs around big loops where I can get good rates on the trucks. This time I thought I'd just end on the west coast— zigging and zagging instead of looping, and fly home to Toronto from Victoria. Of course, there would be a one way drop fee on the truck, but that would only amount to three or four hundred dollars... I should of checked that first! The route schedule was already in place when I found out that the drop fee would be (are you ready?) SIX THOUSAND dollars. They really, really, don't want trucks being dropped on the west coast. And, yes, I shopped around to every lease and rental company to no avail. So, OK. I'll make something good out of this. Tour over, Michael flies home, and I take a few days to myself. I'm going to visit some relatives, do some running in some cool places, drop in on some friends. I'll be in Winnipeg in nine days time. It's going to cost me a few hundred bucks in gas, food, motels, and an extra week's rental, but this is the closest thing to a holiday I've had in twenty years. Right now I'm headed into Victoria to visit Long & McQuade. I'm going to drop this PA system we've been travelling with. Thank goodness we didn't need it! Actually, we ended up using the boom stands on several occasions, and a couple of XLR cables, but that was it.

I'm going to finish this coffee, drop this PA and head north. The sun has finally come out. I'm hoping to connect with some distant cousins of mine later this afternoon at Nanaimo. Then, I'm going to run the Wild Pacific Trail near Tofino! Hey, sometimes the blues is good, eh? I'll keep you posted, because it's not over until it's over. Actually, once I check into the next cheap motel I'll be getting to work on the books, the paperwork, and the follow-ups on the Tour. It ain't all wrapped up yet, and won't be for a while.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Saltspring Island- NSBT Wraps! Last Show!

There’s nowhere we can find in downtown Duncan to get breakfast. Not the breakfast we want anyway. Sunday morning, and all the cool places are closed up. We end up back at the Duncan Garage Café for coffee and muffins to go. This is not bad, just not the diner we want. And it is cool. Thanks!

It’s a short drive north to catch the ferry to Salt Spring Island. A short boat ride, maybe thirty minutes— and we’re here. The sun is working hard today. Very nice. We’ve had days of rain now. Days. So this is nice.

The NSBT, National Steel Blues Tour, is coming to an end soon. Michael has maintained the sign on the Tour Van...

We drive into the village and call our hosts, Ron and Oni. Hello! We’re here!!

It’s to be a house concert toight at the “Whale House,” a beautiful home on top of a small mountain. Both Michael and I have been here before, but not together. This seems like an amazing spot to end the Tour.

Yes, this is the Last Show. Wow. Hard to believe. We’re in early, but the house is already a hive of activity as Ron and Oni and Dave and other friends prep for the show. It’s to be a pot luck supper, and there are good things cooking here already. Smells great, can’t wait! Michael retires to his room to nap and chill away from the commotion. I’m to stay in a little alcove off the main room, so I’m pretty much in the middle of the set up. We’ve got most of the afternoon in front of us, so I decide— what the heck— I’m going to run Salt Spring Island.

It’s a long, steep run down the hill from this house. I know coming up will be very, very special. A real climb. I zig zag down the hill as I find it easier on my legs to do hills this way. Down to the Concession road, and I’m off on the rolling terrain. Most of the trees and bushes are still green, and loom up over the road. Occasionally there is an opening for a field. Blackberries are still on bushes along the ditches. It’s a grey sky, and the ground is wet, the road shoulders soft and splashy. Here and there I pick up a little mud. Another great Canadian run. Out about an hour. Pushing up the hill for home is just as tough as I thought it would be. But I’ve been training all across this great land. I’m pushing, pushing. This is the steepest, longest hill in over two months of travel. There are wet leaves on it. I must be careful not to slip. I will not stop running. I will not walk. I will make this last climb on this last run of the Tour. Finally I crest the hill. My lungs are bursting. I’m soaking. My heart is pounding. Wow. I hit the steam shower (yes, absolutely amazing) with the windows looking out over the hills. I’m blessed to be sharing this special place.

Night comes quickly. We’re to use a small PA this night, and local musician Shovelhead Dave helps us to set up and get the whole thing in gear. I remember Dave from last year when he sat around jamming with Big Dave McLean and I after our show.

People and food are arriving, so Michael and I get plates and explore some of the fare around the room. Nuts, oysters, red wine, salads, blackened chicken, salads, Salt Spring cheeses. This is good! Here's the girls collecting at the door, talking girl talk, and having a few laughs at my expense!

Showtime. We’re a little cramped here, but not bad. We limbo in and out behind our cage of mics and mic stands. We’ve got about 35 people here tonight. Fifty would have been better. But this is nice. Michael kicks off the show tonight. We’ve been trading off the opening from show to show. Tonight it’s “I’ve Been Fooled Again,” an old Sonny and Brownie tune. I get to play harp on this one. I do a second line, try to have fun, pump along, and stay out of Michael’s way. Every harmonica player in every town seems to come out to see us— well, to hear Michael anyway— so I’ve been a little self-conscious throughout the Tour. Here I am playing harp for Michael Pickett. How strange it that?? After all these shows I’m still knocked out by his playing every night. I get to play on two other songs, “Hitch Hikin’ Woman” and “Louise.” These are more down my Mississippi alley.

Tonight we are working hard, and soaking in this last show of the Tour. I think we are playing really well— individually and together. Last shows are like this sometimes. It’s kind of a warm glow, maybe a little sadness that we’ve reached the end of this adventure. It has been another great journey, both artisticlly and personally. Between sets we sell raffle tickets on the LAST tour jacket, sign CDs and posters. Here's the lucky winner of the jacket!!

My pal Bruce Everett has come to the show tonight. You might know him as “Ken Hamm’s harp player.” Ken and Bruce hung out with us last year in Alberta, and did some playing. We chat, and it turns out Bruce now lives on a boat, anchored in the village harbour here at Salt Spring Island. Very cool! Where's his pic? We took some. They'll turn up.

Our second set goes by all too quickly. I enjoy every moment. Michael plays “Tryin’ to Find My Way Home,” and I lead into Pearly Brown’s “Good-Bye” which has become kind of a closing theme for us. We sing a bunch of choruses to a standing ovation, and the night, and the Tour, is done. Michael and I end this night standing in front of the stage together for one last bow.

Later, we sit outside on deck chairs and marvel at the whole thing. We are lucky guys to live this life— but it has taken us the better part of 40 years to get to this Tour, this show, this deck on this mountain with a big moon smiling down on us.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Duncan Garage Showroom, Duncan, BC

Another early start. Not real early, but early enough. Again, we’ve got a ferry to catch and we’d rather be too early than too late arriving at our show. After hugs and good-byes we’re off to the ferry docks where we are to wait all of about fifteen minutes for our boat.

As we wait, the traffic builds behind us, so we are glad to know we’ll be getting on! The trip itself is long. We stop at a couple of other islands on route to Swartz Bay, Victoria. Here's the view from the deck...

Picking up Route One is easy, and it turns out to be a pretty drive up to Duncan, BC, where we are to play the Duncan Garage Showroom.

This is one of my favourite rooms in Canada, so I’m very glad to be here as we approach the end of this Tour. Last year Big Dave McLean and I sold this place out and had a fabulous time. But Michael and I are here early, and the place is locked up tight. Longevity John is nowhere in sight, nor are the many dogs which parade about with him. We go downstairs to the café for a bite to eat, and run into John. We also meet folks who have come over from Hornby Island and from Galleano Island to catch our show. That’s very cool, and we really, really appreciate the effort taken. This is a good sign— the show could be another sell out.

After lunch we check into our hotel for a short nap. The place is loud. I can hear the guys drinking at the bar downstairs. I can hear the guy across the hall playing guitar. I can hear two guys and two girls boinking upstairs. Michael has his earplugs in. I’m grateful that this is the worst hotel we’ve stayed at during the Tour. And that we’ll be outta here in the morning!! What a great view!

I take all my personal gear to the gig in the truck. No way am I leaving anything of value in this hotel room! John has us up and sounding good in short order! This is the 1061st show to take place in this venue, and he knows what he’s doing!

By the second set we sound really good. This is another good show. A real good one. No, we’re not sold out here, which is disappointing, but a nice crowd in one of the best small venues you’ll find anywhere! As always here, you never know who will show up to catch your performance. I thought this guy looked familiar... Iconic Canadian songwriter Joe Hall. Thanks for coming out, Joe. Great to see you!

The raffle is good, we play good. Here's tonight's winner!

We’re getting close to the end of this tour. Hard to believe. We’re gonna miss this. I know I am anyway. Out back there's a little smoking porch. This is where hungry dogs go to properly address their popcorn... Tonight, about ten of them... Dogs that is!

We go for a bite after the show. It's chain pizza tonight, and the waiter asks us, "how do you like your food, so far?" What kind of dumb-ass question is that anyway? Back at the hotel there is a band playing, and it is pretty loud in our room. They sound pretty strange, but eventually they stop. The lead singer and his girlfriend have a big fight upstairs. They're not smacking, but they are nagging. It sounds like a puppet show gone bad. Very bad. Eventually they boink and she leaves. She was loud and he was quick. Is this important to the NSBT? Probably not, but it is the nearest thing to sex I have to report. Michael is asleep by this time, and soon I will be, too. Sleep is good.