Sunday, September 25, 2011

California to Dawson Creek and back

So it's my birthday...63 years old !...and my wife and I take a taxi to the Calgary Airport, fly to San Francisco, board a shuttle bus to Sonoma County airport, and are picked up by a volunteer for the "Just Strings Music Festival" slated for the following week-end in Geyserville, in the heart of wine country. It's interesting to be back ; I left California in 1970 and rarely go back, especially to perform. We are driven to the Geyserville Inn, a classic little wine country hotel with beautiful grounds and a small pool, about 3/4s of a mile down the road from town - a Gold Rush - era main street of wine shops, one good restaurant, antique stores, 2 corner stores where as much business is done in Spanish as English, a few nice Victorian homes (they appear to be either week-end homes for wealthy Bay area residents or B&Bs), and side-streets of shotgun houses where the Mexican and Mexican-American work force for the surrounding vineyards work.

Our driver is a guy I met before in Mexico (the Artistic Director has also served in the same capacity for the Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival, and there are quite a few familiar faces among performers and volunteers). A strong nip of tequila from a flask disguised as a cell phone (love it !) and the evening is under way. Over the week-end there will be reunions with numerous friends (Catherine Krantz, another past Artistic Director from Zihuatanejo), Los Pistoleros (from Dallas), Shelly King (Austin), Nick Vigarino (Seattle), Patric Sweany (Nashville) and my friend Pat Guadano, New Jersey saloon singer extraordinaire. We will do a radio broadcast from Santa Rosa, just south of where we are down Highway 101; discover a truly extraordinary Mexican Restaurant/Tequila Bar in Healdsburg (also just south of us) called Agaves - check it out if you're ever in town. Octavio brings spices from Oaxaca, and the best in Tequilas and fine Mescals (yes, there is such a thing) from Jalisco and Oaxaca, and it is truly cosmic. I'll discover some great players/singers/writers...Carolyn Aitken particularly comes to mind...we'll tour wineries, make astounding music in the evenings at the hotel, and play to virtually no one under a baking sun at a festival which is suffering the "first year" curse.

At the conclusion of the festival, Artistic Director Jeanne Pezzi tries to pay me and I first try to not accept, but am convinced to take re-imbursement for the car I've rented (she's already shelled out to fly me / bus me in, put up Jo and I, and stock the bar in the party room plus a few meals).

On arriving home it's back to my usual house gigs in Calgary (Tuesdays solo at Mikey's Juke Joint and the Saturday Jam at the Blues Can, week-end gigs in both rooms with my band, The Electro-Fires, a rehearsal with The Hackamores - a western swing band I'm part of - a private party, then Bar-B-Q on the Bow, an annual competition/barbecue fest, the Calgary Soul Fest (put on by former Perpetrator Scotty Hills, to a very encouraging response), and off to Dawson Creek. Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway. Along with Grande Prairie on the Alberta side of the border, the commercial hub of the Peace River farming/ranching country and a serious oil industry jumping - off point.

The 9 1/2 hour drive is from Hell : I have a cold, and the cd player/radio in the rental car dies by the city limits...Edmonton is a hideous construction zone of lane closures, rude/terrible drivers, and a complete lack of signage to get you out of the city. I roll into Dawson Creek in time to set up in the Dew Drop Inn (beer parlour for the 1931-constructed Alaska Hotel) where I will play 5 sets a night through Sunday night to farmers who love guitar, 20-something oil trash, and crushed natives, while staying in a room where I can smell the mould even through my head-cold. At its best it was great, and at its worst it reminded me why I play the festivals, folk clubs and dedicated music rooms to the exclusion of booze barns whenever possible. A note to the girl who cursed at me for not playing "Jackson" by Johnny Cash : in Dawson Creek you might be considered a hot date, but in a real city you'd be just another stoned whore. See you next time - NOT.

The owners, Charles and Heidi, are lovely folks with whom I'll always be glad of a visit, but I no longer have whatever it takes to do 5 sets a night for the Great Uncaring. The drive back, although still silent, was beautiful (except for the terrible traffic accident I drove by just over the border). Fields still being harvested, colour beginning on the softwood trees, and my own bed where I could lie down and lose the cold.

September's last few gigs will be Mikey's this Tuesday, and The Last Chance Saloon in Wayne , Alberta, on Friday night. October's gigs include the usual Mikey's and Blues Can gigs, plus Mondays solo at The Blues Can (subbing for my pal Darren Johnson while he's off to Florida) on the 10th, 17th and 24th; Vangelis Pizza in Saskatoon on the 5th for the Blues Society; a workshop at Legacy Guitars, in Cochrane Alberta on Wednesday the 12th, The Blues Can with The Electro-Fires on the 14th-15th; Alberta Showcase in Edmonton the 21st-23rd (I showcase on the Saturday and will have a booth at the hotel - drop around if you're attending and say "Howdy"); and 4 dates with a wonderful group of players ...Steve Pineo and Robbie Laws are the other guitarists/front men, with a "dream band" of Ron Casat (keys), Mike Clark (sax), John Hyde (bass) and Kelly Kruse (drums)... October 27th at The Vat in Red Deer, 28th-29th at the Ironwood Stage & Grill in Calgary, and the 30th at the Old-Timers Cabin in Edmonton (Halloween fund-raiser for the Edmonton Blues Society).

Lots more on the go...2 cds to produce and the score for a play at Vertigo Theatre (Calgary) to get ready, RECORD MY OWN NEW CD, and ride herd on the summer festivals already making offers (seems earlier each year). There's now a working website for the festival I'm part of in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico in Feb./Mar. at See you somewhere down the road !