Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Festival Madness

With August nearing the half-way mark, and 3 festivals yet to go by Labor Day, finally there's time to write a new post (the fire trucks and police cars attending a near-by fire in the middle of the night woke me up anyway).  Just before Canada Day I appeared at The Blues Can here in Calgary, with a band of friends and colleagues under the name The Blues Can All-Stars : Bill Dowey, leader of The Blues Devils and The Hoodoo Sons, former host of The King Eddy Hotel's legendary Saturday jams; Donald Ray Johnson, singer/writer/drummer extraordinaire (Taste of Honey, Maurice John Vaughan, Phillip Walker, Freddie King, and more); Greg "Jr." Demchuk, from the DuRite Aces, formerly from the Rockin' Highliners; Mike Clark, sax player with everybody from Albert Collins to Ian Tyson; Tommy Knowles, bassist for Rita Chiarelli, Kathi MacDonald, Long John Baldry; and me.  Smoking sets Friday/Saturday nights, plus I hosted the Saturday Afternoon Jam...then got up Sunday (Canada Day) to play a set with the house band from The National Music Centre at Fort Calgary.  A rehearsal for a Stampede show, my regular Tuesday night solo gig at Mikey's Juke Joint, and starting on the Thursday, two shows a day at the Stampede grounds playing banjo on a medicine wagon for 11 days.  Add to that a wedding gig with The Electro-Fires (my long-time electric roots & blues outfit) plus 3 club gigs with The Hackamores (the Western Swing band I've been a part of for the last 2 years) and you begin to understand how badly my ass was dragging by the end of the rodeo.  The Monday immediately following, I sat in with Steve Pineo's trio at Mikey's, augmented by Mike Clark on Sax and Greg Haugesag on trumpet/fluglehorn, while visiting with Greg and Mary Hubbard...the 2 of them were my hosts for 3 weeks while I toured Baja California del Sur this past winter.

The next night was my Tuesday solo gig at Mikey's, then Friday with the Hackamores at High River's excellent club, Carlson's On Macleod.  Next day was the Blues Can Saturday jam, which I've been absent from ever since (thanks, Vernon Wills, for subbing) and won't get back to until Labor Day week-end.  After my Tuesday gig it was The Calgary Folk Music Festival with The Hackamores (and a solo roots workshop which ended with Betty Lavette singing "Every Day I Have The Blues" while sitting on my lap).  Shows by Chris Isaak and Junior Brown were highlights, plus workshops with Pokey Lafarge and Chatham County Line.

After a day off, Jo and I hit the highway for Kelowna, BC, for a gig at The Minstrel Cafe and a visit with son Josh, daughter-in-law Heather, and newest grandson Charlie.  Next was a goodly drive and a ferry ride to Vancouver Island where I performed in concert in Spirit Square in Campbell River, then next day we drove to Nanaimo, caught the short little ferry to Gabriola Island, and I performed at Feedlot Studio.  After a lovely night at Hummingbird b&b (wish we could have stayed longer) we were up early for a marathon...ferry back to Nanaimo, ferry from Nanaimo to Vancouver, then a drive up Fraser Canyon to Wells, B.C. for ArtsWells fest.  15 hours including ferry rides.  Tons of deer from twilight on, a virtual wall of moths and dragonflies hitting the grill and windshield, and a cow moose with calf ambling across the highway.  3 sets in one day, get paid and packed and spend a day in Barkerville.  Jo had never been, so we looked over the town (a restored ghost town which, at the height of the Cariboo gold rush, was said to be the biggest town west of Chicago and north of San Francisco), Jo panned for gold, we ate Chinese for lunch in the restored Chinatown, then we were off to Quesnel and 100 Mile House for days off.

Driving down the Cariboo Highway I was able to show Jo the ranches I had worked on in the area, and we joined friends Rick and Liz Jones for a lovely dinner which was cut short by a phone call telling Rick his saddle horse was down with colic.  We took the makings for a drench (basically a way to fill the horse's intestine with vegetable oil so they can pass whatever's making them colic) but the horse was back up on her feet (albeit in a bit of shock) when we got there.  Next a drive across Highway 24 to Clearwater (between Jasper and Kamloops) for 2 nights at pal Doug Fenwick's Blue Loon Grill, then the drive home last Friday.  On Saturday (my birthday) I played with The Hackamores at Mountain View Music Fest in Carstairs, then
Sunday at the Okotoks Olde Towne Show & Shine vintage car show.  Tonight and Friday Happy Hour are both at Mikey's Juke Joint, Saturday is the Central Alberta Music Festival (with old buddy Morgan Davis), and Sunday is the wrap up of the Spaghetti Western Festival here in Calgary, where the Hackamores close it off at The Ironwood Stage & Grill.  Next week it's Mikey's, The Sunnyside Farmers' Market, and The Edmonton International Blues Festival with Big Dave MacLean, Greg Demchuk, and the five-piece version of the Electro-Fires.  September's schedule is a little easier, largely taken up with composing/recording music for Alberta Theatre Projects production of the play, Intimate Apparel .

I turned 64 (!!) last Saturday...I just want to say that I'm truly grateful for the birthday wishes, for my wife and family, and to still make my living from music at an age when most players have either given up, or been given up on.  From mid-November until early December I'm doing a Home Routes house concert tour in Southern Ontario (plus a return to the Greenbank Folk Club), then the Lethbridge Folk Club with The Hackamores, and from December 11-20 I'm doing gigs in Madrid and The Canary Islands for blues societies there...plus arrangements have been concluded for a new cd, on Lowden Proud, due out hopefully this Fall.  Hope to see you at one of the shows !

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Island Time (Again)

After more than 2 months at home, I unpacked from last week-end's Foothills Acoustic Music Institute camp (where I was an instructor for the fourth year in a row) yesterday, and will pack when I finish this post for 4 shows on Vancouver Island.  Joe's Garage in Courtenay tomorrow, Duncan Garage Showroom on Friday, a house concert in Campbell River on Saturday, and The Rendezvous Diner in Nanaimo on Sunday.  Then home again until just after the Calgary Folk Music Festival, where I'll be appearing with The Hackamores (in addition to Mikey's Juke Joint July 10, The Blues Can July 12, and Carlsons On Macleod in High River July 20th).  From August long week-end onward it's the Minstrel Cafe in Kelowna (and a visit with Josh, Heather, and new grandson Charlie;The Roxy on Gabriola Island ; Pier Street Market in Campbell River; Arts Wells Fest; Blue Loon Grill, Clearwater BC; Central Alberta Music Fest; Edmonton International Blues Fest; and a projected tour of Spain before starting work on Alberta Theatre Projects' "Intimate Apparel" as sound designer in the middle of the month.

A deal is in place for the next cd, which awaits some new tunes from me (I'm writing, I'm writing...), and there will be a new post post-Island.  Come on out to a show !

Friday, March 16, 2012

Down In Mexico

Just back from a four-week tour of Mexico, which included three weeks in Southern Baja and the Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival. The two months before I left were a blur of gigs (including some very fun ones, like the annual "Hankover" concert (a tribute to Hank Williams)), and a pile of studio work. An excellent 2nd album for singer/songwriter Miss Quincy, the music for Vertigo Theatre's production of "When Girls Collide", and half of a new cd for songwriter/harmonica player Paul Saks.

Mexico remains very much a part of my soul ; really the only thing I miss living in Canada about my upbringing in Southern California is it's very "Mexican-ness" (Mexicanissimo in Spanish). I have never felt particularly at risk in Mexico (except in a few taxis) ; I've been hassled way more in Oakland and San Francisco. In a selfish way, I'm glad of the fear keeping tourists away because I don't have to listen to their casual racism and constant whining. The music, history and culture of the place continue to fascinate me : one gallery owner, in the course of a conversation in Spanish about the regional folk art she had on display, asked me if I lived in Mexico or was part Mexican, and when I replied no she said "Yes, part Mexican...in your soul".

I left at 6 a.m. Valentine's Day (sorry again, honey) and was in Los Cabos airport just after 10 to be picked up by the drummer I was touring with, in support of local charity La Semilla de la Vida (The Seed of Life), and driven to my digs at Tres Palapas in San Jose Del Cabo, a delightful home/guest house/recording studio on Gringo Hill, where my wonderful hosts Greg and Mary quickly transitioned from hosts to new friends. I played a private party at their place, the weekly Artwalk in San Jose del Cabo, two bars and a sunset cruise in Cabo San Lucas (try playing guitar standing up on a mid-sized catamaran with nothing to hold on to because both hands are busy, while singing into a microphone swaying with the motion of the boat as well...interesting), 5 shows at local restaurant/bar Deckmans, and road gigs to La Ventana (near La Paz) and Los Barriles (on the East Cape). Everything from solo gigs to 8-piece bands with 3 horns and my friend Robbie Laws co-starring on vocals and guitar.

March 4 I flew from Los Cabos to Mexico City (waving at Mazatlan out the window on the way by) where the pollution was so bad it infiltrated the air conditioning in the airport and on the plane as it sat on the runway, then to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo airport where I was picked up and whisked directly to the artists' "meet-and-greet" dinner at El Pueblito, a delightful courtyard restaurant which would also be a venue through the week. Next day a press conference while watching the sunset on the beach; then opening show in Ixtapa, a funky old bar called the Black Bull downtown, two nights at Jose Luis Cobo's beautiful roof-top club El Canto de la Sirena, a finale at El Pueblito, and a pulic concert in the Zocalo (town square) also called La Gancha because it houses the municipal basketball courts. This festival is a gem with world-class players from (this year) Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Brazil and Turkey.

Coming home was brutal...only an hour to change planes in Houston, which entails : claiming and re-screening/rechecking your checked luggage with U.S. customs; riding an automated shuttle-train to my next terminal (3 terminals away from where I started); going through personal security again, with not enough metal detectors and moronic security people screaming their instructions to the crowd; finding the boarding gate not on my itinerary but available from flickering on-and-off screens; and arriving at the boarding gate as they were about to seal the airplane door. All good after that except my checked bag didn't make the flight and had to be delivered a day and a half later (mercifully relatively intact). The last 2 times I've broken my rule about not taking flights requiring plane changes in the U.S. they've delayed/lost one guitar and 3 suitcases...back to my former resolve.

I took my new Crafter hybrid electric-acoustic with me on this tour, and for the most part it performed admirably (once I began to get the string guages right). And it held up to the radical climate and humidity changes without an ounce of complaint...are you listening, Crafter ? I like your stuff - maybe an endorsement deal ?

The next night was my regular solo Tuesday at Mikey's Juke Joint, followed by 2 days of trying to catch up with banking, bills, missed sleep, and gigs/session work. I'll be in town now until late May, playing my house gigs at Mikey's and The Blues Can (Saturday Jam, 3-7), plus evening gigs at both of those venues, The Ironwood Stage and Grill, Carlsons On Macleod in High River, The Lethbridge Folk Club, Locals in Bragg Creek, and sessions to finish Paul Saks cd plus contributing slide guitar to 2 tracks on Jared Sowan's new cd. I'll be up-dating the website calendar in the next few days.

Spring and Summer will include some large and many small-ish festivals in BC and Alberta, a swing of club shows on Vancouver Island to make up for cancelled dates on the November "weather from Hell" tour, work on my own next cd, and a huge batch of Stampede gigs including 3 with The Hackamores - the Western Swing band I'v been rehearsing with for quite awhile now.

Thanks for checking in, and supporting live roots music, and I hope to see you at a show soon.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Time It All Went For Shit

Sorry to be so long getting back to this blog...things have been crazy ! In my last post I was in Kelowna, mid-November, heading for Vancouver Island. The rental car had very used all-season tires and someone had set the brakes so hot I was afraid to sneeze in the driver's seat while piloting the car out to Merritt and over the Coquihala Pass the morning after the Kelowna Folk Club gig (it had snowed for almost 24 hours since my arrival in Kelowna. Ferry ride to Vancouver Island was beautiful, and a good crowd at the Dancing Bean in Chemainus, including old friends Nathan Tinkham and Stephen Sparks who dropped over after their show at the Theatre went down. Next day, off to Gabriola Island where friends Michael and Shauna loaned me a lovely house on the water.

After hooking up with the Steffanson brothers (Ken and Gerry) and Gary Fjellgard, I managed to lose the house key through a hole in a jacket pocket...an interesting evening of meeting with the locksmith (thank heavens there is one on that tiny island) and listening to the wind howl. Power was out next morning, but I found the other key in the front yard, so now my friends have two. Packed the car and caught the ferry to Nanaimo, where I stopped at Fascinatin' Rhythm (one of the last real record stores left anywhere) and headed north to catch the ferry to Powell River from Comox. I caught the last ferry and had a visit with my son and daughter-in-law, then to bed, and the lovely experience of waking up with my grandkids.

After a nice visit, I was trapped in Powell River when gale-force winds shut down ALL the ferries. I had to cancel my Campbell River gig, enjoyed an extra day with family, and crossed back to Vancouver Island for a gig at the Cumberland Hotel, sponsored by old pal Doug Cox and the Vancouver Island Music Festival. A great night, and a drive up-island to Port Hardy for a sold-out house concert. Next morning I awoke to find a massive mudslide had blocked the Island Highway and I was stuck in Port Hardy. A sold-out gig at Duncan Garage Showroom had to be cancelled. After a day of BC Highways moving back the estimated opening time of the highway, I checked with the airport and they had added one flight which hadn't been sold out yet. Natonal Car Rentals, quite possibly soon my EX-favorite rental company, charged me way over a THOUSAND DOLLARS drop-off fee.

Flew to Campbell River, then to Vancouver, rented another car, dove to White Rock and played my gig...a group of regulars there got me a hotel room in town and paid for it...what a crew. Next morning I drove back to Vancouver Airport, turned in the car, and changed my ticket from Kelowna to Vancouver-Calgary, arriving home in time to change clothes and play at Mikey's Juke Joint. Got home to find my Sunday Brunch gigs cancelled, and a night in High River double-booked. Unless National coughs something back my way, I beat the shit out of myself for 2 weeks for a net profit of $250. National sent an e-mail 5 WEEKS AGO saying customer satisfaction was a priority and they'd talk to me soon.

Home and the holidays were a bit of a blur, with production of the new Miss Quiny cd and part of a cd for harmonica player Paul Saks, plus my own gigs and pre-production work on the Vertigo Theatre production of Stewart Lemoine's play, "When Girls Collide." A slew of in-town gigs and studio stuff this month, then Feb. 14 I return to Mexico for several gigs in Los Cabos, and on Mar. 4th I go to Zihuatanejo for a return appearance at the International Guitar Festival through Mar. 12th.

I'm looking at a swing through the BC interior in June...after the May long week-end during which I teach at Foothills Acoustic Music Institute in Bragg Creek Alberta. The Lethbridge folk club is scheduled for May 15, and I'll also try to make up the missed Vancouver Island shows.

August will see me playing with my band, Big Dave McLean and Greg "Junior" Demchuk at the Labatta Edmonton Blues Fest !