We are excited to announce that a second show at the Winter Garden Theater in Toronto has been added on November 23rd (the first show is on November 22nd). We will be performing two sets each night, with the first set dedicated to a complete performance of The Kennedy Suitewhich will have a stage production created and designed by Benedict Hilliard (Associate Designer for Cats, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon), Stephen Pollard (Lighting Designer for U2, Adele, Simple Minds)and Geoff Burpee. Joining the band for both performances will be Skydiggers, Sarah Harmer, Jason Collett, Lee Harvey Osmond, The Good Family, Harlan Pepper, Jessy Bell Smith, Reid Jameison, The Screwed, The Potion Kings and Ivy Mairi. In the second set we will pull songs from the more familiar corners of our catalogue and hopefully we can convince a few of our guests to join us on stage.
We will be starting pre-sales on the Kennedy Suite album on October 15th and along with the album we will be offering some limited edition prints of 14 collages that brother Pete created for The Kennedy Suite artwork.
Also, we continue our Nomad Tour on October 24th and are heading to some of our favourite haunts in the mid-west. Please check out the tour page to see if we are coming close to your front door.
(We will be releasing The Kennedy Suite on Latent Recordings on November 12th. Pre-orders will start on October 15th. The debut performance of The Kennedy Suite will be on November 22nd and 23rd at The Winter Garden Theater in Toronto. Please visit The Kennedy Suite website and Facebook page)
When I was eleven years old my older brother John arrived home with the album Jesus Christ Superstar under his arms. I still have a memory of him walking in to the kitchen and pulling it out of the bag and announcing it's arrival. I must have listened to that album a hundred times and to this day I can still sing every song (which is saying something because I can't even remember the words to my own songs).
Ours was a Roman Catholic household and although we weren't very strict Catholics we still attended Mass on Sundays and had been thoroughly indoctrinated into the church at an early age by the nuns that were our grade school teachers. At first I was shocked by the album title, the idea that someone could meld the words Jesus Christ and Superstar was outrageous, approaching blasphemy, was tempting the wrath of God and his mighty lightning bolt (I got God and Zeus mixed up a lot back then). And then I was hooked in by the songs, the word play and melodies. But ultimately I kept delving deeper into the album because I was intrigued by how this piece of music took the iconic event of our civilization (the crucifixion) and the main players (Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the Apostles) and humanized them. Jesus became a young man fueled by a cause, but also blinded by ego and filled with doubt; Mary, who had been marginalized in the Bible teachings, became a confidant, a source of comfort and an important part of Jesus' inner circle; Judas, who had personified the word “treachery”, became another young man conflicted by doubt and driven by confusion; Herod was shown to be the psychotic sociopath that he probably was; and even the ultimate evil-doer, Pontius Pilate, had a slightly more humane and shaded light shone upon him. In other words all of the people in this great passion play became human, they were not the good vs evil, black vs white cardboard cutouts that I had been taught. This may not seem to be that revolutionary in 2013, but in 1971, inside the mind of an eleven year old, in a Roman Catholic household in Montreal, Quebec it was pretty mind expanding. I was hooked….and by the way, the band on the album was rockin'.
When I was first handed the demo for Scott Garbe's The Kennedy Suite, I had some of the same reactions. At first I was intrigued by the title and premise: the idea that someone would attempt to write a song cycle around one of the most iconic events of the 20th century. And once I began to listen I was struck by the intelligence of the lyrics, the way they blend and blur history and fiction, the way they play upon some of the mysteries and controversies surrounding the event, the way they easily bounce from the macabre to the enlightened, from black humour to empathy and pathos. And eventually what kept me hooked was the humanity of the whole thing. The way the songs took this catastrophe, an event that has been twisted and poked and prodded and until it has lost all sense of the actual horror and suffering that it entailed and scaled it back down to a simple human tragedy. The assassination and subsequent funeral may have been played out in front of the entire world, but ultimately it is about loss and grief and the horrible randomness of colliding worlds.
The Kennedy Suite is filled with acute insights into the human condition, black humour, profanity, moments of pure empathy, historical details, cultural references and self-referential asides. Each song is written from the perspective of someone, real or imagined, that had a connection to the events of Dealey Plaza on Nov 22, 1963. JFK, RFK, Jackie, Ruby and Oswald are all represented as are; three sisters giddy with anticipation for the Kennedys’ arrival at Love Field; a motorcycle cop riding in the motorcade determined to protect the Presidential couple to make up for his own failure to save his own family; a police detective assigned to escort the suspect Oswald but caught up in a delusional reverie about his Senior Prom and many other assorted characters. In order to do justice to Scott's vision we decided to call on a number of our friends and collaborators in the Canadian music scene. The Junkies along with Andy Maize and Josh Finlayson (Skydiggers) took Scott's demos and recorded our own versions. We then invited more friends to join us and to add their voices and talents. Margo took on the role of Jackie Kennedy on board Air Force One returning from Dallas with her husbands body; Jason Collett is JFK singing from the horse drawn caisson making its way through the streets of DC to Arlington cemetery; Bruce Good does his turn as a profane and nasty Jack Ruby sitting in his club and contemplating killing Oswald; and Sarah Harmer performs a delicate, yet searing epilogue to the Suite. Many others joined us as well, including Hawksley Workman, Doug Paisley, Martin Tielli, Jessy Bell Smith, The Screwed, Harlan Pepper, Lee Harvey Osmond, The Potion Kings and Ivy Mairi.
The Kennedy Suite is an examination of a world changing event and the human toll that the assassination exacted. It is also a cutting look at our present day culture and times: it holds up a mirror to the circumstances, people and events of November 22, 1963 and reflects back a strikingly recognizable image, half a century later.
Here is a taste….Jackie Kennedy (as imagined by the writer) sitting on Air Force One, heading back to Washington with the body of her husband, still wearing her blood-splattered clothes so that the world could see “what they have done to Jack”, wracked with survivors guilt and suddenly struck by the horrible realization that maybe the bullet wasn't meant for him, but for her.
The tour schedule is now complete for October and November in the midwest U.S. We will be starting in Buffalo on 10/24 and will be stopping in Saugatuck, MI; Chicago, IL; Stoughton, WI; Minneapolis, MN; Iowa City, IA; Evanston, IL; and Ann Arbor, MI. All of the details are here.
It's hard to describe what happened over the past three days. It will take us a while to process it and it will no doubt stay with us for a long, long time. This wasn't an easy journey, but the ends more than made up for the means. We had an 8:30am departure from Talkeetna this morning and a 3 hour ride through the rain to the entrance of Denali Park. At the park entrance we left our modern passenger buses and transferred on to two Denali Park buses. Two glorified school-buses with the same suspension, diesel fumes, and officious driver that you all remember from your childhoods. We settled in and resigned ourselves to the seven hour bus ride that stretched before us…not really knowing what lay ahead.
Most of the ride felt like we were on safari on another planet. The enormous sweep of the landscape, both smoothed and ripped by millions of years of glacial migration is, if nothing else, other-worldly. Covering most of the six million acres is tundra, which for me once invoked an image of brown, soggy, nondescript moss that Musk Ox trundled upon. Who knew that in the Fall all of the plant life that make up tundra, the lichens and mosses and small bushes, explode into a vibrant, rich, surreal patchwork of colour: reds, browns, ochres, purples, pinks, every shade of yellow and green that has yet to be imagined by all the painters to have ever picked up a brush. Surreal, other-worldly, alien, awe-inspiring…words fall flat and photographs even more so. Adding to the surreal vibe was the weather: the rain stopped as we ventured deeper into Denali and the cloud ceiling lifted to about 5000 feet but never broke up, so we were under a glowing greyish dome all day…it was the perfect weather and cloud coverage to really accentuate and intensify the fall colours that stretched for miles above us, below us and on into the distant horizon. An added accent to the landscape was the wildlife that we came upon; caribou, grizzly bears, mountain sheep, moose, ptarmigans, golden eagles. Remarkable…so utterly remarkable that the pain being inflicted upon ones body by the grinding engine, worn out shocks and pothole filled dirt road was completely bearable….it was a very christian ride, with so much pleasure there had to be a bit of pain. The only negative on the day was that the low ceiling blocked out the Alaskan Mountain range and along with it, Mount McKinley. We were told that Mckinley is only visible on four or five days a month during the tourist season…so we didn't feel so bad and its hard to miss something that you have no experience of.
The end of our journey was the Kantishna Road House located at the very end of the dirt road we'd been following all day. This is the sort of eco-tourist lodge you read about in the NY Times Travel Section: exclusive and, no doubt, expensive as hell. It's not a luxurious place, but comfortable and functional, it's allure is its location, right in the middle of six million acres of pristine wilderness.
The lodge offers all sorts of outdoor entertainment as part of its amenities and has several guides on staff to lead treks across the tundra and up onto the surrounding mountain ridges and anywhere else one chooses to explore. The cool thing about Denali is that they encourage hikers to walk anywhere in the park, unlike most National Parks that insist you stay on the trails. In Denali they haven't created any trails, their mission is to leave the park as natural as possible and avoid any unnecessary scarring. So instead of having a path that is tramped down and denuded of any life by the thousands of hikers that would follow it over the years, they allow hikers to scatter across the tundra and make their own way and thereby ensuring that the ground they cross has no traces of them an hour after they pass. Our group of 64 scattered for the day, some just relaxing around the lodge and others taking on the challenge of a day long tundra hike. In our group; Pete and Jared grabbed a couple of mountain bikes and went in search of Griz; Margo and Ed went on a hike to Wonder Lake that, on a clear day, reflects Mount Mckinley; Farns relaxed around the compound and panned for a little gold (with no luck); and Jeff and I grabbed a couple of fly rods and hip waders and waded in to the stream that ran by the foot of the lodges properties. Fish are one thing that are not plentiful in Denali, because most of the rivers are glacial and filled with silt making them uninhabitable to most fish. This stream was crystal clear and home to Arctic Grayling, a trout-like fish with a superhero dorsal fin. I was skunked in my grayling quest, Jeff caught two, and it was an amazing day. Clear blue skies, sparkling water, surrounded by hills covered in the patchwork quilt of the tundra colours, it doesn't get much better. Everyone in the extended group came back from their activities with their eyes sparkling and their heads shaking in wonder at what they had experienced. That night, after dinner, Margo, Jeff and I played an acoustic set made up of requests sent in from our fellow adventurers. It was a fun, relaxed set played for a bunch of people who had all had a very good day.
And then more pain to pay for our pleasure…departure from the lodge was at 6:30am. We needed to track back across those miles of dirt roads in order to catch a train at the entrance of the park to take us back to Anchorage. The prospect of having to endure that bus ride again, despite the views, was daunting. But we lucked out again with the weather and as the sun came up over Denali Park we were treated to Mount Mckinley and the Alaskan Range basking in the alpenglow. The weather was perfectly clear for our entire trip so we got an entirely new view of the park, the clean fresh weather also seemed to inspire the animals and we saw more moose, mountain sheep, birdlife and even a big Grizzly lumbering along the road. After five hours on the bus we unloaded at the Denali Park entrance and climbed on-board the Alaskan Railroad for the eight hour journey to Anchorage. This being a Roots On The Rail production, a rail journey was mandatory and they spared no expense: booking the GoldStar section of the train with complete panorama seating and fully stocked bar car. It was a fitting, relaxing, and (seemingly endless) end to an amazing journey.
We fly home tomorrow (another 14 hour journey) and will try and slide back in to our real life, causing as few ripples as possible. It's always difficult coming back from an experience like this one, you can talk about it and try and describe it, show a few pictures, but ultimately you had to be there to truly understand….that's why they call it an experience. We give great thanks to Charlie and Sarah and Gary and all those at Roots On The Rails that put this adventure together and we give special thanks to all of our fellow adventurers that put up the dough to make this trip happen and had the grace, the perseverance and the sense of humour to make it work. But most of all we thank Alaska, a place that will not disappoint, and all those slightly bent and wonderfully odd Alaskans who are unlike any of their fellow countrymen and help to make this part of the world such an interesting and unique place to visit.
We left Anchorage early this morning on two buses, the Alaska adventure has begun. Many of our patrons/guests/fellow adventures also took part in the Over The Rhine trip so it was a quiet three hour drive to Talkeetna. I've been looking forward to this day of the trip for many weeks. It's the one day on the itinerary, where I have a few free hours and where we are within easy striking distance of some renown fishing spots. I figured I'd make the best use of my time and hire some local knowledge to put me on top of some rainbow trout. Skip Merkley was my man and he came through in spades, providing me with fishing gear and outfitting me head to foot in rain gear to keep me warm and dry. I was hoping to get to on one of the rivers that flow through the area, but there has been so much rain that all the rivers are blown out. Skip put Plan B in to action and pulled up at the hotel with canoe in tow and we headed off to a local lake. It was a slow day on the water but completely enjoyable. I had a half-dozen half-hearted strikes throughout the afternoon and finally, when we were heading in so that I could get back for soundcheck, I landed a rainbow…not big by Alaska standards but it made my day.
This is a very cool little town out in the middle of nowhere. Populated with those looking for a different way of life or simply a new beginning. I can see how it could get under one's skin. Come for a visit and stay for a lifetime. All those quirky personalities and personal histories have pulled together to form a true community. It's a rarity in these times to find a town which has been so fully formed by the attitudes and perspectives of the people who inhabit it. I talked to more people today that lived off-the-grid than on it. They wear their badge of non-conformity on their sleeves here and the result is a unique and vibrant little town.
True to form, the venue tonight was as funky as the town: located in an old aircraft hangar (rechristened an Arts Center) at the edge of the still active air-strip that runs right through the center of town. We had an amazing show. Inspired by the beauty of the surroundings, the friendliness of our hosts and the enthusiasm of the audience: it was loose and free-flowing, just like the town.
Tomorrow we head out on a mammoth travel day into the heart of Denali Park. We pray for this weather to break so that we can enjoy the spectacular views that everyone has been promising us since we got here.
It's the rainy season here in Alaska…who knew? It came down pretty much all day so I spent most of it in my room. I was in no mood to browse through the dozens of souvenir shops that line the main street, any object that you can imagine branded with “Alaska”. Around dinner time the skies cleared and a spectacular light flooded the city and the Chugach mountain range revealed itself. The souvenir shops disappeared and the magnificence of the setting exerted itself.
The gig tonight was at a nice sized theater on the University of Alaska campus. It was a co-bill with Over the Rhine and it was great to hear Karin and Lindford again. Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to hang with them very much. They were at the end of their Alaskan Adventure, were exhausted and had a 3am lobby call ahead of them. They did warn us to “stay off the sea”…..I don't need to be told twice, large bodies of water are not friendly places for me.
Our show was pretty good considering that we hadn't played since May. It was a little tentative, everyone waiting for the other to lead the way, no one feeling confident enough to do so. Pretty standard for a first gig after a long lay-off. But we had fun and its always good to be playing again. Tomorrow we edge further North.
Alaska is far, eh? I walked out our front door at 4:30am, Pete and I went to our studio, loaded our equipment, hooked up with brother John, drove to the airport, paid Air Canada $700 for our excess baggage, flew the five hours to Vancouver, ate a really average fish taco in the airport, flew another three hours to Anchorage and stumbled in to the hotel….a nifty little fourteen hour travel day. We were last in Alaska about seven years ago and as we wandered the streets of Anchorage, looking for food, memories of the city began to gurgle up. It's much like most cities in the far north, functional. But the one thing about Anchorage that puts it a cut above most northern cities is the abundance of brew pubs. I had a great IPA cask ale at dinner….all is good in the world once again. This short, week long tour is one of those welcome oddities on our tour schedule. We look upon this sort of thing more as an adventure than a tour. This particular one has been put together by our friends at Roots On The Rails, who also promoted the cross-Canada train trip that we did a few years ago. The way this one works is that about forty guests pay a lot of their hard earned dollars for an Alaska adventure and we and our music are a part of that adventure. It all starts in Anchorage tomorrow night with a show at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium (it's a shared bill with our friends Over The Rhine, who are at the end of their own Alaska adventure). On Saturday we all climb aboard a bus and drive 3 hours to Talkeetna which sits just South of Denali Park. During the day I will search for rainbow trout and at night we will do another show at a local venue. Then on Sunday the adventure really begins with a long journey in to Denali Park and a two night stay at a remote lodge in the middle of the park and an acoustic Junkies performance. We then catch a train back to Anchorage and start the long journey home. So stay tuned….hopefully I'll be posting lots of pics with me holding up big fish, Margo being chased by a bear, Pete riding a moose, Al sleeping among the Musk Ox and Jeff examining wolf poop. It should be fun.