Last night we moved on to Sherbrooke, the Mellencamp crew still travelling between Sudbury and PEI. We were due for a let-down following the high that we experienced yesterday in Parry Sound. I stepped off the bus in my Canada t-shirt and was promptly yelled at from a passing car flying a fleur-de-lyse, “Fuck la Canada”. Oh right, I’m in a foreign country. When I returned to the bus to change my t-shirt Jared was also returning to change his Bruins shirt, he too had felt the hex. A few minutes later, just to reinforce our better judgement, a guy in a wheelchair comes cruising by the bus flying a quebec flag and wearing a Montreal Canadiens shirt. If it’s Friday it must be Quebec. The day could have disintegrated from there, but we all adjusted and enjoyed the “out of town” experience, using our pigeon French whenever needed. The venue, which we sat in front of all day happened to be on a very quaint street, with lots of typical French cafes and bistros. There was also a laundry-mat down the street which is always a bonus and to top it all off the venue was a really good sounding room. There wasn’t much of a turnout, but they were an intense and passionate audience. We played with the looseness and the confidence (and a touch of the exhaustion) of a band playing its ninth show in nine nights. It was a very good night.
Today was an excellent day. Al found his trail; Pete and Marg found a path; Jeff found the water; Chris found his girlfriend; Jared found a new Bobby Orr shirt; and I found a few teeny-weeny, but ever so beautiful smallmouth bass. If you have never been to this part of our beautiful country, then you should visit (put it on your “bucket list” as they say….I detest that phrase). The Georgian Bay (Parry Sound is one of the Bays more active gateways) is a uniquely beautiful part of this world: standing on its rock, one feels in the presence of something enormous, powerful and overwhelming. Tonight’s gig was a fundraiser for the local hospital, put together by Joe Bamford, our bus company’s owner. Joe and his wife Fatima took us all out for dinner at a local restaurant before the gig (Glenn Burney Lodge) tucked away in a little bay, hidden by cedars and pines. I fished all afternoon, and a little in the evening and a little at night after the show, just off the rocks behind the theater. It was such a beautiful spot and there were lots of little guys that were game to play and, of course, always the promise that their big papa was cruising nearby. It was a beautiful little theater and a good audience and we had a very relaxed night on stage.
Unbelievably, I was having such a nice day on the rocks that I missed the Italy/Germany game. I saw a little bit of the second half and watched the Germans final push in extra time. I guess the German coach made a few controversial changes to the lineup and Balotelli was just too much to handle. Italy just seems to know how to win on the big stage, they move on to face Spain and at this point who dares guess what kind of game the final will be. I guess I’ll be rooting for Italy…I have to stick with my homeys (otherwise my house will be egged)….
I never left the parking lot today. Even Al couldn’t find a trail that excited him. We watched an excruciatingly boring game between Spain and Portugal, Spain winning a nil –nil draw on penalty kicks. This was the match-up that had everyone salivating: the reigning World and Euro Champions vs the most-handsome-man-in-the-world. There was suppose to be fireworks, instead, we got 90 minutes of very fit Iberians rolling around on the grass. The overtime had a handful of exciting moments, which just made you wonder why they hadn’t been playing like that all game….and then the dreaded shoot-out, in which the-most-handsome-man-in-the-world didn’t even get a chance to take a shot. It was almost as boring as the NHL finals. Tomorrow is the semi-final between Germany and Italy. Chances are that Italy is going to go into a defensive shell, try to survive the German onslaught, and play for the draw. Here’s hoping that Germany scores early and forces Italy to push forward a bit. Our neighborhood back home in TO must be insane with anticipation.
It was an odd day today because of the long overnight drive from Thunder Bay. The load-in was delayed by hours, so we had a perfunctory soundcheck. I had a completely unfocused gig tonight, perhaps the seventh show in seven nights creeping up on me. I’ll need to dig a little deeper to get through the next three. Despite the lack of snap in the show the audience was great and for that we are grateful. It’s a short ride tonight which means that the bus will be standing still for most of the night, which means there is a possibility of a few uninterrupted hours of sleep…it’s the little things.
The arena in Thunder Bay is old school…kind of like every rink built across Canada in the 50’s. Most of the buildings that we have been performing in, have been modern arenas based on designs of the big professional palaces, designed to look good and make money….and to make money they have to be easily configured for multi-use. The Fort William Garden is strictly a place to play hockey and curl, so it made the day a bit more complicated for the Mellencamp crew and it ended up sounding very much like a hockey rink. It was not great gig for us.
When we arrived at the back of the building, this morning, everyone took off; Al to find a bike trail; Margo to colour her roots; Jeff and Pete in search of a music store and me in search of the Kaministiquia River. I was told to avoid the river downtown and head up stream for the best odds of catching something, so I borrowed Pete’s bike and headed up river. The only problem was that the rail yards between the road and the river were a formidable obstacle. After a long ride along the tracks I came across an iron pedestrian bridge that I figured might get me across the tracks and closer to the water. It did, but it also brought me to a memorial park/spot for the First Spike, which was driven in that spot in 1875. In Canada we all learn about the Last Spike, hammered home in Craigellachie, BC in 1885: it signified the completion of the building of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, joining the East coast to the West coast of Canada. We consider it a major nation-building moment. Apparently we were being severely pressured by an expansionist power to our South who had a very large standing army that was in prime fighting shape. The physical bonding of our two coasts by the railway gave our claim to the Western lands some teeth in the eyes of international community. So we celebrate and learn about the Last Spike, but the massive ten year public-works project had to begin somewhere and, what-do-you-know, it began here.
I did find the river and it was a little depressing, lined with functioning and crumbling industries, brackish and stressed. The most frustrating thing was that a twenty minute drive from here would place me in the middle of trees and rocks and rivers and lakes barely disturbed by us humans: perhaps on another day with a little more time. If you ever want a true wilderness experience come to Northern Ontario.
It was a relatively short and uneventful day in Moose Jaw. We stayed overnight in Saskatoon and did the three hour drive to Moose Jaw in the morning. Once we arrived; we sat behind the arena for a few hours; did some exploring of downtown Moose Jaw (not a whole lot happening on a Sunday in Moose Jaw); and watched Italy defeat England in a very uninspired nil-nil match decided by penalty kicks (both teams looking like future speed bumps in Germany’s march to the finals). Another hockey arena tonight, good catering, great sound on stage, great sound in the room and we put together a very good performance. The audience was a little more subdued than those in the BC interior, but they seemed to be listening and we had a pretty good response.
After the Moose Jaw show the Mellencamper’s headed out on a 1300+km drive to Thunder Bay. We cut our drive in half by booking a gig in Winnipeg at the West End Cultural Center. It’s been over fifteen years since we did a gig in downtown Winnipeg so we figured since we were driving by, we might as well stop and see what’s shakin’ in the ‘Peg. I know some people (mainly native Winnipeggers’) who love the city. They obviously know it way better than me, but I’m telling you, as someone just dropping in to town for a day, it’s not an inspiring place to visit. There is a lot of civic pride here and it looks like the past fifteen years has brought a bit more life to the downtown core, but much of the city looks like it did a decade and a half ago, sketchy (as my kids would say). The neighborhood around the venue (which isn’t that far from downtown) looks as depressed as it always did, despite the fact that the University of Winnipeg is only a few blocks away. On the up-side, one can apparently by a really nice house and property in the city for very little money and they have a brand spanking new NHL team with a very cool logo.
The audience at the show tonight was fantastic. They listened to the details and it was a great sounding room and stage so we were able to give them plenty of detail. We had a great night. Thank you Winnipeg. Go Jets go.
After the Calgary show the Mellencamp camp headed east to Moose Jaw and we headed north-east to Saskatoon. Over the past year or so we have been in touch with the producers of a very ambitious tv show that is filmed in Saskatoon called The Neighbours Dog. The basic premise is that the show sets up a house concert for a band coming through town and then records and films it. It’s a great idea because it puts the band and audience in an unfamiliar and unconventional environment which can lead in all sorts of unexpected directions. For our concert the producers decided to step it up a bit and found an old lodge set on a bluff above Blackstrap Lake, a fairly large man-made lake about 30 minutes outside of Saskatoon. I think the lodge itself was once a rehab center and there doesn’t appear to have been too much money invested in upkeep over the years, but it has a very funky old 1970’s vibe to it and what a pleasure to be out in the country all day surrounded by birds and prairie dogs. One of the producers of the show generously offered us his motor boat for the day so Jeff, Ed and I took him up on his offer (Ed and Margo’s husband Graham joined us in Calgary and will be with us through Winnipeg). It was the first Saturday of summer and a beautiful day so it seemed that everyone for many miles around had the same idea about going boating: we had to put up with a bit of a line-up at the boat launch. We finally launched without incident but the motor, which had been sitting all winter, sounded extremely sore when it was fired up…sore to the point of metal grinding on metal. So we un-launched the boat and put it all down to a valiant effort. Once back at the Lodge, Ed and I made our way down the bluff and cast a few off of the dock, just so that we could say that we fished in Saskatchewan. It was extremely shallow and extremely weedy and after quickly mastering the art of casting Ed got a bored, so we headed back up the bluff.
The gig was in the main dining/living room of the Lodge. An expansive space with low slung wagon-wheel chandeliers, blown out old comfy couches, a wall of windows overlooking the lake and Buffalo heads on the walls (at least pictures of Buffalo heads): as I said, a very cool, old, funky spot. The film crew was efficient and professional and the day moved along with few glitches (except for the mangled boat motor). The gig was fun, with a generous and enthusiastic audience. It was odd playing for two hours again instead of just forty-five minutes…odd and tiring. I think we lost a bit of focus as the night wore on (I know that I certainly did), but overall I think it was a very good show.
Over the past few days we’ve watched Portugal, Germany and Spain move through to the semi-finals of the Euro-Cup. Germany is looking unstoppable, Spain is looking a little bored (but dangerous as usual) and Portugal is riding high on the back of oh-so-handsome Christiano Ronaldo. Tomorrow, I root for the English to defeat Italy and claim the final spot in the semis. It feels weird to root against the Italians (Pete and I live in the heart of Little Italy), but blood is blood.
Jeff’s Golden Rule (see Dawson Creek entry) strikes again. A day off and two show days in Calgary so we all had lots of expectations about idly wandering around the downtown core looking for interesting places to eat and drink and maybe even doing a bit of window shopping. Calgary use to be a sleepy little cowtown, but all of that oil money and the migration to this part of the country has turned it into a hopping little city over the past several years. But as we approached the city and Jared called ahead to the hotel to see if our rooms were ready, he was told that they didn’t have any reservation in our name. Once the confusion was cleared up it was discovered that our travel agent had booked us into the Sheraton at the airport, not the Sheraton downtown. Shit. Expecfreakintations. So we walked the highway and visited the malls and took up residence in the hotel bar. One of the airport Sheraton’s drawing cards (in case you ever have a layover in Calgary) is the giant indoor waterslide….that’s right, a giant indoor waterslide. Pete and Leo put it to good use, and in the course of tumbling down the slide, Leo clocked Pete and gave him a beautiful black eye….fathers and their sons.
We felt that our mental health and our livers would be in danger if we spent two days in Calgary’s exurban wasteland so Pete, Margo, Jeff, Leo and I rented a car and took off for the mountains early the next morning: I in search of fish, they in search of a mountain ridge to walk along. I took some time yesterday to find a fishing shop in one of the malls and tried to get some local intel about the what, where and when of the local fishing holes. Unfortunately, I was treated like the amateur that I am and was given a lot of shrugged shoulders and half-assed answers. The general feeling that I got was that the intensity of the spring rains and run-off had “blown out” all of the rivers and lakes and that trying to catch anything until things settled down and cleared up would be pointless. Thanks, guys. When I finally arrived at my destination it appeared that they were right. I found a beautiful little lake but it was riding extremely high on the bank and the water was mud brown from the run-off. I tried a couple of others but with the same result. I went for a walk along the Elbow River, it was beautiful, but it was raging. Near the end of my day, despite a couple of half-hearted nibbles, I decided to abandon my battle of wits with fish and I headed off to seek out this nearby man-made pond, stocked with Rainbow trout. It was developed as a family friendly fishing hole to get your kids interested in fishing: we’re talking little tiny kids who only have to stick their pole in the water and a fish jumps on the hook. So I stood there casting from the bank for about 20 minutes catching nothing while an old Chinese man about 30 feet down from me hauled in five or six nice size rainbow trout. I finally couldn’t stand it anymore so I approached the old man and asked him what he was using. He looked at me and said, “cheese”. So I gave up….fucking cheese…….
The two shows in Calgary were at the Southern Jubilee Theater: a very beautiful looking and sounding room which also happens to be out in the middle of nowhere. In the three days that we were here we didn’t get a chance to explore one square block of downtown Calgary. We had two pretty good shows. It took us about halfway through our first show to realize that we weren’t in a hockey arena and that we could approach the music with a little bit more subtlety. It was good to be back in an acoustically friendly room for a couple of nights and the audience on both nights were great. This is the start of ten shows in a row for us: four of our own shows and six with Mellencamp….the cost of travelling across the beautiful giant wasteland that is Canada (and I mean that in the most flattering way).
Back in civilization…kind of…..These days Abbotsford is a bedroom community of Vancouver. It’s all shiny and new and full of way too many strip malls, which is the downside of growing way too fast. But to counter that, one can hop in a car and in 30 minutes be at the side of a lake stocked with Rainbow trout, with no cell service, and no people in sight and only the sound of water spilling down the mountain-side , and bird calls and wind whispering through the pines and mountains peeking in and out of low lying clouds. So I rented a car and I did just that. I was hoping that there would be a place to rent canoes when I got there, but there was absolutely no-one, which is almost as good. No boat, so I circumnavigated the lake and had to bushwhack my way to the shore line every so often. The ground and the forest were soggy and cold, and it felt great. By evening the Rainbows were jumping, but they had no interest in what I was offering. The only thing that made me feel a little bit better was that at one point an osprey that had been gyring above me all afternoon finally committed to its plunge, smacking the water with incredible force, and, it too, came up empty handed. If I had another day I’d know what to come back with (some kind of floating-larva, a local would tell me) and where to start my day (preferably in a boat). But I don’t have the extra day so I’ll be equally content with an amazing few hours spent on the banks of a mountain lake. This is a tough job…but somebody needs to do it.
Another hockey arena tonight….home to the Abbotsford Heat, the Calgary Flames farm team. We had an ok gig tonight. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great…and you might as well strive for “great” whenever you hit the stage. Yesterday, after my fishing expedition Pete, Leo, Jared and I went to see Prometheus. We are already looking forward to parts 2 and 3. Al bought a very awesome mountain bike off of Craig’s List which we all had fun riding around the parking lot and riding over curbs and down stairs. I didn’t see any of the Mellencamp show tonight; another night ahead of mountain driving (our last of the tour) and then another day off and then two shows in Calgary.
The day started promising enough. Prince George sits on the confluence of the Fraser and the Nechako Rivers. So I headed out, on foot, for what looked like a relatively short walk to a river bank. Unfortunately, there is an enormous train yard between the town and the river and the only two overpasses were at the opposite ends of town….not so bad if you have a vehicle, even a bicycle, but a bit of a hike on foot. But I was determined. There was more bad news when I finally reached water: the rivers were raging. With all of the recent rain and the mountain run-off, the banks had flooded. So it was a challenge finding a spot along the river to stand and cast and it was even tougher finding a spot in the river that wasn’t churling and boiling. But I was determined. I walked the banks and cast a thousand casts with nary a nibble. There wasn’t even the small fry chasing my lure along the bank…nothing. Despite that, it was a nice way to spend a day, the rain came in spits and spurts and when the sun occasionally peaked through the clouds it was beautiful.
Tonight was another gig at a minor league hockey arena….this one is the home of the Prince George Cougars…launching pad for Eric Brewer and Daniel Hamhuis, among others. We had another really good show and it felt, as the set went on, that we were slowly making a convert or two. It’s fun playing through these big PA’s, you can really feel the energy being transferred from your fingers, to the guitar, to the amp, to the PA and out to the audience, quite a thrill. Pete’s son, Leo, joined us today and will be out with us for the next few days. We still don’t have satellite so we are falling behind a bit on our Euro Cup viewing. But, except for the early exit of the Dutch, it appears that things are playing out as they should.
We left Penticton shortly before the end of John’s set and started heading north: 1200kms through the mountains. We didn’t get much sleep, the road climbed and twisted for most of the night, by morning we were still in the mountains, still twisting, still following tumbling rivers and railroad tracks. It was a sixteen hour grind, but what an amazing journey. Along the way we saw three bears (that’s right…Momma, Poppa and Baby bear) eating dandelions in the ditch; we saw a mother moose and her calf running alongside the bus and another big daddy moose way down in a river valley, Chris spotted him during one of our scenic-vista rest stops. Ron, our bus driver, picked out a stop a little north of Prince George and told me to get out my rod and reel, this was the place to catch a fish, and so I did and so I did. After a few minutes I landed a nice sized Squaw fish (or Pikeminnow for the more PC minded). Pete helped me out as the fish decided to makes its last stand in the scrubby brush that lined the river. He waded in, up to his knees and pulled aside the brush so that I could make the acquaintance of the beast. Brothers, you got to love em. It’s not exactly the most beautiful fish in the book, but it put up a decent fight and, heck, landing any fish is always a thrill. After we got the requisite pictures we unhooked him, paid our respects, said our prayers and sent him on his way (the fish, not Pete).
When we finally arrived in Dawson Creek we were a little disappointed. Driving sixteen hours through beautiful mountain passes surrounded by wildlife and churling waters, one gets a certain expectation as to what the town will look like at the end of the journey. Expectations…how many times have we broken Jeff’s golden rule of touring…”No expectations”. Somehow the mountains crumbled, the waters dried up, the wildlife disappeared and what we were left with was a town sitting in the middle of a flat as freakin’ pancake plain. We couldn’t even find Mr Dawson’s creek. Perhaps we didn’t look hard enough, but we were too busy shopping at the Wal-Mart beside the hotel…irony oh irony…just another day-off on the road.
We spent showday on the bus, parked inside the loading dock of the arena, staring out at the rain. A very slow day. No satellite, no soccer or US Open. I was able to watch the Blue Jays on my laptop, bless you Rogers Cable Corporation. They mounted a furious comeback and defeated the Phillies in 10 innings. And just like that it was soundcheck and then it was dinner and then it was showtime. We turned up a little bit more tonight and shortened the set by one song so that we could let some of the music evolve without worrying about going over our allotted amount of time. We had a lot of fun and I think we played a pretty good set. The audience was very good to us. During John’s set I walked around the venue and hung out. The place had the feel of an enormous roadhouse. People milling about, drinking and talking, listening and letting go with the occasional war whoop. The place had a great feel…..”hold on to 16 as long as you can”….right on.