I’m drinking cappuccino in a coffee shop in Worcester Massachusetts. It’s 8pm and I’m thinking on time and how it could possibly be that there are only five shows left to this tour. For those of you who follow my writings, you may have noticed that there haven’t been any for quite some time. It’s certainly not for the lack of shows, but more to do with the fact that I’ve found it difficult to write as of late. Life takes unwanted turns sometimes and forces you to do things a little differently than you’d imagined, but let’s not dwell. Tales from the Rails (for nostalgia’s sake, touring North America definitely requires a car!) is back.
This was my second tour as an ‘Alien of Extraordinary Talent’, but my very first trip to Canada. As much as I was looking forward to the tour, I was extremely tired and not in a great frame of mind when we kicked things off. I really can’t stress enough that this tour simply would not have been possible without my US booking agent and good friend Denis Grabill of Black Oak Artists, who not only took care of pretty much all logistics, but offered to pick me up from Toronto airport and accompany me on this tour. So, for the first time ever, I actually had a tour manager and did not need to know where we were heading – an absolute luxury, let me assure you!
To give you a small indication of where my mind was at, for this first time since I started wearing them, I forgot to pack my red boots (and didn’t notice until I was walking to my first show). For anyone reading this who doesn’t know me or hasn’t seen a live show of mine, me forgetting my boots is kind of like forgetting underpants. To further paint the picture of my frazzled mind, it only dawned on me the day before the flight that, while I knew I didn’t require a working VISA to perform in Canada, I may need some sort of holiday VISA. I tried to fight off the wave of panic as I opened my laptop to ask Google about the matter. Sure enough, a tourist VISA was required. However, the search engine was quick to reassure me that Canadian holiday VISAS are usually issued within minutes… Sure enough, seven Canadian Dollars and literally a couple of seconds later, I received an email from Canada: “Hey! Yeah.. you’re totally cool, see you tomorrow”.
Arriving at Toronto airport could not have been a more different experiencing to entering the USA at JFK or LAX airport. The immigration line was moving, the staff were friendly, dressed casually and unarmed. No flickering lights, no intimidation, no trick questions. I stepped up to the counter and handed over my passport.
“What’s the purpose of your stay?”
“Uh, I’m playing some shows” It felt oddly liberating to be able to confidently tell the truth at border control.
“Cool! Welcome to Canada, Have a good time”, he said.
And that was that.
It was dark when I arrived. The next morning, the sky was so intensely blue and the air so unseasonably warm, I was almost convinced Canada was putting on a show for me. The trees boasted bright reds, oranges and yellows and I didn’t see a single cloud until the heaven’s opened over Quebec City, where the rain fell hard until we headed South for the border after the last show in windy coastal town of St. John.
I enjoyed all of the shows in Canada, but my favourites were the songwriting circle I got to be a part of at Capers in Belleville where I got to share the stage with two brilliant performers and songwriters, the Cameron House in downtown Toronto where I felt at home and The Grimross Brewery in Fredericton where I made some new friends. What stands out in my minds already even more than the shows were the folks who put me up. I really did meet some amazingly friendly musicians in Canada and had a blast writing songs with Matt Kingsley and Mel Hilmi.
I can truly say that Canada lives up to its reputation. How refreshing to be made to feel welcome as a musician or simply as a human. At least there is a patch of this world that seems to operate on trust rather than mistrust, on open borders as opposed to locked doors. Canada feels uncomplicated and reasonable, like your liberal older cousin who everyone always likes to have around at parties.. You know, the one who can win any debate with well thought out arguments and brings Mario Kart on N64 with them.
It’s a beautiful part of the world and I only got to see a fraction of it. Out of all the many impression, one in particular seems worthy of sharing. Did you know that there are a lot (and I mean a lot) of Amish communities in Canada? Walking up to Mel’s house outside of Belleville, we were overtaken by a young Amish bloke in his little horse-drawn cart. He was swigging moonshine from a bottle he had bought at the neighbours house and, as he overtook us, he looked over his shoulder and switched on a boombox. Out came Willie Nelson’s voice, singing, ‘on the road again’ as he rode off into the sunset. Sometimes, for just a brief moment, you fall head first into a David Lynch movie… and you just can’t make that shit up.
Thank you for having me Canada. I hope to be back soon and would like to see more of your beautiful country. And a moose. I’d really like to see a moose next time.