Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Glorious (except when we aren't) in Gabriola

Tuesday morning, we opted for sleeping in over the free breakfast.  Much needed, and much appreciated!  As was the shower -- probably more appreciated by the general public, but still very enjoyable.

We were down to the wire for the 11:00 check-out, but squeaked by.   :-)  I made a point of mentioning to the woman at the front desk how much we appreciated our room having REAL glasses and REAL coffee mugs, instead of the plastic cups individually wrapped in plastic and covered with plastic for good luck, which we had seen in every motel up until then.  Good thing we brought our sippy cups!

As previously mentioned, there was a Starbucks just around the corner, so we brought our laptops and camped out at one of the tables for a long, leisurely breakfast.  I have received an e-mail from someone who shall remain nameless, but might have given birth to me several decades ago, chastising us for patronizing "the Yankee Imperialists" instead of frequenting the many Tim Horton's scattered across this country.   Lest any of you be thinking such things under your breath, I must point out that Tim Horton's is now owned by the same folks as Wendy's in the United States, so are no longer a Canadian company, other than the name.   Also, having done our due diligence and read up on various independent consumer reports, the environmental friendliness of Starbucks, while not perfect, is heads over tails superior to that of the chain named after the hockey player.  The one named after a literary classic also has a far better record on using fair trade beans and ensuring that the coffee comes from plantations that treat their workers and their surroundings well.

That and their coffee just rocks.  :-)

OK, lecture over.

Dinah, fortunately, had warned us that the ferry to Gabriola was not using the same dock we had used before.   Apparently a very large truck had missed a turn and fallen off the gangplank a few weeks ago, doing a lot of damage in the process! (oops...)   So we had to go south of town to the Duke Point terminal instead of the downtown one we were expecting.  We had also been warned that there could often be a very long wait for the ferries in summer time, so we figured we'd line up for the 2:30 ferry early, and then if we weren't allowed on that one, we'd still be able to make the 3:45 and get to Dinah's in plenty of time.

Well, as it turns out, the drive to Duke Point was quicker than expected, AND the 1:15 ferry was running a bit late, so we made it on to an only half-full ferry, and got to the island well before 2:00.  Knowing that Dinah and Trev were doing the panic-cleaning (as house concert hosts ourselves, we know the routine!), we didn't want to show up unannounced, so decided to toodle around the island.

We drove around the north end, where every second house seemed to be for sale.  And beautiful.   And on the water.  Oh my...  Saw a little information office, where we picked up a map, and casually asked if there were any real estate papers... you know, just in case we had friends... not for us... nope... nosiree.  She laughed and said no, but there was a really big real estate office in the village that would have listings for the entire island.  Oh, uh... ok... good to know... you know, in case we had friends...   A bit more of a drive around and -- lo and behold -- we found ourselves in the village.  How did that happen?

We casually looked at the listings on the outside window -- oh... my... god... -- and then the grinning receptionist asked us if we'd like to meet Emily.   Drat, busted...  So we chatted with Emily for a while, and she gave us a big folder of properties to look at, and told us to call or come in any time.

I haven't dared look just yet.

She also mentioned they only get snow about four hours a year (for me).  And the ski hill is less than two hours away (for Don).

We still had some time to kill, so decided to head to the "Raspberry Jazz Cafe" for a cuppa.   As we walked in the door, who do we see sitting at the table but Tim Harrison -- a recent "immigrant" to Gabriola, and was one of the first folkies I ever played with, back in the 90s when we were recording his album "Bridges", and touring around.  (He also introduced me to my thank-dog-he's-ex-husband, but I forgave him for that long ago...)   It was funny, because just a few minutes before that, we had been wondering what part of the island he lived on -- apparently, the part with the coffee shop.   :-)  As we sat and chatted and drank coffee, several other musical folks flitted in and out. Gabriola seems to be home to many musicians!  Hmm...  Tim even has a friend trying to sell a cello bow, so he said he'd send him my way when we're back next week, because how many people in the area need a new cello bow?   (I probably don't, either, but it's worth a look!)

We figured the panic-cleaning was probably drawing to a close -- or at least enough that they wouldn't be embarrassed to have newcomers see the place -- and headed down to the south of the island (Degnen Bay) to meet our host, Dinah, her boyfriend Trev, a whole lot of chickens, and cat (who didn't show her face until everyone else had left after the concert).  We knew which driveway was theirs, because of a colourfully-painted "House Concert Tonight" sign and balloons.  Down a long windy driveway, past the chicken pen, past the house for the baby chicks, and up to the house, with the "musicians use back door" sign humorously displayed.  The first door you open takes you into a stone-cobbled greenhouse, then another door takes you inside.

Walking inside I gasped, and exclaimed I could never get any work done if I lived there -- the view was just too breathtaking.  A big picture window looking onto the deck which looks onto the rocks which look onto Degnen Bay.   Wow.  Dinah and Trev laughed and reminded us they were just panic-cleaning. :-)  So I guess the awe doesn't wear off after living there a few years...

Dinah has made the place her own, with whimsical paintings on cupboard doors, etc., tons of instruments everywhere, of course, and Trev's hats.  No, he doesn't have a hat fetish (or maybe he does, but just isn't saying), but he's a professional clown, "Clever Trever", and one of his specialties is juggling top hats.  Dinah D. is a bass player, who does a lot of swingband music and solo crooning, but is also 1/2 the leadership of kids' band "The Kerplunks" -- the other half being Tina Jones, who we'd met at The Haven in February, and who hooked us up with Dinah in the first place.

We chatted a bit, were shown our room for the night, and got our gear set up in the living room.  Then we headed off with Dinah to nearby Silva Bay for a bit of dinner, leaving Trev to finish baking cookies.   It was a gorgeous day, so we opted to sit on the patio, overlooking the docks, with a beautiful flower garden.   There was much delicious food to choose from, and all the seafood on the menu is certified ocean-friendly -- yippeee!  Don had the ginger beef bowl -- which smelled incredible! -- Dinah had the chowder with yam fries, and I opted for a crab, shrimp and avocado salad with candied hazelnuts and all sorts of yummy goodness (no, I don't think that was the official menu description, but it should have been!).

Feeling gloriously satisfied -- but not too full to perform -- we headed back to the house, to have a wee visit with the chicks, and then to get ready for the crowd, who we were warned often showed up early.  But they must have learned from previous attempts, because nobody showed up before the 7:30 "doors open" time, so we could warm up a bit.  We were ever so happy to see Tina arrive, with her partner Penny, their niece (for whom they are now full-time guardians) and another young friend -- who shared the front couch with another adult friend and her son John.  It was, indeed, a big, cosy couch!

There were about 30-35 people in the audience, plus us and our hosts.  Pretty much everyone was new to us, of course, other than Tina and Penny Sidor, so the others must have just taken Tina at her word that we were worth seeing -- which is kind of funny, since she had never seen us perform as a duo, either!

Fortunately, those who were in attendance also had a sense of humour, as Don inserted some... er... interesting chords into our first number, "A Good Day", which we can usually play in our sleep.  Aha, this is what happens when you spend four days driving and no days practising!  Nevermind, we got back on track and they were very forgiving.

Seems pretty much everyone there was "from away", with many from Ontario.  We mentioned having looked in the real estate office, and they all laughed and said that’s how it starts... the rest of the evening was spent trying to resist their encouragement to move here.

And, strangely enough, after playing all over Ontario and having nobody know where Cannington, the town I lived in for five years, is, there were AT LEAST four people on Gabriola Island who knew the town well.  Yes, folks, I had to drive seven days to find people who know where Cannington is.

We got mid-way through the second set when I dragged out Scarlett (my accordion, for the uninitiated) for "My Love Shall Be Revealed".   All was going beautifully... until the instrumental break.   I have never played so many so very bad notes... and chords...  It descended into a rocking zydeco-fusion solo that shall never be repeated.  The pause before the fourth verse was much longer than usual, as I tried to stop laughing so hard I couldn't sing...  ahem, composure, yes, there we go.  Of course, just as I was finishing the never-to-be-repeated accordion solo, in walks Tim -- I couldn’t see the expression on his face, but he didn’t run away screaming, so all was well. :-)

We survived the rest of the first set relatively unscathed, then it was time for the break -- chai tea and shortbread cookies, mm-mmm!  Had a nice visit with old friends and new, and then it was time for the second set -- which we managed to not completely massacre. :-)

After everyone had gone home and Merlin had finally made her appearance, the four of us sat at the kitchen table to share a nice bottle of wine and some more chatting, and Trev prepared the sourdough for the morning.

We shall leave you hanging with that tempting mystery and tell you all about today later!

Musically -- except when I'm not...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Last day of the long drive - oh, the glamour!

Happy anniversary -- we survived a full week on the road.  More or less.  Right, sweetie?   Sweetie...? Hmm, I think he ran screaming from the building...

Ah, nevermind, he'll come back.  I'm in Starbucks, after all. :-)

Monday was another big day of driving, though much less than the previous days.  We had a quick breakfast (hey Mom, notice all the breakfast I keep having?) in the hotel lobby at Salmon Arm, then hit the road.  The love of my life had scoped out that the next Starbucks was in Kamloops, so guess where our first pit stop was...?

Of course, the road from Salmon Arm to Kamloops was beautiful -- mountains, lakes, mountains, lakes, yadda yadda yadda.   I wonder how long you'd have to be here before you stopped gawking out the window twenty-four hours a day?  In Kamloops, we were served by the cheeriest barista on the planet -- she had everyone laughing and kibitzing.  A quick snack, a ginormous (uh, I believe the proper name is Venti) coffee, a trip to the potty (you want details of the road, I'm giving you details of the road), and we were off again.

Two hours of Vancouver, we were reminded of the joys of the big city -- congested traffic.  At 2:00 pm?   Yup.  This is why we don't live in Toronto any more.  But at least the highways around Vancouver have mountains. :-)

We made it to the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal just after the cut-off, so had a bit of a wait for the next one.   That was when we realized that wasps are carnivorous -- and perhaps cannibalistic -- as they were happily chomping away at all the carnage on our front bumper.  Nature's car-wash.

Being among the first in line, we easily made it on to the 5:20 boat, parked the car and headed up to the cafe for a (very) late lunch.  The announcer at the terminal had said it was a packed boat, yet we were able to get a table at the very front, so we could look out at the waves and islands.  It was a pretty smooth journey -- especially considering the storms we'd encountered the last time we went across!

We got into Nanaimo, and then started looking for a Mark's Work Wearhouse, as Don, ever the master of advanced planning, had just realized he'd run out of underwear.  Dog bless the internet stick, we were able to find one just up the highway.  And right next to it was the beloved Starbucks, some restaurants and a Best Western.   It was fate.

We definitely have to give the “thumbs up” to the Nanaimo Best Western.  The room was great, the staff very friendly and helpful.  Cheapskates that we are, we had opted for the "basic" room, yet it had a nice little patio, refrigerator and microwave, which would be great if we were staying longer.  And right across from our room -- LAUNDRY!!!  Here you go, the romance of life on the road: laundry rooms make us happy.  We collected our quarters, sorted and stuffed, and did a little happy dance as the machines started whirring.  Mick Jagger doesn't know what he's missing.

Of course, in our excitement over being able to do laundry, we had sort of forgotten about it being kind of late on a Monday night to find dinner.  Never mind, there was a pub attached to the hotel whose kitchen was open until 10:30.  We transferred the loads into the dryer and headed around the corner to the pub, checking in on the dryer from time to time, as there was a mother with several loads also waiting for the machine.  The pub was about the same size as the night before, albeit with only six televisions, one keno board and one online poker screen, and the food and waiter's memory were certainly a cut above.  And she understood the difference between a bottle and on tap.   I don't think we've ever enjoyed a cold honey brown (or two) as much as we did last night!

Laundry done, dinner eaten, we returned some e-mails, paid some bills (that would be the Royal We) and did some PR (ditto), while we still had use of the internet -- we're told that it will be hard to get reception on Gabriola.

And a nice, long sleep was had by all!

Tuesday will be "blogged" when we're back in the land of reception.  We're just about to head onto the ferry.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Into the Rockies

A quick breakfast in the motel lobby, and we were off again, with the goal of making it to the Rockies -- Salmon Arm, BC, to be exact.  (Spoiler alert!: we did make it, safe and sound.)  Don, of course, had scoped out the closest Starbucks, which was just a couple of blocks away.  So armed with Venti bolds, and perhaps a couple of oat bars in case of emergency, we hit the TransCanada.

As we made our way from Medicine Hat ("The Gas City", in case I need to remind you...) to Calgary, I realized that the mistaken impression I'd had about the Saskatchewan landscape actually applied to eastern Alberta.  Not that it was desolate and boring, mind you, it was still quite beautiful, but there were much more of the flat-plain-and-acres-and-acres-of-grainfields surroundings.  Dotted, of course, with those big wells that always reminded me of the bobbing birds we used to love at the science shop when we were kids -- or maybe drinking horses.

We were in the land of lots of internet reception, so I THOUGHT I'd get a bunch of PR work done in the morning.  Fate laughed with a mighty hardee-har-har-har, though, as my laptop was crashing every three minutes -- more often if I held my mouth funny.  This poor old clunker seems to be on its last legs... may we all have a moment of silence, as we picture it surviving the next five weeks without darkscreening or being flung off a mountain.


I did a "verify disk" check, and all sorts of red letters scrolled their way across the screening -- basically saying, in layman's terms, that the hard drive was seriously messed up, and I'd better say some prayers or throw it off the closest cliff.


I went for the prayer route, and shut 'er down.

But the cell phone was working, fortunately, and we did manage to snag a new gig on the 14th (or perhaps 15th) in Enderby.  Yippee!

Back to the scenery.

As we neared Calgary, the road gradually got a bit hillier, and we realized that those low-lying clouds off in the distance were actually mountains.

Ah, mountains.

Yes, I realize that I was going on and on yesterday about how gorgeous the Prairies were.  But mountains just tug at my soul.  Mountains are the reason why, in our February BC tour, Don and I were THIS close to dumping everything and moving to Victoria.  We may need an intervention this time.  Or maybe Sandra should find us a real estate agent.  Because when mountains meet water, we're kind of uncontrollable.   It's like our Wonder Twin powers have gone completely over to the Wild Magic and there's nothing we can do except try and figure out how to move all our friends there with us.  Whether they want to join us or not.

With the mountains still tantalizingly in the distance, we stopped in Calgary for a light lunch, and to find an electronics store -- we needed a FireWire cable to back up the essentials from my laptop on to Don's, just in case I could no longer resist the urge to throw it out the window.  (Hey, I'm a fire sign, a Saggitarius with Saggitarius rising, a Temple Dog and a Queen of Wands -- I know the possibilities, and it's best to be prepared.)

Mission accomplished, I took over the driving, so Don could have a quick cat-nap before we got to the base of the Rockies.  Of course, he spent most of the cat-nap just staring at the mountains, but he did get about 15 minutes of sleep in, before a ginormous pot-hole relieved me of the decision of whether to wake him up to enter the range, or let him get a bit more sleep.

We were, indeed, at the entrance to the Rockies.  Don took a bunch of pictures for his brother (they lived in Calgary as little kids, and Bruce said he really misses the Rockies, and to say "hi" to them from him), but of course no photo could do them justice.

We drove most of the day with a travelling circus or fair or something -- lots of trucks with "Whack-a-Mole" and "Cotton Candy" signs, plus parts of amusement houses.  Beautiful scenery, whack-a-mole, beautiful scenery, ferris wheel, beautiful scenery, clowns...  I just love the way life juxtaposes things sometimes. :-)

We gawked our way through Canmore to Banff, and... oops, must have missed that turn at Albequerqe, found ourselves in the line-up to enter Banff National Park, for a slightly hefty fee (considering we didn't have time to stop).   Sheepishly, we told the man at the gate that we must have been looking at mountains and not reading the signs, because we wanted to go through along the highway.  He smiled and asked us where we were headed, we told him, and he waved us through.  I wonder how many times that happens to them each day?

Banff National Park is a true national treasure -- and we didn't even need to get off the highway to see it.   They've built a bunch of overpasses for the wildlife, matching the surrounding terrain, so they aren't afraid to walk over the highway -- in a way that won't endanger their lives.   I wish we had these in Ontario!!!  The construction crews were busy at work making a few new ones, I presume where they'd had accidents before.  It was a gorgeous day, so there were tons of cyclists along the trails, as well as one crazy horseback rider who decided to gallop across the 4-lane highway just as we were passing -- thank you, sir, for the adrenaline rush.

Despite the warning signs along our route the rest of the day, we had no encounters with grizzlies, rams, deer, moose, elk, or even a squirrel.  The front bumper, however, continues to exhibit signs of insect carnage.

We made it to Salmon Arm easily in time for normal people's dinner time -- could have kept driving, but... why bother?  Found a motel with a ground floor room available (way too much gear to lug up stairs!), and a pub next door that gave motel guests a dinner discount.  Yay us!  The laptop was temporarily behaving properly, so I got a few things done that really had to get done, and then we headed next door for dinner.

The restaurant probably sat 30 people, and had 11 televisions, 1 Keno screen and an electronic poker game.  But it wasn't as noisy as you might think, and the menu looked tasty, so what the heck.  The waiter was very nice and friendly, but she apparently was never taught the difference between a pint of beer and a bottle.  Nevermind, the bottles were already open, we took them.  She had to clarify our orders three times (trust me, they weren't complicated), and left us with our bottled beer to wonder what adventure might be in store when she brought out the plates.  She did quite well, although as she put Don's plate of Jambalaya down, she realized there was no chicken, so went out back to ask the chef to cook some -- which came out about two minutes later... kind of makes you wonder...   We decided to order a beer that didn't come in bottled form, so settled on "The Backhand of God", a local brew, kind of like a nice coffee porter.  Plus the name just makes you smile. :-)

Then back to the room for some computer surgery.  I transferred the crucial files onto Don's computer, then ran Disk Warrior on mine (Don was smart enough to bring the CD, just in case!).  Success!   It was able to repair the hard drive.  Although I'm still getting pages and pages of permissions errors, even when I haven't done anything with it.  But -- and I realize I'm saying this with my outside voice -- it hasn't frozen or crashed in over 12 hours, so we're making progress.

Completely exhausted, WE crashed into bed, and Don was snoring before he hit the pillow.  That's OK, it helped to drown out the train that ran behind the hotel all night. :-)

Slowly getting there,

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Driving Through the Prairies

After the obligatory Starbucks visit, we left the city of Winnipeg and headed out on the longest drive of this tour -- aiming for Medicine Hat, Alberta.  After taking three days just to get the heck out of Ontario, driving in three provinces on the same day seemed a little bizarre -- yes, we're used to it in the Maritimes, of course, but still...

I have to say that anyone who has ever described driving through the Prairies as being an endless stretch of boredom SERIOUSLY NEEDS TO GET THEIR EYES CHECKED!  Yes, the road is straight and level (which makes for a much more relaxed drive, when you aren't worried about moose bolting out from nowhere), but the landscape is freaking spectacular!!!  Such a collage of colours and textures, with rugged beauty undulating as far as the eye can see.

The sides of the highway are littered with ponds where happy ducks shake their tailfeathers -- a gaggle of geese seemed to be working out the choreography to West Side Story in one of them.  A herd of horsed frolicking in the field, then racing each other to the other side -- which was, indeed, a long way away, so they were able to get full steam going.  Butterflies were everywhere -- including, sadly, directly in the path of the car.  Yes, we swerved for butterflies, but weren't always successful.

And I don't understand how anyone in Saskatchewan could ever be even slightly grumpy, when the sides of the highway are inundated with such cheery flowers -- they looked just like miniature sunflowers, not the right shape for black-eyed susans, just "honey, I shrunk the sunflowers". I was grinning ear-to-ear the whole time.

All this beauty was soon contrasted with the soundtrack of Jack Layton's funeral on CBC One.  Thank you, CBC, for broadcasting that -- although boo to your hosts who talked all the way through the final song with Julie Michaels.  We were both sobbing and sniffling as we travelled the TransCanada -- passing and being passed by cars with equally teary passengers.

After the three-hour broadcast, and some time to dry our faces, we stopped for lunch in Regina at a family-style restaurant, where I discovered the perils of being a vegetarian in cattle country.  Fortunately, one of their appetizers was a cheese quesadilla, which I was able to have with a salad, as soon as I was able to explain to the befuddled waiter that I didn't want the bacon bits. k.d., I feel your pain. :-)

Don was ready for a reprieve, so I took over as the landscape got even more craggy and wondrous.  And the sky -- oh my, the sky!  We were driving through sunny patches, but there was a rainstorm off to the south, and to the north -- oh my, the sky!!!  Black and nasty thunderstorm happening over there (yes, I had the radio on, to make sure there weren't any tornado warnings!).  Lightning zapped all over the plains, and the cloud formations looked like something out of the DreamWorks studio.  For much of it, there was a swirl of clouds that looked like a spiral galaxy, and then right in the middle, a big bulbous gray patch that looked like a spaceship was coming down to land.  And meanwhile the lightning and strange peeks of sunlight.  Remarkable -- I've never seen anything like it (Don was asleep the whole darned time, or I'd have gotten him to take a hundred pictures).  Kind of like the Northern Lights, but on a really bad day. :-)

As the sun started working its way earthward, we came face to face with the insect carnage of the day.  We are Bad Buddhists.  Had to stop for gas and a windshield scrub / scrape.  There are still remnants of one butterfly clinging as a reminder...  :-(

The sun was still up as we pulled in to Medicine Hat -- "The Gas City".   How could we make this up?  Sadly, we weren't quick enough with the camera to catch the welcome sign, so you'll just have to take us at our word.

We checked into one of the hotels on the strip -- and quite a nice room it was.   It looked, of course, like the hotel strip in any major city, with all the same restaurants.  So after settling in, we walked across the road for dinner at Montana's, which was not quite the same without Tammy as our waiter -- in fact, as Don noted, all the waiters here were blond and ten years old.   (Tammy is our favourite waiter at the Montana's in Orillia, and is neither blonde nor ten years old -- and she wouldn't mind us telling you so, either -- but a dark-haired and ebullient Newfie who always makes us laugh, and is a Temple Dog like myself, as we share a birth year, as well as many personality traits.)  Not only did this Montana's not have Tammy, they didn't have our usual wine in stock, so we truly had to slum it. :-)

Back at the hotel, we switched on Don's laptop (mine is behaving badly -- will try to rectify that tonight) and watched the online feed of the funeral.  I think we bawled even harder watching it than listening to it.  Don't think it was just because we missed Tammy...

We'd promised ourselves an early night, but... it was 1:30 am, so we crawled into bed and slept hard in anticipation of crazy travel day #2.

Road Warrior-ly,

Saturday, August 27, 2011

In the Bhigg House

Friday, we finally got a rehearsal in -- good thing, as that was the first concert date of our tour, and we hadn't had a chance to play together in over a week!  We are nothing if not last-minute...

Sam and Susan got home from work just as we were packing up and leaving, so we were able to sneak in a bit more of a visit before we left their beautiful home and company.  Of course, they were our guests at the house concert later, so it wasn't too teary, but... still too soon to leave. :-( 

But leave we must, and we headed over to The Bhigg House, home of Dave Clement and several others! Dave and his wife Elizabeth have turned their home into a community abode, currently sharing the house with five others, as well as friends passing through and travelling musicians like ourselves. 

We unloaded our carful of gear and set up our performance space, then sat down for dinner with Dave and house-mate Dar, with Don and Dave catching up (they met several years ago on one of Don's solo tours) and the rest of us getting to know each other. 

Folks started arriving, so we got ready to play!  Dave set up a recorder in the back of the room, and will be sending us the files via DropBox when he has the chance -- so we'll try to upload some of them onto our ReverbNation site (linked to our website) when we're in high-speed land.  We played the first set, finishing with Don's classic, "Yum" -- perhaps not the best choice before the refreshment break, although it did leave us extra cake for after the show! :-)

Sam and Susan and Dave were the only people there we already knew, so we spent the break meeting and talking with new folks -- all tremendously supportive and enthusiastic, thanks so much, everyone!  The second set went quickly, with encores demanded -- actually, Sam demanded several, but we left them wanting more with just one. :-)  After the show, we learned that one of our new friends, Alan, has just started hosting house concerts himself, and invited us to come play for him the next time we're coming through.  Such a great network of people in Winnipeg!

After the audience trickled out, a handful stayed behind in the living room for a song circle / jam session. I was, surprisingly, too tired to join in, but enjoyed listening from the couch!  Dave's voice is so deep and rich, it's lovely to hear.  Sam and Susan, of course, stayed and treated us to some of their numbers, plus two visitors, Anya and her Mom -- whose name I never did catch, but who was obviously a regular at these gatherings, with a love of singing. 

Maybe it was the dark circles under my eyes or the vacant look on my face, but the party faded with one last sing-along from Dave.  Great big good-night and good-bye hugs from Susan and Sam, plus a promise we'd visit again on our return home.  We padded up to the top floor for yet another deep sleep.

I woke up at 6:30 this morning, thought "oh, come on!", and the next thing you know, Don was waking me, telling me it was after 9:00 and we'd better get going. 

More from the road shortly!


Ready for our close-up...

Well, rehearsal didn't happen -- Don had his beauty nap, and I worked on the dreaded PR mountain for most of the afternoon.   Then Sam got home from work much earlier than expected, AND we got a phone call that a studio was available from 4-8, so we gulped down a wee snack, primping ensued (Don and I), and Sam gathered his gear.

The studio was on the third floor of an old warehouse in the Market district, complete with a crumbling plaster wall that made Sam jump up and down excitedly.  Photographers are weird... :-)  The late afternoon sun coming through the corner window sent him into near hysteria!  The lights there were less than optimal, but --  kind of like my poor ol' laptop -- if you gave them a bit of a rest from time to time, they'd get back at it. 

We'd come equipped with several wardrobe changes and a bottle of wine -- we'd told Sam how uncomfortable we were getting our photos taken, so he was determined to relax us (and he assured us the red noses could be airbrushed out later!) 

We mentioned sam was an amazing photographer, right?  Well, we'll show you some samples soon, but... suffice it to say that he was actually able to get several pictures of Don not only smiling, but relaxed and smiling.  And that was even BEFORE we cracked open the wine bottle.  The man's a genius. :-) 

We took advantage of the natural light and the crumbly wall for the first hour or so, and got a number of nice ones hanging out on an old white sofa.   Sam was excited about the lines and light and shape.  We were excited that we didn't look like ugly morons.  Different strokes...  We took a wine break to peruse the first half of the photos, and try to mop up some sweat -- third floor of an old building, hot day, and all that sitting around and looking good takes a lot of energy, damnit!  We then moved to another corner of the room with a plain background and did another set -- we haven't had a chance to look at the second half, but Sam kept yelling nice things, so we're guessing there's a few good ones there too.  Either that or the wine got to him... 

Four hours went pretty quickly -- we were surprised!  Back to the house for some snacks and chats, and then we all trickled off to bed.

We promise to post samples once Sam's had a chance to upload them -- please don't expect us to ever look this good in real life! 

Musically -- and occasionally photogenically,

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Catching up - days 3 and a bit of 4

Sorry, folks -- only day three and I'm already falling behind! Oh well, it is me, right?

Now, where was I? Ah yes, just west of Red Rock, slightly annoyed with Rogers and driving through lots of New. 

Well, I didn't think you could get much prettier than what we'd seen east of Red Rock, but I was, apparently, as woefully mistaken as the Rogers coverage map. Yes, as our friend Wendell Ferguson sings, it's a lot of "rocks and trees, trees and rocks", but... they're really pretty rocks and trees and trees and rocks and sparkling lakes. 

And a whole lot of construction. Our Ontario tax dollars at work. 

So we arrived in Thunder Bay a little later than anticipated, but found our friend John Stadtlander's house just fine, complete with John sitting on the front porch, in case we got lost! We first met John when the Heather Dale Band did a house concert at our place, and he was drumming for them. He also played with them on our November double-bill "Tourette", where we'd had a chance to get to know him a little better -- he's also helped set up one of the house concerts on our tour (Lloydminster, AB, September 24). 

This was shaping up to be the tour of the big, golden dog, as John's big retriever bounded out to give us the customary "goose" greeting. Inside, John's wife, Sharon -- who we hadn't met before -- gave us a less PG-13 but equally enthusiastic welcome. They are a super-sweet and generous couple (kinda makes you wonder how they survive Ben -- just kidding!) 

After a bit of settling in and chatting away, we sat down on the patio for a feast that makes me wonder how on earth I could ever claim to be a "starving artist" again. Stuffed to the gills, and rather wine-satiated, we were then forced to heat homemade apple crumble and ice cream -- we suffer greatly! The bugs were coming out, so Sharon filled up the citronella torches (and a bit of the lawn -- oops, good thing we had a wine-soaked retired firefighter in the group!) and we chatted away and attempted to digest -- although, geeks that we are, the laptops had to make an appearance while we were in a house with wireless! 

Once we discovered that no, the world had not exploded in our day without internet access (oh, the humility!), we settled down in the living room for a bit more chatting and a nightcap to aid with digestion. :-) John and Don decided they would get up at 5:00 the next day and head out for coffee while letting Sharon and I sleep in a bit. 

Yeah, I didn't believe them, either. 

After a gloriously sound sleep (how is it we sleep better on the road than anywhere else?), there was a mildly concerned tap on the bedroom door, telling us it was already 8:10. Perhaps that nightcap had been a bit over the top, as even John the uber-morning-person had just woken up! We were still in good time, though, so had a bit of breakfast, bid our good-byes, packed up the car and headed out. 

First stop was just a block or so away, to buy the all-important deodorant (Don forgot) and day's supply of wine gums (a necessity for driving). Much to Don's delight, the Safeway also had a Starbucks kiosk (last one 'til Dryden), so we also stocked up on Venti bolds (maybe we should have stuck to the grande, but whattheheck). 

Much to our delight, we were able to keep CBC reception the whole trip -- apparently they have something to teach our beloved cell phone company. (OK, that's it, I promise.) The northern Ontario feed has some great shows -- always fun to hear a different perspective. Of course, we were also hearing of all the crazy weather back in the southeast -- hope everyone is OK, and the weather has calmed down! 

We stopped in Dryden for a late lunch and to send some stuff out at the Post Office. Lots of very friendly people in that town! Then back on the road and towards Manitoba. 

I will confess, I had a very mistaken view of Manitoba. I had somehow assumed that the eastern part of the province would be pretty much like Ontario, landscape-wise, and then gradually work its way into the Prairie image one has of Saskatchewan (of course, I may soon be proven wrong about that assumption, too!). But almost as soon as you cross the Ontario-Manitoba border, the landscape becomes very, very flat. Still lots of trees (without the rocks), but not even a little hill, at least along the highway. So yes, I learned something new yesterday. Yay me. Still lots of sparkly lakes, but the land seems... softer, in a way, without all those jagged rocks surrounding the roads. Added bonus, not too many places to hide a speed trap -- er, not that we'd ever drive faster than the posted speed limit, of course. 

Construction had slowed us down a bit on this leg of the journey as well -- which was probably a good thing, as we made it into Winnipeg after the worst of the rush hour. Mapquest had given us a rather convoluted route to Sam Baardman & Susan Israel's house, but we would have been OK with it, had Winnipeg drivers been closer to Orillians than Torontonians. At the last zig-zag turn, not a soul would let me in (even with my Torontonian upbringing), so we were forced to continue down that road and find a place to turn. which would have also been alright, but for the construction which prevented us from turning anywhere. However, we got a lovely tour of downtown Winnipeg, including an up-close-and-personal view of the Opera House, whose driveway we used to finally turn ourselves around and get back to Sam and Susan's. We only bickered a bit. Right, sweetie? Pookey? 

Sam and Susan have a beautiful house, with a yard that backs onto the river. Paradise! Don announced within the first five minutes that he was moving in. Didn't mention me... could it have been the bickering? :-) 

Once again, we were forced to eat an inordinate amount of terrible food, and put some winemakers' kids through college. Barbecued chicken, salmon, grilled veggies, potatoes, salad, fresh, juicy watermelon... we tried to be polite. ;-) 

After dinner, we sat back to discuss ideas for today's photo session -- you see, as well as being a musician, Sam is an incredible photographer. Damned over-achiever. And he's going to take some promo photos for us -- we're quite excited, despite hating to get our picture taken. 

It's very nice to not be in a car today. Don's out getting his nails done (yes, the boys were talking manicure last night, while Susan, a fiddle player, and I rolled our eyes), I'm typing away, and when he gets back, we'll actually put a rehearsal in, before Sam comes home from work and we have to try and look presentable. Of course, there's always PhotoShop! :-) 

Alright, folks, my work is cut out for me now -- better go! 


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

B.S., Bellevue and Belles Vues

Typing this on Highway 17 as Don drives.   Will probably have to upload it at a later time, since -- wonder of wonders -- we aren't getting any signal.

Dare I tell you about my fun experience with Rogers this week?  (This would be the B.S. portion of the post.)

It started when we returned from Red Rock.  I sent a request to Customer Service, saying I hadn't been able to get any signal for the cell phone or internet stick all that week, despite the Rogers map clearly showing that there was signal to be had.  I had heard rumour of updated codes to download and/or buying a new SIM card that would recognize the recently-installed towers, but needed to know how to go about it, before returning to the area this month.  I was, of course, told there was probably something wrong with my phone, or I was just stupid and didn't know how to use it properly (not their exact words, of course, just the general gist of the tone).  I then informed him that we had been travelling with quite a large group of musicians, and that NONE of the Rogers customers had been able to get service (unlike those with other cell providers).  I was then told that the only way to diagnose the problem was for me to call them from the problem phone in the problem area.   Um... you folks are with me, right? HOW CAN I PHONE FROM AN AREA WHERE I'M GETTING NO PHONE SERVICE?!?!

Long story short, four e-mail responses later and Customer Service (term used loosely) was still trying to convince me that the area was full of service, I should contact them again when I was actually having problems, and by the way, there were a few areas to the north of my route that didn't claim to have service. 

I tried to be nice.  Believe me, I tried really hard to be nice.  But... yes, folks, I was forced to go Air Canada on their arses. 

The last e-mail I got before we left internet signal land was that perhaps they had been undergoing maintenance on the day (day??? WEEK!) I couldn't get service, but was assured that all the areas depicted on the Rogers coverage map were, indeed, areas that got coverage, and no, they would never tell a lie.  I must just be stupid... and perhaps have some anger-management issues. :-) 


But I'm skipping ahead. Back to Monday evening. 

After a nice dinner at Casey's in Sault Ste. Marie, we headed up the road to Goulais River. I had just finished calling back the folks at The Haven (where the "Spirit in the Song" workshop will be taking place in the first week of September), when we lost signal.  Oops... did I mention the Rogers Customer Service guy promised signal and insisted I didn't know how to use a cell phone? 

Let it go, Lyssy...

Driving into Bellevue Valley Lodge, we first saw their big, beautiful garden (with sunflowers, my favourite!) and were greeted by two big, beautiful, golden dogs, who obviously hadn't seen human company in at least thirty seconds.   Oh, how I love dog welcomes!  Their humans, Robin and Enn, came out to great us as well, though with perhaps a little less drool involved.  They led us back to show us our "room" -- what a room!  It's too bad we only had about 12 hours to enjoy it, but we'll definitely have to come back when we have a bit more time.  We were on the second floor of the cabin (built by Robin and Enn, using mostly wood from their property, including a big tree that fell several years ago and inspired the new build), which was in fact a two-bedroom apartment, complete with kitchen.  The main floor is also used for guests, but with the furniture cleared out is their house concert venue and occasional recording studio.  Don, of course, was jealous as heck. 

We headed back to the main house for tea and a visit, complete with the dogs and a very friendly cat.  Then we all headed out with the flashlights to give the dogs a last walk down the road, and give ourselves a bit of a stretch, too.  The hills around there are lovely -- probably even better by daylight.  The lodge is apparently busiest in winter, as they've got lots of ski trails connected to the property.  It was nice and chilly, the perfect August night, and we headed back to the cabin to check on e-mail (Bellevue has wireless, yay!), read a couple of chapters, then collapse into one of the best sleeps either of us has had for a very long time.  We love Bellevue Valley Lodge! 

A chilly "music camp morning", but we were brave and headed down to the house for breakfast.  Yes, Mom, I ate breakfast. Fruit, muffins, and hot oatmeal with wild cherries.  Our kind of road food! 

And so, we've spent the day meandering up Highway 17, poking in and out of small towns and beautiful vistas.  And we just passed the turn off for Red Rock, which means...

We are currently driving further west than I've ever driven before.  Everything from here on in is brand new.

Which means I'm signing off, folks -- gotta go "oooh" and "ahhh" a little. :-) 


Monday, August 22, 2011

Beginnings and endings

And so begins the tour... One of the least disorganized beginnings we've had. Laundry was finished well before midnight, and the packing completed not much after. I spoke with my mother earlier in the day, when I still had four loads of laundry to go, and think I probably shortened her lifespan by a few months -- she's already started packing for her trip that begins mid-September. I obviously didn't inherit that gene, but hey, it gave me the extra bonus of driving my mother mad, which is something to which we can all aspire.

OK, sorry Mom. Let me make it up to you by assuring you that we were all packed and organized well before dawn, for the first time in our touring lives. So you must have had some influence, at least. It felt very strange to not have to stay up doing just a few more hours of PR while hoping the laundry timer was lying. Refreshing, yet strange. Somewhere in the back of my brain, a little voice is screaming "we must have forgotten something very important!" If we have, it's well forgotten.

That little voice also woke me up at 7:30, pretending we had overslept and it was already Tuesday. I really dislike that voice. Cookie, the grey cat, was firmly plastered to my leg -- one of the downsides of being packed the night before -- and I actually feel the beginnings of a bruise there. She was breaking my heart, so I let her stay there as I tossed and turned the upper half of my body, hoping to salvage a bit more sleep. No luck. Cat guilt prevailed.

And so, with little homebody me pondering the sadness of good-byes, the radio alarm clicked on just in time for the beginning of CBC news. Jack Layton died this morning. How is that possible? Such a vibrant scrapper should live to be 100, he should be strong enough to live to 150. Hmmm... so people who do die before 150 simply haven't tried hard enough? No, I guess not. There are no certainties, even for people who seem so certain. Life is fleeting, you never know when or if you'll see anyone again, what life will bring.

I extricate myself from cat number one, and find Bomber Joe, the newly diabetic kitty, has had the strength to walk up the stairs today, to try and talk me into an early breakfast. Scrapper. Well, not much of one anymore, but back when he was a kitten he could sure put up a fight. Will this bedraggled kitty be here when we return? Extra cuddles today. You never know.

The roofers arrive and start setting up. They've only been a part of our lives for a week, and they're usually up the ladders drilling and hammering, but... I somehow have the urge to give them big good-bye hugs. No, Lyssy, that would be strange. Time to pack the car and go. Yes, really.

How did such a homebody become a touring musician? Life has such strange twists...

Car packed, kitties cuddled, roofers not cuddled. We leave a LOT of post-it notes for the cat- and house-sitter (you know, in case she's never done laundry or used a can opener before), close the door, and go.

Highway, sunshine, CBC Radio One, with tributes pouring in for Jack. Goodbye house, goodbye cats, goodbye Jack, goodbye radio signal...

Hello, new Amelia Curran CD, hello passenger-seat office, hello black coffee in our sippy cups and toasted sesame bagels with plain cream cheese. The tour has begun. We have so many adventures ahead, so many loved ones to visit, so many new friends to meet.

I remember watching one of those nature shows a few years ago, where a mountain lion killed a grazing fawn. The mother looked distressed, forlorn, and after a short period of mourning, turns and heads for the shelter of the forest -- "she has already forgotten," claims the voice-over. "Don't be stupid!" I screamed at the television, "she hasn't forgotten, there's just nothing she can do anymore, and she has to move on to protect herself from the same fate."

And so, despite the sadness of loss, of good-byes, of uncertainty... we move on. Not just to protect ourselves from death, but to... well, to live. The sadness doesn't disappear, it just weaves into the tapestry of present. We move forward. We drive a gazillion kilometres (give or take) to bring our hearts to others, to become a part of their tapestry, and weave them into ours. So they'll never really leave us, and we won't really leave them.

Don wrote a poem several tours ago that began "Moonlight over glass, this car holds everything I need." And so it does. My sweetie, our music, coffee and bagels, the books and snacks our friend Paul brought over last night, a gorgeous view, the credit card if my voice remembers what we forgot... and the promise of love and adventure.

This will be my first time driving west. I'm so very much looking forward to seeing all there is to see along the route -- yes, even the prairies. Especially the prairies, I think, because this body has never set foot in either Manitoba or Saskatchewan, and that's a crying shame.

In the radio tributes, someone mentioned how Jack Layton had hitch-hiked across Canada as a young man. I'm travelling with quite a bit more than a backpack, but I'm eager to see it all. It's a beautiful country. Sunlight over glass, this car holds everything I need.

Today's just a travel day. We'll be staying at the Bellevue Valley Lodge, run by a music-world friend, woven into our lives over the years and via other musical friends. Hopefully we'll have a chance for a bit of a visit, to get to know a bit more about the person we usually only see at conferences or via e-mail. There are a lot of people in this country I only know by pixels, and will be lucky enough to meet many of them in person over the next little while. And so, the threads get stronger.

This is why introverted homebody ole me is a touring musician. To strengthen the threads. To learn new patterns. To be a part of it all. Whatever "it" the day might bring.

Please pardon me as I shut down the passenger-seat office. There's landscape to adore.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Folking in Red Rock

Hello, folks and folkettes!

Day two of the Live From the Rock, and we've been having a great time.  With a bit of a sunburn (that would be Alyssa), and the bugs driving us... well, buggy, we're back home at our billet, sitting around with our other laptop-armed friends, and have a chance to give a wee report.  The house is just a couple of blocks from the festival site, though, so the concert is coming easily through the living room windows.

After a lovely cottage visit with our friends Paul and Deb in Algoma Mills, we woke up bright and early (well, early anyhow... 6am, if you can believe it!) and drove the 9-1/2 hours to Red Rock, unloaded our bags and instruments into Liz's house, had an ever-so-needed shower (you're welcome, citizens), and then headed out to the welcome dinner hosted by hospitality co-ordinator Kathy and her husband Tim.  What a lovely party they gave us -- especially considering all the work they must have been having to do this week!  We got a chance to meet some of the volunteers and other artists, say hi to a few old friends, and enjoy some good home-cooked food.  Back at the house, our "co-billets" arrived from Winnipeg, Sam Baardman and Susan Israel.  Don already knew them both, but I was meeting them for the first time.  I think it's safe to say we've gotten along quite famously.  :-)  Despite vowing to go to bed early, we had a great jam and conversation, and got to bed... well, at least not TOO late!

Friday, we got a shuttle to the site with all our gear, had our first breakfast in the Fish and Game room (hmmm... stuffed animals watching the vegetarian eat...), set up the CDs at the merch tent, and all those other oh-so-glamorous things we travelling musicians do.

Then the fun stuff!

Our first workshop was "Double Trouble" -- three duos let loose on the stage.  We we the hosts, with my old "The Als" bandmate Allison Brown and her partner-in-crime "Uncle" Dan Henshaw, plus two musicians new to us from the Ottawa region, Amanda Rheaume and Marc Charron.  Amanda and Marc are touring out west and back right now -- check out and for tour dates, they're a great combo!  (Plus it was kind of fun to have TWO other people playing foot percussion with me.)

Second was "Old, New, Borrowed & Blue" with our house-mates Sam and Susan (, plus The Laws ( TONS of fun!!!  Much jamming ensued.  :-)  We've heard many great comments about that workshop, so it appears the audience might have had as much fun as we did!

A delicious dinner, courtesy of St. Mary's Anglican Church, and then we had to get ourselves in gear for our mainstage concert.  Maria Dunn ( was onstage before us, so we got a birds-eye-listen of her set.  (Our FridayFolk people will remember her from her recent concert with Jon Wort Hannam -- lovely person and a terrific songwriter)

I have to say, the folks working backstage are incredible -- very efficient, running a tight ship, incredibly friendly and helpful.  Thanks so much, ladies!!!  They got us set up so fast, we actually ended up getting a couple more songs in than expected.  Unfortunately, the sun had just dipped under the edge of the stage roof, and was blaring in at us -- at one point, I was sweating so much, all the sunscreen on my forehead had run into my eyes, oy!  It was a hot, hot day... But we soldiered on, and the audience was terrific -- we felt so welcomed.

Then we got to sit back for the rest of the evening and just listen.  The young band (geez, how old am I that I'm calling people young?  well, they all just turned 19, which means I could easily be their mother...) Harlan Pepper ( followed us on -- they're a hoot, and I just want to pinch their cheeks, do check them out!  Next up, the incredible artist and guitarist Kevin Breit (, and one of the most creative musicians around.  Oh yeah, and he might just be able to play guitar pretty darned good.  ;-)  We had a wee sip of beer for the Connie Kaldor set, then headed back to the house to listen to Jack de Keyzer and the Alaska Army Band from the living room -- Sam and Susan were already back, and Jen Ives joined us later for a tasty beverage or two before nap time.

Today (Saturday, for a few more minutes), we started the day as solo artists.  I was host of the "No Guitars, Please!" workshop (four strings good, six strings bad, baybeee!) -- and what a workshop!  Connie Kaldor on keyboards, moi on cello, Maria Dunn on accordion, Jaron Freeman-Fox and John Williams ( on electronically-processed violin and clarinet, and Shane Philip ( on didgeridu, ukulele and percussion -- talk about an eclectic line-up!  It was tons of fun, most notably because most of the people on stage were seasoned jammers -- everyone joined in on all the songs, with great sensitivity and musicality.  My highlight as a participant so far!

I rushed from that workshop to catch the rest of Don's "Wood and Wire: Guitars on Fire" workshop, which he hosted along with the aforementioned Kevin Breit and John Law.  Both Michelle (Law) and I joked that they were all just wanking (it's a wife's role, apparently), but they really did a kick-ass job.  And it's not just a proud Lyssy saying this -- Don had a guy bow down at his feet later, and while we were walking to get a snack with Kevin, they had a couple of people come up and say how much they loved it.

We had a bit of a break, then headed to the Fish & Game stage for an interview and concert with host Jen Metcalfe from LU Radio (  The young guy (there I go again!) doing sound was fabulous.

Some more tasty dinner from St. Mary's, and then we got to enjoy the night as audience members.  Starting off the night were Allison Brown, The Laws, and Amanda Rheaume, followed by Rob Lutes (, who's been on heavy rotation in our CD player -- an incredible songwriter with one of the sexiest voices in showbiz (OK, that's my take, don't tell Don...).  We walked back to the house listening to Shane Philip, and did the living-room listen to Shy-Anne Hovorka, Jaron Freeman-Fox & The Opposite of Everything, and now the final act, Dr. Buck & the Bluesbangers.  I am the only one awake in the house, though -- think I might have to go have a wee nap, myself.  Plus the laptop battery is in the red and Don just took the charger upstairs...  Better sign off!

I will say, though, that we're having a great time with Sam and Susan, and are looking forward to seeing them again in a couple of weeks as we travel through Winnipeg!

Feeling the love... and the need for a snooze, so we can have another incredible day tomorrow.