A Summer of Short Trips

Originally published in BC Musician Magazine, September 2016

A Summer’s worth of music festivals has left my hair tangled, my skin sun-drenched, my ears ringing, my band shirts stocked, and my iPod loaded. And I didn’t even have to leave B.C.’s Interior. Summer is usually the time that I depart from my hometown of Prince George and zig-zag Canada’s highways playing shows far and wide. This year, however, I chose to stay home and see what I could see, see what I had been missing, all those Summers away. As it turns out, I had been missing a heck of a lot.

What strikes me, is the variety of festivals available within four-hour’s drive of Prince George. I kicked the season off with the 33rd Annual Midsummer Music Festival in Smithers on Canada Day long weekend. I saddled up my van Flo, collected my bandmates, Crones, and we tumbled up Highway 16 for a Friday night appearance on the ‘B’ stage. Upon arriving, we were greeted with a beauty of a campsite (hot showers, say whaaaaat!), as well as the trill of excited children running around while Welkin’s ethereal grooves emanated from the mainstage. Nestled in the beautiful Bulkley Valley, mountain peaks and lush meadows created a postcard backdrop for the mainstage and vendors. The weekend brought some stellar new music to my attention, dispersed among the outdoor mainstage, indoor ‘B’ stage, and covered, intimate 4-H stage. Whether it was cutting a rug to Blocktreat and Dada Plan, rocking out to Mathias Rock and Fountain, or shedding a tear to Kym Gouchie’s heartfelt tunes, Midsummer delivered the goods and I was humming new melodies on the way out the door. Families were plentiful at Midsummer, and it’s easy to see why. An intricate jungle gym area was set up for the kids, with a family stage hosting magicians, performance artists, and even a children’s set by Rachelle Van Zanten. Smithers’ Midsummer Music Festival was a true gem for families and singles alike, and provided a warm and exciting platform to jump into festival season from.

Next up was Hootstock Festival in Forest Grove, BC. In it’s fifth year, Hootstock is growing quickly, and a lot of that can be attributed to founder Astrid Hensey and her husband Steve’s welcoming, DIY approach. Just a skip off of the path to 100 Mile House, Hootstock is located at Forest Grove’s Old Bradley Creek School House, built by community pioneers in 1936. After a serene drive through picturesque forests with lakeside views, a clearing comes into sight, full of dancing people. With one main stage attached to the schoolhouse, and a separate side stage sharing the crowd space, Hootstock provided an intimate, yet fully charged concert experience. All the details were marked with the fingerprints of Astrid, Steve and their volunteers, whether it be the infrastructure, the handpainted signs, or the beautiful clay medallions that performers received as mementos. A lot of love goes into putting on this festival, and the lineup was a true testament to that as well. Just to name a few, Sober Becky graced us with her conscious folk-punk, High Society got us moving with their heavy-hitting funk, and Argentina’s Los Entangados had the crowd leaping in the air with their latin-infused dancehall rock. Hootstock provided a stellar experience with a group of wonderfully colorful people, where artists and patrons alike shared the space as music appreciators. This is a festival to catch in it’s infancy, while the family vibe lasts.

After a reprieve to Green Lake to catch some sun and get water logged, I made my way back North to attend Artswells. The magical, incredible Artswells. Enveloping the entire township of Wells, and a little slice of the nearby historic Barkerville, rolling into Artswells was like rolling into the land of Oz. Brightly coloured, historical buildings are adorned in local art, pennant banners are strewn across the roads, and radiant people in lively costumes are scattered amongst vendor row and gathered outside of the many venues that will house music over the weekend. Over 100 music and live performance acts were housed by twelve stages, with workshops, independent film showings, and fire-throwing performance artists being the icing on the cake. Each performance was the best one, in it’s own right. Memorable performances include Carolyn Mark’s brazen country stylings in the Downstairs Hall, Walter TV’s new wave minimalism in the historic Sunset Theatre, West My Friend’s perfectly melancholy harmonies in Barkerville’s Methodist church, and The Pack AD’s heavy riffs ripping through the crowd in the Main Hall. However, that is just a snippet of the spectrum of acts on the schedule, as the miscellany is excitingly broad. Artswells Festival is a spectacle and a delight, and it’s conclusion left me with a nostalgic melancholy that insists I return next year.

After a short rest in Prince George, I packed my bags for the next big festival on my radar, Music on the Meadow. Just two hours West of Prince George in Fort St. James, MoM is on its seventh year, and delivered a rock and roll line up with a dash of folk and a smack of country. Trading back and forth between two beautifully put together outdoor stages, legendary Canadian punk band D.O.A. shared the evening with local country heavies The Joey Only Outlaw Band, while Sam Tudor ramped up the evening with his folk-pop ditties and The Party on High Street molded D.O.A.’s mosh pit into a group of groovy movers. The days were graced with performances by Raghu Lokonathan and Frontal Lobotamy, amidst many other talents from the region and beyond. The campgrounds were plentiful and even, with artists gathering in clusters amongst camper vans and tents, to create spontaneous songs.

The last festival of my season was the First Annual Metalocalypstik, a festival based in Valemount that showcases metal and hardcore bands with female members. After a beauty of a drive through the Robson Valley (and a quick stop in Valemount to fill up my Three Ranges Brewing growler), I followed the Metalocalypstik signs to Canoe River Campground, just five minutes drive outside of Valemount. After a meander through a lovely forest lane, the trees opened up to a vast field with mountainous backdrops for camping, and the sound of heavy riffs emanated from the covered stage in the distance. Featuring 19 bands on the mainstage over the course of the weekend, the tent was full with listeners at all times. Loaded with face-melting solos, powerhouse vocals, and a beer garden, it was easy to see why. Not only does Metalocalypstik showcase regional and national acts such as Dead Asylum and Scythia, they bring in acts from all over the world, Brazil’s Nervosa and New Mexico’s Suspended being two of many I was able to catch over the weekend. Metalocalypstik provided a true metal experience while showcasing the women taking space in the genre, and created a venue that was welcoming and accessible.

Being rooted at home in Prince George this Summer was a good reminder of the scope of talent that we have access to up here in the BC Interior, not just onstage but behind the scenes as well. The magnitude of work and vision that goes into putting together a festival is gigantic, and I was able to catch five very distinct, but equally fun and inviting festivals over the season. The crazy thing is, there are many I wasn’t able to take in, that I know were just as fun (Metallion, Robson Valley Music Festival, and Cambala being the three that come to mind). I am thankful for yet another reason to see my home in a positive light, and my old van Flo was surely thankful for the little jaunts and long rests, as opposed to another cross-Canada adventure. I sit with the memories of this Summer feeling not unlike Dorothy after she awakes; for your own heart’s desire, sometimes you need not look further than your own backyard. There really is no place like home!

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The Mileage and the Aftermath

Back in June, I ditched my apartment, job and a lot of clutter to move into a van named Flo and hit the road on tour. Fast forward four months, and here I sit at a friend’s kitchen table in Prince George, feeling like I never left. I left Prince George with the East Coast in my crosshairs, and on the voyage to Halifax, Nova Scotia and back, Flo and I saw 20,412 kilometres roll by. She didn’t so much as whimper under all that labour, let alone falter. What a noble steed she is. However, she doesn’t hold the heat in too well.

Now that I am back in a rather Northern climate, I find myself retreating to friends’ couches and keeping Flo parked more often than not. Why do I feel guilty? Humans are certainly strange, in our humanizing of and attachment to inanimate objects. I embrace the strangeness though, and hope to take her out for a last camping weekend of the year, while these Fall colors are lighting up.

While there was a lot of time spent alone, pondering and observing, this tour was also strewn with many great people, and new friendships and acquaintances that I feel lucky to have established. I can honestly say that I left every town I spent time in thinking “I’ll miss those people”. Oh, to be all the places at once, to partake in the jam sessions, card games, glasses of wine, dancing and bonfires that I know I am missing out on.

Over the 34 shows I played abroad, the stages ranged from back corners of coffee shops to dive bar stages with dogs roaming about, to fully-equipped rooms with perfect lighting and amazing sound technicians. Set times ranged from 15 minutes to three hours, in towns with as few as 55 people to cities with as many as six million. Landscapes ranged from flat, vast canola fields, to white-sand Atlantic beaches, to the cradle of the rugged Rocky Mountains. I feel fortunate to have experienced such a diversity of situations and scenes, this tour.

Now to tackle Winter without going stir-crazy.

About Face

Last night I had the pleasure of playing a show at The Port Grocer, a cafe/pub/grocery store in Port Medway, Nova Scotia. It is in a beautiful centenarian building which also houses the local post office, art gallery and yoga studio. I stayed in an apartment that they have upstairs next to the yoga studio and awoke this morning to the smell of fresh baking and the sound of laughter coming from the kitchen. Today I will check out the local beach before I hit the road, and, according to The Port Grocer’s sweet owner, Annabelle, all I have to do to get there is “walk across the graveyard over there and head down the hill”. What a great way to spend my last day in the maritimes.

PEOPLE HERE ARE SO DAMN NICE IT’S SURREAL. The maritimes truly lived up to their reputation as strangers came out of the wood work, every single place I went, to give me an encouraging smile and offer their help along my journey. I leave this area of the country feeling physically and mentally renewed, and downright spoiled.

Today is the day where I turn around and start heading back the way that I came, and this point of every tour is always bittersweet. Knowing that I’ve left the majority of the gigs behind me as I criss-cross Westward back to British Columbia, the tour’s end is coming as slowly as a freight train, and Winter plans have yet to be made. I’ve been on the road for over two months now, and with less than a month to go, I already feel nostalgic about the weeks past.

I look forward to spending the next few weeks chasing Autumn across Ontario and stopping to play some great gigs along the way, while I hatch a plan for the coming Winter.

Miles and Miles To Go

There are many modes of thought that happen when you drive over 9,000 km by yourself. The music goes by the wayside for hours at a time as I ponder past things, current worries and future prospects. Sometimes I find myself rambling out lyrics to songs I haven’t written yet, or pondering the plight of Pluto and the insignificance of our definition of the darling little rock. Pluto does what it does, regardless of how we define it – what a badass, and how nice for it to be beyond the influence of human beings. Current events are heavy on the mind these days, and I am ever glad to be in a time and place where I can show appreciation for and hopefully further music as an art form, and meet like minded people along the way. It is not a lucrative career choice, by any means. It requires a thick skin but a tender heart, which can be a difficult balance to maintain. It requires maintenance of peace and clarity of mind through harrowing and uncomfortable experiences, and it requires an insane amount of energy. And I love it.

I have been criss-crossing the minor and major highways of Canada for six weeks now, and tomorrow will be my twentieth show, in Maitland, Nova Scotia. There was something very freeing about hitting the New Brunswick border the day before last. Like it was the beginning of a new chapter on this tour.

Flo seems to be holding up well, despite having almost lost her tailpipe on the bumpy streets of Peterborough, Ontario. She is a comfortable and sturdy steed, and my hope is that if I treat her with care, she’ll let me take her another eight or ten thousand kilometres back to BC. She is loved by the locals of the places that I play, and people seem to appreciate the delicate nuttiness that is involved with wrangling such a machine down the narrow, twisted, half-dirt highways of rural New Brunswick, or through the slam-into-your-side crosswinds of Manitoba on the Trans-Canada.

I do miss my friends and family back home, but find great reward in all the new friends I’ve made along the way. The kindness of strangers is alive and well in Canada, whether it’s a family inviting me to their home for a full on eggs-and-bacon breakfast, or another band hooking me up with contacts for more gigs and a good place to park for the night. The assholes really are few and far in between.

This next leg of the tour will be interesting and ever challenging, as my bank account dwindles and Flo demands her next meal. I embrace the challenges and look forward to what tomorrow brings.

Van Living

At the beginning of this month, I made one of my dreams come true: I bought a tour van and started living in it! I liquidated almost all of my worldly possessions and left the Spider Den for good, with a nostalgic tear in my eye. I love being mobile, and I am enamoured with the road life, so to switch to this lifestyle kind of fits like a glove. The only possession I passed off with a little hesitance was my beloved gold Ford Taurus station wagon, Gilda. What a chariot she was. But alas, I do not need two vehicles, so I’ve committed full time to Flo, my van. It’s been a great first few weeks with her, she definitely feels more and more like home as I adjust her cabin to meet my needs. With the release of my EP, Songs From the Spider Den Volume One, is the close of the chapter of The Spider Den, and I look forward to writing the next one on Highway One during my travels across Canada this Summer.

The Spider Den

So I’ve lived in this little basement suite for the past year, and it’s been the place that I play, write and record music. It’s super cute, right downtown, and infested with spiders. So many spiders. Initially, I would smash dead any spider that caught my eye, but eventually I just started to feel like an asshole. A couple months in, I made peace with the spiders and it’s been harmonious ever since. They do laps around my pedal board when I play and don’t crowd me when I sleep. All good. I now affectionately refer to my suite as the Spider Den, and this is where my new EP was written and recorded, hence the title “Songs From the Spider Den, Volume One” (now available for listening and to download). The funding from sales of the EP will help fuel an epically long tour that I’ve just started booking, so if you like it put a ring on it. Or something like that.