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Friday, August 10, 2007 - July 2007 Tour in Review

This journey was my first cross-Canada tour. I’ve been part of independent music communities across Canada since my early teens. For three years, I hosted and produced a radio show about musicians for musician at the Ottawa Carleton University Station. Being an Anthropologist, I was interested in the lived experience of the Canadian Independent Musician. On my show, I played and promoted all kinds of Canadian Independent acts, and my interviews were mostly about shop talk. I learned so much from just talking to other people.

When I decided I should do this tour, I was not naïve. I knew what a Canadian tour entailed: grueling schedules, long distances between shows, low turnout, some shady characters that didn’t pay you what they promised, crap accommodations and even risk of death on the highway. I knew that it was going to cost me money. But I also knew that I had to do it.

Who am I?

Sure, my music career is taking off in Ottawa. I’ve turned into that accordion go-to gal. In Ottawa (and now in other parts of Ontario), when people want accordion on their recordings, they contact me. I get hired by various corporate organizations for larger show, festivals, weddings and even Supreme Court Judge BBQs! After investing in a place for a few years, becoming a big fish in a small pond is not too hard of a feat! And it quickly turns into a trap. (I grew up in Edmonton. I’ve seen this phenomenon over and over again…)

But when I open a copy of the local independent rag in another city, look at the listings and see who else is playing that night, I have to ask myself why anyone would want to come see me play. Sure, when I released my solo debut in March, I charted with independent radio stations across the country, but not for long enough to make a lasting impact. Not staying on the charts, I later concluded, was because I didn’t support the release with a tour. Every week, radio stations receive hundreds of new CDs for their libraries. Sometimes, it’s purely random why a DJ would pick up a single CD to play on their show, especially if someone is not known.

There is no magic recipe for success in this business, and there’s a whole lot of luck involved. For some, it’s a learn-by-doing journey (or in my case, learn-by-other-people’s- doing journey). There are standard common sense things of which one must be aware, however. In the case of charting, a lot of community and independent Radio DJs promote upcoming shows, which includes playing tracks. Tracks being played get you on the charts. Charting gets you seen. Being seeing gives you credibility. It’s as simple as that…

I’ve always wanted to be a serious performing and recording musician. I finally had the vehicle to do just that: my solo project. I had a solid solo debut album with great reviews under my belt, and a well-packaged product that I could take on the road without being dependent on anyone else. I could do this accompanied or I could do this completely on my own. It had become my goal to take this project out of Ottawa and take it both nationally and internationally. To do that, I had to invest.

This tour is the first of the many investments I will make in the coming year…

I wasn’t going to be doing it alone. As I’d posted earlier in this blog, while in Norway in May, I opened for Oslo band “Girl From Saskatoon.” To make a long story short, I had a chance to jam with some of the members during sound check, three of them sat in with me during half my show, and I ended up with a Norwegian double bass player. Somehow, it all fell into place to have him come to Canada. I even have a lovely double bass for him in my possession. I don’t think I could have realistically asked for more for a first tour…

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Friday, July 13
Task: Pick up Arthur at the airport
Beer: Boreal – sample-pack
Food: MJ’s killer chicken curry
Approximate hours of travel: MJ: 1, Arthur: 20(?)
Quote of the day: “Dietrich, can you please check my email?!” – MJ in a panic on the phone to her roommate after waiting for 1.5 hours at the Ottawa Airport to pick up Arthur and still saw no sign of him.

I left for the airport thinking that I could first stop and run a couple of errands. While on my way, I thought to ring my roommate and fiddle player Aalya Ahmad to check on Arthur’s flight for me on the Internet. It was early. I quickly disregarded my errands and headed straight to the airport. Arthur's flight had landed about fifteen minutes before my arrival. I watched as people piled out of the entry with frosted glass doors into the arms of eager loved ones. No Arthur.

After an hour, I started to ask people what flight they had taken. No more people with European accents. I was starting to get worried and the worst went through my mind. Had he missed his flight? Had he decided not to come? Did he get stopped in Customs or Immigration?

Or was he just outside smoking?

I called my roommate Dietrich after another 30 minutes asking him to check my email. Nothing. I decided to go outside to see if Arthur actually WAS outside smoking. I knew he would have come back looking for me after a minute or two, but I had to check, just to lay my mind to rest. Perhaps we had missed each other (not likely, between my flaming red hair, his height and his signature hat). After reaching the smoker’s area outside the airport and turned the corner, I saw a familiar figure wearing a hat and carrying a huge double bass gig bag. Arthur had arrived!

As things turned out, Arthur had been stopped in Immigration. When asked about all of his electronic equipment, he told them that he was simply recording with a friend. They asked him if he was going to be playing any shows. No! They asked him to write down the name of his friend and to get the rest of his possessions.

By the time he returned with the rest of his luggage, they had Googled my name and found both my MySpace site and my website where I had written about having this man come to Canada to tour with me, and I had posted all of our tour dates. There was no point in trying to lie.

The Immigration Officer had simply issued Arthur a working permit, good for a few days beyond the duration of the tour and charged him $150CAD. She then reminded him that this was supposed to be issued BEFORE his arrival.

That was the best $150CAD I had ever spent!!!

Morals of the story: Google is NOT your friend! The name of your friend with whom you’re recording is… …um… …Denis Brown! Don’t lie to Immigration Officers, and get your papers in order before you arrive. As far as I’m concerned, we were very, very lucky…

How do you spell ‘relief’? Arthur: a cigarette after traveling for 20 hours. MJ: finally having her double bass player safely at her side and knowing she wouldn’t be driving across the country and back in two weeks alone…

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Saturday, July 14
Tasks: Pack, practice, relax
Beer: St-Ambroise – sample pack, Griffon – extra-blonde
Food: Poutine from Ga-ga Patate, Thai Sweet Potato Salad, BBQ steak, shrimp skewers and pie – lots of different kinds of pie…
Quote of the day: “I can hear the fiddle parts in my head! It’s not fair! I want to play!!!!” Aalya in her first trimester of her pregnancy, who was stuck in her room sick all weekend and could not even muster the strength to come jam with us.

While I started to pack, Arthur had a lot of work of his own to do. He changed the strings on my double bass (with the help of one of our cats, Loki, who was very attracted to the low registers of this beautiful beast – it was a challenge to keep this critter off my instrument while it lay on the floor!), install his pick-up and learn any song that we didn’t perform together in Oslo, Norway back in May when we played Café Mir and Sound of MU.

We had a good practice and then headed out for a few errands and a stop at local vintage store Rag Time where Arthur found a great pair of Italian leather shoes. There, we also ran into Kelp Record’s Jon Bartlett and ‘Meesh’ (Flecton Big Sky) who were looking for fitting outfits for Jim Bryson and Hi-Lo Trons performances at the Ottawa Bluesfest. It was a riot to watch as they came out of dressing rooms!

That night, I had invited Glenn Nuotio (Homo-Emo-Bratty Cabaret pianist who I accompany on a regular basis), his partner Niall, Derek Loewen (who provided drums and percussion, as well as intense support and intelligent ears for my solo debut) and his wife (and one of my closest friends) Benita for a potluck, a jam and a chance to meet Arthur.

Glenn and Niall brought the bubbly which got everyone nice and giddy, with the exception of poor Aalya who listened to us jam from the vantage of her bedroom, where she lay in bed with the first symptoms of her pregnancy… She was sadly missed in the mix…

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Sunday, July 15
Task: Outdoor vernissage for Lafreniere and Pai Gallery
Perth, Ontario
Beer: Leftover beer from the night before
Food: One of the most beautiful cakes I’d ever seen, made by an artist at the sculpture vernissage at the Kiwi Gardens in Perth! Tatonka steaks and caribou medallions at the Sweetgrass Café.
Approximate hours on the road: 2.5
Quote of the day: “Just put one in your bag! No one will notice!” Arthur, after MJ pointed to a cluster of beautiful ceramic birds in a clearing and whining that she wanted one.

Arthur took the wheel of the Mazda Beauty and drove for the first time in Canada. He took us to Perth where we played an amazing unplugged show at the Kiwi Gardens in honour of Lafreniere and Pai Gallery’s sculpture vernissage.

Breathtaking! What an experience to play two acoustic sets to the rhythm of a slight summer breeze in a forest clearing surrounded by flowers and art while the sun shone! One woman did an impromptu dance performance; and from the vantage of her chair, my friend Nathalie added back-up vocals for our rendition of Peggy Lee’s ‘Fever.’ It was a perfect way to start a tour!

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Monday, July 16
Task: Show at the Townehouse with possibility of casual unplugged show at the Smiling Buddha
Sudbury, Ontario
Beer: Creemore Ale
Food: Breakfast provided by Glenn Nuotio. MJ’s vegetarian maki. The best pizza I have ever had from the Smiling Buddha next door to the Townehouse Tavern in Sudbury.
Approximate number of hours on the road: 5
Quote of the day: “Boom! BOOM! BOOM!!!” The sound of the double bass coming through the monitors at the Townehouse Tavern.

Arthur and I got up early to finish packing, load up the car and get on the road. We were still on the lookout for a voltage converter for Arthur’s laptop since the EBay purchase had yet to arrive. Glenn was gracious enough to have us over for breakfast. He filled us with great treats and wonderful coffee, and sent us on our way.

After finding a place to purchase the voltage converter, we hit the road. Sarcasm coloured the conversation as we witnessed weird sights and signs along the highway. And we had our first taste of the highway construction: “In Canada, we have two seasons: winter and construction.”

We were asked to arrive in Sudbury by dinnertime as were invited to sing for our supper in the courtyard of the Smiling Buddha, a great little restaurant next door. There were electrical showers, so the probabilities of them wanting us were slim.

Once in the Townehouse, we were informed that the sound guy would be in shortly to have us do our sound check. We drank beers and played pool. We were also shown our provided accommodations for the night.

The Townehouse provides accommodations to all musicians coming in from out of town. There are pictures posted on their website. But those pictures could not fully prepare me for what I saw. And I am NO PRINCESS!

We were led to the back of the bar, through a heavy metal door, down a set of stairs, and through another heavy metal door. Inside was a large windowless room decorated with couches (the kind that swallow people when they take a seat), a staircase that leads to the ceiling (I ironically have recurring nightmares about such things) under which lay a graveyard of what, I’m guessing, was once a beautiful waterscape from the 1970’s. I wish I had taken pictures. The place stank of Rock’n’Roll history. Exposed wires adorned the ceiling and the sketchy lighting. If the place had gone up in flames, there was no way we were ever going to get out alive!!!

There were two bedrooms: one with about a dozen beds scattered throughout and another with one bed. Arthur claimed that one.

I won’t speak of the bathrooms, but we skipped out on the opportunities to take showers the next day before we left town.

The rest of the night was spent waiting around, having the best pizza I’ve ever had at the Smiling Buddha, and more waiting around. No one could tell us anything about our sound check or our start time.

When it finally happened, sound check was a disaster. The bass coming through the monitors sounded like you’re sitting in a car at a red light next to a jacked up pick-up truck equipped with a sub-woofer barfing up obnoxious dance music. It was terrible. And according to our sound man, there was nothing to fix it.

Our two-band gig ended up being a four-act show. We didn’t get on stage until 1:00am. By some miracle, we still had an audience to play for at that time on a Monday night. The sound on stage was terrible, which made us both very unhappy. We got through it and disappeared into the dungeon for the night, which somehow, we survived…

Our Sudbury experience wasn’t ALL bad. It WAS lovely to see Cindy Doire and Ryan Bishop play again (they opened for my CD release in Hull back in April). And meeting Matt from the Buddha and bush pilot Ryan was a treat…

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Tuesday, July 17
Task: drive
Beer: Upper Canada Ale with whiskey chasers
Food: Smiling Buddha pizza leftovers for breakfast. Walleye for supper!
Approximate number of hours on the road: 10 hours
Quote of the day: “Let’s skip the showers and get out of this death trap!” Arthur to MJ after surviving the night at the Townehouse Tavern accommodations.

After stopping for really, really bad coffee (it was, unfortunately, the first of many), we finally got out of Sudbury. Enough said… We holed up at a roadside Motel in Terrace Bay for the night. I spent a longer than necessary amount of time in the shower to get the Sudbury grime off my skin. We each checked our email, and drank Upper Canada Ale with whiskey chasers while listening to Wilco off of Arthur’s laptop to get the hum of the highway out of our ears.

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Wednesday, July 18
Task: Live performance and interview on CILU
Thunder Bay, Ontario
Food: Finnish pancakes for lunch – Thunder Bay’s best known ethnic food!
Approximate number of hours on the road: 12
Quotes of the day: “I brought my clarinet!” Thunder Bay’s CILU Jazz radio DJ Dan after he interviewed us.
“Oh, no! I don’t want to have to sleep in the car tonight!” MJ to herself as it was getting dark and the red of the gas tank light lit up, with nary a motel or a gas station in sight…

The drive to Thunder Bay was uneventful with the exception of a rock that flew up at me and left a nice star-shaped crack on the Mazda Beauty windshield just outside of the city limits. It was a hard, slow morning for me as Arthur did most of the driving and I dozed off to the sounds of Calexico, Jim Bryson’s new album and Jupiter Ray Project.

Early that afternoon, we had a live performance and interview with CILU Jazz DJ Dan (who had some nice things to say about us: http://dmk.dyndns.org/wordpress/?p=561).

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by Jason Wellwood, the program manager who gave us a quick tour of the old-house-turned-studio! We had a good chat about their operations and their funding drive. The place had a really great vibe and we were very well treated.

The on-air studio was very small, which made for a sweltering and very intimate hour of chatting and live music. Despite the sweat, it was really, really fun!

As we piled out of the studio, Dan shyly said that he had brought his clarinet, so the three of us settled outside on the front porch and played! It was lovely! I laughed to myself as the traffic driving by slowed and stared our way! We must have been some kind of spectacle!

(Jason promised to send the pictures he took, as well as an audio copy of the radio show, both of which I will post as soon as I receive them…)

Arthur and I had a bite to eat at a Finnish cafeteria-styled restaurant in the heart of Thunder Bay’s Finnish Community, and hit the road again.

We were aiming to stop in Kenora, and actually drove in, following signs to a Super 8 Motel. When we got there, the parking lot was packed. It looked so depressing with its individual air conditioners hanging out of the windows that we headed back to the highway and kept driving west.

It was starting to get dark as we crossed the Manitoba border. We had yet to find a coveted 60s-style roadside motel where we had wanted to stay when the light indicating we were almost out of gas lit up on the car’s consol. I looked behind us at the pile of bags, instruments, the cooler and the box of CDs that filled the back of the car. If we ran out of gas, it was going to be a LONG night…

Luckily, we did find that wonderful motel. We pulled the motel’s round coffee table from our room and set up a picnic supper outside our door. We happily ate while sitting on the ground and enjoyed the entertainment the local residents and wildlife provided. Not even the mosquitoes could douse my spirits!

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Thursday, July 19
Task: House concert
Minnedosa, Manitoba
Beer: Upper Canada, Sleeman’s, Corona
Food: Diane’s famous pork roast
Approximate number of hours on the road: 5
Quote of the day: Scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch! SCRATCH! SCRATCH, SCRATCH, SCRATCH, SCRATCH, SCRATCH, SCRATCH! “I WANT YOUR GENES!!!!” MJ to Arthur as her mosquito bites (to which she’s allergic) from the night before drove her insane. Arthur had hardly been touched.
“Tell me about your detour through… …Texas?!” MJ to Mel, who drove from Ottawa with his wife Diane, who, on a whim, decided to take a detour home to Minnedosa through Texas.
“The Happy Rock? You were in Gladstone.” Mel to MJ when she talked about one of their weird sightings alone the way.

I woke up after a good night’s sleep and slipped into the motel store to get some real milk for my morning coffee while Arthur continued to sleep. I took my coffee and went for a short walk, thrilled to discover a lake behind the motel. It was a lazy morning with swims and a picnic brunch on the water’s edge.

Once back on the road, the transition in landscape was very sudden. We were driving through forests, and suddenly, the highway dumped us out into the Prairie Flats. I knew that landscape well, as I grew up in Edmonton. I so longed to see that big sky!

But big sky also mean for big horizons, which make it easier for police to spot someone speeding on the highway. Just before hitting Winnipeg, Arthur got the first of the two of our combined speeding tickets.

We spent the night in Minnedosa at the beautiful heritage home of parents of my good friend Dani. I had met Mel and Diane in Ottawa for brunch about a week prior when they invited us to stay with them while on tour. I suggested that they invite friends over for a BBQ and promised to play a house concert.

Mel kept us in stitches as Diane kept us in beers and great food. While we ate, in groups of two and three, people from the community (AND the town Mayor!) started to show up with their lawn chairs, including a 12-string player who we sent home to get her instrument. The three of us set up on the front patio and played for a surprisingly large group of people, considering Mel and Diane had sent out an email the night before. (When I had met them in Ottawa, they were planning on going to Niagara Falls, then directly home. But they made a sudden detour and went home to Minnedosa through Texas instead!)

After everyone left, Arthur and I were treated to embarrassing teenage photos of my friend Dani, and pictures of her husband Fred who had just been screeched in during their recent trip to Newfoundland!

That was certainly one of the best nights of the tour!

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Friday, July 20
Tasks: Live performance and interview on CFCR Radio and show at the Café Vivant
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Beer: Garrison’s, Grasshopper
Food: Soup and sandwiches at the Café Vivant
Approximate number of hours on the road: 5
Quote of the day: “What do you do in Saskatoon in the middle of the afternoon when it’s 36C?”
“Arthur, The boy from ‘The Girl From Saskatoon.’” What Arthur signed on the Café Vivant wall of fame.

It was hot!

We left Minnedosa very early, but not empty-handed as Diane gave me an antique bird cage, which much looked like the one on my CD cover! As we drank coffee, they took pictures of us sitting on the back bumper of the very packed Mazda Beauty before we left. (One of these days, I’m going to approach Mazda to fund a tour. I bought my Mazda 3 hatchback specifically for touring. I wanted a foreign car that would last me 15 years that was big enough to comfortably contain my double bass, but be fuel efficient. Buying the Mazda was one of the best decisions I have ever made!)

We had a scheduled live radio interview for 2pm. Despite us stopping along the road for me to do a phone-in interview with Alberta Radio-Canada, we rolled into Saskatoon at 1pm. It was a scorcher of a day.

Saskatoon was a bit of a marker for us, as it was the first place to book us for the tour, and because one of Arthur’s Oslo bands was called ‘Girl From Saskatoon.’ Earlier that day, Arthur experienced Saskatoon-berries for the first time – in form of a pastry. Once in Saskatoon, we did our radio performance, hung out on Broadway Street a bit (we stopped in at Lydia’s and dropped off CDs for a potential future Girl From Saskatoon / Marie-Josée Houle cross-Canada tour), Arthur had Dairy Queen for the first (and last) time, and we settled in to play our show at the Café Vivant.

The Café Vivant is located in one of the more seemingly sketchy areas of town. After a closer look, we saw that the area is certainly in the midst of gentrification, with its nearby artisan bakery and Thai restaurant.

Owned by Shannon Vinish, the café has turned into a local hub for the community that features live music on Friday nights. Shannon also arranged for Arthur and me to spend the night at a nearby bed and breakfast, where, after our performance, we sat in the back garden with owner Lynn Hainsworth drinking red wine and beer late into the night discussing poverty, the affordable housing crisis in Canada, peace activism and the Saskatchewan police.

Lynn didn’t let us leave empty-handed either, as the next day, she sent us off with rose petal jam and syrup, hand-crafted by a friend.

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Saturday, July 21
Task: Show at the Marquee Club with the petites and Dojo Workhorse
Calgary, AB
Beer: Traditional
Food: My father’s famous BBQ steaks, and my favorite pickled asparagus
Approximate number of hours on the road: 8
Quotes of the day: “Well, my Work Visa IS valid until August 6…” Arthur after seeing all the help wanted ads posted everywhere in Calgary.
“King Harthur! You whant hanother steak?” MJ’s father, with his sharp BBQ tool in hand after already feeding Arthur the largest slap of beef on the grill.

After copious amounts of coffee and breakfast at the Café Vivant, and me almost leaving my car keys in their bathroom, Arthur and I continued to drive through the Prairies; our collection of dead insect trophies that adorned the front of the Mazda Beauty practically covered my Ontario license plate.

We took a quick dip through the Badlands, and emerged to experience the true badlands. Luckily, Arthur slept through that bout of road construction that put me in a really bad mood. (Those who know me, know that I’m not a very patient person, especially when behind the wheel of a car…)

In Calgary, we stayed with my father and his wife. Bob and Bobbi. Robert and Roberta. Who when they met, had matching bikes. From the beginning, it was meant to be.

My dad’s BBQed steak is one of the best I’ve ever had. He was ready for us when we arrived and stuffed us silly! Good thing Arthur had been warned, as he good-naturedly finished his plate, but politely turned down a second slab of wonderful Alberta beef…

That night, we opened for the petites’ CD release party. Dad and Bobbi came to the show. While we did our sound check, they met a man with a video camera who was there to film the petites’ CD release. He also offered to film us.

After our set, we sat at the merch table where we were handed a sketch someone made of us. Rebecca from the petites later explained that a friend of hers sketched us as she truly saw us: Arthur had an owl head, my dress was made of cinnamon toast, my armpits smelled of saffron and cats followed us everywhere we went. Not too far from the truth, really… (Except that sometimes, my armpits DON’T quite smell as wonderful as saffron, especially after being on the road for a couple of days…)

The petites were a real treat, but we were so tired that we skipped out on the second half of the Dojo Workhorse set and headed back to my dad’s. Unfortunately, I got us lost. Getting home took over an hour… It was a long day…

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Sunday, July 22
Task: Show at the Auditorium Hotel
Nanton, AB
Beer: Traditional
Food: My father’s BBQ deer steaks and sausage
Approximate number of hours on the road: 3
Quote of the day: “Brrrruuuuuuummmm! Brrrrruuuuuummmm!” MJ’s father sarcastically imitating the sound of an inexperienced Baby Boomer on his sparkling, new Harley.
“Voyons! D’où est-ce qu’ils viennent, tous ces mouches?” MJs father as he walked out the front door of his house.

The intense Prairie continued to beat upon us when I got up to coffee and my father’s lovely breakfast. As we stepped off the front porch, we shooed away the flies and the wasps that were picking over the insect carnage that adorned the front of my car. (Or, as Arthur said, ‘They’re looking for lost relatives and are going to come back with a posse to kick our asses!’) It also explained why the house was suddenly full of flies…

Dad was kind enough to accompany me while I ran errands. I wanted to get an oil change for the Mazda Beauty (although about 2000 kms premature, I wanted to baby that engine) and give it a bath. We found one oil change place, but they didn’t have a filter suitable for my car. We found two more, but they were closed on Sundays. (My father explained that the boom in Calgary consequently led to businesses having to close on Sundays because of the shortage of labour. ‘Help Wanted’ signs were everywhere to be seen!) Despite it being open on Sundays and offering incredible deals, I was NOT taking my car to WalMart as my father finally suggested. The oil change would have to wait!

Upon our return, Bobbi gently coaxed Arthur from his book and lounge chair to introduce him to a highly volatile Houle household activity: game-playing! We played a domino game called Spanish Train. Arthur got off easy, because sometimes, this wonderful Houle tradition can get really, really ugly. It’s not about the game; it’s about the talk-down. After we were done, I simply sulked because I got my ass kicked, while my father gloated about his victory… That day, the drama was minimal…

After supper, my father helped us pack up his car and drove us an hour south to Nanton for our next show. I met with the operator Barb, who had been cooking in the intense heat all day. She was lovely, as was the town, which I hope to have more time to explore during future visits.

Unfortunately, no one showed up in time to pull out a sound system for us, and we weren’t about to compete with the roar of the air conditioner located behind the stage. We got a couple of beers and set up just in front of the tables on the edge of the dance floor. Arthur pulled up an ashtray, (I believe that Nanton, Alberta is one of the last places in Canada where smoking is still allowed in public places) and we played an unplugged set.

After our set, I met John (sorry John, I never did get your last name), an Edmonton fiddle player who had just come from spending the weekend at the South Country Fair giving fiddle workshops. He was kind enough to sit in with us during our second set. He was amazing!!!!

We were already improvising the show due to lack of sound system. The turnout was very intimate, so I continued to improvise the night by inviting local Alberta DJ Shelley Harding to perform a few songs with her guitar before we did a third set for which we played specifically for Lethbridge DJ Tony Schmieder. (Tony, who has been very supportive of my music, had missed our first set, and we therefore played his favorites just for him.)

We all gathered for a few beers and great conversation, then my father drove us back to Calgary.

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Monday, July 23
Task: Show at the Railway Club with the Modelos
Vancouver, BC
Beer: Grandville Island, Traditional
Food: Bobbi’s wraps containing leftover deer sausage, salmon burgers, ShaSha Co. spelt ginger snaps
Approximate hours on the road: 11
Quotes of the day: “We don’t have time to play tourist today!” Arthur after MJ suggested that they eat their breakfast wraps at Lake Louise rather than in the gas station parking lot on the Lake Louise highway turnoff.

We got off to a very early start to beat the Monday morning Calgary traffic. By that part of the trip, Arthur and I had established our early morning ritual. Arthur usually took the wheel while I drank coffee and knit or just stared off into space with either Calexico or Jim Bryson playing on the car stereo. I think I had a pretty sweet deal…

I was in a dream-like state by the time we got into my precious, beloved Rockies. We drove past Canmore and Banff without even a glance. I did want Arthur to see SOMETHING, however, so I suggested that we take the Lake Louise turnoff to get some gas and have a bite for breakfast. Much to my disappointment, Arthur didn’t think it was a good idea to go up to the actual site of Lake Louise, as we had many hours of driving ahead of us before our show at the Railway Club. (At least, we were headed west and would gain an hour.)

Sitting on a rock on the edge of the parking lot of the gas station, we ate our breakfast. I walked to the gas pumps to throw something in the garbage. When I turned to walk back, Arthur waved his arms frantically to get my attention. Behind him was a black bear yearling lazily moving from shrub to shrub, wrapping its tongue around every branch, looking for something good to eat. I joined Arthur at the car, quietly opened the driver side door and stood behind it, ready to quickly slip into the car if need be. I knew better, but I could not move. I was fully mesmerized as I watched this bear come closer and closer, completely oblivious to us. Finally, someone came our way and suggested that we get into our car. Seconds later, the bear jogged across the street and the Park Warden vehicle pulled over. We got back onto the highway before the real action was to take place.

We didn’t see the famous blue lake, but we did see what most tourists dream of: seeing a bear!

Somehow, we made it to Vancouver in record time (the roads were quite, and the drive was actually quite lovely), which allowed us to hang out with my uncle’s husband James. With our most grueling drive of the tour under our belts (or so we thought), it was such a treat to just sit in their lovely garden and just relax for a few hours.

Vancouver is not my favorite city (it doesn’t help that I lost a friend to heroin there when I was 18), but as I’m getting older, I’m gaining more and more appreciation for it. When I hang out with my uncle and his husband, I always have a great time! They also live in a lovely part of the city: not plastic, and not sketchy. And that is a stretch for most parts of Vancouver…

Once we got downtown to get to our show, I was reminded of Vancouver’s vast homelessness problem. Because I now work in housing, however, I see things through different eyes. If I were homeless, I’d want to live in Vancouver as well, mostly because the city is livable during the winter months…

A homeless man offered to carry our gear up the stairs to the club. We were suddenly surrounded by an underclass of very polite minions who were offering to do almost anything for us. It was a very uncomfortable feeling.

I felt caught. I’m an advocate for affordable housing in my pedestrian life. But in Vancouver, as a musician, as a tourist, I was overwhelmed and simply resorted to my usual tactic when I didn’t want to deal with people: I looked through them.

Upstairs at the Railway Club, a very cute bar that features live music every night, we met with Nuno, one of my ex-Ottawa roomies that I miss dearly and his friend for a beer. Sound check was much later than we had expected and I was getting antsy. We’d been up since 4:30am that day and had I known we’d spend at least two hours waiting for a sound check, I would have stayed at my uncle’s to read a book, answer email, take a nap or hang out with our hosts.

This is why musicians drink! And if hospitality is not in your rider, it gets expensive very quickly… Only, I’m usually the one to take the wheel after a show, which in the end, will be good for my liver (and my wallet)…

I remember my first show as a headliner. It was with Casey Comeau and the Centretown Wilderness Club. As usual, for a headliner, we were the first to sound check, and the last to play. We were at the bar for at least eight hours. (That’s a full day’s work!) It was long, boring and tiring. And what else is there to do in a bar other than drink? But we had to pace ourselves as we still had a show to play, and we have to be careful not to peak too soon and be burnt out by the time we hit the stage. This might seem like a frivolous concern for some (music is supposed to be fun!), but if you do this day after day, it’s taxing on the body.

I’m so grateful that Arthur is a seasoned musician. He’s been doing this since he was 16 years old. He’s seen it all. He’s experienced it all. He wasn’t frazzled when the sound check didn’t happen at the scheduled time. This far into the tour, he wasn’t frazzled when there was suddenly no sound system, when he couldn’t hear himself, or when the bass sounded life a terrible subwoofer. He was a perfect foil to my building anxiety. He was what kept me grounded. After a few days of experiencing less-than-ideal working conditions, I found myself really, really lucky to have him with me for reasons I would have never thought.

Concerned about covering MY bases before we left Ottawa, I put a legal-sized envelope in my car glove box which contained an overview of our itinerary including where we were staying for the night, complete with all contact numbers (I had also emailed a copy to both my parents – they worry, and to my roomies). Then, in chronological order, I included MapQuest directions to all of our destinations and printed emails of the exchanges between myself and venue booking agents for every single show, so it was clear how much we were to be paid, and what the bar was to provide. Call me anal.

There are horror stories about bands not getting paid what they were promised. Yes, there are crooked promoters out there. But I’m too small to work with promoters. When I do bigger shows, contracts are signed. That way, everything is clear and everyone is covered. (After talking with Barb from the Auditorium Hotel in Nanton when she originally booked me, venues also deal with a lot of anxiety when booking acts. After spending money on a sound guy and doing some promotion, sometimes, bands don’t bother to show up for their gigs. It can be a hard go for everyone…)

Those emails came in handy as often, the booking agent didn’t attend the shows, and the remaining staff wasn’t aware of the details. Such was the case at the Railway Club when it came to providing us hospitality. It’s not a complaint. It’s a reality. And without being rude to anyone, or risking coming off as a Prima Donna, I had to ensure we got what we were promised. Providing printed copies of emails was one way of doing it without ruffling feathers. (Although Joe, lead man of the Modelos was a true gentleman and offered to buy us a couple of beers.)

We played a great set and were greeted by Bruce who hosts the radio show ‘Accordéon Noir.’ It was lovely to put a face to the emails! Arthur gave him a copy of the Girl From Saskatoon disk, which features Vancouver’s own Geoff Berner on accordion.

The highlight of the night, of course, was seeing the Modelos play. They were the reason I even took this show, as the money wasn’t great. And the drive was LONG. They were certainly worth it all! Never in my life have I ever seen such a drummer, and I’ve had the privilege of playing with some spectacular drummers in my time… As a front man, Joe was a charming as he was a gentleman in his pedestrian life. Incredible treat! James and my uncle Jean-Marie even stayed until the end of the night to see them play!

After their set, the Modelos drummer asked me about our tour. I quickly outlined our adventures. Then he started to tell me about his own road adventures until he mentioned Sudbury. I could not believe my ears. I had to get Arthur and make this poor drummer repeat his story.

With another band, he had been on tour for two weeks before reaching Sudbury. And when they were shown their accommodations, they refused to play the show unless they were provided with something better. They ended up driving to Toronto that night and skipping out on the gig!

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Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday
Tasks: Hang out in Vancouver for the day, stay for supper, drive to Kelowna and hole up to relax and record for two days.
Beer: Traditional, Grandville Island with Bloody Caesars
Wine (because we were in the heart of wine country): Red Rooster white wine
Food: Smoked fish, great stinky German cheese, olive bread and gelato from the Grandville Island market, BBQ, home made salad rolls, tortilla soup
Approximate hours on the road: 5
Quotes of the day: “I have slept where some men have refused to sleep!” MJ to Zoltan Varadi, writer for Edmonton’s SEE Magazine during interview when asked about her tour.
“You want me to take care of that for you? I’ve been know to unplug outdoor speakers blaring obnoxious music.” Arthur to MJ while sitting on the outdoor patio of a Mexican restaurant in Kelowna.

Tuesday morning started with an interview with Edmonton’s See Magazine and a whole lot of coffee. Arthur, James, Jean-Marie and I eventually got out of the house and walked to Grandville Island. On the way, I did a live interview with Alberta Radio-Canada.

We walked back to the house, had a lovely picnic outside, and spent the rest of the day just chatting. It was a shame to leave Vancouver so soon. We left after dinner. I finished knitting a pair of socks while Arthur drove us to my mother’s condo in Kelowna (that remained empty during the summer months) where we holed up for three nights to go to the beach, buy pottery (a Kelowna tradition for me), get an oil change for the Mazda Beauty, rest and record. We spent many hours on our balcony just drinking coffee, chatting, making fun of souped up pick-up trucks and simply watching people go by. We also got to BBQ, which is always a treat for me. It was nice to get all domestic. It was a well-deserved holiday from our working holiday…

On the Thursday, I had a live interview with Edmonton DJ Wetspot from CJSR. I was in my car when she called, so I pulled into the nearest gas station and parked my car. The sound was so bad through their consol that I had turn off my engine, roll up the windows and duck as deep into the bottom of my car in order to hear anything! By the time the interview ended, I was soaking wet from the 36C heat pouring into my car!

Ah… Community radio. How I miss those days…

People! No matter where you live, the next time your community radio station holds its funding drive, PLEASE donate money. Part of the proceeds go to pay for very needed technical upgrades, which would make everyone’s life a little bit easier and make for that much better programming! Really! It makes sense!!!

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Friday, July 27
Task: Show at the Blue Chair Café
Edmonton, AB
Beer: Traditional
Food: Pad Thai and Bison burger from the Blue Chair
Approximate hours on the road: 11
Quotes of the day: “A night of sulty music” What was printed on the tickets for the show.
‘There’s nothing more terrifying than a Baby Boomer on a Harley or sitting behind the wheel of a Mustang!’ MJ while ranting of impatience while driving.
“If you want to sell loads of CDs, get a cute 17-year old to sell them for you!” MJ to Arthur while packing up at the end of the show.

Baby Boomers are the strangest things. Now that they’re retiring and have so much money they don’t know what to do with, they buy status symbols such as Mustangs and Harleys. And they terrorize other people on the roads… …with their fear and caution!

Every Baby Boomer in Canada with an RV, a Harley or a Mustang was on holidays in the Rockies that day it seemed. And I seethed behind the wheel the entire way, dying to get into a passing lane to get past the Bozos who thought it was a good idea to drive 10km below the speed limit. And when we’d finally get to a passing lane, they would speed up, while the squeamish would hang back, not wanting to go more than 10 km over the speed limit. Out of the passing zone, and back to 10 km below the speed limit we’d follow one another, bumper to bumper.

I was also getting stressed out, because we had a very early sound check in Edmonton. We were playing in a new venue that didn’t exist when I left back in 2001. It was a restaurant, and the owner didn’t like sound checks while people sat and ate, which is understandable… To make matters worse, we were losing an hour because we were heading east…

It was an emotional day for me, as it was to be my last show of the tour. Edmonton is also where I grew up. I was going back to the place where I played in my first bands. I was also going back home to my family and my first music community.

My best friends Mike and Michelle had tickets printed for the show and gave a few to my mother who sold them to her friends. As far as I knew, there weren’t any tickets left… This show was to make up for all of nights when we played to the half-empty rooms…

After an arduous day of bump-to-bumper rage-inducing traffic, we finally got to our destination.

The Blue Chair is a lovely restaurant that serves an incredible menu and features live music. It had built its reputation over the years, and has become a regular drop-in place for people in the community. (The only down side was that they didn’t have air conditioning.) I was delighted to see that there were quite a few people I didn’t know in the crowd! There were a few surprises as well. Some parents of childhood friends and acquaintances had also dropped in, having seen an article in the Edmonton Journal that day.

We did a quick sound check, I said hello to my friends and family and introduced Arthur to everyone. I gave my little sister a wad of $5 for change and put her in charge of CD sales. Arthur and I had a quick beer and started the first set of what was going to be our best show of the tour. I remember sitting on the stage just beaming, and everyone in the audience was there with us. They even all joined me when I sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to my friend Mike Best. This show was my moment of glory, and I was basking in it...

But I didn’t cry like I was certain I would. In fact, I expected to be a complete mess that night. I did come close, however, when my friend Mary came to the stage to say good-bye while we were in the middle of our second set. I came damn close…

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Saturday, July 28
Task: drive to Minnedosa
Beer: La Messangère, Traditional, Corona, Sleeman’s Honey Brown
Food: Diane’s pink soup (borscht), and Mel’s pork and tofu concoction.
Approximate hours on the road: 11
Quote of the day: “Funny! No one had to take a second sip to know that it was really bad!” Arthur to MJ, commenting on the terrible Messangère gluten-free, rice and buckwheat beer MJ had bought on a whim.

After the show at the Blue Chair the night before, Arthur and I had spent the night at my mother’s house in the country, hung out chatting with my mom, pet our lovely cat and our stinky Malamute, and got eaten alive by mosquitoes. We weren’t even there for a total of 9 hours before we had to hit the road again, which didn’t make my mother very happy. It was too short of a visit… At least I got to wander through my mother’s garden, picked and enjoyed a handful of peas and raspberries before leaving.

That night, we made it to Minnedosa where Mel and Diane took us in again. Once again, they fed us well, and then took us out for a much-needed walk to get ice cream and entertained us with more stories…

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Sunday, July 29
Task: drive
Beer: Traditional, Corona and Alysée passion fruit Cognac-based liqueur
Food: Sandwiches with pork lovingly provided to us by Diane, BC cherries bought in Ontario
Approximate hours on the road: 14.5
Quotes of the day: “We drove past it. It’s shut down.” MJ to Arthur after driving though Beardmore, Ontario, during an electrical storm while looking for a place to stay for the night.
“I’ll try a cigarette only if you try my wasabi peas!” MJ to Arthur after he joked about getting her to start smoking. “Um… No thanks…”
“There are a lot of mosquitoes out there.” Owner of the cabin where we stayed for the night, which turned out to be quite an understatement.

I don’t remember much about this day. I was happy to be back in Ontario. I did a lot of knitting as Arthur did the bulk of the driving, handing the wheel over to me only to burn me a few CDs from his laptop and to nap.

We opted to drive through Northern Ontario to get to Ottawa rather than contour the Great Lakes. The sun was setting once we hit Nipigon. The goal was to get to Beardmore and stay in the old dive of a hotel where I stayed in 2001 when I moved myself and all my things from Edmonton to Halifax.

Storm clouds rolled in. Thunder bolts lit our way as the sky opened up and started to rain down on us as we drove through Beardmore. The windows of my infamous hotel, with its cigarette-burnt counters and holey sheets were boarded up. It was no longer in operation, as were many a hotel in the area...

We kept driving north. It was getting on past 10:30pm and I was worried we wouldn’t find a place to stay that was still open. It was a repeat of that sinking feeling I had once we crossed that Manitoba border on our way out West.

We pulled in at one roadside motel with the lights still on. Despite what the signs said, the office was closed. There was one room with the lights on and I could hear the sound of a vacuum cleaner. In desperation, I knocked. I must have scared the poor cleaning woman to death because she didn’t unlock the door to speak to me. She was kind enough to suggest an outfit with cabins a little further down the road.

So for the night, Arthur and I had a little cabin to ourselves for our last night on the road, right smack in the middle of black bear and mosquito country. And really, it was quite lovely!

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Monday, July 30
Task: drive to Ottawa
Beer: Traditional, Griffon, scotch
Food: Tim Horton’s coffee, truck stop food, BC fruit
Quotes of the day: “When was the last time you got a speeding ticket?” Northern Ontario cop to MJ after pulling her over. “About 8 or 9 years ago…”
“It’s good to be home! Do you want to do this again in October?” MJ to Arthur while sitting on the front porch of MJ’s home drinking scotch and beer to celebrate their safe return.

We should have been exhausted. We should have been at each other’s throats. We should have wanted to each go our separate ways and not talk to each other for weeks. But we got home safe and sound, and relaxed. Tired, granted, but relaxed.

We’d driven from Kelowna to Ottawa in four days with one stop for a show in Edmonton. The days were long, the landscape mundane at times, but it was less pressure than my own pedestrian life. It was nice, for a change, to focus on one single thing. And I relished the afternoon naps, even if they were in the car.

My Mazda Beauty rules! Not a knock, not a wonky sound! Good air conditioning, safe handling, comfortable seats, good stereo and great mileage. Consequently, the tour didn’t end up costing me as much as I had anticipated.

Arthur and I met so many great people along the way! Perfect strangers, new and old friends and family took great care of us, entertained us, loaded us down with gifts and were fantastic hosts. You have certainly made our trip!!!

Best of all, there was Arthur who was there at my side, strong, supportive, alert, pleasant with his easy laugh, and one solid bass player.

Arthur, you may not be the Man of Steel, but you have a lead foot. You may not have X-Ray Vision, but you can spot a speed trap from miles away. There is no green substance that scares you, but rather, green things (especially house plants) don’t do well in YOUR presence. You will always be MY Superman.

Despite the warmth of the summer night, the full moon in the sky, the faint euphoria from the drink, it wasn’t madness that incited me to ask Arthur:

“Do you want to do this again in October?”

Without hesitation, he agreed…. Maybe he was drunk…

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Casualties:
-One Squirrel
-One Mama duck and her ducklings
-Two speeding tickets between the two of us
-One double bass stand - we left it in Edmonton but it will soon be sent to us in the mail
-My Visa card that I left at the depanneur about an hour from home where we stopped to buy beer and tobacco – replacement on its way

Wildlife consumed:
-Bison
-Caribou
-Deer
We’re still dying to try bear…

Wildlife sightings:
-Loads of songbirds, waterfowl and raptors
-Deer: East of Terrace Bay
-Moose cow: Northern Ontario
-Black bear yearling: Lake Louise, Alberta
-Two toads: Falcon Lake, Manitoba
-One snake: Falcon Lake, Manitoba
-One raccoon: BC
-WAY too many mosquitoes: Everywhere!!!!! (My feet, ankles and legs are hamburger and I’m still scratching!!!)

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