Friday, June 22, 2012

The Road

The tour is over. Half an hour ago we arrived home from our last show which was at the Fort CafĂ© in Victoria – an evening shared with our good friends, Steve, Leon and Kevin of The Steve Brockley Band, and the very talented James Lamb, who I finally had the pleasure of meeting, and his band.  I enjoyed listening to these people’s fantastic music very much. It was an honour to share the stage with all of them.

I find myself well adjusted to the road, after a fairly short stint on it. It is amazing how this happened. When we first set out on our annual or biannual tours, I often find myself nervous or just a little anxious heading into a gig. Whether it is the introduction to the venue manager, or the audience, or a lack of clarity or planning about where we will crash after the show, I am usually feeling a little uneasy heading off to the first few shows of the season. But right now, I’m feeling like a bit of a veteran. I’ve done it enough times now that I’m used to it.

For the whole of this tour, aside from the night we slept deep in the bush where the Grizzly bears live, I slept quite comfortably. (Although not long enough at times.) The spare rooms of friends, random campsites in city RV parks, the spare rooms of strangers (who all became friends) were all home to me. I even said to Oliver, “let’s go home” on several occasions, referring to whatever home we were lucky enough to occupy that night.

Getting in the car and heading off to the next town or city became an easy, relaxed journey (as long as both Oliver and my blood-sugar levels were in check) and walking in to a venue to say hello to the staff was not the chore is once seemed to be. I guess it’s gone well so many times now, I don’t expect it to go otherwise.

Oliver and I set up our sound system systematically. I set up the mics and stands, plug the cables in to the instruments and the mics, get them all set up while Oli puts the PA together and plugs the cables in on that end. I begin playing “You Were Always Mine” so Oli can check the sound, and then he joins in to check bass and harmony volumes. We take turns walking into the audience area while strumming or plucking our strings to form opinions about the levels. Then we hang up our guitars, put the system on stand by and go have some tea or maybe a beer for Oliver and a cider for myself.

It would benefit from some self-restraint in the eating area. I should not eat before a show, but often enough the venue provides a meal, or at least a discount, or if not that, a display case full or irresistible goodies, and I can’t help myself. I too often leave less than the desirable about of space in my stomach for my diaphragm to fully expand while singing. This is poor practice. But food is so good – especially when other people make it, and especially when they are trained to do so.

Since I last wrote we played a benefit concert in Vernon, a show in Kamloops, and shows on Denman and Victoria with the SB band. All of these went quite well. “Tunes For Teeth” in Vernon was held at The Powerhouse Theatre. It was a beautiful venue, very exciting to play on a great big stage with great big sound. The event, which I sort of helped plan and became part of in a funny way that can only really be explained in person, went very well as a fundraiser for Vernon’s Community Dental Access Centre, and was a fun opportunity to hear some music by some of Vernon’s local acts and make some connections.

In Kamloops we stayed with friends of Oliver’s family, Bruce and Ronalee, who were extremely sweet and pampered us as if we were royalty. We were very well cared for, and I think we have definitely found our number one fan of all time in Bruce, who has memorized the titles, most lyrics and the story behind almost every one of my tunes, and who has emailed every radio station in the district to recommend they play our music and has apparently begun emailing even higher powers than this. He set us up to play at the Kamloops Farmers Market the morning before our show, got the materials together to make us a temporary sandwich board to advertise the evening show, and talked us up to pretty much anyone within earshot as we performed our little street show.  We need more Bruces around – I bet we’d get a lot further a lot faster if we had a Bruce in every province.  Thank you Bruce and Ronalee!

On Denman and in Victoria we played for small but very attentive audiences. I felt pretty darn comfy on stage on my own island, performing for some of the greater Denman family. The best part about the show in Victoria was hanging out with the other performers. The crowd was small and sweet and we all left a little broker than when we arrived, but I’m glad we went.

At the start of our tour I was feeling like giving it all up. I was feeling pretty sad and frustrated.  Now at the end, I’m feeling scarily broke, but also determined to continue aiming for the dream after a lot of great feedback and encouragement. What is the dream? Well, that’s a question I keep asking myself. At the moment, the dream for me is to be able to keep touring part time and to figure out how we can get home from our tour at least a little bit in the green. The next tour needs to cover its own costs, including the advertising costs, the cost of eating on the road, and at least a bit of an hourly wage for our performances. I think it will be a huge challenge to achieve this, and I don’t think it is a reality for very many independent bands on the road, but it needs to happen. I will have to strategize and figure out a formula. Until I do, we will stay close and play as much as possible in the Comox Valley – which we have barely broken into at all.

Since leaving Vancouver Island for the Kootenays, we have covered the cost of our transportation with the money made from shows. All of our food costs and a couple nights of camping have put us in a bit of debt which we’ll have to pay off through other work here at home.

We do have a few shows on Vancouver Island over the course of the summer and I know they will be good ones already, so I am pretty worry free from here on out. In October we are on for another musical Via Rail expedition to Toronto. Some recordings are in the works and hopefully we’ll pick up the pace on that now that I’ll be spending less time organizing a tour.
I am so grateful to the CBC for playing our tunes, as well as Kootenay Coop Radio, mainly Bonnie Baker for interviewing us on her show and putting our tunes out there. It is exciting and encouraging to get support from media. It makes me feel like it is worth the energy to keep going.  Also CHLY who interviewed and promoted us before our Vancouver Island gigs.  I’m looking forward to a review that will soon come out at DNM online magazine, written by Charlotte who came to see us in Kamloops and asked some great interview questions.  Thanks thanks thanks!

Pictures to come. I’m so tired.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Tour... or is this a vacation?

Oh the Kootenays. Nothing like the Koots to lift my sunken spirits. We have made some wonderful new friends, caught up with some glorious old ones, played shows to packed rooms in Kaslo and Winlaw, and spent a good chunk of time in one of my favourite places on earth. And Winlaw! What a beautiful part of the world. I have had the pleasure of wasting time in Nelson and Kaslo several times before, (well, I lived in Nelson, so was also productive there sometimes) but I had not had the pleasure of spending any serious time in the Valley, other than working at my KSA teacher’s shop in Kristova. The valley is soooo beautiful. Old farms scattered across flat stretches of lush green land, with a river rushing through the low vein; an old railroad bed is maintained for bike riding, hiking and horseback and runs along side the river. Giant mountains jut upwards at the back edges of the open fields, begging to be climbed. There is something thrilling about being in the Kootenays, and much of BC’s interior. An adventure waits at every turn. You can walk out of whatever town or city to find yourself in, and in won’t take long before you’re deep in the thick of wilderness. It feels magical, dangerous and soooo exciting. I have missed it out here. The Kindness of Friends and Strangers (who soon become friends) For the first time ever, we are feeling healthy and well rested on tour! This is thanks to some very kind people who offered us rooms in their homes during our stays in their towns. Our friend Samara, who we met through, and who is a very good friend of Oli’s sister, Anna, billeted us in the home of her friends Crystal and Alida who gave us the spare room and free range of the house – most importantly the kitchen – so we could keep well fed and comfortable. Crystal set us up to stay with her parents after our show in Winlaw, and they were more than accommodating, feeding us delicious meals and lending us their bikes so we could take to the rail trail with Crystal and their extremely well-behaved dog, Rufus. After Winlaw we dropped in on Kevin, my blacksmithing teacher from my KSA days, and then we were invited to spend a few days with Julie, my old friend from school, and her family in their lovely new home in Blewitt. As luck would have it, I managed to run into three people over the course of our stay in the Koots, who I wanted to see and didn’t have time to coordinate with. So instead of running around like chickens with our heads cut off, trying to find a place to stay for cheap, and eat for cheap, and cooking hotdogs on sticks every night and feeling like crap, we got to visit and meet fabulous people, eat good food, hike, bike and wander the streets of great towns and cities, sleep in comfy beds (for free!) and have some wonderful, memorable times. I am afraid of Bears Last night we slept at Halfway Hot Springs, which is an undeveloped, fairly hidden hot springs 10 klicks down a logging road north of Nakusp. It was pretty cool, except for that I lied awake all night horrified at every snap of a twig or rustle in the bushes. It’s unfortunate, because I so love to explore, and camp, and spend time in the woods. I am a chicken. I spent $40 on a can of bear spray before we left Nelson. Very expensive for a can of Cayenne Pepper – although the can is designed to spray 30 feet if need be. I’m hoping I will never have to use it. (One of the people at a tourist information booth told me that some people (hilariously enough) spray the stuff all over their campsite to repel bears as if it works like bug spray, only to find that the bears are attracted to the smell of Cayenne Pepper.) It would be much cheaper to fill some water balloons with Ebeze Zozo hot sauce, but I have terrible aim with a water balloon. The only other people who were at Halfway were a 60-something couple who were sleeping a ways down the mountain from us, closer to the springs. They assured me that bears are really not a great danger unless they feel threatened. But they are big and have teeth and claws – so I don’t think I’m going to get over this heart-pounding fear. I almost had a heart attack when Oli let out his first snore of the night. Tonight we are at a campground in Nakusp, and though it is far from real camping (in fact, this is less like camping than our normal lives, as there is a shower just 100 metres away) I think I will get some sleep tonight. It was amusing how simple and every day was the task of setting up camp at Halfway. We quickly assembled the tent and laid out our beds, tasks which took less time than clearing off and making up our bed in the cabin. Then we made sandwiches, brushed our teeth in the bush, just as usual, and went to bed by the light of headlamps, just as we always do. The hot springs themselves consisted of a big puddle of very clear, very hot water that bubbled up from a crack at the base of a cliff, and a couple of man-made, wood-framed pools pieced together by whoever was willing to lug a few basic building supplies down a very steep trail to the side of the river. I think in this case, pictures will explain the scene better than I can with words. The unfortunate part was the amount of garbage lying around. It’s a pretty special thing to have access to this natural phenomenon and to be able to camp and soak deep in the woods, for free. Why are people so careless as to leave bits of garbage around the pools and in the camp sites? This place could have been a clean, pristine oasis, but instead their were grotesque signs of human greed and filth. Today we went to check out Nakusp Hot Springs, but we didn’t end up going in. It was a nice-looking tiled pool, but nice-looking tiled pools aren’t really what we go for. The hot springs lacked any evidence that they were actually coming from underground. We looked at photos of Halsien Hot Springs too, but it just looked like a resort with a bunch of fancy pools. The view looked fantastic, but the resort feel wasn’t what I was going for. It would be so awesome if there was a happy medium. Something clean and well-made, but just the bare minimum done to alter the land and create the pools. Anyway, I could go on forever. I think these blogs may only interest my parents, as I tend to yammer on about details and personal opinions for a little too long.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Quick update

Just wanted to say real quick that The Bluebelle in Kaslo and the Cedar Creek Cafe in Winlaw were packed and awesome. Things aren't all goobersome. I am so glad we ventured into these little villages for some great people and great food and very welcoming, musician-friendly atmospheres.

Friday, June 8, 2012

'Lil tour of gooders and goobers.

Oliver and I are settled into the guestroom bed at the home of our lovely Nelson hostesses, Alida and Crystal. We just played a show at John Ward Fine Coffee, a good-looking new coffee shop on Baker Street. I have learned many more lessons recently, and I am here to share my news and views, as usual. We had happy, fun, successful shows on Gabriola Island, and in Ucluelet. Successful for different reasons. On Gabriola we played a house concert to an attentive crowd of 17 who were appreciative and supportive. The coin-collection jar covered our expenses, and that is always good. In Ucluelet we played in the lounge/bar of an upscale resort. We were treated very well and got to stay in a very fancy suite. The resort’s payout covered our expenses for travel, and we had a fantastic time exploring Ucluelet and Coombs on the way home. We ate ice cream and bought strawberry plants and went on a hike. I picked up stuff for my smithy too. (ok, I’m going on a tangent now.) Those couple of shows were good. A couple of weeks ago we played in Victoria at a chain-style coffee shop on the outskirts of town. I’m not sure why the heck I booked this gig. I really wanted to play Victoria and I got to the point where I was trying to get anything I could. Anyway. Nobody was there. There were a few people clustered in the back corner of the oversized coffee shop, minding their own. They did volunteer their applause between songs, which was appreciated. But they did not put so much as a nickel in the tip jar. A couple wandered in off the street and bought a CD, despite my telling them they could get it all for free online. So that was nice. They wanted to support the music. They sat front and centre and listened attentively for almost the whole show. They gave us a reason to put a little effort in. So in the end, we impressed one young couple, made 10 bucks for a CD, which helped pay for the recording of the album and whatnot. Empty tip jar. Oliver had to pay for the brownie he ate. We got free tea. Oh ya, the coffee shop provided the venue free of charge. (I hate when venues say this, as if they deserve induction into sainthood for doing so.) About a week before Vic we played Vancouver. Also a let-down. We did stay with some great friends, and saw a handful of friends and family who turned out to say hello. I think we left with about $50 from the door – which means some of our expenses were covered by our friends. L The venue didn’t hang the posters I gave them or advertise our show on their facebook page. They mentioned it a few weeks before the show, but messed up my name badly enough that it would be impossible to search us out online. Anyway – expenses not covered. A very enthusiastic woman came in for the show, and proceeded to belt out Stan Rogers and Joan Baez songs over our performance. Her voice was a few decibels louder than the PA system. I have a very loud voice. Hers was very much louder. One of my friends went to the door where my friend Jaime (who is very shy and sweet) was working the tip jar, and asked her to tell the lady to take it down a notch. Poor Jaime. Obviously (if you know Jaime) this wasn’t about to happen. One of the venue staff ended up telling her to put a sock in it or something. Needless to say, I was feeling rather dreadful about leaving the coast and heading into the interior for a slew of shows with no guarantees. First stop was Kelowna. Once again, we stayed with some great old friends and the social catching-up part of the trip was great. Not a single person came to the show. Now – Nelson. Here, we did everything right, and as far as marketing goes, we lucked out as much as we could have given that I am our only promoter, and probably the worst self-promoter on the globe. We had posters hung around town by our friend Samara, and by the venue owner. We had a wonderful amount of support from Kootenay Coop Radio. (Thank you Bonnie Baker!) Bonnie pushed our show hard to the station’s audience, had us in for two interviews and played our stuff on the station repeatedly. Also, we got into the paper. I sent in a press release and they printed it, along with a coloured photo. If any concert was going to be a success, it would have to be this one. Ten people were there. I hugged 7 of them, because I knew them. Bonnie brought a couple of friends, six of our own friends were there (including all names above) and one man who came in off the street or who may have heard something on the radio or seen the advertising. He bought both of our albums – the one that is for sale in hard copy and the one that is not for sale, (only for free download) but he insisted that he needed it. These little things make my evening. We were well received by our huggers, who offered us many kind words. So, not a flop. But… what? After all of that success with promotion, only one dude who may or may not have been brought in by some of that promotion? Huh. So… I’m not sure what I’m going to do in the future. I really thought – if we only had some media support, things would go a lot better. But, I guess not… really. I’m just going to say this, even though it’s sort of a risky thing to say. It seems to be hard enough to get people we know to take a night off from their busy lives and give us a chance, let alone strangers. You have to start by impressing people you know, and if they don’t believe you’re going to be any good, they won’t come, and you have no seeds to start growing a career with. I am not the kind of person who busts out the guitar every time there is a lull in a conversation, or climbs on to a table at a party and belts out my best Shania Twain. I am not an extrovert. I don’t elicit a lot of attention from day to day. Oliver even less of an extrovert. I quietly ask “hey, if you’re around and you have nothing to do, and there’s nothing on TV and facebook isn’t very interesting, maybe you wanna come to our show?” This doesn’t work to my advantage. But dang it! I know we are actually good at what we do. I don’t know why I have to feel like a jerk saying so. A dentist would not feel like a jerk saying that s/he is good at what s/he does! I have to change my mindset on this. Because, people assume we suck, and they don’t come. Until they do come at which point they are surprised and happy that they did. But I honestly don’t think I have it in me to push hard enough to get even 10 more friends out to see us. (p.s. THANK YOU to our friends and acquaintances who have taken the time to come out. Even if what we do ain’t your thing – we really appreciate it.) Sigh. I need a new approach. I’m giving this touring thing a big long break. I can’t afford it anymore. I’m going to work on a kick-ass album for the next couple-few years and then try and do the whole marketing thing right; releasing one single at a time, as if each song is newsworthy and buzzworthy. I’ll see if I can promote the next album to death before it ever comes out – and then when it does – BAM! I’ll play a show on Denman Island for 200 people and in Vancouver for at least 12, and probably about 25 in Nelson. I know this is a lot of ranting. Sorry. I keep thinking I’ll just throw in the towel – but this is what I love, and it’s what I’m good at. And I don’t think I can just write songs and sing them to my family members at holidays. The tunes need to get out there. I have been told by many people outside of my circle of family and friends, including folks whose job it is to be critical, that I should keep at it, keep pushing it, that it’s worth it. And I know that in the past year we have gotten tighter and more creative and interesting as a duo. (Screw being humble for just a second.) I really don’t want to give up – I really, really don’t. But this shit’s hard and it keeps getting harder. I think I’ve tried everything I can afford to try. Schmargen. Anyway. Just being honest about the whole thing. I’m really not trying to whine here. I think people have a lot of ideas of what it’s like to be a touring singer/songwriter, and I just want to provide a little dose of reality. Also, for anyone else walking in very similar shoes. You aren’t alone out there! Please don’t feel like you have to leave encouraging comments. Perhaps instead, you yourself have a little bit of ranting to do. Are you an artist? Or someone trying to kick-start a small business? Let ‘em have it – right here on this comment form. After setting up in Kelowna, we ate a delicious meal provided by some very friendly gals, practiced a few tunes in front of our friends Dan and Anna, and packed the car back up. On a post-attempted-show walk we discovered we were competing with some kind of city party in the park.