My days of being a road warrior are few and far between. I am an unabashed homebody. I love to cook in my own kitchen, sleep in my own bed and see the familiar faces that bring me comfort. I say this well knowing that my banner image is a beautiful mid 70's Chevy pickup with an almost serendipitous Alberta plate on the front.
The whole concept of a home-loving roots musician, especially one who sings about travel and living off the road as much as I do, seems blasphemous to an extent. To many, the dues to be paid exist only on the dash of the beater we push from town to town, gig to gig, empty room to empty room. All this being said, of course, the heart yearns to wander. I find myself seeking escape cyclically throughout the year - winter's beginning, spring's fresh smells; mostly seasonal triggers, will often light a fire that revs my engine for a steady week of travel. I also say 'travel' knowing full well that a trip to the province next door is not exactly considered worldly.
I've been very fortunate as of late. The wandering spirit residing in my head has been peacefully at ease. I've fallen madly in love, and so I feel at rest. For some, love comes as secondary to success, or isn't a priority at all. Laissez-faire, it will happen when it happens. For me, this has never been the case.
This made my recent jaunt to sunny Saskatchewan a very different kind of journey. I didn't hit the road staring down the pavement with the same kind of fire burning within me. I wasn't running towards or from anything. I had love by my side, I could have driven forever.
I met Megan Nash sometime last year for a songwriter's circle at the Wine-Ohs Cellar. She had just begun a cross-country tour with Dana Beeler, an East Coast singer-songwriter.
Megan and I became instant friends. We share the same low maintenance sense of humour and interaction. Have a beer, let's shoot the shit. Nobody was looking for compliments or flattery, we played our tunes and nodded thoughtfully upon completion. The chemistry was organic and made for a great bill.
About a month ago, Megan suggested a small tour around Saskatchewan, her home province. For those of you unfamiliar, Nash is something of a local icon. Every venue and gig we played was littered with fans from all walks. Her down to earth spirit catches the hearts and ears of anyone smart enough to listen, I was honoured to share the stage with her.
The tour began in Saskatoon. I won't lie, as a city, it was my least favourite. Large and ostentatious, I felt lost in the lights. That being said, it called for pause as I remembered where I had grown up. Is Calgary a similar vibe? Do people feel lost and alienated entering the place I call home? I had to wonder. This all being said, our hosts were incredible. Homemade vegetarian pasta and a warm bed for the night, great friends and conversation. I would like to have cooked for them and returned the favour.
Moose Jaw was a beautiful, boutique town. I enjoyed some of the best Thai food I have had, to date; and I say this after having spent a month in Thailand sampling just about every kind of food imaginable. I am an unashamed foodie. I spent ten years as a Chef in Calgary, finished my Red Seal at SAIT and eventually went the way of so many others - into a separate line of work. Another entry can cover my disenchantment with 6 day work weeks and cocaine mountains at 8am when the rest of the world are conquering Sundays.
Regina was surprising. Much smaller than I had anticipated, I felt an instant parallel between my home province's capital and the "city that rhymes with fun." (Hate the expression all you'd like, I stick by its message.) The venue was reverb-city. That being said, the stage must have been close to six feet high. This gave me an odd sense of confidence. Fresh strings changed immediately before, in the bar, were an added boost. Old friends put us up for the night, and taught us the hard ropes of shotgunning PIlsner in Vic Park. We got the real lay of the land.
The tour's highlight was our last show in Gravelbourg, SK. Predominantly French in its demographic, I was unsure what to expect. 1200 residents is undoubtedly the smallest town I have ever even set foot in, aside from my hockey playing youth. I don't count that experience the same. It was literally into town boundaries, straight to the rink. My gal likes to call the rink a 'barn'; I always think that sounds way cooler.
Gravelbourg was out in full force. The bar was full of eager hockey watchers. Not as many listeners. I played the country staples, and my optimistic 'full bar of drinkers' set list. Every room is different. It's always important to me to play the room.
I had a strange moment while playing 'Working Man' [track 4 - Motorhome]. The song itself was a mash of personal experiences written about friends, an old drunk in a bar, and the way the Canadian landscape was changing around oil production and environmentally sustainable futures. Generally in Calgary, the song garners a great deal of head nods and sincere applause. It is a favourite of mine. It is very dark, but was meant to be written as a request to the white collars to look down at the calloused hands passing up the bread to feed their wives.
As I looked around the crowded, admittedly small town bar, I sang the song much the same as I always have. I put a great deal of hurt into the vocals. The song hurts me to sing. But as I watched the honest ball caps of farmers and industry workers bobbing up and down with laughter, and to sip from pint glasses; I realized how blatantly ignorant my song choice must have been.
The song must seem a valiant message from the person who wrote it. I felt ashamed of my arrogance. How could I sing this song pretending to be a hero? I had not worked hard like this, not like them, not for a day in my life. I have never farmed. My hardest dues were paid among 15 hour days in a kitchen, burns and scars all over, yelling and sexism as common as the very smokey air to breathe. This is a different hard work. I was still working for the white suited, oily haired gentlemen sharing cocktails at noon on a Friday. I was still being taken advantage of, and working too hard to enjoy my own life at all. But it is not the same as working a farm to feed a family. It is not life and death.
After the performance I realized what a real songwriter's understanding must come from. Perspectives are a lovely box of tinted lenses. We are fortunate to sort through the many colours, and hold one up to the light. But shining the light, alone, is not enough. We have to find the right room to shine it in, and the right faces to feel its glow. Although a dismantled metaphor at best, the idea stuck with me.
I have profound respect for this country and the people I see living and working within it. I will remember this tour for teaching me that lesson.