The year began with a bang, and that's about as much of an understatement as I'm prepared to make. I'll never forget that email, which I scanned ever quickly from excitement to find the gory details: Block Heater Festival... opening... Hayes Carll. My mouth fell open onto my keyboard and my eyes welled up with tears of joy. Were they fucking kidding me? Worst possible practical joke to play on someone with expectations as low as mine. They weren't.
The Lantern Church buzzed with excitement for my 45 minute opening set. I was joined by my right hand man, Keane Eng and my now manager, Jessica Marsh (JAM Music). We received a standing ovation. There is nothing comparable to that kind of love and support in your hometown, and I think in some ways I carried that encouragement throughout my entire year of performances.
Immediately after Block Heater, I flew to Kansas City to partake in yet another year of the Folk Alliance International Conference and Festival in Kansas City, MO. A whirlwind of late nights, hotel rooms and new friends: this time of year is always especially stressful and rewarding for me.
I flew into Calgary and packed, again. Half written charts and notes, guitars, gear, clothes for a week. I was on my way to Lethbridge to record the new album. What transpired over the course of those weeks is hard to describe, still after all this time has passed. The energy and creative buzz inside the Rebeltone Ranch was something I'd never experienced before. And if I'm not being too cocky, I think you can hear that in the tracks.
I grabbed on with both hands trying to prepare myself to handle a heavy booking and festival season. I'm not overly administrative, but I am at least jittery enough to work at a decent pace; albeit sometimes months behind. (If you're wondering about the songs written for the Crowdfunding Campaign, yes they're done, yes they're coming. If you're wondering about my album, yes it's done, yes it's coming.)
Stampede, South Country Fair, Canmore and Edmonton Folk Festival(s). I saw and heard some of the best music I have ever been privileged to see, from the backstage vantage points. I was treated like gold by volunteers, staff and listeners. I could not be more thankful to have participated, it was a solid progression of development I haven't seen in myself since we recorded the album.
Festivals are an intense environment, in the best possible way.
No, I didn't forget about hose shows at the Jubilee, opening up for k.d. lang. I've just been struggling to find the words to remotely describe how humbling and uplifting of an experience that was. I am stricken constantly, as all artists are, with the fear of Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome is essentially the sometimes delusional belief that you aren't deserving of success. Not because you don't recognize talent within yourself, but because it is hard to quantify success with the way people interpret your art. Fear of being exposed, fear of saying or writing the wrong thing: these are constraints we put on ourselves to appease who we can, to share what we can with those who want to feel it.
So because I have this self-imposed, fabricated condition and fear impending pressure intensely, I often reach out to mentors and family for a pre-game pep talk. I texted Leeroy Stagger, and he said: "Open your heart up to the room and the people in it. Let them in."
I have sarcastically evaded most ideas of spirituality and energy transfer among the pre-show ritual. I didn't get it. Have a shot of Jameson's, drink some water, hug your bandmates and don't fuck it up. Those are the rules I abided by, but my anxiety was often still palpable. I was masking my emotion with false confidence and the wrong energy. Or at least, I realized that's what I had been doing.
So here's what happened when I opened myself up: I felt my heart grow ten thousand times bigger. I saw my mom in the third row, my best friend in the fourth row. The room lit up and laughed with me as I paused to tune and sweat into an uncomfortably reverberated room. My best friend and band mate completely eased in and cranked off the best guitar parts I've ever heard him play. And here's the kicker, we did that two nights in a row. Which is merely a prelude to the absolute best part: hearing k.d. lang and her incomparably smooth, rich and focused band. She owns every note and moment on the stage, and off. We were star stricken.
After the madness had somewhat subsided, I completely forgot to pencil in any semblance of a vacation or time off. I had three day gaps between ten or fourteen day stints, each day sometimes hours long including travel. Which rolled us very quickly and abruptly into rehearsals with my new electric band, (name TBD). We weren't rehearsing just for the hell of it, though I will say in my somewhat limited years of working with session musicians, these MacEwan graduates are some of the more professional and hardworking folks I have come across. We nailed down some very thick tones with a five piece rock outfit.
Which threw us head first into Alberta Focus and BreakOut West, a Western Canadian Music Conference with partner events dedicated to the export of Canadian talent to European markets. Always as daunting as it is difficult, these conferences can be completely defeating and sometimes demoralizing. All in all, we put on a great show, recorded live by CKUA.
Which brings us right up to now, as I sit here in Toronto drinking a Goose Island IPA at the brewery, waiting to check into what feels like my 100th hotel. Last Thursday, the full band opened a show at one of Edmonton's biggest venues: The Starlite Room. As most of my buds will know, I'm usually to be seen as a three piece or sans drummer: until now. The new record demands the presence of a full band and I have assembled a crew of true beauties.
We sang, we drank and partied until the wee hours. 7am came a little too quickly, as I boarded a flight in Edmonton straight to Ottawa for a show at the infamous Black Sheep Inn with the incredible Mike Plume, one of Canada's finest songwriters. I think it goes without saying that any artist who can take the time and effort to mentor someone younger and in the beginning stages of their career is a true gem of a human. Mike Plume is exactly that. He has taken a stark interest in my songs and consistently put his neck out to have me open shows or share the stage with him, and I am forever grateful.
Wakefield is the most beautiful town I have yet to see in Canada, bar none. Thank you for an incredible night to all the listeners and the venue staff.
With my rented Jeep Wrangler we rode the wild 401 highway to Toronto the next morning, holy fuck. Anyone who complains about our coveted highway 2 here in Alberta will receive a sharp tongue lashing from me, from this day forward. The 401 is an entirely separate beast, and I say with full sincerity that driving in Ontario is truly taking your life into your own hands.
After driving back to Ottawa, flying back into Edmonton and now loading the car to cruise to Calgary (home, thank goodness) for our album cover shoot - I am reminded of some valuable lessons from the year in review.
There is nothing more valuable than friendships, shared experiences and gratitude among these people and places. Great things will come to those who bust ass. There are people in your corner. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but be sure that there is also inescapable, blinding darkness to precede and follow. Live within the light and transform within that darkness. The spirit is a resilient thing.
Call me idealistic or hopped up on old acid trips, but these are things I whole heartedly believe entering the New Year.
Oh, and someone bet me I couldn't go all of January as a vegan, so watch out for violent anger in the first two weeks or 2018.