Howdy good people,
I trust this finds you flourishing, wherever it finds you. As is often the case in summertime, I've been way too busy living to get around to writing about it. But while I'm home in Edmonton, and again nearing the doorstep of the road, I figure this is the best chance I'll get. It's been over two months, so there's a lot to tell.
We do have one more Edmonton show before we go, tonight at the Mercury Room, and I imagine it'll be our last until next summer. The Second Chances and I are opening for an international supergroup of sorts called The Folk Road Show, which consists of our Australian buddy Benjamin James Caldwell, Canada's Dominique Fricot and Nick Petrowich, and Olaf Caarls and Pieter Van Vliet from the Netherlands. I've heard rave reviews about this show, and I'm really looking forward to sharing the stage with these guys. They'll kick things off at 8:30 with two songs each, then we'll play a set of our own at 9:30, before the Road Show finishes out the night.
Next week the Second Chances and I are heading out to BC for one last fest out west, MoM Festival in Fort St. James. As always, loads of our friends are on the bill, including the Party on High Street, Billie Zizi, Wax Mannequin, Twin Peaks, Raghu Lokanathan, Joey Onley, Doug Koyama, Joline Baylis, our Aussie buddy Tim Bennett, and a little punk band you might have heard of called D.O.A. It'll be great to shake it one last time with everybody before the show must go on eastward. I'll be making that trip alone, out to Ontario, down to Michigan, out to Nova Scotia, down to the eastern States, back across to Seattle, and back home for a brief visit at the end of October.
Thu Aug 11 - Edmonton, AB - Opening for Folk Road Show at Mercury Room with the 2nd Chances
Wed Aug 17 - Valemount, BC - Royal Canadian Legion with the Second Chances
Thu Aug 18 - Prince George, BC - Backyard concert with the 2nd Chances and Raghu Lokanathan
Fri-Sun Aug 19-21 - Fort St. James, BC - MoM Festival with the Second Chances
Thu Aug 25 - Saskatoon, SK - LOOKING FOR A SHOW
Fri Aug 26 - Winnipeg, MB - Times Change(d), opening for Jaxon Haldane's trio, 7pm and 10pm
Sat Aug 27 - Sioux Narrows, ON - Vilij Well
Sun Aug 28 - Thunder Bay, ON - The Apollo
Wed Aug 31 - Sault Ste. Marie, ON - Loplop's with Trevor Tchir opening
Thu Sep 1 - Sudbury, ON - House concert SOLD OUT
Fri-Sun - Sept 2-4 - Grafton, ON - Shelter Valley Folk Festival
Tue Sep 6 - Toronto, ON - Week 1 of residency with Brian Kobayakawa and Scott Galloway plus special guest Winona Wilde
Wed Sep 7 - Guelph, ON - The Cornerstone with Anthony Damiao
Thu Sep 8 - Peterborough, ON - BE Catering with David Ross MacDonald
Fri Sep 9 - Ottawa, ON - House Concert with David Ross MacDonald
Sat Sep 10 - Thornhill, ON - AUER-House Concert
Sun Sep 11 - Don Heights, ON - Don Heights Unitarian Congregation
Tue Sep 13 - Toronto, ON - Week 2 of residency with Brian Kobayakawa and Scott Galloway plus special guest Sarah Jane Scouten
Thu Sep 15 - Rapid City, MI - Saunders house concert with Medicine Bell Trio opening
Fri-Sun Sep 16-18 - Lake City, MI - Earthwork Harvest Gathering
Tue Sep 20 - Toronto, ON - Week 3 of residency with Brian Kobayakawa and Scott Galloway plus special guest David Newberry
Wed Sep 21 - Montreal, QC - LOOKING FOR A SHOW
Fri-Sun Sep 23-25 - Wolfville, NS - Deep Roots Music Festival
Thu Sep 29 - Fredericton, NB - Music Runs Through It concert at Corked Wine Bar
Sun Oct 2 - Boston, MA - Lantern Sessions in the Backroom at The Burren
Wed Oct 5 - Philadelphia, PA - Open mic feature at Burlap and Bean
Thu-Sun Oct 13-16 - Bellevue, WA - Official showcase at the FAR-West conference
All the details, as always, are on http://www.scottcook.net/news.php. I'm all ears for ideas of shows to fill in the gaps in the schedule, of course. And as I always say, don't be shy of the house concerts! You'll have a great night out, and you'll meet some new friends. You just need to email the host if you wanna come.
In October I'll be making a quick trip up to the Peace country with the Second Chances, then I'm flying across the pond for a tour of the UK with Jez Hellard, a few solo dates in Europe, and a month in South Africa. That's right, it's finally happening. I've wanted to visit Africa for years, ever since I left Taiwan, and at last it's actually on. It's not so much a tour per se, more just a visit, to see my long-lost friends, meet the new children in their families, explore that beautiful country, and soak up some music in the place where music came from.
I'll be home for Christmas and New Years, then setting out with the Second Chances for a bunch of CD release shows in theatres around Alberta. That's right, the new album's coming out in style in January! For the Edmontonians reading, the closest we'll get is the lovely Shell Theatre in Fort Saskatchewan, Friday January 27th. Don't you worry, we're gonna hire a party bus to take folks out there and back.
In February I'm gonna take the new album down to Kansas City for Folk Alliance International, and at the end of the month The Second Chances and I will be touring the new album around Australia. I can't wait to show Bram and Melissa around, and to bring these new songs to the people there.
I've been working on edits for the album these past couple days, and it's really exciting to hear it coming together. We did the bulk of the recording in July, over four days and nights at our buddy Adam Iredale-Gray's place on Mayne Island, BC. For those of you who've been out that way, when you're taking the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria, there's a point where you pass between two islands, and the ship's horn sounds. That's called Active Pass. Galliano Island is the one on your right, and Mayne's the one on your left. Fiddle Head Studios is set up in Adam's family's old house, just five minutes' walk from the ocean, and has already turned out records for his band Fish + Bird and plenty other acts. It's also the site for their well-loved Campbell Bay Music Festival. His girlfriend and Aerialists bandmate Elise Bouer, his sister Meg O'Mally, their mom, our folksinging pal Jenny Ritter and her mom, and our fellow Long Weekends Matt Blackie and Dana Wylie all visited during that time, along with two hilarious dogs, and an unending parade of deer across the yard. We cooked communal meals in the kitchen, went for walks, swam in the ocean, practiced yoga, listened to records, played music in the yard, and marvelled at the ease of creating music in a place like that.
The album should be released in January or so, on both CD and vinyl, but of course you faithful readers will have a chance to get your ears on it earlier if you so desire. I've set up a Kapipal page for pre-orders, right here.
I can't tell you how excited I am to get these new songs out into the world! I think it's my best writing so far, and the most topical as well. The album's gonna be called Further Down the Line, and for those who'd like a preview, here's a video of the title track, shot by my friend Damon Smith while I was in Australia:
Now, what about that relentless summer that's been keeping me so busy? I sure can't tell you all of it, dear readers. I don't wanna test your already formidable patience. But I'll try to cover the highlights.
Last I wrote you, I'd been living in Vancouver for the month of May, and was once again readying myself to hit the road. As I said, it's been pretty all-consuming since then, but it's been incredibly kind. Unbelievably, undeservedly kind.
First off, my upright bass-playing friend Shari Rae flew out to meet me in Victoria, and we took the ferry across to Port Angeles, Washington for the Juan de Fuca Festival of the Arts. I actually had to run for the ferry, after arriving late and then being unable to find a parking spot nearby, but once again, that crossing had the nicest American border guards you could ever hope to find, and they let me on the boat, frazzled and gasping for breath. Notwithstanding all the bad news we've heard lately, there really are good people in uniform out there.
The festival was great, as always, and we had two lovely shows in the theatre and the Elks lodge. Our billet host loaned us her truck too, and we took it for a drive westward along the northern coast of the Olympic Peninsula. On a hike through the sun-flecked rainforest, I mentioned to Shari that I'd dreamed of riding my bicycle from Edmonton to Vancouver and down the west coast to San Francisco since I was in high school, and she confronted me with that often-unasked but powerful question: what's stopping you? I couldn't think of any good reason. Back then, it was lack of money. But nowadays, I can make money by singing along the way. The only reason left was the other things I could be doing, most of which were work opportunities, and none of which were tugging at my heart like the thought of a bike ride through the redwoods. So I decided then and there that as soon as scheduling allows, I'll be setting out from home on a bicycle bound for San Francisco.
We did a string of dates on the islands after that, including a lovely stop at the Victoria Folk Music Society, Shari's first visits to gorgeous Salt Spring and Gabriola islands, and a nice reunion with long-lost friends at the Elevate Arts Festival in the Comox Valley, where I'm seriously considering finding a place to live in the year to come. That's right, friends, all that talk about slowing down and devoting more time to practice isn't just fantasizing. It will have been ten years without a home by then, and I think it's time for another chapter of life.
As often happens, the most lucrative show of the tour wasn't at a public venue but rather a private house, in our friend Elissa's yard in Prince George, BC. There were about sixty well-dressed, mostly older folks there, and Shari wore a nice summer dress to suit the scene. Elissa's dog Finn, a big golden retriever, had been having the best day ever, greeting all the guests and getting lots of pats. When I introduced a new song called "Dogs and Kids", I decided to dedicate it to him. He was visibly excited to hear his name called in front of everybody. But once we kicked into the song, he expressed his excitement the only way he knew how, by attempting to mount Shari while she had her hands occupied with the upright bass. It was too much. We had to stop the song to laugh. And again, later, as the song unfolded and the lines took on new meaning in the light of what had just happened. I didn't even see it coming, but Shari did, in the second verse, when I sang "chasing and sniffing and eating's all they're on about / they don't complicate their blues, they just moan / they don't think much about themselves, they just freak out / if they got a bone to pick with you, it's probably just a bone".
From there we went to Wells, to reunite with a whole bunch of folks I wouldn't get to see on account of missing Artswells this year, and to play in my favourite venue there, the tiny old church known as the Tempest Stage. At the end of the set, as we sang "Talkin' Anthropocalypse Blues", a thunderstorm of truly apocalyptic proportions barrelled in. "So it begins!" I shouted, as the lightning flashed and the windows shook. We ended up hiding out in the entryway, drinking donated wine for hours, until the storm let up enough for us to walk to the pub.
We made our way from Wells to the Kootenays via a lovely stop in Salmon Arm, where our friend Ted Crouch has been organizing shows in the old auto shop of a now-defunct Canadian Tire store. Once again, I thought I'd played every kind of place, and I was wrong.
The last stop of Shari's and my tour was the Tiny Lights Festival in Ymir, BC, a gem of a festival in a tiny mountain town just south of Nelson. It's the younger sister fest of Artswells, and like that one, the performances take place in a variety of mostly indoor, often unamplified venues around the town. Loads of our friends were there, including Jez Hellard and the Djukella Orchestra, all the way from England for their first Canadian festival, and our buddies Scotty Dunbar and Winona Wilde, neither of whom had the gig, but both of whom put in surprise appearances and even graced the stage with us.
We skipped out of the Sunday night party (can't tell you how hard that was for consummate Sunday-night partiers like us) to start the drive back to Calgary for Shari's work on Monday afternoon. I dropped her off and drove back to Edmonton, feeling a bit dazed on arrival. It had been six and a half months since I saw the old place. Things looked pretty much the same, at first glance. Of course, there was green back in the grass that had been snow-covered when I left. There were a few new storefronts, new construction sites, and a new internet password at my folks' place. But behind the scenes, time had been at her steady, unforgiving work. Back when I left, the world still had David Bowie, Merle Haggard, Prince, Guy Clark, and Muhammed Ali. I'd even lost an aunt and two friends since I left, the most recent of which, my friend Justin, took his own life that Saturday night in Taiwan while we were revelling at Tiny Lights. Forty-nine more souls were snuffed out by one man's bigotry and religious delusion in Orlando that same night. I could easily have done it to myself with a microsleep behind the wheel on that long road home. None of us can dodge death forever. But as I was reminded at Tiny Lights, there's so much we can do with what time we have left. We can say what's in our hearts. We can love one another fearlessly. We can live while we're alive. Shane Koyczan brought me to tears talking about it on Saturday:
"Pinned To The Dish", by Shane Koyczan
You're dying. Don't panic. You are only dying. You're not dead.
Back when I left, the thought of Donald Trump becoming president was unbelievable. But back when I left, my friend Tigi and my bandmate Jacquie B didn't have babies in their bellies either. My friends Sahana and Jess and Amanda didn't have new ones out in the world. Two days later I was headed up to the 38th Annual North Country Fair for the big reunion. It was my twentieth or so Fair, and my twelfth as a performer. The site's changed over the years, and we have too. We've got grey hairs, some of us have kids, and some of us are the kind of gone that doesn't come back. But the love's still with us, and there's enough to go around.
Buffy Sainte-Marie came to the Fair for her first time that weekend, looking incredibly spry at 75 years of age. Our buddy Fish Griwkowsky wrote an article about her appearance for the Edmonton Journal, which included a borderline-slanderous reference to me as a "roving night panther", whatever that means (http://edmontonjournal.com/entertainment/music/buffy-sainte-marie-adding-spirit-to-north-country-fair). Needless to say, we had plenty of laughs about that. But the tears flowed for me on Friday, when I got to hear her play for the first time, alone on main stage in front of a rapt audience. She sang her hit "Universal Soldier", from her 1964 debut album, pausing to speak potent lines like "without him Caesar would have stood alone", like we were hearing it for the first time. Truly, many of us were. She also played a new song called "Carry It On", which she introduced by saying the lyric aloud:
Hold your head up
Lift the top of your mind
Put your eyes on the Earth
Lift your heart to your own home planet
What do you see?
What is your attitude
Are you here to improve or damn it?
Look right now and you will see
We’re only here by the skin of our teeth as it is
So take heart and take care of your link with Life and
Carry it on, we’re saying
Carry it on, keep playing
Carry it on, and praying
It ain’t money that makes the world go round
That’s only temporary confusion
It ain’t governments that make the people strong
It’s the opposite illusion
Look right now and you will see
They’re only here by the skin of our teeth as it is
So take heart and take care of your link with Life
Look right now and you will see
We’re only here by the skin of our teeth as it is
So take heart and take care of your link with
Life is beautiful if you got the sense to take care of your source of perfection
Mother Nature, She’s the daughter of God and the source of all protection
Look right now and you will see she’s only here by the skin of her teeth as it is
So take heart and take care of your link with Life
So much wisdom in that message, a truth she's been speaking for sixty years, and one that she feels strongly enough to just keep repeating. Like Pete Seeger did. Like MLK did. Like so many did, when they were sure of it, when they knew they just had to keep saying it for as long as they could.
Despite my best intentions not to drink too much at the Fair, I ended up overdoing it on the Sunday, crashing early, and contending with a now-familiar anxiety on the Monday when I was trying to leave. It was another sobering reminder that I can't drink for days on end anymore, if I ever could. I start to lose my link with Life. And I'm just here by the skin of my teeth as it is.
Back in town, I'd barely caught up on sleep and scrubbed the dirt out from under my fingernails before it was time to host the ninth-annual North Country Fair Afterbender, at the Needle Vinyl Tavern this time. As usual, it was a lot of organizing and running around on my part, but once again, the thrill of seeing all those artists on one stage, and all those Fairgoers reuniting, made it all worth it. The Long Weekends opened and closed as always, and in between we had performances from Jez Hellard and the Djukella Orchestra, Picture the Ocean, Joe Nolan and the Dogs, Derina Harvey Band, Winona Wilde, Mohsin Zaman, Swear By the Moon, Sean Brewer, Tim Bennett, Natalie B, the Mad Dogs Experience (an all-star Edmonton superband tribute to Joe Cocker that was pretty much everyone's favourite thing at the Fair this year), and some guy who wanted to sing "Wagon Wheel" but was flatly refused, and gave us "Good Night Irene" instead.
Two days later was Canada Day, for which the Second Chances and I had been hired to play the civic celebrations in both Edmonton and Spruce Grove. It was a lot of running around, but I made it out to Tofield at the end of it all, to reunite with friends from far and wide at the Wild Oats n' Notes festival. The Long Weekends had a sweet time-slot, at 7:30 Saturday night, and I don't think I've ever been so excited about a set in my life. Jacquie B and I even worked out choreographed dance moves for our new song "Kitchen Dance Party On". Sweaty, panting, grinning fun.
From there I headed southwest with the Second Chances, playing a bunch of stops that we hadn't hit yet this year, including our favourite venue out west, Penticton's Dream Cafe. Scotty Dunbar dropped in from his fruit-picking hermithood in Naramata to sing a couple songs for the nice room full of people. And the next night we sang and camped out again by the creek at the Old Grist Mill in Keremeos. The world is richer for places like those.
We headed to Mayne Island from there, for those lovely four days of recording I already raved about, and then back, rested, for bar gigs in Vancouver and Nelson, en route to South Country Fair. I'd pretty much sworn off the chatty bar shows, but both nights redeemed themselves by the end, with loads of long-lost friends making appearances, and rooms that actually came around to listening once they got their chatter out.
The next stop was South Country Fair, one of my first-loved festivals, and one of the best anywhere. I wrote "Fish Jumpin" there, probably fifteen years ago. My Taiwan band The Anglers played there in 2003 and met the gal whose house appears on the cover of our album, who just happened to be back this year with her man and two kids. I fell in love with my last girlfriend there back in 2008. It's a magical place. I've dreamed of playing main stage there for a long, long time. And doing it with the Long Weekends, well, that's about as good as it gets. The next day our good friend (and daughter of the Fair founders) Little Jill organized a workshop with the Second Chances and two great writers I'd never met: Robert Sarazin Blake, from Washington, and Carter Felker, from the neighbourhood. We all feel deeply in mutual word-love, and it flowed like water over rocks.
The weekend also marked another important milestone in my life: the time when that handsome devil Tyler Allen from Boots and the Hoots drank a dram of scotch out of my belly button. Ladies around the world trembled, I'm sure of it.
The following weekend I was down in Canmore for my old friends Joe and Catherine's wedding when my driveway hosts offered me the use of their house for the week to come. I took full advantage of the chance for some solitude in the mountains, and I'm really glad I did. Again, it was impressed on me how much more effective I can be with a place of my own.
Soon enough, though, I had to drive back to Edmonton to catch my flight to Ottawa for Blue Skies Music Festival, another dream come true for me. I first heard about it nine years ago, in the middle of a financially disastrous cross-Canada tour, when I had no gigs for the weekend and my friends The Cracker Cats invited me to be their guest at Eaglewood Folk Festival in Pefferlaw, Ontario. On the rained-out Friday night I met Corin Raymond, Treasa Levasseur, Sean Cotton, David Baxter, Claire Jenkins, Trevor Mills, and so many more amazing musicians at a jam in the community hall. Corin stood up to sing "Three Thousand Miles" and changed my life right then and there. I've written about this elsewhere, including the preface to the 10th anniversary reissue of Corin's album Record Lonesome Night.
But back then we were strangers, and I was having trouble dealing. All weekend I watched these people sing their songs, heard the conviction in their voices, and saw the love on their faces when they backed each other up. I wanted nothing more than to be a part of it. But I didn't even sing a song in front of them all weekend, so deep was my outsiderness and imposter syndrome. I was a young flailer, and they were all doing what I only wished I could do.
A bunch of them were fresh from Blue Skies that weekend, and got starry-eyed when they talked about it. At that time the festival didn't even have a website; it just sounded like a dreamland. An ongoing, multi-generational experiment in togetherness, a little piece of heaven that you could wander into for a weekend. And it truly is. At 43 years old, it's an amazing example of how sustainable and safe a festival can be. There are no porta-potties, only composting outhouses. There are no trash cans, even. Everything gets recycled or packed out. And amazingly, there's no trash to be seen anywhere. The cell reception's patchy at best, and I can't recall seeing anyone looking at a screen all weekend. I left my valuables unattended in my tent the whole time and never gave it a second thought. Young and old folks from all walks of life were taking care of the land and each other.
A bunch of friends were there, including Corin and Treasa, Brian Kobayakawa, David Ross MacDonald, Jonathan Byrd and his family, Tannis Slimmon, Irish Mythen, Greenbank, Washboard Hank, and many more, and the starlit campfire jams were sublime. The last night's jam went until well past sunrise, as it turned out, song following song, all of us by turns awestruck and laughing out loud. At 8pm Saturday night, I got to play main stage on my own, and what a pleasure it was to sing for that hillside full of attentive, open-hearted people. To make it even better, I was warming up the stage for Corin Raymond, who inspired me more than he knew all those years ago, and who showed again, with an electric set of tunes from his new Hobo Jungle Fever Dreams album, what an ever-evolving artist he is. The next night I got to hear Jonathan Byrd for the first time in a while, accompanied by Brian Kobayakawa on bass and the ultimate showman, Johnny Waken, on Telecaster, mandolin, and saw. David Ross MacDonald and I were sitting front and centre for the whole set, on the little kiddie benches, mouths gaping open in wonder. We got taken to school that night. We saw again how alive the art form is, and how bendable all the rules are.
Back in town, I've been working away on the editing for the album, tour bookings for the fall and the new year, and back taxes, while struggling all the while with the allure of these beautiful sunny days and all the good folks I'd rather spend time with than my computer. I took a break this weekend for Edmonton Folk Fest, which was amazing as always. And very soon I'll be shutting this computer and heading into town for our show. But I do want to leave you with one thought, friends, and that's the thing Buffy said, about our link with Life. I've made plenty of reckless decisions through the years, as most of you know, but I've gradually come to an awareness of what my tank runs on; what keeps me living and loving and linked to the greater flow of Life. I'm starting to recognize my limits, how too much of anything is too much. And I'm seeing more and more sense in Buffy's words, that Life is beautiful if you got the sense to take care of your source of perfection. Take care of yours, friends. And I'll see you down the road. Yours forever,