I hope 2018's smiling on you so far! I'm writing from Australia's Snowy Mountains, where I'm doing a bit of catch-up before I head down to visit friends on the coast. I've been pretty much off the clock for almost a month, and have been enjoying the rare feeling of time stretching out, magnified by the fact that I start and end every day clear and sober. I've got a few more days free before Bram flies in and we get the show back on the road:
Fri-Sun Jan 12-14 - Cygnet, TAS - Cygnet Folk Festival with Bramwell Park and Liz Frencham
Mon Jan 15 - Neika, TAS - Private gig at Phil and Jane's
Tue Jan 16 - Leith, TAS - House concert with Bramwell Park
Wed Jan 17 - TAS - our Hobart house concert cancelled, anybody up for hosting?
Thu-Sun Jan 18-21 - Bulli, NSW - Illawarra Folk Festival with Bramwell Park and Robyn Martin
Tue Jan 23 - Melbourne, VIC - Corin Raymond tribute at the Drunken Poet
Wed Jan 24 - VIC - anyone want to host a show?
Thu Jan 25 - Bendigo, VIC - backyard concert with Bramwell Park
Thu-Sun Jan 25-28 - Newstead, VIC - Newstead Live! Music Festival with Bramwell Park and Liz Frencham
All the details, as always, are on my news page. After Newstead Live (which, it bears repeating, really is one of the loveliest festivals in Australia), Bram and I are flying to Taiwan for three weeks of motorbike touring around the island. I couldn't be more excited to show him around. We'll be there over lunar new year, and we've got a few days free to explore the mountains on either side of the island. I'll hang around for another couple weeks after Bram flies home, and might even end up playing another show or two, but the dates for now are:
Wed Jan 31 - Taipei, TW - The Local Craft Beer House with Bramwell Park
Thu Feb 1 - Jungli, TW - Hop In with Bramwell Park
Fri Feb 2 - anyone keen to host a show?
Sat Feb 3 - Taichung, TW - Repent Gallery for Praneeta Vaidya's art show opening
Sun Feb 4 - Dakeng, TW - Hobo Happiness V at The Refuge with Bramwell Park, Tyler Dakin, Pat Reid, Mike Filipowitsch, Mr. Bodacious & the Beatz, and more TBA
Wed Feb 7 - Tainan, TW - Funkoo with Bramwell Park
Thu Feb 8 - Kaohsiung, TW - Rocks with Bramwell Park and another special guest TBA
Fri Feb 9 - Hengchun, TW - Goat Restaurant and Bar with Bramwell Park and 馬曉安
Sat Feb 10 - Taitung, TW - Tiehua Music Village with Bramwell Park
Sun Feb 11 - Hualien, TW - House concert with Bramwell Park and Paul Lawrence
Sun Feb 18 - Wai Ao, Yilan, TW - Drifters with Bramwell Park
Tue Feb 20 - Hsinchu, TW- House concert with Bramwell Park and Mike Mudd
Have a look on my news page for the details. As you can see, we've got a pretty big gap between the 11th and the 18th, mostly by design, but if anyone's keen to host a show, or knows of something we really oughtta get in on, just drop a line to email@example.com. I'll also be available March 1-4, if anyone's got any ideas!
After Taiwan I'll be returning to Australia for a two-month tour with Corin Raymond, and the schedule's filling up quickly for that. Check on my news page for dates, and please help us spread the word! There's no big promo machine behind us, but there will always be a grapevine, like the man says, and am I ever glad for that.
Last I wrote you I was embarking on a sixteen-date tour with Liz Frencham, which went sweetly, and filled my well of inspiration back up to overflowing. I was still hurting our first night out, but I seem to have rounded a corner after that, and have been pain-free ever since. A friend in Glenlyon loaned me her house for the duration of tour, so I had the rare pleasure of going home after many of the shows early on.
It was great getting to know Liz better, and seeing our musical connection deepen. I found myself talking less in the shows, to put the music up front. I also had the unnerving but exciting experience of playing sideman on a couple of her tunes. It was really interesting to tour with someone that I hold in such high regard as a musician, someone I've always looked up to, and find out that we both struggle with similar feelings of inadequacy. Seems those feelings have very little to do with accomplishment, or anything objective at all.
When we had a couple days off in the middle of the tour, she challenged me to write a song. I struggled at it both days, and eventually just banged out a public-service-announcement song about the pit toilets at Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas. It's a joke of a song, but at least it's a song, and it seems to have gotten things flowing again.
We had some really magical nights, with gracious hosts at every stop, and we rounded it out at the first annual By The Banks festival in Albury. The fest was started by a great young band called The Northern Folk, who did a killer job, avoiding the mistakes so many first-year festivals make, putting so much heart into the details, and giving their all in a rocking, climactic set with a hometown crowd of old friends singing along. I know I'm not that much older than them, and I've only known them a few years, but I felt really proud of the youngsters, like the world's in good hands and the kids are alright :) Oh, and I danced that day, and ate chocolate that night (two things I'd been scared of 'til then), and neither one hurt.
I spent the week after the tour back at my friend's house in Glenlyon, pouring myself into bookings, practice, and exercise, before heading out on the long, hot drive to South Australia. I played a couple shows out there, including a lovely afternoon show in a leafy courtyard with my hometown bandmates and dear friends Jesse Dee and Jacquie B. They and their hilarious little guy Jules were over visiting Jesse's brother and family, and I spent my first Aussie Christmas in good company there, even getting into the backyard cricket, which I'm told is about as Aussie Christmas as prawns on the barbie.
From South Australia I made the long, hot drive across the flatlands to Australia's first folk festival, Nariel Creek, started in 1962 in a beautiful creekside recreation reserve, shaded by massive cottonwood trees that were planted back when the festival began. The Nariel Valley's folk music history goes back to the 1800s, and the site's history goes back much further, as a corroboree (gathering and ceremony) place for the local indigenous people. The festival runs from December 27th to January 3rd, technically, but lots of folks camp out for weeks, swimming in the creek, sharing food, and playing traditional music with fiddles, concertinas, whistles, banjos, ukuleles, harps, hurdy-gurdies, voices and you-name-it. Just about every day of the fest there was some informal tradition, like the Costume Ball, where everyone dresses in outfits sourced from the Corryong Op Shop (a nearby second-hand store), Road Bowls (lawn bowling with industrial bearings on a dirt road), or the Black Beer Party, where everyone gathers to drink kegs of home-brew and sing sea shanties. There are very few officially scheduled events: three dances at a nearby hall, two blackboard (open stage) concerts on New Years Eve and New Years Day, and bush dances (like square dance, but dorkier) on the big open green those nights, under the towering poplars and the coloured lights. It felt like a festival from another time, with no big stars and nothing to sell. Ticketing's on the honour system, $25 for the week.
Ringing in the new year with a bunch of people who return to the same spot year after year reminded me often of summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, marking the passage of the years under the cottonwoods at my home festival, the North Country Fair. Gathering with the family there means so much more than the turning of the calendar year to me.
Still, 2017's been a big year. The world lost a lot of famous creatives, and I lost a grandma and a bunch of friends. Other friends had babies, babies grew into kids, and kids grew into young women and men.
The wheels of this here folk-singing business got turning faster than ever for me, with more logistical decisions and responsibility than this vagrant's ever had to deal with. We released Further Down the Line at home in January and toured it all around Alberta that month, then around Australia shortly thereafter, and it gradually trickled out into the wider world over the spring. I just read today that it was the #1 most played Canadian album of 2017 on the Folk DJ list, and the #11 album overall. It also earned my second Canadian Folk Music Award nomination, for English Songwriter of the Year this time. I had 3000 copies made, and sold out in ten months. It's been an amazing year.
It's also been a hella stressful year, made worse by my self-talk, and the booze I used to cope with stress, culminating in the scary ordeal you readers have already heard about. Thankfully, I seem to be out of the woods. I'm eating better than ever, and even putting some weight back on. Some of my nervous energy also seems to have gone away after getting a whiff of death. But the things booze used to take the edge off of are still there, edges and all, and I'm faced with the longer-term work of dealing with them sober.
2017's asked us to look a lot of things square in the face, hasn't it? The insidious culture of sexual abuse and misogyny that's coming ever more widely to the surface. The blatant racism that we wanted to believe was a thing of the past, but had to watch marching in broad daylight. And the wholesale betrayal of the common people by their leaders--on both sides--that enabled a buffoon like #45 to ride that wave of discontent into the White House. At least we're seeing things for what they are. That's the first step toward doing something about them.
I'm gonna sign off here, friends, but I want you to know you're in my thoughts, wherever you are. Keep striving, keep shining, and keep being you. The world needs one just like that.