Hey kind folks,
I'm writing you from my new digs for the month, on the second floor of a late-1800s house in Toronto's Little Italy. My friend Jaron Freeman-Fox offered me his room while he's touring in Australia, and I couldn't have asked for better housemates than my hella talented pals Spencer Murray and Kaia Kater! I returned home yesterday to hear both of them practicing in their rooms, and was happily guilted into doing the same. It's a dreamy situation. I'm most excited to have a chance to stay put for a while, catch up on things, and get to know this town better. I've also got a dreamy residency for the month, playing every Tuesday from 6-8pm at the Cameron House, with help from Mike Kerr on guitar and Matt Coldwell on upright bass, and special guests every week. We're kicking it off extra special TONIGHT with not one but TWO killer songwriters as our guests: Chicago's Heather Styka and Edmonton's own Braden Gates. Come say howdy if you can!
Here's how the next while looks:
Tue Oct 2 • Toronto, ON • Tuesdays in October residency at The Cameron House with Heather Styka and Braden Gates, 6-8pm!
Wed Oct 3 • Barrie, ON • Take Note Music House
Thu Oct 4 • Sudbury, ON • Lively house concert
Fri Oct 5 • Haliburton, ON • Maple Lake United Church
Sat Oct 6 • Morrisburg, ON • Opening for William Prince at St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage
Tue Oct 9 • Toronto, ON • Tuesdays in October Cameron House residency with Mike Kerr, Matt Coldwell, and surprise guests
Sat Oct 13 • Toronto, ON • Saturday Sessions series at Inter Steer Tavern with Matt Coldwell on bass
Sun Oct 14 • Toronto, ON • Don Heights Unitarian Congregation
Tue Oct 16 • Toronto, ON • Tuesdays in October Cameron House residency with Mike Kerr, Matt Coldwell, and surprise guests
Fri Oct 19 • Hamilton, ON • Staircase Theatre with Corin Raymond
Sat Oct 20 • Kitchener, ON • Folk Night at the Registry with Craig Cardiff
Sun Oct 21 • Toronto, ON • Neighbourhood Unitarian Universalist Congregation
Sun Oct 21 • Guelph, ON • Guelph Roots house concert with Zachary Lucky
Tue Oct 23 • Toronto, ON • Tuesdays in October Cameron House residency with Mike Kerr, Matt Coldwell, and guest Scott Wicken
Fri Oct 26 • Grafton, ON • Fáilte House Concert
Sat Oct 27 • Ottawa, ON • Tunes After Noon open stage at Moose McGuire’s with Greg Kelly, 1pm
Sat Oct 27 • Pembroke, ON • Killaloe house concert
Sun Oct 28 • Perth, ON • Perth Tea Room
Tue Oct 30 • Toronto, ON • Tuesdays in October Cameron House residency with Mike Kerr, Matt Coldwell, and surprise guests
All the details, as always, are on www.scottcook.net/news.php. At the end of the month I'll be moving back into the van and heading back Stateside for another run around, which still has some gaps in it that I'd be glad to fill:
Thu Nov 1 • Pittsburgh, PA • Hospitality House Concert
Fri Nov 2 • Martinsburg, WV • First Friday Coffeehouse
Sun Nov 4 • Asheville, NC • Isis Music Hall
Wed Nov 7 • Baltimore, MD • Four Hour Day Lutherie
Thu-Sun Nov 8-11 • Stamford, CT • Northeast Regional Folk Alliance conference
Mon Nov 12 • Southport, CT • open mic feature at Horseshoe Cafe
Wed Nov 14 • State College, PA • Happy Valley House Concert
Fri Nov 16 • Columbia, MD • The Cooper's House
Sat Nov 17 • Darlington, MD • Deer Creek Coffeehouse
Mon Nov 19 • Charlotte, NC • open mic feature at the Evening Muse
Wed Nov 21 • Chapel Hill, NC • guest at Jonathan Byrd's residency at The Kraken
Fri Nov 23 • Pleasant Plain, OH • Plain Folk Cafe
Sat Nov 24 • Columbus, OH • Columbus Folk Music Society concert
Sun Nov 25 • West Chester, OH • house concert
Fri Nov 30 • Downers Grove, IL • Two Way Street Coffeehouse
Sun Dec 2 • Grand Rapids, MI • Songteller Sessions at Creston Brewery with Nicholas James Thomasma and Kaitlin Rose
Wed Dec 5 • Chelsea, MI • On the Tracks Songwriter Showcase with Jon Brooks
Fri Dec 7 • Minneapolis, MN • The Warming House with Rachael Kilgour
Sat Dec 8 • Winnipeg, MB • ANYBODY WANNA HOST?
If you have any ideas for house concerts or other shows to plug the holes in my US tour, I'd be glad to hear from you at email@example.com.
My last two missives to you dear readers were fired off from the passenger seat, with Melissa at the wheel, in the midst of the Second Chances' hectic summer. I'm pleased to report that we broke a lot of new ground. Doors that had long been closed are finally coming open. We got to play for lots of folks who'd never heard of us, and plenty of them took albums home with them. It was amazing. But it sure didn't leave a lot of time for reflection.
Canmore Folk Festival, where we were headed when I wrote you last, was an absolute joy, and by far the biggest opportunity we've had in Alberta. The setting's incredible––among the pines in a town park with the Rockies towering on all sides––and the programming was superb.
Our first set was a song swap pairing my trio with the unbelievably entertaining Steve Poltz, who just might be the best raconteur in the game today. I was actually kinda nervous going into it, knowing that anything can happen when he's onstage, and it's best not to make a plan. But I also had a bit of an ace up my sleeve. See, a couple years ago at the National Folk Fest in Canberra, Australia, I'd been out in the big crowd having my mind blown by one of Steve's sets. He was retelling an email conversation with his dad, reading his dad's words from his phone, and hilariously commentating the whole thing. At one point, scrolling through, he said "here he is, Joe Poltz," and read out his dad's email address. Feeling bold (and likely half-cut), I sent his dad an email right then, saying "You got a good son. Cheers from down under!" Within a day, I got an email back from Joe Poltz! My email signature has a link to a video of "Pass It Along", which he thanked me for, and in return, he sent along a recording of one of his poems. I responded with another video, and this ended up going back and forth through maybe a dozen emails of friendly chatting and poem-sharing. Steve had no idea any of this had happened.
He usually has his phone plugged into the PA system during his sets, and does all sorts of crazy stuff with it (including carrying on conversations with Siri), but he hadn't used it yet. Near the end of the set I decided to go for it, told him the story about e-meeting his dad, and asked if he'd be okay with playing one of his dad's poems, which I'll share with you readers here, in case you're curious: "Winnipeg Mountie"
Joe Poltz' voice came booming out of the PA, half-singing and making sound effects as he went. The audience loved it, Steve was losing his shit, and I could only marvel at what had become of a random lark years ago.
The next day Dave Gunning, Jon Brooks, and I had the humbling honour of swapping songs with Buffy Ste-Marie. I would've been terrified if I hadn't been told that she's super nice. And it's true! She's a genuine, down-to-earth, 77 year-old legend, with a charming Saskatchewan-grandma accent and badass leather pants. She rocked the eff out with her band later on. Her new record "Medicine Songs" is powerful stuff, available wherever you buy music. This one especially stood out for me: "The War Racket"
Another song on that album, "My Country 'Tis of Thy People You're Dying" comes from the 60s, but still rings true and timely today. I found an old clip of her singing it on Pete Seeger's TV show back then, which makes for pretty amazing viewing today.
Like when I met Pete ten years ago, there was a bittersweetness in seeing someone sing the same truth they've been singing for fifty-plus years. On the one hand, there's a sadness in the fact that they've been singing it all this time and yet the world––for the most part––still hasn't come around, since it still needs singing. On the other, there's strength in it for younger singers––resolve to sing our own truth, whether the world's ready for it or not.
Canmore wasn't the biggest festival we've played with the trio, but it was the first to trust us with a spot on main stage, and what an honour it was to sing for that beautiful throng on the last day! They bought so many CDs that I had to re-stock twice. Thank you, Canmore.
Our next gig was Edmonton Folk Festival, and it was a real joy to return to my hometown fest after six years. During Steve Poltz' set, he called me and my friend Pamela up on stage to sing along on "You Were Meant For Me," which he and Jewel co-wrote, and then left us there while he galavanted through the crowd. I was elated for the Edmonton audience to get their ears on him, Buffy, John Craigie, and Shakura S'Aida. And Molly Tuttle blew my mind with her singing, flatpicking, and clawhammer guitar, a phenom in her mid-twenties, another reminder of the power of deliberate practice. But my favourite part of all was dancing our asses off to Sona Jobarteh and her band at the afterparty.
The next weekend I moved back into my van Manny, which I hadn't lived in since my big health crisis last October. I drove up to Grande Prairie for my first time at Bear Creek Folk Festival, a wonderfully-curated fest in its third year, set in a lovely local park with the creek running through it. My friend Sarah Card, who founded the festival, was kind enough to trust me with a mainstage tweener, and also asked me to sing Gordon Lightfoot's "Alberta Bound" for the finale, which was a real honour.
From Bear Creek I headed out to BC, stopped in for a day at the wonderful NimbleFingers Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Camp, and then drove to Vancouver to reunite with Kerryn Fields, at the end of her first Canadian voyage, for a house concert at C.R. Avery and Kathleen Nisbet's house. There were a ton of acts on the bill, and we were treated to everything from comedy through poetry, burlesque, Metis dance, a birthday freestyle from C.R., a new Kitty and the Rooster rap, and even some folk songs :) It was a heartwarming brush with Vancouver, and made me long to live there for another month sometime soon. But I was also really happy to get out of town that night, late as it was, and stand in the moonlight awhile. The border was uneventful the next day; though I must have waited about an hour in line, when the time came it was just two questions and a "have fun!". I felt a tangible weight lift as I drove away, feeling free, and glad to be back to my old modus operandi, living in the van and rambling in obscurity.
I arrived at the venue in Bellingham to hear that the fella who booked it (and used to own it) had just parted ways with the establishment, and no real promo had been done. But I was supposed to play before The Jellyman's Daughter from Edinburgh, who I'd met two years back when we played Shelter Valley fest in Ontario, so we just decided to combine forces and play for tips rather than charge a separate cover for each show. My buddy Robert Sarazin Blake came out, and brought some lovely women who help with his Subdued Stringband Jamboree, and a few more folks wandered in, and the crowd was really warm and wonderful despite being less than twenty. I made some money, had some great conversations about local activism and life paths and such, and drove out of town just before midnight, feeling so grateful again for my lot in life. Drove along the coast a ways before I decided it was too pretty to pass in the dark, and pulled into a roadside turnout with a bunch of other vans. It was incredibly still on the cliff, with the big moon shining down on the glassy ocean, the silence only occasionally split by a passing car or a train going by down below.
The next day I ventured on southward, hiking through the old-growth trees and over the big steel bridge at Deception Pass, watching the slate-grey ocean from the rocky beach, taking the old car ferry from Whidbey Island to the Olympic Peninsula, and stopping in Port Townsend to dig the crumbling, ornate architecture of that seaside town. On Bainbridge Island (a beautiful, tall-treed isle a ferry ride across the strait from Seattle, with reiki and rich folks) I got to see one of my heroes, Greg Brown, for the first time ever. I was super awkward meeting him, but it did me some good to see a man who'd taken on almost mythic stature to me, playing a normal gig in a small room and hanging around to sign CDs afterward. I've gotten to see my heroes come down to earth a lot this year, and it's been freeing and empowering to find myself without a shadow to stand in. Like Greg sings in "Your Town Now":
"You young ones, it's up to you
To fight the fight and I hope you do
Oh I see in your eyes that you know how
And it's your town now
Your town now, it's your town now"
I spent three nights in Portland, where I played a couple shows including a lovely backyard concert at blueswoman Lauren Sheehan's place, and enjoyed long bike rides around that leafy city. From there I made my way to Corvallis for another heartwarming house concert, and up to Mount Hood for a day of fumbling my way through fiddle tunes at Zigzag Mountain Oldtime Music Campout, before heading to Sisters to teach at Song Camp for my second year in a row. Last year's camp was a profound experience for me, despite feeling way out of my depth going into it, as an unknown on a faculty with Grammy winners. The creative director Brad Tisdel (who found me at a late-night showcase in a hotel room a couple years back) made a point of telling us that we were all exactly where we were supposed to be, that we just had to share some of what we'd learned along our journey so far, and it helped me get over my imposter syndrome. It felt so good to return this year, without the apocalyptic smoke in the air, and spend another week in that creative crucible with so many brave, blossoming artists.
If you've got a minute to hear some new music, three among the many artists that blew me away at Song Camp this year were Susan Werner (check out "May I Suggest"), Joe Purdy ("It's Hard to Be a Prophet When Nobody's Listening"), and for the second year in a row, Anna Tivel ("Illinois")!
They asked me again this year to sing the last song in the closing ceremony at camp, and again, the honour came with questions of worthiness: why me? To clear my head, I tried to remember that it wasn't about me. I was reminded of something Mary Gauthier was talking about at Kerrville earlier this year, how we've gotta serve the song, not the other way around. The work wants to come through us. We just need to let it.
I remembered that again on Sunday morning, singing "Pass It Along" for the biggest crowd I'd seen all weekend, in their Community Celebration. And somehow, rather than buckling under the weight of the moment, it felt like something lifted off me.
From Sisters I headed south for a couple days alone, including my first visit to Crater Lake, which is absolutely breathtaking. It was formed by a massive volcanic eruption around 7700 years ago. Wizard Island, in the middle of the crater, is a cinder cone that formed from later, smaller eruptions. The local tribes remember the big one in their stories, and some of their tools have even been found buried under the ash. Something that big sure can make you feel small in a way that also feels like a weight coming off.
I drove further south after that for a run of five shows with the wonderful Justin Farren and family, who I met last year at Song Camp. One of these days I'm gonna bring them up and introduce them to my Canadian friends, and I guarantee you're gonna love them. For now, here's one of his brilliant songs to whet your appetite: "Little Blue Dirtbike"
Our last show together was a Sunday afternoon house concert in an old goldrush town called Mokulemne Hill, California, and that evening I started the long trip across the country to Earthwork Harvest Gathering: through the pine forests of the Sierra Nevada mountains into Nevada's wide deserts, along the open stretches of "The Loneliest Road in America", through Utah's breathtaking red canyons, alongside the White River as it winds between the massive sentinel columns of the Colorado Rockies, and finally across the open pastures and green farmlands of Nebraska and Illinois. I spent the days in silence, or kept company by National Public Radio, a calm, nationwide voice of sanity and science that I'm ever more thankful for these days in America. As always, the journey over such vast country, the ever-unrolling succession of ridges and flatlands, the pavement mirages in the midday sun, the last rays of sunlight filling the valleys with gold in the long-shadowed evenings, and the starry nights and bird-chirping mornings in State Forest campgrounds were all road music to my soul.
I pulled into the Earthwork farm five days later, with just enough time to rehearse with Fauxgrass, check in my merchandise, and take the stage. Seth Bernard (who grew up on the farm, and started the festival fifteen or so years ago) played right after me, and it was a joy as always to see him there, singing his songs where they mean the most. He took a break in the middle of his set and talked for a while, holding a clipboard, welcoming everyone to the farm, and emphasizing that it's not just a celebration; it only means something if it translates into real action in our communities. I really admire the way he manages to include politics and even ceremony (blessing a new well, or commemorating people in the community who died in the past year) in a way that doesn't presuppose any particular belief, that has room in it for everybody. I've learned a lot from him, and I've still got a lot to learn. It did my heart so much good to visit the farm again, to reconnect with my Michigan family, and to leave the festival on Monday without a hangover.
From Earthwork I made my way into Ontario for a quick visit with the Anglers' old bass player, the Daz Bear, who'll be familiar to only looooongtime readers of this Travelogue, and who I last visited in Cape Town, where he was running an international documentary film festival. He's just immigrated to Canada, is living in his wife's hometown of Windsor for the time being, and is still just as hilarious as ever.
The next morning I left the van in airport parking and flew to Austin for the Southwest Regional Folk Alliance conference. It felt pretty surreal to be in Texas after having just driven across the country to Ontario. I was surprised at how many people I knew from Kerrville at the conference, and also stoked to reunite with my pal Sarah Burton, who brought the Long Weekends' drummer (and now Dana Wylie's baby daddy!) Matt Blackie into our lives all those years ago, and who we used to see a lot of on the western Canadian festival circuit before she moved to Terlingua, Texas a couple years back. Folk conferences are a funny scene, with a few hundred (or a few thousand, in the case of Folk Alliance International) folkies gathered together in a hotel to talk during the day and sing songs into the wee hours of the night, and they don't leave a lot of time for sleep or reflection. But I got to play for a bunch of people who'd never heard me before, made some new friends, and found some opportunities that'll take me back down that way before too long. I love Texas. And I love the States. No matter how crazy it might look on TV these days, it's my contention that there, like everywhere, most people are fundamentally good and decent.
Alright, I've gotta leave this here for now, I've got a gig to play soon!
I put up some photos from the whole summer, if you wanna have a look, here.
Thanks as always for reading, friend. And I sure hope to see you along this ramble, or the next one.
You're a light along the path. Keep shining,