It's still kinda hard for me to believe, but it's my last night in Toronto. I couldn't ask for a better sendoff than the one we're about to have at The Cameron House from 6-8pm tonight, in the company of my band-for-the-month The Backroads Scholars and one of my hugest inspirations, longtime friend and mentor Corin Raymond. We'll also be joined on a number by the choir from Don Heights Unitarian Congregation, where I sang a couple Sundays back! I'll be around there from 4:30pm, in case anybody wants to come down and chat before things get going.
Tomorrow I'm moving back into the van and crossing the border for another five weeks of gigs in the States. I did a little re-routing since last time (most crucially, switching my Asheville date), so here's what it's looking like now:
Thu Nov 1 • Pittsburgh, PA • Hospitality House Concert
Fri Nov 2 • Martinsburg, WV • First Friday Coffeehouse
Wed Nov 7 • Baltimore, MD • The 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
Sun Nov 18 • Asheville, NC • Isis Music Hall, opening for Noah Zacharin
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
Sun Nov 25 • West Chester, OH • house concert
Wed Nov 28 • Petoskey, MI • Red Sky Stage, presented by Blissfest
Thu Nov 29 • Rapid City, MI • house concert
Fri Nov 30 • Downers Grove, IL • Two Way Street Coffee House
Sat Dec 1 • Kalamazoo, MI • house concert with Samantha Cooper opening
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
It does feel heavy going back to the States, with all the hatred and violence we've seen this past week, and especially to be visiting Pittsburgh in the aftermath of the worst anti-Semitic attack in American history. But I'm also reminded of the role music can play in healing. I've seen it firsthand this month, in the communities I've visited. My only hope is that my words serve to bring folks together rather than sow division.
I sure have enjoyed having a home for a while, getting to know my neighbourhood and its cast of characters, checking out music most nights, and riding my bike around this leafy, lamplit city. Of course, I feel like I could go for another month of the same, but I'm grateful for the time I've had. Mike T. Kerr and Matt Coldwell have been my band for the month, and it's been such a joy making music with them. Our first weekend at the Cameron House had plenty of surprise visitors from afar: my friends Guido and Conny from Where The Birds Fly House Concerts in Germany, Jennifer Iredale and Peter Gray from Victoria (whose place on Mayne Island we used to record Further Down the Line), perpetual rambler Orit Shimoni aka Little Birdie, and our friend William Prince, fresh off a couple nights opening for Neil Young! We also had a couple far-flung guest stars, Heather Styka and Braden Gates. I decided there needed to be some kinda perk for the kind souls who came to the first of our five Tuesdays, so we gave the audience the opportunity to name the band. William kicked it off with "Scott Cook and the Top Chefs", and it pretty much stayed in the bad-puns-on-my-last-name territory from there on out, until Peter Gray broke from the form and won the contest (as determined by the Applause-O-Meter) with The Backroads Scholars.
It's been great having a weekly gig, trying out new things with the band, and doing our best to keep the repeat attenders entertained. On weekends I've gone out for swings around the province, making stops in Barrie, Sudbury, Haliburton, Morrisburg (with William Prince), Hamilton (with Corin Raymond, the Backroads Scholars, and Brian MacMillan), Kitchener (with Craig Cardiff), Guelph (with Zachary Lucky), Grafton, Ottawa, Killaloe, and Perth. In my early years touring out this way, any one of those nights would've been the best show of the tour. It was incredibly humbling and heart-filling to play so many lovely rooms and connect with so many people in such a condensed bit of time. It also felt especially potent to be driving around Ontario at this time of year, wide-eyed at the blazing autumn, and remembering what rough shape I was in the last time I was here. I celebrated the one-year anniversary of my hospitalization on our second Tuesday at the Cameron House, and all month I've felt incredibly lucky to be alive, to have everything back that I'd let go of last year. Well, everything except drunkenness, which was better left behind.
As amazing as the shows have been this month, my favourite thing of all has been the time at home, woodshedding, practicing yoga, getting to know the guitar fretboard, running through scales, frailing fiddle tunes on the banjo, and tackling friends' songs that I've been meaning to learn for ages. I've even enjoyed putting in long-overdue work on bookings, and taxes! I know I've said so before, but I'm even more deeply convinced of the central importance of practice, the daily work we put into the life we want. When I hear my housemate Spencer racing through pieces of music on his penny-whistle, or Mike Kerr busting out lyrical improvisations on the guitar, what they're doing seems utterly impossible to me. I'm tempted to think they've got some genetic gift that I don't. But more and more, it's impressed on me how that towering, seemingly supernatural, effortless display is built from the smallest building blocks, endlessly repeated and recombined. All the tiny, halting, sometimes-faltering steps add up to summits and views that seem unreachable when you're not walking.
The same goes for writing a new song, which I also managed to do this month! Starting, committing, and following through is what matters. At the end you're left with something that it's hard to imagine didn't exist before, a new peak that looks unassailable, but you know full well was just built of tiny steps.
Here's to all the little steps you're taking, friends. See you up there,