It's been three months without word from me, so I figure I better say hello while I have the chance. I thoroughly intended to write Travelogues for July and August, but what do you know, I was just too busy! Remember how I ended the last one by talking about slowing down?!? Old habits die hard.
I've been back home in Alberta for a week or so, house-sitting for my folks, and am setting out for Washington tomorrow for two shows that I'd really appreciate your help spreading word about if you've got friends in the area. In fact, the same goes for all the upcoming shows! The ol' grapevine's the only publicist I've got.
Mon Sep 25 - Canmore, AB - songwriting workshop
Tue Sep 26 - Sicamous, BC - Owlhead Creek B&B
Wed Sep 27 - Ashcroft, BC - UniTea Tea Room and Cafe
Thu Sep 28 - Keremeos, BC - The Old Grist Mill
Fri Sep 29 - Chilliwack, BC - open mic feature at Tractorgrease Cafe
Sat Sep 30 - Snohomish, WA - Tim Noah Thumbnail Theater
Sun Oct 1 - Bellingham, WA - The Green Frog
After that I'll be back here briefly, for two events I'm really excited about: a Saturday afternoon show at the The Black Dog Freehouse (which I haven't played in five years, but attend pretty much every Saturday I'm in town), and the second annual Wide Cut Weekend in Calgary! Allison Brock of CKUA Radio fame and her crew have assembled an amazing lineup of talent from across the spectrum of country, roots, and Americana, for shows all weekend in various Calgary venues. Get yourself a wristband and a bicycle and let's rock!
Shortly thereafter, I'm flying out to Ontario for two weeks out there, and right after that, I'll be following the summer once again to Australia! I'll be on that side of the world for six months, including two months in Taiwan, and a final month or so back in Oz with the mighty Corin Raymond. Here are the dates left before I'm gone:
Sat Oct 7 - Edmonton, AB - Afternoon show at the Black Dog with the Second Chances
Fri-Sun Oct 13-15 - Calgary, AB - Wide Cut Weekend with the Second Chances
Thu-Sun Oct 19-22 - Mississauga, ON - Folk Music Ontario conference
Sun Oct 22 - Picton, ON - Acoustic Grill, opening for Greenbank
Mon Oct 23 - Amherst Island, ON - The Lodge, with Ali McCormick opening
Tue Oct 24 - Toronto, ON - The Cameron House, one set, 8pmish
Wed Oct 25 - London, ON - private event
Thu Oct 26 - Eganville, ON - house concert
Fri Oct 27 - Pefferlaw, ON - house concert
Sat Oct 28 - Ottawa, ON - Tunes After Noon at The Black Irish Pub, 1pm
Sat Oct 28 - Ottawa, ON - Little Angels Blood Cancer Fund benefit concert
Sun Oct 29 - Peterborough, ON - Gilmour Street Music Hall house concert
All the details, and dates as they're added, can be found on http://www.scottcook.net/
Last I wrote you, friends, it was from Woody Guthrie's birthplace in Oklahoma. A lot of miles have passed under the wheels since then, homeward to Canada, back to the States, back to Canada, back to the States, and back to Canada again. I'll try my best to keep the recap brief.
Along the road home I played sweet shows at Acoustic Alcove in Kansas City and The Warming House in Minneapolis, and then made a run through the Canadian Rockies with a new songwriter friend I met at Kerrville Folk Festival, RaShelle Myra, who took me up on an offer to come visit the North Country Fair. It was great to welcome an American who'd never visited our country, to experience it anew through her fresh eyes, and to be reminded again that Canadians really are a pretty cute bunch.
The Fair was awesome as always. There are definitely more kids around all the time, and I'm grateful for their good influence on us. We're all growing up together. The Second Chances and I closed the festival on Sunday, a huge honour for me and something I never dreamed I'd get to do when I first attended twenty-some years ago. I also managed to leave the Fair without a post-festival hangover this year, for the first time in a while, and was really glad for that too.
The next couple days were a flurry of activity as usual, getting back on my feet at home and getting everything ready for the Official Unofficial North Country Fair Afterbender, which turned ten this year. I was stressing the eff out all day, as I'm prone to do, wondering whether all the hassle was worth it, and how in the heck I was gonna get my life together over the brief time I had at home before my bicycle tour started in August. I'd been spending a ton of time researching venues along the coast, only to find out they were already booked or otherwise unable to accommodate my inflexible (because pedal-powered) itinerary. That night, as the Afterbender was in swing, I decided to throw in the towel on the bike tour, at least for this year. And as the evening went on, with performances from Joe Nolan, Picture the Ocean, Carolyn Mark, Bill Bourne, the Jay Gilday Band, Scotty Dunbar, the Derina Harvey Band, Natalie B, Wes Borg, Swear By the Moon, Nanise, and of course my ever-lovin' Long Weekends, I remembered how much fun the Afterbender is, and resolved to keep the tradition alive.
Speaking of traditions, we've been celebrating Canada Day with bikes and beers for a few years now, always ending up at Steve and Zach's place in the river valley for the fireworks and a campfire. Their whole block got evicted last year, when the province bought up the lots to make parkland out of it. Undeterred, Steve dropped off a pile of wood earlier in the day, and we met up post-fireworks for a rogue campfire behind the abandoned houses. It was pretty much the best thing ever.
Shortly thereafter, I flew to Michigan for Blissfest and a few other gigs. That's a whole new M.O. for me, flying and renting a car rather than touring my way down and back, and it was kinda refreshing to make my yearly visit to Michigan in two weeks rather than a month and a half. In Grand Rapids I opened for Mark Lavengood's Bluegrass Bonanza, and had a performance coaching session the next day with Rob Reider, who gave me an incredible gift in our short two hours together. I'd been intuitively noticing some energetic blocks onstage, some ways in which I wasn't fully present or open to my listeners, and he zeroed in on them right away, as well as pointing out some unconscious body language that gets in the way of my message. His coaching style is direct, maybe even a bit rough for some people, but it was worth every dollar I spent and more. I'd encourage any performers passing through that way, and interested in going deeper, to seek him out.
Blissfest was great, hanging with the extended Cook clan and all their kids, the oldest of whom are knocking on the door of puberty! I managed to leave there without a hangover as well, and it was a sweet relief to see how much of my regular post-festival blues were just tied to over-imbibing. After the festival I played a house concert in Traverse City alongside May Erlewine, who's long been a hero of mine, and wondered again at how everything comes around.
Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor treated me sweetly as well, and soon enough I was on a plane back to Alberta for Wild Mountain Music Festival. Corin Raymond and Scotty Dunbar were back out (they'd both been at North Country Fair as well), along with a whole bunch more old friends, and it was another wonderful year, the tenth for that festival. I got word on Sunday morning that my mom's mom had passed away, and while it was a shock, I was glad that I'd been able to visit her in May, and that she didn't suffer much. Hold your loved ones close, friends.
I had a couple more weeks around home before our trio tour of BC kicked off, and funny enough, I found myself attending South Country Fair and Sasquatch Gathering, even though I wasn't playing either one. I must be in the right line of work, seeing as I end up doing pretty much the same things whether I'm working or not!
Before we left town, we played for a crowd of 500+ folks for the patio series at Festival Place in Sherwood Park, and broke our CD sales record from last time. It was impressed upon me again how many ordinary people, who aren't themselves musicians or otherwise plugged into the local independent scene, would be into it if only they were introduced. We've just gotta figure out how to get the music to them.
The next day Bram and I loaded up and shipped out to BC, rejoining Scotty Dunbar in Prince George for another sweet yard concert at our buddies Glenn and Dana's place. The next day we picked up our substitute bass player Lindsay Bueckert from the airport in Prince George and headed to Wells for a long-overdue family reunion at the ArtsWells Festival of All Things Art. I missed it last year and the year before, so I could barely contain my excitement at driving back down Pooley Street and landing in the hug-a-thon that is ArtsWells. Lots of old friends of the festival were back this year, including Corin and Dave Newberry, who'd also been way too long away. We played the Sunset Theatre, a room I've always wanted to play, to a packed house on Friday night, and then the Pub on Sunday, with plenty of music, dancing, swims in the river, and hangs and jams outside the Nest in between. Again, I managed to make it through the long weekend without a hangover, which felt like a particularly noteworthy achievement considering how rough I was by Tuesday in years past. I saw a ton of music over the weekend, but the hands-down best in my books was Jenny Ritter's set in the Sunset Theatre Saturday night, backed by members of her band and Aerialists, and later, by her Vancouver-based choir the Kingsgate Chorus! Such intricate arrangements, homespun charm, and wilderness in her words, it was an absolute delight.
We carried on around BC from there, paying visits to a bunch of our favourite spots, though it wasn't nearly so scenic as usual, with the smoke from wildfires all over the Pacific Northwest filling the valleys with a bleak grey haze. We had lovely stops anyway, with the Second Chances getting schooled on chess by our erudite, well-traveled host in Grand Forks, and all of us getting tickled to death by our new little friend Gideon in Nelson. Just a few gems from his mouth:
To me when I arrived: "You're so much bigger than last time!"
To Bram: "You're the smartest one, right?"
To Lindsay: "Are you gonna dance?" (Lindsay says yes.) "Then I'm gonna dance close to you."
And to all of us, waking up in the same room the next morning: "What a big family! So many grownups! Who's the daddy?"
Thankfully the smoke wasn't hanging around the islands as much, and Lindsay, a prairie girl who had NEVER BEEN ON AN ISLAND, got to experience some of that beauty. On Cortes we met some Americans who took us out for a sail the next day, explained some of the basics of the art, and got me pretty deeply hooked on the whole notion. Look out for sailboat tours of the west coast in the future!
We finished it out and left it all on the stage in the rooftop common room of our friends Zonnis' apartment building in Victoria, and the next day I bade Bram and Lindsay goodbye at the airport. I had a birthday breakfast with my old friends Jen and Scott in Sidney, and that evening I got on a boat to Port Angeles, Washington, where I would've been embarking on the bicycle tour if it had come together. As it turned out, I was so glad it hadn't. For one, the ever-present smoke would've made it hellish touring on a bicycle, and seeing as I'm still struggling to catch up to myself with bookings and such, I can only imagine it'd be worse if I'd spent the better part of every day riding for the last month or so. Crucially, I also would've missed the eclipse, or at least not been in the path of totality, which is pretty much the same thing as missing it altogether. As it was, I had time off with no plans, so I drove southward into the centre of the path where I found a county fairground to camp in.
I'd read a fair bit about the eclipse beforehand, about how the sky would get dark enough that you could see stars, how streetlights would come on, crickets would sing, birds would fall silent and fly home to roost, and the temperature would drop, but really, nothing could have prepared me for how emotionally affecting it was, once the moon totally covered the sun and I took off my dark glasses to find myself laughing and weeping at the same time. I posted a photo that didn't do it justice at all, but it seemed to catch a lot of people's attention, so here's me, from that morning:
"Oh my god, that was the coolest thing I've ever witnessed. The temperature dropped, the light got dusky in a way I've never seen, the planets appeared, and the dogs and humans started freaking out. Then suddenly the moon blacked out the sun, the shimmering corona blazed around it, the birds stopped singing, a flock of buzzards flew confusedly homeward, sunset extended all around the horizon, and there were tears streaming down my face.
Then a brilliant diamond ring, and it was over as soon as it happened. Nothing could have prepared me for that. No vast starry night has ever shown me our situation on this spinning rock with such bone-chilling immediacy. And I was simultaneously struck with compassion for my fellow humans, who had annoyed me only hours earlier with their idle chatter outside my van while I tried to sleep in.
Still high afterward, I'm painfully aware of how lucky all this is. That my travels afforded me the freedom to witness something so breathtaking. To be born in a time when we can predict celestial events, and explain them without reference to omens and superstition! To be born on a world where eclipses are possible at all, through the curious coincidence between the relative size and distance of our sun and moon! And to still have hope within our fumbling, primate grasp."
I went out to the coast from there, and spent a few idle days riding bicycle and exploring, before heading to Portland to apartment-sit for a dear friend who was headed to Burning Man. I stayed a week there, trying to catch up on email and bookings, riding my bike around the city, hanging out with some old friends, and making some new ones, before it was time to shove off for Sisters Song Academy, held in an arts centre by a crater lake just outside Sisters, Oregon, in the week leading up to the festival.
I'd been a little intimidated by the prospect of being a song camp instructor for the first time, especially considering some of the heavy hitters who'd be my fellow teachers, but on the first night the Creative Director Brad reminded us that we were all chosen to be there for a reason, and that all we needed to do was pass on some of the lessons we've been lucky enough to pick up along the way. After watching a couple classes on the first day of camp, it occurred to me that I'd already been a teacher for six years in Taiwan, and I really had no reason to be scared. It ended up being an amazing, heart-opening, deeply teaching experience for me, inspired not only by the incredibly talented faculty but also by the talent, honesty, and bravery of the campers. Unfortunately, the smoke got worse while we were there, and they eventually made the tough call of cancelling the festival and cutting song camp short by a day. It was a letdown, and undoubtedly a crushing blow for the festival financially, but we reminded ourselves how lucky we were not to be in Houston, which was flooded horribly, or losing our homes to fire, or in the path of Hurricane Irma, which was about to make landfall in Florida. You kinda get the feeling that Mother Earth's sloughing us off these days, don't you?
I hung around Sisters for two more nights, singing karaoke and jamming later on with the other instructors and some locals in the saloon that first night, and playing an impromptu show alongside my new friends Martha Scanlan, Chuck Cannon, and Amy Helm (that's right, Levon's daughter) and her band for the townsfolk the second night. It's a wonderful, resourceful community, and I really hope to visit again soon.
My friend Bill Lippe (a regular festival-goer from Seattle who I'd met at FAR-West last year) got in touch to ask if I'd like to play a house concert at his place instead, and that saved the whole trip from being a financial loss. Once again, the house concert hosts are such a big part of what keeps this whole thing alive.
I sped home to Alberta from Seattle, for a run of five shows opening for the Folk Road Show, an international group of four songwriters: Pieter Van Vliet and Olaf Caarls from the Netherlands, Benjamin James Caldwell from New Zealand, and Dominique Fricot from Canada. I already loved those gents, but I love them even more after sharing some road with them. And I applaud their determination, trying to eke a living out of a traveling folk show with four mouths to feed!
This week I've mostly just been trying to catch up on work, which is feeling less and less manageable these days, but I also got the welcome news that Further Down the Line was nominated for a Canadian Folk Music Award in the English Songwriter of the Year category, alongside Oh Susanna, Steven Fearing, Ken Yates, and Amelia Curran. Whoever wins, it's an honour to be nominated in such talented company.
Two other bits of news: longtime readers of this Travelogue will know that I've done a lot of touring with Jez Hellard and various forms of his Djukella Orchestra, and I'm happy to tell you that their new live album, D'rect from the Shire, is available for order and download, and they were kind enough to include two of my songs on it!
I also want to give you a heads up that my Aussie friend Mandy Connell is coming out with a series of spontaneous collaborations with other artists called An Otherwise Quiet Room, and I'm in episode two!
Alright, that's it for now, friends. I hope that you're enjoying the season, wherever you are, and being kind to yourself, as I'm learning to do. There's a whole lot of dark in this world, I'm glad you're one of the lights.