This Travelogue's coming to you from Oodies Cafe in Bundaberg, Queensland, where I played the first show of this Australian ramble last night alongside dear friend, fine songteller, and beautiful soul Michael Waugh. I couldn't ask for a better guy to start the tour with. He sings straight from the heart, in the vernacular ("Aussie as, 'til I dinkum die"), about growing up in rural East Gippsland and all the complicated stuff that makes us human. They're touching, funny songs, nostalgic but unflinching, unafraid to address the hard stuff––toxic masculinity, homophobia, Australia's racist history, cancer, and dying––with big-hearted compassion. They're songs ordinary Aussies can relate to. They're songs white Australia needs to hear. And most importantly, they're love songs, from a man who loves his family, his people, and humankind. Michael Waugh makes me want to keep singing.
I landed in this country Tuesday morning, and was surprised to see snowcaps on the tallest mountains, never having been here so early in the season before. My retired mechanic buddy Tom picked me up at the Melbourne airport in my trusty Toyota van Skippy, who is amazingly still ready to ramble after a bunch of tinkering by Tom. Legends, the both of 'em!
Tom and I missioned out to Liz Frencham's place in Trentham where we loaded Skip up with boxes of CDs and all the requisite luxuries of van life before pointing him northeastward, to drop Tom off in Corowa and carry on alone. It felt pretty surreal, having just escaped the jaws of a record-breaking early snowstorm in Alberta four days ago, to be barreling through the sunny Australian countryside. I made it to Jugiong the first night, camped by the Murrumbidgee River, then onward to Woy Woy for a stop at my vacationing friends Michael and Ina's lovely oasis, where I finished "Fellas, Get Out the Way" a few years back. After another long day behind the wheel, I made my younger self proud by van-camping in a rest area, and climbed back into the driver's seat at sunrise for the last stretch of the nearly 30-hour journey up the country. Last night, though, Michael was kind enough to get me a hotel room, and while I probably wouldn't have forked over for it myself, I was mighty grateful for it. And after three days listening to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Democracy Now! podcasts, Pimsleur Spanish and Chinese lessons, and a straight binge of the Heaven's Gate podcast (about the cult who committed mass suicide to get on a spaceship following Comet Hale-Bopp), I was mighty grateful to have some real live company for a change too.
We've got one more show together tonight, then I've got two on my own, and by next weekend it'll be back to a trio, with Bram flying into Brisbane and Liz driving up to join us. We've got a pretty nice schedule together, including a bunch of festivals we haven't played before, but there are still a few choice dates hanging open in VIC and SA, so if you're keen to host, or know someone who might be, please do get in touch! I won't be back down under 'til March of 2021, and I'll be playing solo then, with the Festival of Small Halls, so I won't be able to add any dates of my own around that tour.
Long story short, if you want to catch the She'll Be Rights in action, or bring us to your town, this'll be your last chance for a good long time. Here's the schedule so far:
Sat Oct 5 • Hervey Bay, QLD • house concert with Michael Waugh
Sun Oct 6 • Maryborough, QLD • Brolga Theatre Riverside Stage (solo)
Tue Oct 8 • Brisbane, QLD • Brisbane Unplugged (solo) with Christine Venner-Westaway
Fri Oct 11 • Nambour, QLD • Blackbox Theatre with the She'll Be Rights!
Sat Oct 12 • Nanango, QLD • The Shed
Sun Oct 13 • Tintenbar, NSW • Tintenbar UpFront
Wed Oct 16 • Shoal Bay, NSW • house concert
Thu Oct 17 • Wingham, NSW • Wingham Akoostik pre-party
Fri-Sun Oct 18-20 • Kangaroo Valley, NSW • Kangaroo Valley Folk Fest
Tue Oct 22 • Candelo, NSW • Candelo Cafe
Wed Oct 23 • Moruya, NSW • St. John's Parish Hall
Thu Oct 24 • Newcastle, NSW • Whitebridge house concert
Fri-Sun Oct 25-27 • Dorrigo, NSW • Dorrigo Folk and Bluegrass Festival
Tue Oct 29 • Sydney, NSW • Leichhardt Bowlo
Wed Oct 30 • Stanwell Park, NSW • SOL fundraiser at CWA Hall
Thu Oct 31 • ???, VIC • OPEN DATE, anyone want to host?
Fri-Mon Nov 1-4 • Maldon, VIC • Maldon Folk Fest
Thu Nov 7 • Violet Town, VIC • Babblers Cafe
Fri-Sun Nov 8-10 • Majors Creek, NSW • Majors Creek Folk Fest
Wed Nov 13 • ???, VIC • OPEN DATE
Thu Nov 14 • ???, VIC • OPEN DATE
Fri Nov 15 • ???, VIC • OPEN DATE
Sat Nov 16 • Healesville, VIC • Healesville Music Fest
Sun Nov 17 • Glenlyon, VIC • afternoon house concert
Fri Nov 22 • Eaglemont, VIC • house concert
Sat Nov 23 • Mildura, VIC • The Club
Sun Nov 24 • ???, SA • secret show!!!
Tue Nov 26 • ???, SA • OPEN DATE
Wed Nov 27 • ???, SA • OPEN DATE
Thu Nov 28 • ???, VIC • OPEN DATE
Fri Nov 29 • Melbourne, VIC • St. George's Hall with Men In Suits
Sat Nov 30 • Albury, NSW • By The Banks Music Festival
Sun Dec 1 • Yackandandah, VIC • Arts Yack show at Yack Station
After this tour wraps up I'm headed to Taiwan for a month of mostly downtime, to work on the book for the upcoming album. It's proving to be a bigger undertaking than I thought, both getting the recording finished, and delving into some deep personal stuff with the writing, but I'm committing to a March release, and I'll be taking pre-orders during this Australian tour. In January I'm happy to announce that I'll be visiting New Zealand for the first time, and it looks like I'll be spending February back on Taiwan. More on all that in next month's Hobo Travelogue, but for now there's lots in the rearview to tell you about.
The last stretch of my northern summer was full-on, but full of good things, so I really can't complain. Justin Farren, his wonderful partner Kerry, and their hella precocious three-year-old Amelia drove up from California for a run around, and it was an unmitigated joy to spend a couple weeks in their company, to revel in Justin's songcraft every night, and to show them some of my favourite parts of the world. We played to small but enthusiastic audiences in Vernon, Keremeos, and Castlegar, and took the ferry across Kootenay Lake to sing for a bunch of kind folks in the lovely lodge at Timbuktu. There were open hearts everywhere we went.
Canmore Folk Fest kindly co-produced a show for us in the theatre at artsPlace that Pamela came down to join us for, and we sat together in the top row and laughed and cried through Justin's whole set. Like a lot of people discovering his music for the first time, me saying that he's as good as it gets had still left her somewhat unprepared for how deeply moving it was. I've heard him over a dozen times now, and he still made me cry every night.
Last time I opted not to post any Youtube videos, but I've just gotta share this one, my favourite from the tour, and truly, my current favourite song in the whole world, "A Little Less Time".
His daughter Amelia knows pretty much all the words to all of his songs, and would sing and dance along throughout the shows, then stay up for as long as the party went on every night. Regardless of how late we got to bed, she was still always up and back into it by 8am. Touring with a three-year old's a far cry from my debauched old days ;)
Along the tour I kept hearing from people who were at Salmon Arm Roots and Blues, where my pal Irish Mythen closed out the festival with a singalong of "Pass It Along," with Valdy and a whole bunch of other performers onstage, and the words up on the screen for the crowd to sing. It gave me no end of songwritery joy to know that the song was out in the world doing its thing in such good hands.
Pamela set the Farrens up at her place for a four-day stay in Edmonton, and we had a couple lovely local shows: for a few hundred folks on the lawn at Festival Place's Patio Series, and for a cozy crowd in Riverdale House, just a couple blocks from Pamela's place. On the Friday we drove down to Medicine Hat to play Ye Olde Jar Bar, a gig in a memorabilia-stuffed garage that happens to be one of the best venues in Western Canada. Our hosts Piet and Ina offered to host at the last minute, seeing as we had a Friday gaping open, and it ended up being the show that put the whole tour in the black. God bless the Jar Bar.
We rounded out the weekend at Waynestock in Wayne, Alberta, a tiny town reached by eleven bridges crossing the Rosebud River as it winds through the coulees of Alberta's badlands. Justin played a low-key set in the Saloon, with no stage, a dodgy PA, and a flow of chatty patrons ordering drinks, but we did our best to spread the word to our pals, who crowded in close and sat on the floor, and he managed to pull off something supernatural. I don't think there was a dry eye in the place by the time he was done.
That night we hung out at Swear By the Moon's campsite with a bunch of nears and dears, catching up and swapping songs around a bunch of candles that made a nice stand-in for a campfire, and I felt ever so grateful for my family of friends.
I had a couple more days around Edmonton, and even managed to take in a couple Fringe plays with Pamela, but before I'd even settled back in I had to fly out to New York for a run that I'd started planning almost a year before. The first stop was Turtle Hill Folk Festival outside Rochester, New York: a lovely thing built around a weekly group sing, with a bunch of instructional workshops during the days and three acts on the main stage each night. It was a real honour to sing for (and with) that audience, and they kindly relieved me of 101 CDs on the first stop of the trip!
From there I headed to New York City to play my first-ever gig there, for John Platt's On Your Radar series, a show I'd attended back in 2008 and thought I might like to play some day. A bunch of folks from Falcon Ridge showed up, and I was pretty tickled to know people in New York. Over the next five days I played a house concert in Baltimore, MD; a Unitarian church in the countryside of Wyoming, PA; another house concert in an old Philadelphia mansion that now houses circus performers; a concert series in a Unitarian church on Long Island, and a packed house concert in Dover, NH for some folks (also Unitarians!) who'd found me at Falcon Ridge.
I was contending with some familiar, but newly invigorated, doubts along the trip, some of which I'm writing about in the book that'll accompany the new album. But I sure was grateful for the people's belief in the power of song. Even if they didn't realize it, we were holding each other up.
Gigging six nights in a row can be tiring, especially when you're meeting a ton of people and having heartfelt conversations every night, but my new friend Eliza (who I'd also met at Falcon Ridge) managed to find me a spot for four days in solitude, in one of her students' dads' incredibly luxurious guest suite. The kindness of strangers never ceases to amaze me.
I played for Eliza's students one of those days, and though I get way more nervous about getting up in front of a bunch of schoolkids than a barroom full of grownups, I had a good time. I had the honour of opening for Garnet Rogers in a Unitarian church in Morristown, NJ the next night, and the following night I went back to NYC for a show at People's Voice Cafe, a social justice-themed concert series in a Unitarian Church in Midtown Manhattan. God (or Goddess, or gods, or no god) bless the Unitarians!
I took the bus into NYC around lunchtime that day to have a look around Manhattan, and walked for a while on the High Wire, a bit of disused overhead train track that's been converted into a public park, with gardens and trees (both deliberately planted and self-seeded), green spaces, and public art. I marvelled at the parking garages where they stack the cars in a grid five high, dug the old buildings, marvelled at the rusting infrastructure and the ports and piers on the Hudson, and feasted my eyes on the people, the panoply of styles, the cacophony of noise, and the vast heap of human dreams and yearnings turning in a city that size. After walking for quite a while, realizing just how big Manhattan Island is, and being passed by plenty of people on blue Citi Bikes, I took a quick look on the app store, and found out I could rent one for free on my first day! Within five minutes I was zipping along with the throng, gulping eyefuls of the city like a dog with its head out the car window and its tongue hanging out. I rode to Battery Park and saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time. I rode to Wall Street, and to Ground Zero, where the footprints of 1 and 2 World Trade Center have been turned into fountains with the names of the dead inscribed around the railings. I rode through Chinatown, dug the Empire State Building, and weaved through traffic up Broadway. It was scary and awesome.
After the show I had a brisk walk to the bus station and a couple rooftop beers with fellow folksingers Jean Rohe and Ben Grosscup, and then got back on a bus out of the big town. I look forward to returning April 18 for Voices In the Heights in Brooklyn, and I might even stay a bit longer, we'll see!
The next day I drove to Ithaca to play America's longest-running live folk radio show, Bound For Glory, where I sang my version of "Walk That Lonesome Valley," with the verse about Daniel Berrigan, only to find out that he'd spoken multiple times on that very stage! I drove out after the show, crossing the border around 3am and making it to Toronto, albeit exhaustedly, in time for my flight home.
The rush was on account of tight scheduling on the other end; I had just four days at home before I had to leave for two last shows with the Second Chances (a great return visit to Olde Smokey's in Rocky Mountain House, and my long-dreamed-of first appearance at the Beneath the Arch concert series in Turner Valley) before my flight to Oz the next day. That's how my news has been sounding for a while now, I know. Plenty of people ask me (and have been asking me for a long time) how I do it. The short answer's that I love it. But the longer answer's more complicated, and it involves the difficulty of learning to slow down. It's a personal struggle of mine, and a broader problem in our culture. It's part of what I'm writing about for this book. But it'll have to wait for the book, 'cause I've gotta wrap this thing up!
One more bit of news I wanna share with you before I go: my dear friend and longtime inspiration Corin Raymond's putting out a new album called Dirty Mansions (https://corinraymond.com/dirty-mansions), with a package that stretches the very concept of liner notes, even by our standards––a 264-page book! In a time when people are saying the CD (and maybe even the whole idea of an album) is dead, he's doubling down. He and I truly believe that we lost something when we got all the music in the world at our fingertips for next-to-free: we lost some of the joy of discovery; the foreplay, as Corin calls it; and in some sense, the value that an album used to have, back when we used to buy them, put them on, and listen to the whole thing. All that old joy's still available to us, it just means unplugging from what they tell us must be "the new model of music distribution"––a system that pays artists fractions of pennies, and cheapens everything it touches.
Our mutual friend Emma Jane's also leading a deliberate revolt against the streaming platforms with another deliciously anachronistic idea: a CD Club! Remember Columbia House? It's pretty much the same idea, but better curated. For $25/month, you’ll receive a brand new CD in the mail each month, chosen by the ever-tasteful Emma Jane, in beautiful CD CLUB branding, the first of which will be Dirty Mansions. If you're up for a new (old) kinda of musical journey, you can sign up here.
Alright, I've got a tour to get back to! If you've got friends in Oz who'd like the songs, I'd love to meet 'em! All the dates and deets, as they're confirmed, are on my news page.
Keep shining, friends! The world needs your light.