Happy Solstice, beauties! Whether you're revelling in the full flush of the southern summer, or like me, deep in the longest night of the year, savouring the prospect of the days lengthening again, I hope this finds you feeling grateful and inspired. These points in our planetary cycle always remind me of the vastness of the forces we're subject to, the same way that being carried by the ocean makes you feel like a bit of flotsam in a giant tub.
I made it back to Edmonton about a week and a half ago, and have been staying at my folks' place in the suburbs, tending to the many loose ends left by four long months on the road, and venturing out occasionally to see friends. My sister and her husband are home from Korea for Christmas, and it feels great to have the family together. It's especially wonderful to be off the road, and away from the stage. This last run was really productive, surprisingly lucrative even, but I'm not gonna lie, for the last couple weeks of it I was counting down the days.
In the new year my dear friend Pamela and I will be flying to Guatemala for the first time, to spend a couple weeks on the wander and off the clock, and I've been dusting off my Spanish chops for that. But I won't be stepping back up to a microphone until the end of January, when I'll be reuniting with the Second Chances for a few shows I'm really excited about:
Fri Jan 25 • Innisfail, AB • Ol' Moose Hall
Sat Jan 26 • Calgary, AB • Bow Valley Music Club
Sun Jan 27 • Sherwood Park, AB • R.Ouse Concert
Wed Jan 30 • Edmonton, AB • Alberta Grown Series
The details, as always, are on www.scottcook.net/news.php. In February I'll be flying out to Montreal for the Folk Alliance conference, and then Bram and I are headed back down under, to reunite with Skippy (who longtime readers will be delighted to know has been RAISED FROM THE DEAD!) and do a little tour with my new intercontinental stringband, The She'll Be Rights. For those unfamiliar with that delightful bit of Aussie English, it means "don't worry about it" or "it'll do", with a connotation somewhere on the spectrum between optimism and negligence. We'll be joined by our Australian comrades Esther Henderson on fiddle, and upright bassist Liz Frencham, who'll be opening the shows with solo sets of her own material. Liz is a formidable talent in every sense of the word, and a well-known presence on the Aussie folk scene. She's also got a lovely little studio in her backyard in tiny Trentham, Victoria, where we're gonna hole up and make a new album! But first we'll be tightening up the songs over a run of shows together:
Wed Feb 27 • Benalla, VIC • TBC
Thu Feb 28 • Canberra, ACT • Smith's Alternative
Fri-Sun Mar 1-3 • Cobargo, NSW • Cobargo Folk Festival
Thu Mar 7 • Bellingen, NSW • 5 Church Street
Fri Mar 8 • Kempsey, NSW • Hot Club at the Oddfellows Hall
Sat Mar 9 • Newcastle, NSW • House concert
Sun Mar 10 • Sydney, NSW • Southern Sydney Folk Club
Mon Mar 11 • Mia Mia, VIC • Burke and Wills Folk Festival
Tue Mar 12 • Ringwood, VIC • Victorian Folk Music Club
Fri-Sun Mar 15-17 • Warburton, VIC • The River Folk Festival
Thu Mar 21 • Apollo Bay, VIC • house concert
Fri Mar 22 • Ballarat, VIC • The Main Bar
Sat Mar 23 • Bendigo, VIC • The Old Church on the Hill
Fri Mar 29 • Healesville, VIC • Healesville House Concert
Sat Mar 30 • Melbourne, VIC • hall show with Men In Suits
Sun Mar 31 • Melbourne, VIC • finale at The Spotted Mallard, 4-7pm
There are still a few nights off that could be filled, if anyone really wants to bring us to their town, just drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll see if we can work something out.
It's coming up on two months' time since I last wrote you kind readers, and I've covered a lot of miles since then. From Toronto to Pittsburgh and down to Morgantown, West Virginia, to see my birthplace for the first time since I was four years old, and even drop off my absentee ballot at the county clerk's office. I visited a friend in Thomas, West Virginia, a dying coal-mining town transformed into an artists' mecca, where tourists now flock to shop on the weekends and old-timers are getting priced out. I spent a couple days in a cabin in Manns Choice, Pennsylvania, where my hosts are trying to make a go of a farm-to-table restaurant in a Wonder Bread town. And I drove from West Virginia through Baltimore to Connecticut, where I reunited with innumerable folkie pals and had the opportunity to play for the whole crowd at the NERFA (Northeast Regional Folk Alliance) conference.
On my way to a house concert in Pennsylvania the following week, I heard there was a big storm on its way. I set out toward Maryland the next day, thinking I'd get a hotel for the night if it got bad, but still pretty confident, as a Canadian who's driven through plenty of snowstorms. It hit hard when it hit, though, and I found myself stuck in rural Pennsylvania, with the road closed by fallen power lines, and all the other ways out of the valley almost impassably slippery. At one point I had nearly resigned myself to spending the night in the van, but was helped out by some country folks who apparently had more good sense than me. We didn't discuss politics. But it got me thinking about the two Americas, about the vast gulf between our languages and worlds, and those thoughts were never far from my mind for the rest of the trip.
I tried out not mentioning the President in my shows for a change. Not because I'm afraid of people's reactions, but just because I don't know if it accomplishes anything to get people's guard up, or make them feel unwelcome in a crowd of mostly liberal folkies. And because I know people are hurting. Even if they don't understand the sources of their troubles, and point the finger in the wrong direction. And well, because the President would like nothing more than to have everything be about him. Why give his fire any more oxygen?
Instead, I made a point of singing "If He Showed Up Now" at every show; a song about Jesus, who says in Matthew's gospel that taking care of the hungry, the homeless, the sick, and the imprisoned means way more than claiming to know him. Singing "The Come Heres and the Been Heres" by Chuck Brodsky (which felt like it was written for Thomas, West Virginia), and "The Christians and the Pagans" by Dar Williams, songs poking gentle fun at the smugness of both sides, songs to bring people together. Because the truth is, we need each other.
Speaking of songs like that, I heard a new one from Rachael Kilgour at NERFA that made me cry: "Dad Worked Hard"
After two of the best shows of the tour (and the year for that matter) in Maryland, I made my way through Harper's Ferry and down the length of the Appalachians to North Carolina. So many places I passed through were scenes of the Civil War. There were tangible reminders everywhere of how quickly this earthly garden can turn into a living hell, once people decide that the talking's done.
While I was down there I got to share a show with Jonathan Byrd and the Pickup Cowboys at The Kraken, an other-dimensional boondocks hole-in-the-wall outside Chapel Hill. Jonathan put a sign above the stage saying "This Is Paradise", a nod to Toronto's Cameron House and a plain statement of the fact that, as our pal Corin Raymond sings, "that's exactly where we are." Their crowd was amazing, word-thirsty and invested, and the show was off the hook. The surreal sturdiness of the songs. The daring artistry involved in singing about Bike Week in Daytona Beach and reciting mind-bending poetry in the same set. The astounding theatrics and rock n’ roll swagger that the Cowboys bring to every performance. And most inspiringly for me, the bigness of the tent they manage to open up, with Jonathan giving shouts out to a local Democratic organizer and a fella in an NRA hat, the generosity of spirit that sees the good in people, not people in the abstract sense, but real people, neighbours. I met die-hards there who’ve been coming every week, and Thanksgiving-weekenders who just stumbled on it, and everybody I talked to had the feeling they were part of something special, together in that divey little tavern in the highway dark.
It's healing work those boys are doing. Our culture's klaxon of bullshit is deafening. But when somebody feels like you're actually talking to them, it can open ears, and hearts.
I made my way north over the Blue Ridge from there, played three lovely shows in Ohio and then drove up to the Cook family farm in northern Michigan, where it was most definitely winter, and hard to believe that I'd been riding a bicycle around Charlotte in a t-shirt not a week before. I visited my Grandma in long-term care, for what might be the last time. I hung out at my Granddad's old store, Cook's Country Hardware, where the regulars linger, drink coffee and shoot the breeze for hours, and any ol' mechanical problem presents an opportunity for jerry-rigging ingenuity. My uncle told me about the rigamarole around my Grandma's care, how the home cost $9500 a month, and how they would drain everything she had (and it's a good thing the land they're all living on's already in his name) before her insurance kicked in. I could see the hurt in his eyes at the brutality of the system. He was drinking coffee out of a Make America Great Again cup. We didn't discuss politics.
I made a detour into Chicago to play a coffee house that's been presenting folk music every Friday for almost fifty years, and was delighted to see two folks who'd just stumbled on the Kraken that night in North Carolina. I sang to a love-filled living room of fellow freaks in Kalamazoo. I accompanied another uncle and aunt to the monthly steak night in a neighbourhood church basement full of cute older folks who didn't know genderqueer from kombucha. And I loved all of them.
Most of all, I just wanted them all to meet, and see the good in one another. We don't have many chances to do that these days. But family, hard as it is at times, well, that's a chance to do that. I imagine many of you are coming up on such a chance right now, friends. And I wish you luck.
Happy solstice, Hanukkah sameach, merry Christmas, and a blessed new year to you, pals. I couldn't do any of this traveling around without you, so thanks for that. Stay kind. Love one another, as best you can. And I'll see you down the road. Your fan,