Hey friends, I'm writing you my parents' place just outside Edmonton, and I can't tell you how good it feels to be home. I trust this Christmas finds you in good company, whether enjoying the flush of summer on the other side of this spinning rock, or curled up somewhere cozy on this side.
As for me, I'll be spending the next two months around Alberta. That's a sigh of relief in the form of a sentence. I've certainly got my work cut out for me: putting the finishing touches on the book for the new album, and releasing it with a string of dates around the province, as well as catching up on taxes, hitting the gym hard, and building a lap steel guitar with my Dad. But work, of the stationary, shoulder-to-the-wheel kind, is actually the thing I'm lusting after most after this epic year of travel and dissolute living.
It's been just six weeks since I last wrote you, friends, and though you may not believe me, I'm gonna celebrate Christmas (and this Hobo Travelogue's punctuality) by writing a relatively short one!
Before I get to last several weeks of roads, though, I want to take quick look ahead, to the Alberta dates on the horizon. As you may have gathered, I'm in a bit of a frantic rush to finish the new album, Further Down the Line, in time for our dates around Alberta. My CD packages have been getting bigger as the years go by, and this one's far from bucking that trend. Rather than a CD wallet with a booklet, this one's a real book (with a CD slipped into the back cover), containing a long look back, in words and pictures, on this last decade of rambling.
The Second Chances and I will be releasing the album with a string of theatre dates around Alberta, and I'm so excited to bring it to the province! But first, we'll be ringing out the old year at McDougall United Church, in the good musical company of Gateway Festival City Fiddlers, Back Porch Swing, the Justine Vandergrift Trio, Benjamin Williams, Twin Peaks, Daniel Gervais, Clint Pelletier, and Jeremiah McDade. We're just singing a few songs, and we won't have the CDs for this one, but if you bring a donation (cash preferred) for the food bank, I can promise you'll go home with a heartful of love. I'll also be singing a couple tunes for the annual Hank and Townes tribute from 6-11pm at the Black Dog the next day. But the big event, our hometown release, will be January 27 at the Shell Theatre in Fort Saskatchewan. We're gonna charter a party bus to bring you Edmonton people out and back, so please, mark it in your calendar!
The Alberta CD release dates are as follows (all theatre shows unless otherwise noted):
Thu Jan 5 - Barrhead - Barrhead Arts Council
Fri Jan 6 - Westlock - Westlock Cultural Arts Theatre Society
Sat Jan 7 - Edson - Chautauqua Arts Council
Wed Jan 11 - Brooks - Newell Concert Series
Thu Jan 12 - Daysland - DaysArts show at the Palace Theatre
Fri-Sat Jan 13-14 - Wainwright - Wainwright Encore Entertainment Society
Sun Jan 15 - Vermillion - Vermillion Allied Arts w/ the Long Weekends
Thu Jan 19 - Slave Lake - Stage North w/ the Long Weekends
Fri Jan 20 - Drayton Valley - Eleanor Pickup Arts Centre w/ the Long Weekends
Sat Jan 21 - Red Deer? - TBA
Sun Jan 22 - Whitecourt - Sweet Things Cafe
Fri Jan 27 - Fort Saskatchewan - Edmonton area CD release at the Shell Theatre with guests
Sat Jan 28 - Forestburg - Forestburg Concert Series
Thu Feb 2 - Consort - Neutral Hills Arts Alive
Fri Feb 3 - Calgary - Ironwood Stage with Carter Felker
Sat Feb 4 - Lethbridge - Lethbridge Folk Club
Sun Feb 5 - Canmore - TBA
As always, the details for those shows are on www.scottcook.net/news.php. After that, I'll be flying down to the Folk Alliance International conference in Kansas City, and then we'll be flying to Australia for five weeks of trio tour, which I'm already super pumped about.
But for now, to bring you up to date on the last month and a half of roads! Last I wrote, Donald Trump had just been elected president. I tried to strike a conciliatory note in my Travelogue, in hopes that Americans (many of whom were as shocked as I was) would at least have a peek outside their bubbles and try to understand each other, rather than just write all Trump's voters off as racist and sexist. Nevertheless, I did lose a few subscribers that day, not for being overly inclusive, but rather, for calling Trump a fascist. To be fair, I called Clinton a fascist too, so at least it was equal-opportunity offending. And to be absolutely clear, Trump's recent appointments of crony capitalists to the highest ranks of his cabinet have already proven my assessment quite correct. But you just can't please everybody all the time.
The news of Leonard Cohen's death the next day hit me harder, to be honest. He was a huge inspiration to my younger self, moreso than any of the bright lights we've lost this year. Before I'd even heard his music, I'd come across his first three books of poetry in the Sherwood Park library, and they blew my 14 year-old mind. I'd never read anything so simultaneously edgy, racy, and righteously prophetic.
It was a testament to his commitment how long he stayed on the road, and how long he stayed on stage in his shows those last years. With some artistic geniuses, it kills them. For Leonard Cohen, it saved him. And his song "Anthem" became my saving grace in those strange days after the election:
The birds they sang, at the break of day
Start again, I heard them say
Don't dwell on what has passed away
Or what is yet to be
Yeah the wars, they will be fought again
The holy dove, She will be caught again
Bought and sold and bought again
The dove is never free
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in
We asked for signs, the signs were sent
The birth betrayed, the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood of every government
Signs for all to see
I can't run no more with that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places say their prayers out loud
But they've summoned, they've summoned up a thundercloud
And they're going to hear from me
I had a really nice week in Germany and the Netherlands, meeting up with a German gal I'd met in Australia who tattooed "Pass It Along" on her arm(!), playing a couple sweet venues in the tiny Dutch towns of Steendam and Spijkerboor, surprising my Winnipeg pals JD Edwards and Cara Luft (aka The Small Glories) during their show at the historic Taverne De Waag in Haarlem, and doing a wonderful show, organized by a fan I'd never met, at an old monastery in Woerden.
Back in England, I reunited with Jez and Nye to do a sweet Woodburner show in London; play the last foreseeable Sofa Sessions show for a packed house in Kettering; sing for lovely listening audiences in Bath, Priddy, Stroud, and Glastonbury; revisit the wonderful Priston Village Hall; and close things out with a bang for a capacity crowd at the palatial King's Weston House near Bristol, alongside our good friend Nathan Ball. On the last afternoon we sang for the good people crammed into the Square and Compass in Worth Matravers, truly one of the most charming character pubs I've ever seen, then I was off toward Gatwick to spend the night at a hotel before flying to South Africa.
If you're interested, I took some photos along the ramble, and you can have a look here.
En route to South Africa, I had a one-night stopover in Dubai, and enjoyed exploring the city a bit before I had to fly out. There are a few photos from the city, and a bunch from the flight down the length of the African continent. I've never been happier to have a window seat!
I was received in Johannesburg by my long-lost Anglers bandmate Duncan, who informed me that thirteen years had passed since we last parted ways at the end of our Canadian tour. It was hard to believe it'd been so long, but we picked up right where we left off, as you do with good friends. He'd managed to set me up a last-minute show in Joburg, when the fella who was working on his guitar told him he'd lost his headliner for his monthly folk night, and it was a heartwarming welcome to that new land. I spent the next several days hanging with Dunc, seeing some of the sights and enjoying a slower pace for a change, and capped it off with a packed house concert for 65 folks in his studio.
Dunc set me up with a new phone (a gift from his friend) and a rough plan for my travels, and I set off in a rented car, stopping first at Golden Gate National Park and then Nambiti Game Reserve, two mind-meltingly beautiful days that were my first experience of the African countryside. I saw baboons, blesbok, wildebeest, red hartebeest, impala, inyala, kudu, a secretary bird, a black rhino, ostriches, zebra, elephants, buffalo, neon rainbow-coloured locusts, guinea fowl, jackals, hippos, warthogs, giraffes, waterbuck, vultures, and five lions, right up close. Later on in the trip I also saw a mongoose, vervet monkeys, rock hyraxes, and seals.
It wasn't until the I got out into the back country, though, that I really felt like I was seeing Africa. Tiny little villages of mud huts and corrugated tin shacks, women carrying loads on their heads, little kids bathing in streams and waving as I passed, goats everywhere, you know the scene. I drove southwestward through the Transkei, a Bantustan that was granted independence by the Apartheid regime, but wasn't recognized by the rest of the world (as that would mean supporting Apartheid), and has remained largely undeveloped. Dunc had found me a place to stay, but I hadn't really looked into it, or realized just how far off the beaten track it was.
I was way down the back roads before I left the pavement, and must've spent another two hours or more getting lost on broken dirt roads before I ran out of phone reception. The village I was looking for was spelled 'Nqileni', which I had no idea how to pronounce, unaware that the 'q' was actually a post-alveolar click. I drove back to where my phone worked and called the lodge, but was having a hard time understanding the directions. After a while driving in the gathering dark, I ended up talking to a high school kid who offered to show me the way. He hopped in and we started driving, trying our best to make understand each other with his broken English. He asked when I'd be coming back, and I told him it'd be the next day. Apparently having nothing else to do, he asked if he could come along and sleep at the lodge. I told him I really didn't know. After a while he told me we'd already passed his village, and he wanted to go back to his family, so I drove him as far as I could, until the road was impassable from a landslide, and he gave me rough directions to Nquileni. I made it eventually, and was mighty glad for the experience. It had been a while since I'd had that wild feeling of driving deep in the back-country with no cell service, no map, and no local language.
They set me up with a rondavel (a mud hut like the locals live in) and gave me the scoop on the lodge (which was started by a white South African but is now totally owned by the community) and all the good work they've been able to do out of it. Infant mortality, illiteracy, and unemployment in the Transkei are horrible, but they've been able to start a clinic and a school, and support several local micro-enterprise projects. Good people.
From there I made my way down to East London, to stay with my friends Lisa and Morgan, who I hadn't seen since they left Taiwan fourteen years ago, and to meet their 13 and 11 year-old kids. They're next-door neighbours with my dear friend Emma, who's now got a 3 year-old daughter, and lives next door to her parents, who I'd met in Taiwan years ago when they came for the wedding of their son, my Smoking Cones bandmate Dylan. They set up a nice little show in the village hall for friends and family, and we got in some beach time, fine eats, and hangs on the deck before I had to head off toward Cape Town.
In Cape Town I played a heartwarming cafe show, organized by my Taiwan friends Ange and Luke, and stayed with my old Anglers bandmate Darryl, his Canadian wife Kristy, and their two hilarious pugs. They showed me around the area, including a hike up the Lion's Head, and sundowners on the beach every evening. All too soon, though, my time was drawing to a close. On the last day they took me to buy a new mbira from a local craftsman and hear some music in the street before I embarked on the five-flight journey home.
It was just a little taste, but I'm so glad that I had it, and it's whetted my appetite to see more of the continent. South Africa's still getting over its recent, ugly history, and there's a long way to go. The government's unbelievably corrupt at every level, and inequality and race issues are impossible to ignore. It's broken, and dangerous, but incredibly beautiful, and the South African people have a great sense of humour. Finally getting to visit my long-lost friends in their homeland made a lot of sense of things, and also gave me some perspective on all the roads I've travelled since we last parted ways. It's so good to revisit old friends and find the connection still strong. I took some pictures, if you wanna see them.
Well, that's about it for now, friends. Thanks, as always, for reading, and here's wishing you blessings aplenty in the year to come. I'll leave you with my favourite Christmas song, a Dar Williams tune I recorded in a London hotel along my way home just now, wishing for peace on Earth (and around your dinner tables) this holiday season:
"The Christians and the Pagans" (Dar Williams cover)
All my love,