G'day from the underside of this big ol' globe! I'm writing you from the passenger seat of our overpriced and rather vocal rental van Roary, as Bram pilots us northward along the Pacific Highway toward Brisbane. He, Mellissa and I landed in Sydney on Wednesday, and wow, does it ever feel good to be back. Our first stop was the Sydney Botanic Gardens, for a look at some bizarre foliage and the obligatory Sydney Opera House/Sydney Harbour Bridge band selfie, which very nearly broke the Internet. From there we headed up to Katoomba to pick up my cooler full of leftover CDs and go for a hike in the Blue Mountains. The next day we drove to Termeil Point and camped for free between a white sand beach and a beautiful lake where the Second Chances had their first-ever kangaroo encounter.
Our first gig was Cobargo Folk Festival, a sweet little gathering on a hilltop in southern New South Wales, where it all started for me four years ago. It went sweetly, despite having to play a set at 9:30am on Sunday. We even had a full house at that hour, surprisingly for me, since I certainly wouldn't have been up at that time unless I had to. Our Canadian friends Tereza Tomek and Josh Lichti dropped in with Skippy, who they've been driving around for the last couple weeks. It was so good to see my old four-wheeled friend back on the road where he belongs, and it was sweet to hear that they love him as much as I do. I'll be buying him back in a couple days, and he'll be enjoying a pastoral life in Beechworth until I return in November.
We heard some great music over the weekend, including sets from Enda Kenny (who blagged my way into the Cobargo Folk Fest in the first place three years ago), the Spooky Mens' Chorale, The Northern Folk, Kerryn Fields, Rowena Wise, and the flawless John Flanagan Trio (with Liz Frencham and Dan Watkins), who really inspired us to up our game. And as always, we had some sweet late-night hangs and jams. It was a perfect welcome back to this beautiful, generous country. We'll be doing a lot more running around it in the weeks to come, starting tonight in Brisbane, and we hope to see more familiar faces along the way:
Feb 28 - Brisbane, QLD - Brisbane Unplugged
Mar 1 - Stanthorpe, QLD - Little Theatre
Mar 2 - Byron Bay, NSW - Treehouse on Belongil
Mar 3 - Tintenbar, NSW - Tintenbar Upfront
Mar 4 - Glass House Mountains, QLD - House Concert with Benjamin Caldwell
Mar 5 - Austinville, QLD - Mt. Nimmel Hall
Mar 7 - Billen Cliffs, NSW - Billen Community Café with Jeet, Bob, and local support TBA
Mar 8 - Nana Glen, NSW - House Concert
Mar 9 - Bellingen, NSW - No. 5 Church Street
Mar 10 - Kempsey, NSW - Oddfellows Hall
Mar 11 - Sydney, NSW - Humph Hall
Mar 12 - TBA, VIC - TBA (Burke & Wills Folk Fest cancelled, got any ideas?)
Mar 13 - Glenlyon, VIC - house concert
Mar 15 - Melbourne, VIC - The Lomond Hotel with Michael Waugh
Mar 16 - Healesville, VIC - Duckpond House Concert
Mar 17 - Berwick, VIC - Berwick and District Folk Club
Mar 18 - Kyneton, VIC - Major Tom’s with Archer
Mar 19 - Beechworth, VIC - House Concert
Mar 21 - Candelo, NSW - Candelo Café
Mar 22 - Tilba Tilba, NSW - House Concert
Mar 23 - Canberra, ACT - Smith’s Alternative
Mar 24 - Tomerong, NSW - Tomerong Hall
Mar 25-26 - Yackandandah, VIC - Yackandandah Folk Fest
As always, all the details are on www.scottcook.net/news.php. And don't be shy about the house concerts, just drop the host a line and come join the party!
Last I wrote you, loyal readers, I was just about to let Further Down the Line loose on its journey into the great wide open. The hometown release in Fort Saskatchewan was incredibly heartwarming, with our friends Jesse Dee, Jacquie B, Matt Blackie, Dana Wylie, Joe Nolan and Sophie Heppell joining us, and a bunch of great friends coming on a schoolbus from Edmonton to fill out the crowd. The following weekend we brought the album to Calgary and Lethbridge, and it felt great to get it into friends' hands there too.
Our old buddy Mike Dunn was kind enough to review it in Beatroute!
And my friend Trent Wilkie wrote it up in Vue Weekly!
There's another review coming out in the upcoming issue of Penguin Eggs, and the album's currently on its way to radio and reviewers across Canada, the US, and Australia. I'll be working with Lisa Grey of Blue River Promotions for the American release, with Penny and Logan for the Australian release, and with Bloody Great PR for the European release. Folks seem to be pretty excited about the album already. As you may already know, it's not just an album, it's a 132-page book containing a look back, in words and pictures, on my last decade of near-incessant rambling. It's something you want to hold in your hands. If you'd like to order a copy, just send $25 (or $30 if you're overseas) to email@example.com via Paypal or e-transfer, and I'll mail you a copy! Or if you insist on going digital, you can always download it from CDBaby, or Bandcamp, where you can also get the book in PDF form (in case you want to read a 132-page PDF, haha).
Further Down the Line's first big foray into the wider world, though, was among the throng of fellow folkies at the Folk Alliance International conference in Kansas City just before I flew down here. For those who haven't heard, it's the biggest hang of all for the folk scene. Three thousand folk musicians and an assorted bunch of industry folks get together in a massive hotel for four days, to talk business during the day and sing songs at night. It's a weird scene, I gotta say. But for all of us who live this life, crisscrossing the country and usually just missing one another by days, it's a rare chance to get together under one roof, to share what we've been working on, to have our fires rekindled, and our hopes and fears understood. And in a time like this, as this American republic teeters on the edge of self-destruction, it was a great crowd to be among. A couple years back, Aengus Finnan chose a theme of resistance for this year's conference, saying he was tired of people singing about nothing but their breakups and still calling it folk music. And in light of current events, it couldn't have been timelier.
The ACLU arranged to have pocket copies of the Constitution in everyone's delegate bag. Ani DiFranco spoke about her life's work as a singer and activist. Kris Kristofferson played us a new song called "Don't Let the Bastards Get You Down." And Billy Bragg delivered the keynote address on Saturday, telling some stories of his musical upbringing, talking about what music can do, and the real meaning of solidarity: empathy plus action.
"The true enemy of all of us who want to make the world a better place is not capitalism, or conservatism, but cynicism. That is our greatest enemy. And not the cynicism of the right-wing newspapers; it’s their job to drip cynicism into the national discourses. The cynicism that is the greatest enemy of those of us who want to make the world a better place is our own sense of cynicism. Our own feeling that nothing will ever change. Our own fear that no one else cares about this stuff. Our own sense that all politicians are the same; they’re all in it for the same things. You know, Rupert Murdoch wants you to believe that. He wants you to believe that. He makes a good damned living trying to make you believe that so he can get away with the shit that he wants to in your country and my country and countries all around the world."
It was one of the most moving speeches I've ever heard. My buddy Gallie missed it, and when he asked me afterward what Billy had talked about, I actually choked up trying to tell him. The full text of the speech is available here, if you want to have a read.
Billy was cool enough to hang around all weekend, and was by all accounts very approachable. That's a pretty good indication of the kind of gathering Folk Alliance is. And while I definitely ran through every extreme of emotion over the weekend, from feeling thrilled and group-hugged to alienated and isolated and back again, the whole thing left me with a heartful of love and a renewed commitment to our craft, to doing Woody's work.
After the scheduled showcases were done on Saturday night (about 3am), I hung out in the Oklahoma Room, where they were still rocking out amplified, and decided again that I've gotta spend some serious time in Tulsa. Some other songwriters whisked me off to the Breakout West room for a quiet circle of sad songs, and later on we ended up the Alberta Room where we drank the leftover booze and closed it down around seven. A bunch of the folks there decided to head to the rooftop pool, and ignoring my internal advice, I stripped to my underwear and jumped in too. It was glorious, floating under the moon, laughing our asses off in the hot tub, and watching as the sun rose to shine on our rooftop hilarity. I managed to get a few hours sleep before I played to a full conference room as part of the Kansas City Folk Festival on Sunday afternoon, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I still had most of my vocal range. Billy Bragg closed out the afternoon with an inspiring set of songs and stories, and I felt mighty glad to be among such an inspiring and united group of souls.
The president was barely even mentioned by name over the weekend. Billy just called him "45", as he's just the 45th. But Woody's name was on everybody's lips. And Woody's work was all our homework.
That's all the news for now, friends. Stay strong and keep on, your fan,