Happy lunar new year from Taiwan! I'm at the Catholic Hostel in Tianxiang, a tiny town at the top of Taroko Gorge where I found the time to write you several lunar new years ago, for those of you who were reading back then. I looked back just now (since this Hobo Travelogue often has a better grasp of my memories than I do) and was interested to see that it was from this time in 2012, shortly before I cut my hair and headed to Fulong for a month off the stage and off the sauce. That month saw me lose ten pounds and write three songs ("Mama Always Said", "You Don't Find Out in the End", and "Pass It Along"), an unusually productive time for me, and the kind I'm hoping for more of, now that my drunken days are done and I'm ever so gradually learning to slow down. Funny enough, at the end of that short Travelogue, after a musing on the passing of time, there's a postscript about Corin Raymond and his Canadian Tire Money caper, which had recently landed him on a host of Canadian TV shows and the front page of The Wall Street Journal. What a trip that now, in the first days of this Year of Dog, I find myself back here in the company of that same fella, just days into his first visit to this country, and in fact, his first visit to Asia at all. Time keeps rolling on, me and my pals here have more grey hairs, their kids are speaking two or three languages these days, and crazy dreams keep coming true in ways we never expected.
Another thing I noticed in that old Travelogue was that I'd just played my first few Taiwan house concerts, the last of which was at Ryan and Iris St. Onge's place in Hualien City. I was excited to introduce the idea to Taiwan back then, because I'd seen at home how powerful an experience it can be to listen to songs unamplified, without the stage, the lights, and all the noise and chatter of a bar. Like Corin sings in "There Will Always Be a Small Time", "the music's gone back home again, nowadays we're playing in the parlours like the way they used to do." Well, whaddayaknow, it just so happens that today I'll be driving back down this gorge to Hualien City, to sing unamplified in Paul Lawrence and Romy's living room, in the good company of the man himself. We're inviting folks at 6:30, and Paul's kicking off the show with a short set at 7:30. It's by donation, with the usual magic-or-your-money-back guarantee. For real, catch Corin while you can.
We've only got two more shows left on this island, and they're both unamplified and intimate as well: Saturday March 3 at Lei Gallery in Taichung (2pm doors for 2:30 start, reservations required), and Sunday March 4 at Bobwundaye in Taipei (7pm doors for an 8pm show, tickets at the door), then we're headed to Australia for two months of touring there. All the details on these Taiwan shows and our full Australian dates can be found on my news page, but here's the rundown in point form for those of you who like that:
Wed Feb 28 - Hualien, TW - house concert
Sat March 3 - Taichung, TW - house concert at Lei Gallery
Sun March 4 - Taipei, TW - Bobwundaye!
Fri March 9 - Upwey, VIC - The Skylark Room
Sat March 10 - Bendigo, VIC - The Old Church on the Hill with Candice McLeod and Liz Frencham
Sun-Mon March 1-12 - Mia Mia, VIC - Burke & Wills Folk Festival
Wed March 14 - Melbourne, VIC - house concert
Thu March 15 - Melbourne, VIC - house concert
Fri March 16 - Healesville, VIC - house concert
Sat March 17 - Cudgewa, VIC - Cudgewa Hall
Sun March 18 - Albury, VIC - house concert
Tues March 20 - Echuca, VIC - house concert
Wed March 21 - Mildura, VIC - house concert
Thu March 22 - Adelaide, SA, SCALA Show at The Wheatsheaf
Fri March 23 - Melbourne, VIC - Michael Waugh’s CD launch at the Spotted Mallard
Sat March 24 - Yackandandah, VIC - Yackandandah Folk Festival
Sun March 25 - Yackandandah, VIC - Yackandandah Folk Festival
Tue March 27 - Bega, NSW - Corin performs Bookworm (TBC)
Wed March 28 - Candelo, NSW - Candelo Cafe
Sat March 31 - Huskisson, NSW - Huskisson Community Centre
Sun April 1 - Canberra, ACT - hanging out at the National Folk Fest
Mon April 2 - Canberra, ACT - hanging out at the National Folk Fest
Thu April 5 - Mudgeeraba, QLD - "Oh Canada" house Concert
Fri April 6 - Tintenbar, NSW - Tintenbar Upfront
Sat April 7 - Duranbah, NSW - house concert
Sun April 8 - Nambour, QLD - Sunday Folk
Tue April 10 - Brisbane, QLD - Brisbane Unplugged
Wed April 11 - Mooloolaba, QLD - house concert
Thu April 12 - Armidale, NSW - house concert
Fri April 13 - Nana Glen, NSW - house concert
Sat April 14 - Kempsey, NSW - Oddfellows Hall
Sun April 15 - Sydney, NSW - house concert
Wed April 18 - Ararat, VIC - Ararat Live
Thu April 19 - Benalla, VIC - North East Artisans
Fri April 20 - Wollongong, NSW - Illawarra Folk Club
Sat April 21 - Woy Woy, NSW - Troubadour Folk & Acoustic Music Club
Sun April 22 - Kangaroo Valley, VIC - Upper Kangaroo River Hall
Wed April 25 - Canberra, ACT - Smith's Alternative
Thu April 26 - Melbourne, VIC - Spotted Mallard with Lucie Thorne and Liz Frencham
Fri April 27 - Eaglemont, VIC - house concert
Sat April 28 - TBC, VIC - TBC
Sun April 29 - Glenlyon, VIC - house concert
After all that, I'm gonna go back to Edmonton and take a nice, long break :)
The Taiwan trip's been a learning experience already. Bram and I arrived about a month ago, reunited with a whole bunch of my old pals, and got ourselves sorted out with rented scooters for the trip around the island. Our first show was a hard one, I must admit, singing to a noisy room in Taipei and feeling taunted by the old demons that always used to ask me why I even bother. I don't see those guys so much anymore, but they sure showed up that night. Thankfully, some kind folks also showed up to hear the songs, and by the end I felt like we'd found some redemption. The next night we sang unamplified for a cozy room at Hop In in Jungli, and it was easy to remember why this is all worth doing.
From there we headed down to Taichung, where we sang for a rowdy but appreciative audience at Repent Gallery, and huddled in the cold alongside a bunch of great acts at The Refuge for Hobo Happiness IV the next day. We ended up staying on another day, since the weather was so bitterly cold, but when the sun finally peeked through the clouds and the roads dried up, we headed out southward for a night off in the mountains. It was our first good day of riding. As it was getting on toward dusk, we stopped at an intersection in a little village to discuss our options, and eventually decided on the small road to Fenchihu, a mountain station along the Alishan railway where I'd spent a night years before. About five minutes down that road we came up too fast on a break in the road, probably from an earthquake. I braked and went over it, but Bram didn't see it in time and went down hard. There was a second of ghastly silence before he yelled, and I could already see that his ankle was broken bad. Life got real, real fast. I didn't want to leave him lying on the road, but I had no idea how to describe the place we were at over the phone, so after a few panicked paces back and forth, I sped on back up the road to find help. Some locals called an ambulance for us, and I covered Bram up, and held him for a while, and tried to talk him through what seemed like an eternity before they arrived.
They took us to the hospital in Douliu, a country town in Yunlin County, did x-rays and eventually told us he'd broken his tibia and fibula, dislocated his foot, and would need surgery, with plates and screws. Flying home with a broken leg sure didn't seem like a good option, but the country hospital's standards of cleanliness and care didn't inspire total confidence either. The doctor sedated Bram (who insisted on playing Big Bird's Lullaby on his phone before he dozed off, but still doesn't remember a thing) and re-set his foot, which was certainly one of the scariest things I've ever seen. That night in the hospital Bram got to experience his first earthquake, a long one that shook the room and flexed the hospital windows for what felt like ages. The epicenter was in Hualien, where we're headed today. It took down a hotel, and seventeen people died. It brought home even deeper how life can turn on a dime, how tenuous all our plans are, and what a high wire we're dancing on.
I spent the first couple nights in hospital with Bram, cancelling our next show in Tainan, but after he was stable and settled I decided, with his encouragement, to go play three of the five remaining shows on that leg of tour. I was glad to visit Kaohsiung, Hengchun, and Taitung, to get in some riding around my favourite island, and see friends that I wasn't going to see otherwise on this trip, but I also felt torn the whole time about leaving Bram in the hospital, wishing he could see all the beauty along the way, and feeling his very palpable absence on stage every night. In Taitung I played for a seated, super attentive, mostly Taiwanese audience at a sweet venue called Tiehua Music Village, struggled with the question of how much of each language to use, and felt embarrassed at the paucity of my Chinese. Feeling so out of my comfort zone, with so much of my arsenal unavailable, brought back some internal struggles I thought I'd left behind. It was the most uncomfortable I'd been on stage in a long time, but beginnerhood's a good teacher.
I saw two black eagles up close along that trip, a rare and thrilling sight for me. And on the long drive back to Douliu from Taitung, I inadvertently had the requisite Taiwan bike trip experience of being alone in the mountains without a phone or a map, not knowing any of the places on the road signs, not having seen another human in hours, shivering as I drove through mist so thick I could barely see, and contemplating where I might curl up for the night if I wasn't gonna make it to the hospital. I did make it after all, but I was grateful for the misadventure. It'd been too long since I felt that kind of excitement.
They let Bram out of hospital after about a week, and he sure looked happy to feel the sunshine on his face again. My old high-school buddy and Anglers bandmate Tyler put us up at his place over the start of the lunar new year holidays. And a friend in Taichung loaned us a classic, baby blue Austin Mini, which put us on back on the road in somewhat ridiculous style. Life never stops throwing the twists, does it?
Our friend and fine fiddler Kathleen Nisbet flew in a few days into the new year, for a stopover en route to the Philippines, and we three got to play one show together, for a cozy capacity crowd at Drifters in Wai Ao, with a whole bunch of old pals in attendance. Bram understandably opted out of the last bit of driving in the tiny car, and his travel insurance paid to upgrade him to business class on the flight home. Kathleen and I finished out the last of our dates with a sweet unamplified show alongside my pal Mike Mudd in Hsinchu. And then, somewhat unbelievably to me, after a couple days' downtime in Taipei and back on my old stomping grounds in Taoyuan County, I was driving the Mini to the airport to pick up Corin Raymond.
He's been having a great time so far, getting into Chinese vocab more studiously than anybody I've brought to this island, and managing the jet-lag pretty well, all considered. We had a mind-boggling tour of the CD manufacturing facility where we've got all our last few albums made, and were delighted to meet our man Richard Huang (firstname.lastname@example.org), who's been such a pleasure to work with over the years, and is even more charming in person. I've got some more crazy stuff planned for Corin, but I'm not telling him about it yet :)
That's about all the news for now, friends. But I would like to share a new song with you, filmed by our friend Bronwyn on our last weekend in Australia, back when Bram was still swaggering. We're calling it "Tulsa", after the city where it was written:
Here's wishing you all the best in the Year of the Dog, pals. Thanks, as always, for reading and believing.
Big love from here,