Thursday, December 1, 2011

Last Date on the Poster- The Gladstone Hotel, Toronto

Gapping on my Blog! Arriving back in Toronto to a four month catch up of junk mail, garden, lawn, and various other domestic crisis created a rapid disconnect for me. I got the PA gear back to Long & McQuade Toronto on schedule. Everything worked great as usual- and fortunately I didn't need to unpack the gear very often on this Tour. I do have extra mic stands now, thanks to Smoke Meat Pete (see previous Blog entry!), so the gear closet is better equipped...

Tonight it's my official Bad Boy closer. I'm solo- which is fun- but I wish I could of shared Big Dave with more of Ontario! The Toronto Blues Society is presenting me as part of a mostly acoustic blues series at the trendy Gladstone Hotel. No cover. Free blues.

My son Alasdair comes with me to roadie my gear. I let him carry a few things in- as if I haven't been doing this every night for months already- and then I buy him the junk food dinner he craves. I'm met by Jordan, from the TBS office. I get paid up front. Nice. It's a good little stage, the sound man is friendly and professional. The TBS volunteers all know me and chat to fill the space before showtime. They've done a fine job and work hard for the blues. Stage banners are up, lighting is good, a little cd and information desk sits off to the side. TBS President Derek Andrews drops by for a while. The place is busy, but not packed. There are a few family members and a few friends, and quite a few fans I haven't met before. It's a chatty sort of crowd, as one might expect in a big, no cover food and drink room.

Two sets and a few CD sales and I'm done. It's been fun, but it's always hard to know how to promo non-ticketed, no-cover shows. Usually the weight falls to the presenter- and I think the TBS has done a really good job of advancing this event. In the end, I'm very grateful to be thought of, and included in the Toronto Blues Society program. It wasn't one of those adoring, theatre crowds- but it was fun, social, and a great way to bring this National Steel Bad Boy Blues Tour to a close. Somehow, I forgot to bring the tour camera! I think perhaps I need a spare that will ride in one of the guitar cases...

It's an unseasonably warm night on Queen St. West as I pack my gear out into the Lincoln. Still early in this town. The lights are bright, streetcars are rumbling by- bells ringing. The sidewalks are busy and noisy. People drive by, honk and wave. The roof speaker and lights are enjoying their last night out! Bright lights, big city. In ten minutes I'll be home.

What a Tour. Four straight months. I'm glad it's over. I wish it would go on forever. I dread the next one. I can't wait to leave. Next I'll be unpacking, doing the paperwork. A couple more entries to wrap this Tour.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bound for Home

My show in Isle Perrot has fallen through. Just one more slap at the Tour by fate. I've done hundreds of house concerts over quite a few years, and I don't think I've ever had a cancellation of any sort until this year. Suddenly there has been a rash of them. Is it new presenters getting cold feet? I don't know. But I do know that these late cancels leave the Tour without revenues on such occasions. Not only am I left without income, but I am burdened with the extra expenses of travel, meals and accommodation. While I've always done house concerts on a "no risk" basis to the host, I'm thinking that I may need to start requesting a small deposit that I can use as "cancellation insurance." Would that be out of line? On the current Tour, from coast to coast, I've lost a full week of show time over these non-events. That's roughly $2500 in expenses, plus complete loss of any projected income for these shows.

Since I'm here in the west end of Montreal, I decide to drop into Smoke Meat Pete's. You may remember that gear was left here some two years ago on the Century Tour. Numerous phone calls could not seem to sort it out or recover my gear. As a matter of fact it was rental gear, and had I reported it lost or stolen it would of been covered under my insurance policy. Instead, I ended up paying for the gear out of pocket, and was pretty unhappy about it! Last year I dropped in and picked up a box that was later found to be filled with light fixtures. Then I came back to do a show, and the staff knew nothing about my missing gear... But today... all is different! Pete greets me warmly as I arrive! "I've got your gear," says he. And sure enough- there it is! All boxed up and pretty! I have lunch and leave with everything happy again in Doc land. Funny things happen in this world. Sometimes things end better than you would of thought.

I've decided to keep driving for Toronto. The weather is warmer, clearer. Snow and rain are behind me. I'm driving into the falling sun of shorter days. I'm headed for home. I've been on this blacktop for nearly four months now. I've got three new mic stands and a smoked meat sandwich for my efforts today. Tonight, my own bed. There's cops all over this big highway, so I set my speed low, drink coffee, and count down these final road miles.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

It's a nice morning to be on the road. Tim's as usual for an extra large coffee, last night's cash into the gas tank, and I'm on my way. Woodstock is a pretty nice looking town. Close to the international border, close to Fredericton. Not too sleepy, but still has that small town feel. Big old trees, big old frame houses. I like these rambling frame structures. You see them all across the Maritime region, and also into Maine, Vermont, upstate New York.

Back on the TransCanada Highway. Northbound now, taking my time to save gas. I've got the cruise on and I'm moving into the New Brunswick highlands. Lots of trees and rocks here. It's mills and mining and big, open spaces. There's been less snow here, but sections of road are still covered, and the sky is now hinting at another drop. I'm warm. The motor is humming quietly. Life could be better, but it's not bad. I'm wondering how Big Dave is doing out in Winnipeg. I'm still thinking about how bad the returns were on Atlantic Canada this year. I'm thinking about next year's National Steel Tour with Morgan Davis. I'm pretty much committed to being out here, but I don't know if this Tour can support two artists with the economy being as it is. I've got to raise revenues and cut expenses if this is to work...

The phone rings. It's Big Dave! We have a chat and catch up on our travels and concerns. Where am I? Hey, I'm crossing into Quebec now! Does that mean I pay more, or less for gas? I pass by the big, Irving gas station at the border. Why? I don't know. I just can't be bothered to stop. I want to make Quebec City before dark. Time change. That should help. I like going west...

Snow behind me now, I roll into eastern Quebec. Lumpy little Laurentian wannabe hills, the St. Laurence river on my right. Narrow, little farm fields left over from the original land grants here. Everybody got a piece of the river, I guess. Soon it is getting dark. The lights of Quebec City twinkle across the river. I wonder if I could still get a ferry across from Levis? I'm tired. I'm driving. I keep going to the Big Pont, across, and into the twisted streets of the Old City.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Woodstock, NB: The Fusion Cafe

Well, yes, I'm better rested. And after a classic breakfast at Jean's Diner I'm ready for action. The late autumn was going to make a serious play for winter eventually- and here we go. Winter storm warnings. Up to 25 cm expected... With an extra large Tim's on the dash- and a full tank of gas- I set out. In good weather I'd have about a three hour drive on this quality, divided highway. Today, I wouldn't be surprised if they closed the road. The trick is to get on it before that happens...

I'm on the TransCanada. Several hours into this drive there is still no sign of snow removal equipment, salting or sanding gear. In fact, I'm very much alone out on this white and wooly road. The Lincoln is NOT a great snow car. The big ass end of her will slide at even gentle acceleration. I try to keep things very, very steady. Most of this trip is at 45 or even 50 km, with occasional white-outs as the giant, semi trucks push their way by. With zero visibility, I look out the side window, at the ditch, to try and keep the car going straight. I wonder if these drivers have the slightest clue of the peril they present to other traffic in weather such as this?

My ride to Woodstock, NB is about five and a half hours. I'm happy to arrive at the Fusion Cafe, park, and get off this crazy road. I'm also happy that they've got a new PA. I won't have to carry mine in through the ice and snow. As it turns out, there is a missing power cable, but I happen to have one. That's one reason I travel with this little back-up system- I never get left without gear I need to make a show happen. I could even pull the car battery and run the whole thing through the DC/AC power converter. If the room lost power I'd be up and running in 20 minutes. Brownie McGhee taught me how to use a soldering gun many, many years ago. I was permanently impressed with how he was prepared and equipped to deal with nearly any problem that might come up. I think about him once in a while. He was a kind and beautiful man. A self-made man, like so many of the old school artists. I still meet members of his family every once in a while... Anyway, I do think of him whenever I reach for that spare power cable, adaptor, mic clip, or the soldering gun.

Meanwhile, the snow seems to have subsided a little, but the roads remain clogged outdoors. I'm set up in short order. After soup and sandwich I do a little internet work and wait. The place seems pretty quiet for the dinner hour. Folks from out in the country have called in to cancel reservations. I'm prepared for the slow night that follows. Two informal sets for about a dozen people. Everyone is very friendly. A few fans from previous visits, a few new friends. By the time I'm packed up and taken to my quarters I'm ready for sleep. Enough snow for one day!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Moncton Revisited

Today I'm back to Moncton- to Plan B- although this is officially "down time." Tracy and her very cool staff have offered me the use of the band apartment for a couple of days, so I'm moving in with my new sound recording gear. I'm going to try and do some writing upstairs, and in between I'll use the internet in the Club, hang out, catch some music, just relax. I haven't had much secure down time on this Tour. I've been on the road for nearly four months now, and I've got to admit that I'm pretty tired. My voice sounds like a train has run over it...

My quarters are next door and overhead of Amazing Ink, but I resist the opportunity to spend a couple of days in the chair. I actually can't afford quality ink on this tour- cars and guitars, and daily expenses seem to be eating all the money. I've got a couple of mics set up in the back room, so I get to work installing the ProTools software and seeing what I can do...

Apparently not much on my three year old MacBook. I'm encouraged to use fewer processing tools and less tracks and to increase memory allocation... But I've only got two mics up, and no effects at all. Eventually the machine records a couple minutes of music before shutting down. I discover I can't play this back through my computer- rather I must listen to it through headphones out of the M-Audio box. That would be fine if I had headphones.

Downstairs in the bar I play a short, late afternoon set. Later I'll dine at Deluxe Fish and Chips before coming back to hear the three evening shows.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Halifax Revisited: Long and McQuade, Company House

It's a beautiful day rolling out of Hubbards, Nova Scotia. I've had a good sleep, I've been fed a wonderful breakfast, I've spent a couple of hours in my virtual office. Now I'm back on the highway, taking the slow route up the coast to Halifax. There's no hurry- I've got a 3:30 workshop to present at Long and McQuade, but it's not noon yet, and I'm very close. I pull into a Tim's and sleep in the Lincoln for a couple of hours...

I've done two workshops here in prior years, so I know the lay of the land. It would of been easier to get here without my GPS! Anyway, the Halifax Long and McQuade is a pretty interesting store- they tend to carry a little more used equipment than some of the other locations. I'm in early to set up and look around.

Two stools- one guy. It's a little odd to be doing a Longs workshop without Big Dave McLean at my side, but the event goes well. About 15 people show up and keep the questions coming. It's a very friendly store- and after three visits I know most of the staff now. I'm well looked after here, tucked back between rentals and mics.

After the workshop I do a little shopping of my own. I pick up a little M-Audio Fast Track Pro. It's an interface device which will let me record via two balanced lines and my laptop. The idea is to lay down some song sketches next week while I'm on layover. It looks like it should do everything I need it to do. It has an ultra lite version of ProTools, which should be adequate to catch some sounds from my basic mics, play them back, and share them if I wish to do so. I'm overlooking my usual rule of purchase which is "never buy anything with the word pro on the box." We'll see. No discount for this gear either.

I head out with my GPS- oh, yeah, OK, I know where this is... I'm heading a few blocks away to visit Joe Murphy's famous Saturday afternoon jam at the Mustache. Sure is a lot of traffic in Halifax on a Saturday afternoon... Seems that there is going to be a Christmas parade. People are lining the sidewalks. All the side streets are plugged with cars. I drive around this mess for a few minutes and then give up. I was hoping to go and see Joe and the gang before my own show. Instead I will go to my gig and look for a bite to eat.

The Company House is in a more depressed neighbourhood, but it seems to be up and coming. A few arty little businesses presenting themselves. This place has more of a focus on songwriters and new music, so I am quite glad to be playing here, hopefully to a younger demographic as well. Originally this was to be a split bill with somebody local, but apparently that's not happening. I'll be on my own. The place looks pretty quiet for Happy Hour- only one customer. The bar only has a couple of snack type food items. I order something because I'm hungry, and there's nothing else in sight.

My poster isn't up on the door or window. For such a popular venue, there is no traffic on this Saturday night. Three or four people at the bar. Two customers sit down half-way up front. They've come for the show. A sound tech arrives. "Didn't anyone tell you sound costs $100?" she asks me. "I can bring my own PA in from the car," I counter.

Kindly the tech sets up three mics for me, does a line check, and takes the night off. Clearly I'm not going to be the coolest show in town anyway. The owner arrives, and more or less tells me that the reason the room is empty is because Big Dave McLean and I had played The Carleton earlier in the week. I'd pitched tonight's show as a singer-songwriter event, through completely different channels, expecting to be on a bill with at least one local player in this trendy and popular Halifax alt-roots music venue. But nobody's coming in here tonight, even by accident. I don't think that the 20 people who saw the Bad Boy show at the upscale Carleton have anything to do with the numbers here tonight. I really don't know what to think. I'm sorry that the room is empty, too. It's a nice room.

I play two sets to the two people who came out to see me. Joe Murphy drops in to play the second set with me- added bonus. At the end of the night the half-dozen folks at the bar take up a little collection. We make $35, which is just enough to cover our bar bill and my taco. I was going to sleep in the Lincoln Hotel tonight, but my pal Dale has kindly offered his couch again, so off I go to the far suburbs. The toll bridge costs another buck. It's a dark night, and it has started to rain.