Greetings from Riding Mountain National Park. Manitoba is more than a touch colder than we left it in July, but the deep winter freeze has yet to set in and the snow is biding its time. I’ve only known this place in the summer. The tourists and visitors are long gone now and the stores, restaurants, and bowling greens are shut up for the season. This may not be the most far flung stop on tour, but it feels like it.
The ride here has been anything but bumpy. Hammer on wood, but the prairie weather has been merciful to us. Our closest call came a few days ago. We drove east along the Yellowhead Trail, six hours from the big northern city of Edmonton to the tiny, artist-endowed village of Meacham, Saskatchewan. It poured rain all day long. I said to Anna, “Imagine if this were snow”. Or freezing rain. We pulled into our hosts’ driveway around 5pm, or I should say, we slid in. The town was a skating rink and we’d got off the roads just in time. So while it was disappointing that the folks from nearby Humboldt couldn’t make it to the Meacham community center for our show that evening, we were grateful for a safe arrival and for the locals who did turn out.
We’re about two thirds of the way through this trip and I’d like to think that the reps are paying off. For touring neophytes like us, each show is unique and the opportunities to learn are abundant. And to fail. In Squamish, for example, I decided in real time that I would stand up for the song ‘Grandpa’ in order to add some kinetic energy to the show. Five seconds later I forgot to come in with my harmonica part - the only harmonica part in the whole set - as I stood there thinking about how I was standing up and how kinetic I felt. Lesson learned. I’m the same height standing (on my knees) as sitting, so there was very little to gain in the first place. Since then I’ve been sitting and just nailing my harmonica part, all five tastefully selected notes of it.
Besides the harmonica, we’ve introduced a couple other new sonic elements to our live sound. On some songs, I’m playing my guitar through a Memory Man delay pedal, better known as the one the Edge used back in U2’s Joshua Tree days. At one point in the set we play along with a drum track. On the spectrum of risk this is pale yellow, but as Stanley says, baby steps. (What he actually says is “Bus! Buuuus!” about 100 times a day.)
In Kamloops, I had an extra stop to make at the hockey rink to speak to the local WHL team. It was on a Sunday morning, after they’d played a tough back-to-back, so I have to give them credit for showing up, let alone being as respectful and attentive as they were. If there’s one half-truth I indulge in frequently, it’s the “Looking forward to it!” tag at the end of emails pertaining to speaking gigs. The half I keep to myself is “I’m extremely nervous and hope I wake up sick and don’t have to do it!” If I'm facing a crowd, I’d rather sing than speak. But sometimes I’m asked to speak. Sometimes I offer to speak, even ask to speak. What gives?! The full truth is that by the end of these talks, even though I kick myself a dozen times about what I shoulda, coulda said, I’m always glad I did it, and come away with some sense that it was worthwhile.
That reminds me of a new experience I had in Calgary. My friend Adam is a professor at the University of Calgary and he asked me to come and play a song for his “History of Pop Music” class. They were covering singer-songwriters of the 70’s, so I put on one of those harmonica headsets that were probably cool once and sang “Out On The Weekend” by Neil Young. I’ve never felt so old. It was great.
Last thing I’ll say is that there’s something about Edmonton. Even though I was only three years old when my family moved to Ontario, going back always feels like a homecoming. The Andersons and Baers don’t really give me any other option. Hope we can get back soon.