Friday, October 28, 2016

Left Coast: In Which I Travel Without the Big Lincoln

I break with tradition. The Big Lincoln safely parked, I'm now at the mercy of taxi drivers, bus terminal directors, airline baggage handlers, rental clerks, and ticket sellers. Street hustlers. Lunatics. People who love the blues, and know more about it than I ever could. God knows what will happen if my credit card is declined somewhere. Usually I can sleep in my car, or point it to the next, friendly destination. I've cleverly shopped for a massive canvas bag to carry my guitar cases in. It's a professional, hockey goalie's bag. It holds two guitar cases easily, and doesn't look like the property of a traveling rock star. The bag is half empty, but still looks gigantic. I wheel it awkwardly through the airport and check it as sports equipment. The tag on the outside says I'm on the "National" Team. For the first time in years I escape the "random" full body security search. In a pinch, I could probably sleep in the bag.

I'm headed for Canada's left coast. Politically as well as geographically. But with a change in travel plans, I can't buy a direct flight to Victoria, British Columbia from Toronto at a reasonable cost. Nor can I purchase one to Vancouver at a reasonable cost. Instead, I get a budget ticket with two stops. That's fine, I'm not rushed this day. Little do I suspect that my cheap flight will not stop in a linear fashion, but will instead take me to Vancouver, and then Edmonton, before Victoria. Three half-empty planes. Over the Rockies three times. An extra eight hours. Extra thousands of kilometres in the air. If only I could of got my guitars out of baggage, I could have fled the Vancouver airport and caught the ferry to Victoria. Then again, flying direct to Vancouver is an expensive trip, so they say.

My big bag seems to have made the trip nicely. I'm met at the airport by local bandleader Ian Walls. He's kindly signed on to be my bassist, driver, bar man and landlord for most of the Vancouver Island dates. There's a typhoon coming, and the Island is hunkering down, checking it's battery supplies, sump pumps, fresh water. There also seems to be a brisk business at the wine and spirits store. With a couple of cheap, California reds in hand, Ian and I head back to his place for an evening of rehearsal. The McKinley Wolf band has backed me up here in recent years, but this season it will be Ian and I playing duo up and down Island.

Up Island. Duncan, British Columbia. We point the van into the lashing rain, and make it over the pass. It's dark early. They say the typhoon might make shore in just a few more hours. Not many on the road this afternoon. You could feel the old, Toyota van lurching in the wind. Load-in and soundcheck to the Duncan Showroom. It's a great sounding room I've always enjoyed playing. Tonight we are set up and sounding good in a scant, few minutes. The sound techie even remembers where I place my mics. I wish every stage was as simple, and professional as this. The Elks are serving steak next door, but soon they too are loading their cars, heading off into the night. With the meat draw over, there is nothing in the street but the rain and the wind. Plenty of empty seats in this little theatre tonight. Two sets later, we're back on the highway, southbound. We didn't make gas money, much less dinner. Not a great start to the Left wing of this Tour. There are leaves whipping through the air. It's cold and damp, and I'm wondering about Africa. By the time we reach Victoria the rain has all but stopped.

There's always tomorrow, and in Victoria that means we'll be playing at the storied Victoria Blues Society jam. Always a great chance to make new friends, and meet up with old ones. Here's a snap of Mark Crissinger and myself. He's based out of Cedar, up Island. Mark was kind enough to sit in and play guitar with the little "band" I put together from the available players. A cosmopolitan crowd, with players and fans from England, Germany, South Africa, USA and Canada enjoying each other's company and music. A good bunch– and they keep the music alive.

I wish every bartender was as friendly as this one. The staff here were good to everybody. It's taken me a dozen years of visiting Victoria to get this gig. Hermann's Jazz Club. Legendary west coast venue. As a performer it's always a thrill to play a venue stage that has hosted so much musical history. Nice to play on boards that thumped so nicely under my foot, boards that knew something about time and place. Boards with secrets about the fleeting moments of music and the artists who make it. So much of it is fleeting. Like life itself. Moments not written down, photographed, posted or recorded. Just lived. Howlin' Wolf down on his hands and knees, pounding the stage with his fist, roaring through the dust, soaked in sweat. Hubert looking on, blinking. The girl that grabbed my arm, briefly, and then vanished. The old guy that used to come through and play that club, I forget what they called it, down by the station. Fleeting. Like some kiss you want to keep forever, perfume on the wind. There and gone. Breathe it in when you can. Taste it. Swallow it. Fleeting. Life.

Up Island once more. This time we're going to Port Alberni. It's an old mill town with picked over thrift stores and beat up pawn shops. Dreadlocked surfer kids on route to Tofino stop here to look for cooking oil to feed their rusting busses. Beamers on holiday from Vancouver buy a few litres of gasoline to get themselves past this, up the twisty road to their timeshares. Tonight, Ian and I will play here. An old church in the shadow of the mill– now a concert venue. Our route takes us through some of the mighty old growth trees that have survived the loggers.

I'm praying that we'll have an audience for tonight's show. My lodgings are in the Prayer Room. Ian spends time in the adjoining Cry Room. If I had a god, mine would laugh and smile with me. And would free the wage Slaves from the Mill. It's another quiet night. That typhoon's not gone yet, not yet forgotten. Still fodder for the bored world of the WeatherNet. Not counting the cheap red wine we drank, I've lost a couple of hundred dollars to walk in the mud under the giant trees. Ian and I play well together this night. We chat into the small hours, bridging the distance between the Prayer Room and the Cry Room with the last of the wine. After twelve years, and several thousand shows, this great Canadian tour seems less sustainable than ever.

The drummer was a little stiff...

The smell of money didn't reach into the concert hall that night...

Safe in urban Victoria for a couple more shows. My friends and fans are propelling this bit of the Tour in spite of the now spent storm. Storms. The storm of the Tour. Here's a little shelter from it. Some respite for a couple of days. I rest here by the kindness of my friends. Rested. Recharged. A little coffee. A little scotch. A little bourbon. Books, blues, Bix. Hope for the soul! Hope for the storm of the Heart! I open the little, virtual office, and scratch out details for Africa. The car, the phone, the cds, the reception at the High Commission. I walk the beach before prepping for the next show. A house concert. A good one.

Best show of the Left Coast, so far. Great blues fans, friends. Southern cooking. I helped move these chairs in, and then moved 'em out again. I also helped eat the ham and biscuits, drink the rare bourbon, and played the show. Sometimes it's nice to wear all the hats. Rain on the roof of the guest house. Sleep.

These deer are the scourge of Victoria's beautiful gardens. This four pointer watched me walk by with some distain. "Whatzamadder? Never seen a deer, dude?"

Most cities are at their best when the sun comes out. Victoria is no exception. For a few short hours the rain snuck back behind the horizon. This is a place to walk, or run, or take small children and big dogs. All of these appeared like magic, with the sun. As did I. Walking, not running this day. Oak Bay.

As I return to my quarters, Buck shows his distain for walking bluesmen.

My last show of the Tour on Vancouver Island. It's an early show at the Victoria Folk Club. I've played here before. It's among Canada's oldest folk clubs– I'm going to guess close to 40 years old. Somebody will probably correct me. Electric instruments are not allowed here, no pick-ups, DIs, or mics, either. You might say it's very traditional. The fact that I've brought an electric bassist with me this evening has been lost in the debate over the new, overhead, ambient microphone that has been installed in the old wooden hall. It's a big room, and some of the members don't hear well anymore. On this night some have boycotted the show because of the new microphone. From the back, where Ian and I are discretely sipping our wine from teacups, I cannot tell whether the microphone is even on. Numerous members apologize to me for the new contraption. When the time comes we play our set into a warm, standing ovation and encore. I certainly don't need a microphone in a beautiful room like this. Even the Queen looks somehow pleased, gazing over my shoulder at the spectacle. A nice way to wrap my shows on the Island.

Vancouver Island behind me, I've arrived on the British Columbia mainland. It was a good trial for my new, gear carry bag. I managed to wheel it through the terminals, up and down the ship gangplanks without too much difficulty. Meanwhile the Zulu Skies Tour is building momentum in Africa. I'll be there in less than a week. Just a handful of Canadian shows left on the schedule.

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