On the Road Again
In this day and age of multi-tasking it is commonplace for anyone working within the music business to have a handful of projects on the go at any one time.
I couldn’t begin to count the number of friends and associates who commit themselves to three or four projects simultaneously, to varying degrees, but they’ve always got a number of balls in the air at any one time. The list of duties can include working on sessions as either players or producers, sometimes both. Then there are the live gigs with consistent line-ups, gigs hosting jam sessions, and writing sessions with long time musical foils. We know of both broadcasters and musicians who are booking festivals, and music journalists who also find time to gig and rehearse with two or three ensembles. Record company execs and musicians host popular radio shows in this country and some even find time to sit on boards of institutions that aid the working musician in one form or another.
As I like to say, “at least most of these balls we are juggling seem to be made out of rubber as opposed to china.” Tasks at hand seem to be completed on time, although the results may differ from month to month.
One of my side projects is organizing the Ian Tyson tribute project The Gift, which dovetails nicely with The Front Porch Roots Revue. Both shows have been up and running in one form or another for quite some time now. Front Porch evolved out of Come On In My Kitchen a few years ago while The Gift was intended to be a “one off” weekend of concerts honoring the master songwriter in the dead of winter in 2002. Here we are nine years on with what we feel is a superb cast that is from time to time augmented with guests from all over the country. We had a great time last summer presenting The Gift at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival with longtime friends, Amos Garrett, Cindy Church, Corb Lund and Tom Russell.
Ron Rault, Thom Moon, Stewart MacDougall and Bobby Cameron play in both The Gift and Front Porch ensembles and this summer both the Dauphin Country Festival and the Big Valley Jamboree decided to employ both acts.
The other two musicians in the fold are the harmonica-playing Crawdad Cantera, a founding member of Front Porch, and fiddle ace Myran Szott, who has been adding his instrumental spice to The Gift performances for almost two years. Like Moon and MacDougall, Myran is a member of the Chinook Arch Riders alumni association, meaning that he also played with Ian for a number of years, both in the studio and on the road.
So last week was our little road excursion to Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and I must say that there is nothing like a road trip where everything goes off without a hitch. The advance weather forecast was in our favor and didn’t let us down for a minute over the five day run. Pulling into Saskatoon the first night we found ourselves sitting outside talking about the impending gigs and enjoying the company and cuisine at a café a couple of door down from the longtime Saskatoon blues venue Bud’s On Broadway.
The next morning it was off to Yorkton for a gig at the Painted Hand Casino, which is part of a conglomerate of casinos run by a number of Aboriginal bands and organizations.
I’d heard nothing but praise from a few notable country and roots acts about the layout of the showrooms, the high standards of production, and the hospitality visiting artists could expect upon arriving at one of the casinos.
Upon walking into the backstage area and introducing ourselves, the Painted Hand crew immediately flipped the “on switch” and a sound check was underway in record time. It was quickly apparent that there would be no concerns about sound quality that evening and as the show rolled out a few hours later, the front of house tech had the rig humming and the band dialed perfectly dialed in.
I still sit there in amazement as our crew runs through 50 years of material written and recorded by Mr. Tyson and that the pieces incorporate so many influences, and the cross pollination of genres is remarkable. This band kicks on the country-rock material from Tyson’s days with the Great Speckled Bird, which is why Bobby Cameron’s version of Long Long Time To Get Old is strategically placed near the top of the night as it tends to get an audiences’ attention in short order.
I guess there is one Tyson tune in a Gift evening that was never recorded and that is a gem of an instrumental Myran brought to the table. Titled Loose Latigo, the piece swings and there are some fine moments where Myran and Stewart drive the main progression with amazing authority. Until writing this, it had never occurred to me that I didn’t know what the definition of latigo is.
So here it is, and given Tyson’s place in the world of western culture, it now makes complete sense. Latigo is a famous brand name cattle hide leather, tanned with a combination of alum and gambier that is used for cinches, ties, saddle strings and other saddlery work. It also has numerous outdoor uses, wherever a supple, durable leather is needed. Also the common terminology for when the clowns signal the bullrider when his "8 seconds" is up, they will yell "lat-it-go".
So there ya go, let’s hear it for latigo.
Driving out of Yorkton and towards the Manitoba border we were all taken with the beauty of the countryside. It was one beautiful shade of green acting as a backdrop for another and summer in its full glory. Canada Day, and many of the regions’ citizens taking the weekend to fish, water ski or just kick back on the sandy beaches at lakes that dot the provincial landscape.
On to the Dauphin Countryfest. Twenty-two years and counting and a festival owned and operated by the community and one that has acted as a funding source for many initiatives.
Yes there are the big name acts that no one in the CKUA world cares about. Toby Keith probably tops the list in that department.
But this is one of those events that delivers on other levels and as one investigated the line-ups at smaller stages, names like Joe Ely, The Sheepdogs, The Heartbroken, Myrol, Ayla Brook, The Swiftys, Wendell Ferguson, Cousin Harley and The Sojourners drove home the point that the organizers are working from a broader palette than straight up commercial country.
The members of Front Porch found themselves in the midst of a four-band slate with The Heartbroken, The Brent Parkin Band and The Sheepdogs Saturday evening. Once again the sound crews had every detail taken care of in short order.
Brent Parkin arrived at the site having just received the news that his album Vintage Rhythm had been nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award. Well deserved, Brent’s disc is a finalist in the Best Blues Album category.
The gifted guitarist was on fire this particular night and one of the bonuses of his 90 minute set was that he was playing with the dynamic rhythm section of bassist Jeff Smooke and drummer Ken McMahon. I hadn’t caught these two together in years, not since they were working together in the Rockin’ Highliners back in the late nineties.
Mid-way through a set that tugged on B.B. King, took us on a trip down Route 66 and picked up Otis Rush in Chicago, Parkin invited Crawdad Cantera onto the stage for a couple of blistering blues tunes that had many of the musicians on the bill standing side stage and loudly applauding the collective efforts of the ensemble.
Right in the middle of the pack was CKUA’s Grant Stovel who was pulling double duty at the site with The Swiftys and Myrol.
Beaming, our man Grant commented that what he was witnessing what may have been, “ the finest performance of Brent’s that he had ever seen.”
Grant has no shortage of Parkin shows to choose from as he has spent considerable time with the guitarist, both on stage and as an audience member over the years.
Earlier that same day it had been a pleasure to watch Stewart deliver a passionate performance of Yellowhead to Yellowstone at a songwriting workshop and witness the enthusiastic response from Joe Ely as the epic song came to a close.
That same tune, which is the title track to Tyson’s last full length album, and one that Stewart and Ian co-wrote, was also met with considerable applause the next day as it was performed on the Dauphin main stage alongside Tyson gems like Some Kind of Fool, Four Strong Winds, La Primera and Elko Blues.
I could go on about what a terrific time we all had and how much fun it was hearing so many talented artists and hanging with them, but you get the idea. Road trips rarely roll without a couple of unexpected snags, but when such trips do come off without a hitch it’s a reminder as to why we all keep on doing what we do.