We are back home in Toronto after our first official tour of the Prairies. I want to tell you all about it, but where to start? I’ll try to keep it brief. Here goes…
After hearing horror stories of what can happen to instruments on a plane trip, we decided to rent guitars and a keyboard for the tour from Long & McQuade in Winnipeg. They are pretty great there…really helpful in making sure we had everything we needed. Though we had a bit of a scare when we first looked at the guitars available for rent. It was pretty slim pickings…there weren’t two suitable ones with pick-ups. But they sure came through for us. They brought me up a brand new guitar almost identical to my own and set Dwight up with a pretty sweet Gibson. Piano carrying cases were in short supply that day too and we ended up with one that was way bigger than the keyboard we rented. It became fondly known as The Behemoth. I was sure people thought we were sneaking in another person when we (Dwight) carried it into the hotels!
Our first show of the tour was in the Prairie Ink Restaurant at the new McNally Robinson’s Polo Park location in Winnipeg. The place was packed…some friends who came out were told there would be up to an hour wait for a table! The McNally Robinson stores are such great supporters of live music.
We were totally excited to be interviewed on air by Leanne Doty on 880 CKLQ in Brandon the day before our show at Lady Of The Lake Shop, Cafe and Pub. It’s a beautiful place to play, has a great sound system, the food is awesome, and people who go there seem to really appreciate live music. The stage is at the east end of the room facing a wall of windows to the west. During our second set, the sun started going down and there we were singing in the glow of a beautiful Manitoba sunset. Aaaaah!
Because we had an early afternoon show the next day in Moose Jaw we had decided to book accommodations along the route so we could get a few hours of driving under our belt and lessen the rush the next day. We figured Moosomin would be a good destination so phoned ahead and booked a room in one of the little roadside motels. Unfortunately the only rooms left were smoking rooms but we were assured the smoke smell wasn’t strong in the one we booked. Hmmm, well I guess that’s all relative. And, the room was so tiny, by the time we unloaded all our equipment and bags into the room there was little space to move around! On the plus side, we forgot that we would gain an hour crossing the Man/Sask border so that was good, it ended up being an early night thanks to the time change.
On the drive to Moose Jaw we were mesmerized by the hugeness of the prairie sky. It was a bright sunny day and the sky was so clear and seemed to go on forever. If you haven’t driven on the Prairies, you don’t know what you are missing…it’s really incredible. Add it to your list of To Do’s. We even saw a little coyote wandering around by the highway.
In Moose Jaw we played a matinee at The Java Express, a cozy little coffee shop on the main street in town. We were really happy to learn there was an article about us in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald a few days earlier! Some old friends from Winnipeg, who now live in Regina, surprised us by coming out to our show. That was a lovely reunion. Over the course of the afternoon while we were playing, large groups of people would come into the coffee shop, descend the stairs behind us never to be seen again. At first we assumed there was more seating upstairs but soon realized those who went up, never came down! Moose Jaw has underground tunnels, rumoured to have been used by gangsters (including Al Capone) during the prohibition years of the 1920’s and it turns out the tour begins up there. Moose Jaw is such a beautiful town we stuck around part of the next day so we could enjoy it more.
We didn’t have a show booked in Calgary but decided to go there on our way to Edmonton and check out a club that we’d heard is a good place to play…for future tours. There happened to be an Open Stage that night so we got up and did a couple of songs. We stayed with a good friend from Winnipeg there.
We played at a wonderful restaurant/club in Edmonton called Hulbert’s. A real gem, nestled in a residential area by the University of Alberta. The owners are huge supporters of live music and have a great business going for them. Some old high school friends of Dwight’s from Winnipeg, who are now living in Edmonton came out to the show, which was a wonderful surprise. As I write this I’m thinking…wow, there are Winnipeggers almost everywhere we go! While in Edmonton we stayed with some good friends from Toronto and slept soundly in a room with a real Juno award, belonging to our friend Pat formerly of The Leslie Spit Treeo, perched on the windowsill above the bed…sweet dreams!
The night before we left Edmonton for Saskatoon, we heard on the news that a “massive snow storm” was headed for Alberta and Saskatchewan. As it turned out, the storm was “massive” but we dodged it completely. For the rest of the tour it was always a bit to the west, south, or north of us, but never right where we were!
En route to Saskatoon, along the highway at Elk Island Reserve just outside of Edmonton, we saw bison…how cool is that? Oh, and of course we saw the giant pysanka in Vegreville. If we’d had more time it would have been fun to visit all the other “big things” that dot the Prairies…like the giant oil can in Rocanville, SK or the giant perogy on a fork in Glendon, AB.
It was really exciting to be back in Saskatoon. We moved away from there 18 years ago and hadn’t been back for a visit since 1997. We had a great time catching up with old friends. Wow, it has really grown. They have traffic jams now! We had two shows booked at the Prairie Ink Restaurant at McNally Robinson’s. We knew in advance that their in-house PA system wasn’t designed for two vocals, two plug in guitars, and a keyboard, so we had arranged to rent one from a local music store. The restaurant was packed when we arrived at the designated time to set-up. All was going well until we realized that the power chord for the rented PA was missing. An old friend of ours who has always been into music and radio and stuff happened to be there that night and somehow I felt it would be good to tell him of our dilemma. Good call on my part! Like Superman, Neil sprung into action…identified that the power chord connection was the same as for a PC, sped home to get one and was back to save the day within ten minutes. Thank you Neil! After that, things went very smoothly and we had two great shows.
With the threat of that “massive” snowstorm nipping at our heels, our friend Steve offered to drive us to our show at Turk’s Coffee House in Prince Albert (PA) in his SUV. It’s about an hour and a half north of Saskatoon. Being somewhat (very) road weary by this point, we were happy to take him up on his generous offer. Fortunately the bad weather didn’t materialize but we had a really nice visit on the ride there and back. Oh, and we had another near equipment disaster in PA. Although we had microphones with us…guess who didn’t have stands for them. Oh oh, kinda tough to play guitar and hold a microphone to your mouth at the same time. As it turned out, by some fluke, a band who’d played there before had left one mic stand behind so that was great. And, crisis was averted when, with McGyver-like ingenuity, Dwight and Steve fashioned another from my music stand, a little duct tape and a metal ruler I ran and got a nearby dollar store. We started right on time and the “McGyver Mic” held out beautifully! Turk’s is a really nice little coffee shop in Prince Albert and the owner, Rick, is great. Again we were pleased when we picked up a copy of the Prince Albert Herald and saw a really nice article about us complete with a picture!
The last official show on our tour was a Monday night at The Club in Regina. It’s a great little place but unfortunately the turnout for our show was literally just a couple of people. Several years ago we went to see one of our favourite singer songwriters, Bob Snider, when he was doing a Saturday matinee at a club on College Street. I arrived before Dwight and was the only person there at the posted time for the show to begin, which was very unusual for a Bob Snider show, but I guess every performer has those days now and again. Anyway, Bob grabbed his guitar and sat down behind the mic and said something like “Since you took the trouble to come down and hear me play, I’m going to play for you.” And he played like the room was full. If he was disappointed in the turnout, and I’m sure he was, he never let if show for a minute. I was blown away! The experience of that day really stuck with me and when we started performing ourselves, we were very conscious of that important lesson. Anyway, back to The Club…even though there were just a few people, they listened intently and we really enjoyed playing for them.
When we arrived back in Winnipeg the next day, we checked out an Open Stage at the Mona Lisa restaurant on Corydon Ave. It’s held every Tuesday night and is hosted by 92 CITI FM radio personality Howard Mandshein. It was great, there was a real nice mix of performers, attentive audience members, and an awesome soundman. And unlike many Open Stages with a 2 song limit, we had half an hour to play. What a nice surprise that evening was!
Learnings and Observations…
- Get a laptop…it would have been fun to blog along the route
- Check rented equipment before leaving the store to make sure all required parts are there!!
- It’s great to have friends who invite you to stay with them when you are in their town! Thank you!
- It’s beautiful driving through the Prairies…you get a real appreciation for how much space we have in this amazing country
- It’s more difficult to find steamed broccoli on the road than it is to find french fries
- Tim Horton’s has really taken hold out West…Robin’s, which used to be the big coffee chain, is disappearing
- I am not a car person…”Are we there yet?”
- Gas is sure expensive!
- The weather on the Prairies in April is unpredictable…+28C one day and -3C a few days later!
- Remember to ask for receipts for all music related expenses
- The old grain elevators are a beautiful site
- We love playing our music
Yikes, this turned out to be a longer blog than I anticipated. Thanks for sticking it out. Here are a few Prairie pics…