Wednesday, August 5, 2009

August Tour - Chicago, Michigan, and the Border Crossing

Our first gig of the tour was in Chicago at Uncommon Ground. Jeremiah is pictured tearing up the guitar and harmonica. Not pictured: the melting faces of the audience.

On our way to Canada we played a stop in Hastings, Michigan. We found this tumble-down shack in a state park just outside of town.

The bridge we went over to get to Canada, and were sent back over...

Here comes the fun part of the story. Our entry, or rather, attempted entry into Canada at Port Huron, MI. See, as a musician, you technically need a work visa to perform in Canada. This costs $150 a person and takes a buttload of paperwork, and you can still be denied a visa if the Canadian government deems you "not big enough." Therefore, Jeremiah and I decided to simply cross the border pretending to be tourists with minimal gear. We thought it would be a breeze. It wasn't.

The lady at the entry gate did not believe our story, which included visiting friends in Toronto and road-tripping through on our way to Maine (which is actually true, just half-true). She sent us over to customs who proceeded to thoroughly search my mini-van. I'm pretty sure they were searching for drugs, which we did not have. What they did find was all of our merchandise and a poster with all of our tour dates listed on it, which we had stupidly left in the van. That paved the way for a visit with immigration, who slapped a sheet of paper in front of us informing us that if we continued to mis-represent we could be fined up to $100,000 and banned from Canada. Needless to say, our story stopped there and we fessed up. We were allowed to withdraw our application to enter Canada, and were sent back across the bridge to the U.S. Ironically, though American border guards are usually thought of as hard-asses, they were far nicer than the Canadians. When we showed them the paper saying we had been denied entry, they inquired, and upon learning it was simply due to trying to play some gigs in Canada, their responses were simple, "wow, thats it? sorry dudes."

Now I don't blame Canadian border guards for doing their job, and I know that we were trying to break the rules. It is a bit ridiculous, however, that two d.i.y musicians attempting to play 5 small shows in Canada should be intimidated and made to feel like criminals. We were not trying to smuggle drugs into the country, only music. We would probably only be making a couple of hundred Canadian dollars, and spend most of it in Canada.

There seems to be something wrong with a policy that does not allow the easy exchange of culture between two neighboring countries that get along so well. I understand that the law is the result of Canadian musicians' unions lobbying due to the American side making it harder on them first. I can totally understand that if Canadians have a hard time playing in the states, which is pretty much a necessity for their careers, they wouldn't want us Americans to be able to easily take their jobs up in Canada. Can't we do something on both sides of the border to make the exchange of musical ideas a bit easier? I am convinced that multi-national corporations get into Canada easier than musicians.

Anyways, keep reading, because there is a silver lining!
After the failure to cross in Port Huron we drove down to Detroit hopping to get some help at the Canadian consulate there and perhaps get in legally this time. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday and the consulate was closed, so we had a night to kill in Detroit before attempting the next day. This also meant that we had to cancel the first gig in Canada, at Mitzi's Sister that night in Toronto.

We got a hotel room so that we could feel like humans again after the day's shitty turn of events. Amazingly, you can get a 3 and a half star hotel room in Detroit for $50. Damn that city is hurting. We were able to drink some beers on the roof of our hotel and soon loosened up.

Our last gig in Canada was to be the International Folk Festival in Quebec City, and that was our most official, coveted date. We enlisted their aid the next morning and they were able to get us the paperwork to file for a work visa. The paperwork was faxed to our hotel, and was entirely in French, so I could only understand a small part of it. We headed down to the Canadian consulate only to find that it was closed due to a Canadian "civic holiday". Application in hand we decided, what the hell, lets give this a shot.

Driving through the tunnel under the river and into Canada I was sure we would be turned away again. I was sure that our passports were blacklisted and we would be swiftly denied entry, once again. As we talked to the initial border guard in the booth, she asked us why we had both been denied the day before, and once again sent us to customs. This is where our fortune changed, the guards at Windsor were much more helpful and friendly.

The customs officer asked to search the vehicle, and Jeremiah immediately showed him the cd's, accounting for all 300 of them and providing information on how much we sell them for. Though they can easily charge a tax on merchandise like that, the customs officer simply said we were fine and waved us on to immigration. I handed our visa application to the lady at the immigration counter, and informed her that it was all in French so I wasn't too sure what it all meant. She said that she could not read French either, and did not even look at it. She inquired briefly about our incident the day before, and then simply stamped our customs sheet and ok'd our entry into Canada. Jeremiah and I were both stunned, as we were sure we would not get in and would have to cancel all of our shows. Luck was with us, and we celebrated heavily as we left Windsor behind us and hit the road to Toronto...

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