Monday, August 31, 2009

Visiting Family and the Berkshires

This is my cousin Alex, he lives in Walpole, NH with his wife and son. Jeremiah and I stopped in to visit him for lunch on our way south to Massachusetts. Here he is pictured in front of his lovely white house.
Alex, his wife Heather, and son Mario, and myself (on the right, of course).
The Dream Away Lodge in Becket, MA. We played there on a Sunday night to a great listening crowd. Its a really cool place, apparently an old speakeasy turned into a lodge and restaurant. Becket is located in the misty Berkshires of western Massachusetts, and is a hidden prize of an establishment out in the woods.
The pond out in front of the Dream Away.
Explaining metaphysics to the audience.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Slacking on Tour Posts

Alright, wow, I haven't updated this thing since Vermont, and I am now in... Indiana. I suck, sorry about that guys. I forgot the cable that connects my camera to my computer, so I haven't been able to upload any new photos. I thought that I would give you a quick update as to some of the highlights of the tour since Vermont, as we've been a lot of places since.

Highlight Reel:

Becket, MA - The Dreamaway Lodge is a sweet old speakeasy lodge in backwoods Berkshires, great listening crowd, until some kids started banging on drums and tambourines, but still fun. Nice bunkhouse out back, a very relaxing stop on the tour.

Cambridge, MA - turned out to be a competitive open mic at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge. Jeremiah won! He is now the King of Boston.

New York, NY - Spent 4 lovely days and nights in the big apple, one night in a Wal-Mart parking lot in New Jersey (NOT ideal), best show was at An Beal Bocht Cafe in the Bronx, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, drank too much whiskey.

Asbury Park, NJ - spent 2 days playing in Bruce Springsteen's hometown, nice boardwalk, tasty clams, spent one night with my friend Sarah Donner and her awesome husband, wonderful hosts! played a gig with Shania Twain's guitarist. camped the second night in the middle of nowhere New Jersey (didn't know such places existed) in the Pine Barrens, simply beautiful.

Wilmington, DE - played at Mojo 13, crazy clown joint, my mom's awesome cousin Jeff drove all the way from North Carolina and picked up his daughter Heather to see the show! amazing! crashed with my awesome songwriter buddy Kyle Swartzwelder, a hit machine.

Pittsburgh, PA - played at "Pittsburgh's No. 1 Polish Party House" and ate pierogies, Bruce "The Man", couchsurfer extraordinaire put us up last minute and was a most gracious host. Jeremiah ran into a guy who's guitar he tried to drunkenly play years ago in Winona.

Thomas, WV - beautiful West Virginia, so nice, so many waterfalls. played to a full room at the Purple Fiddle, amazing listening crowd, easily one of the best shows of the tour. drank some mountain moonshine, yum!

Cleveland, OH - played one of my favorite venues, chatted with one of my favorite venue owners, Martin the Man! Martin's daughter Jenna is a super sweet heart, and decorated our tip jar all swell. drove to Columbus, OH afterwards for some "nightlife"

and now we are in Terre Haute, IN! Only two more shows left and then home! I'll get some pics posted soon after I get home, until then, stay rad bloggo-world,


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Vermont and the Drive Through New Hampshire

The White Mountains of New Hampshire as seen from a scenic rest area along the route. Beautiful beautiful scenery.

Driving north on the Interstate in New Hampshire.
We had a show booked at a coffee shop in Montpelier, VT, but found out just a week or so before the tour that they had triple booked and we were canceled. Along came our saviors, couchsurfers Jim and Kim were kind enough to pick up our gig and move it to the River Arts Center in Morrisville, VT. The above picture is the set up in the beautiful, 150+ year old building. Unfortunately, due to the last minute switch of town and venue (and the fact that Jeremiah and I are nobodies in Vermont), absolutely no one showed up.
The night was not lost, though, as Kim made us an amazing Indian dinner, look at that spread! We played our gigs for Jim and Kim while dinner was being made, and had a great evening chatting with them. They put us up in their horse barn that night, and it was the best night of sleep I've had yet on tour.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Maine - Portland and Lobster

Fairly soon after crossing the border back into the United States. Appalachia!
The South Freeport, ME harbor. Just north of Portland, Jeremiah and I came here to eat the coveted Maine lobster.
Lobster and steamed clams!
So immature, pssch.

We played a gig in Portland, ME that night, thought it wasn't much to speak off other than meeting some cool folks. Crashed that night in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Yep.

Quebec City

The front of this church was all that was left, no idea why. The facade backed right up to a cliff, so we could only surmise that a mudslide or something had washed the back away.
The wall that surrounds Old Quebec City.
Looking down one of the city's many old, narrow streets. This is truly one of the oldest cities in North America.

The Chateau de Frontenac, THE plush hotel of Quebec City. I have been told that it is the most photographed hotel in the world.

Our gig that Thursday night was a headlining spot at a venue during the International Folk Festival. It was truly one of the best gigs Jeremiah and I have ever had the pleasure to play, a fantastic, attentive crowd, and great folks running the show. We played at a venue called Le Studio P, which seemed specially set up for the festival.

Benoit, the head of the festival, was kind enough to let us crash at his place in a centuries' old building in central Quebec City. I awoke early in the morning to one hell of a thunderstorm, a beautiful way to wake up in my humble opinion. After awakening I moved my car to avoid a parking ticket and wandered to a corner epicerie (grocery store) to buy some jus d'orange (orange juice). It is nearly impossible to not feel like you are in Europe in this wonderfully unique town, a welcome capstone to our Canadian experience.


The view of downtown Montreal from atop Mont Royal Park. Lovely city.
Sporting my WNUR shirt and a dumb grin.
Vieux Montreal, the old part of town.
Jeremiah performing at Brutopia, a seriously killer folk venue. Had a great audience throughout, and got to finally try out our few duo songs.
Mont Royal Park


We take a two-lane highway from Toronto to Ottawa rather than the big "interstate-like" one, and it was a beautiful drive. It felt very much like driving through northern Wisconsin. We pulled over at this rest area next to a lake and I snapped a few photos to show how much it looks like any northwoods lake.

Our gig in Ottawa was pretty good, and pretty uneventful. We played at a Soviet-enthusiast bar owned by a Russian expatriate called the Avant-Garde Bar. It was pretty standard as far as Tuesday nights go, which usually means quiet and laid back. Our couchsurfing host Rene couldn't have been more fun and welcoming, and hung out before, during and after our gig. He has a fine knowledge of Quebec beers!
Parliament! We had to see the "capitol" of Canada before moving on. A truly magnificent building.

THE tour photo. Conquerors of Canada! Evaders of the Border Patrol! Criminals.
Ottawa lies on the banks of the Ottawa River (go figure), which separates Ontario from Quebec. Across the river in Quebec is the city of Gatineau. This is looking upstream at more of Ottawa.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

August Tour - Toronto

We arrived in Toronto with some time to kill, so after checking in with our couch-surfing host Corrina, I went for a walk next to Lake Ontario. This shot is of the emerging Toronto skyline as I got closer to it. We played later at the Gladstone Hotel as featured artists at their open mic.
An evening rowing session on Lake Ontario.
Looking southwest along the lakeshore.
Bam! That CN Tower is big!
Our couch-surfing host, Corrina. She took this shot herself during a drive through downtown Toronto. A fun fun, gracious host, and she had the comfiest of hammocks.

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...