‘Live Music Is Better!’ – JT has been shouting this from the stage at every show on the summer tour so far, and every audience has enthusiastically agreed. Here I’ll offer a quick re-cap of our shows so far.
June 18: Markham Village Music Festival: Taking Flight & Volume Wars
The first show of our summer tour was in Markham, Ontario. We’d originally planned to perform as a smaller configuration but figured what the heck – it’s local, and what’s more fun than the full 8 piece band? Nothing, that’s what. We all managed to squeeze our cars in to the lot directly behind the stage, and we played as the sun set. The stage was small, but we’ve definitely played on smaller. There was another stage set-up no more than 100ft away with a band going full tilt. We decided to save ‘Carry Me Home’ until after they were done – we soldiered through but it was a little weird having that much volume so close!
JUNE 24: Tinhorn Creek Winery, Oliver BC: No Legroom, Gorgeous Country and Incredible Hospitality
Air Canada Rouge is an incredible airline – if you’re under 5’6″. With a bunch of 6 footers in the band, the lack of legroom would have been funny if it wasn’t so uncomfortable. But a cramped flight made arriving in the beautiful Okanagan valley even sweeter. We landed in Kelowna in the late morning, picked up our rental van and were heading south on Highway 97 just after noon. It was 30 degrees and dry. After a wet and cold spring in Toronto, it felt great to be in the hot sun.
It is truly beautiful country – lakes and trees and incredible rock formations. As we pulled in to Tinhorn Creek Vineyards we knew we were in for a treat. Perched on the side of a mountain, it offers a panoramic view of the entire valley. The stage is setup with that as the backdrop – pretty stunning setting for a concert.
We were warmly greeted by the production folks, and Muriel from the vineyard gave us the lay of the land. We met our sax player for the evening, Mr. Stanley Zappa, the nephew of the late, great Frank. Stanley had a great vibe, and from the first note of soundcheck it felt very natural.
We were already excited about the show – (almost sold out when we arrived) but the accommodations were unbelievable. My criteria for awesome is usually a clean room with a lockable door, WIFI and reasonably close to the venue. A private swimming pool is not on my list – but I suppose it is now. A villa with a wraparound porch and view of the valley with a private swimming pool. A pre-soundcheck swim was just what the doctor ordered, so in went most of us.
Dinner at Mirodoro Restaurant overlooking the amphitheatre was delicious as we watched the audience filter in. It was already full by the time we finished eating. We wrote out our setlists – we had two sets to perform, and headed back for some pre-show R&R.
We walked over to play our first set and were greeted with a warm round of applause from the audience. It’s always nice to be welcomed like that before we’ve even played a note.The sun had set, but the entire valley was suffused with a warm glow. The temperature dropped to a pleasant 25 degrees, and we were out of the direct sunlight. Now it was up to us and the audience to make a night to remember. We opened with Do You Remember, and it felt good right off the bat. We decided over dinner to include some of our favourite cover songs. As nice as it would be to play entirely original material, it felt like a way of saying thank you to people who had bought tickets to hear a band I’m sure many or most had never heard of. Within seconds of starting Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing In The Dark’, the dancefloor was packed, and stayed that way until the end of the first set.
It was clear that many people in the audience were enjoying the Tinhorn Creek Vineyards product, and I think we’d won everyone over. We opened with Bobbi Champagne, and then dance party number two began. We ended with our Take Me To The River/Them Changes medley and everyone: band and audience alike, were smiling and sweaty. With an early flight back to Toronto the next morning, we went back to our rooms with a view, had some drinks and turned in. Big thank you to the incredible audience, and the staff at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards for making us feel so welcome.
TUESDAY JUNE 24: Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival: Rocking the ‘Bez’ and Early Flights
We landed at Saskatoon International around 10am and were picked up by two Jazzfest volunteers. Mercifully we were able to check in to the Sheraton Cavalier early, which we did. A few of us napped, and a few walked around the city. JT and I went to a local pub for a bite and a beer and a logistics meeting. We walked over to the festival site – no more than 100 metres from the front door of the hotel, for soundcheck at 4pm. The crew was outstanding – big thank you to Doug for taking some extra time to make our monitors were all dialled in. The Leslie cabinet for Derek’s keyboard was a nice touch – still not the real thing but so, so much closer. We met our horn players – Rory and Adam – and they fit right in.
After soundcheck we dispersed to eat dinner. About an hour before the show we gathered in our beautifully appointed backstage tent dressing room for a drink and a setlist discussion. When the doors were opened a steady stream of people, folding chairs in hand, filled the venue. We knew it was sold out (all our doing – clearly nothing to do with Walk Off The Earth ;-) – but it’s always a treat when the audience is almost entirely there for the opening band. We opened with ‘Do You Remember’ and JT had the crowd waving along with him during the breakdown. We all felt comfortable very quickly and the audience was really nice to us. Sometimes as the opener you just hope not to be heckled – instead we were warmly received. This is a nice compliment to the bookers of the festival – it can take time to earn the trust of an audience that whether or not they’ve heard of an act, it will at least be worth their consideration. We closed with Zero To Eleven and were done right at 9pm. We hung out backstage while the crew prepared the stage for the headliners, Walk Off The Earth. When they hit the stage, the audience greeted them with a roar. A reminder that as nice as everyone was to us, we’ve got a long way to go before we earn that kind of reception. They played their hits, and a smattering of covers, and everyone went home happy. We headed out – JT and I reconnected with our friend Earl Pereira, who we’ve known since the late 90’s when we used to open for his old band Wide Mouth Mason. We went out for ‘one last drink’ at a local bar with him before we all turned in for an hour’s sleep before our trip to the airport.
Our flight the next morning was at the unholy hour of 5am – we were at the airport for 3:30am – and I promised everyone we’d never book a flight that early again. Except we definitely will. Big thank you to everyone at the Festival – it was a pleasure to deal with so many pleasant and professional people. I hope we’ll be back in the future.
That’s the news from here – next up is Quebec City for Festival D’ete De Quebec on July 16th.
– Jeremy Elliott (Drums)