The Grateful Dead…

Three hours of sleep. Three hours of sleep is an average for me when I have an early bus to catch. I don’t know why buses leave so early sometimes. I guess it’s because of all the connections that must be made. But I heed the power of the Greyhound and kick my tired ass out of bed, a nice bed provided for me with my own room and bathroom, by the kind Aleta (we call her Ikea) She is the person my buddy Greg is living with and they were both kind enough to set me up, even if just for a few hours. I left in the darkness and dragged my suitcase to the bus station.  I slept on the bus for a good two to three hours and when I awoke I was greeted by the beautiful Rocky Mountains!

For anyone who hasn’t been to the Rockies yet, let me describe to you my first experience ever entering these mammoth entities of grandiose-ness. I was hitchhiking across Canada with my buddy Chris Wise. It was an eight to ten day journey and on the tail end, right after a sting in Calgary, with the Stampede happening as we were there, we took a ride up to Banff, our next destination. It was 1999. Outside of Calgary, the road is quite flat, prairie style, then as we approached, we began to see in the distance, the large, looming grey silhouettes of an endless rows of mountain crating a kind of sky-wall all around you, dressed with endless green pine and conifer of the tail end of Boreal forest that simply abound! My jaw was completely dropped the first time we approached these mountains. I’m not quite sure how to describe it except to say they just started. And start they did, all of a sudden we were surrounded by skyscraping monoliths of stone, rock, tree, snow and earth! Ice capped behemoths with the wisdom of a million winters, one growing out of the next, melding into landscapes so breathtaking, it took away my breath! You can drive this way for a day and a half and it will not change!

I never forgot that day, and for the several times I’ve been back, it always brought back that feeling of freedom, youthfulness and just pure belonging. For me it was and still is a portal into the pure experience of nature. It still is but this time there was something slightly different.This time instead of coming through the Trans Canada highway (highway 1) or the T-Can as we call it, I came in through Edmonton, via Jasper National Park, then down towards Kamloops ad Hope BC, finally towards Vancouver. What I saw this time was quite different, quite alarming, quite sad. I saw mountains of burned forests. The sites of post war effigies between unrelenting forest fires and those BC fire fighters trying to put them out.  I saw rivers drying up everywhere and sandy brown mountains shedding the last of their hydration . Why? I wondered and asked a few people. This was not the lush green British Columbia I remembered. Going down the Kootenays, I remember sheer green, constant wetness, the likes of what hey call cloud jungle. It’s almost tropical in its own northern way.  Later I’m told that most water bodies are dried up at this time of year due to the ice melt of the glaciers, it is the driest time of the year, but come winter it all starts up again.

Others, however told me it was because BC has not seen any rain in over a month and a half, absolutely none. Forest fires are deadly out in the back country bush and they are not easy to catch or stop as there are so many trees. This year they got very close to many places like Revelstoke, Vernon, Kamloops, Hope and even coming as close to Jasper in some area! Even in my surprise, I could not help but appreciate the insane bounty of nature that is still largely untouched by this province whom I hope will retain their love of nature, their steadfastness to being protectors and keepers of their land and not allow more destruction of natural habitat for animals, and humans alike. In other words, keep those pipelines and takers out of our shores and mountains!

I got to Vancouver late that night, around 10:15pm. I was tired and weary, happy to be in my second home away from home. I have been coming to Vancouver lots over the last few years and have many friends out here. It is really the only major city outside of Montreal where I would consider really moving to. Vancouver has the largest North American Asian population outside of Asia and the food in this city is incomprehensibly yummy. I love noodle soups, Thai food and Japanese food, and all my needs are met here for cheap!

My good buddy and amazing songwriter David Roy Parsons picked me up at the station and took me back to his place off of Commercial Drive in East Van. This is one of the best spots on town. It’s where most artists, musicians and great restaurants are. Dave lives with his girlfriend Eddyn, a lovely gal from Haiti with a great sense of humor. Upon arrival, I collapsed on the bed of the room I always stay when I come there. And I slept right through the night and woke up there next day to get ready to take the fairy to Victoria, which is on the breathtaking Vancouver Island. You have to take a fairy to get there and it’s quite a beautiful ride. We picked up Dave’s guitarist, this guy named Paul who is half Italian and half Irish, so basically a lover of alcoholic beverage! He kept having Dave buy him cigarettes and booze for his guitar playing services! He was actually a pretty brilliant guitar player, playing Django style (Manouche) music over Dave’s songs, which worked sometimes, and other times not so much. Anyway we hit the fairy to Victoria and got there around 5pm at which point I headed up to the venue we were playing at called the Fort Street Cafe.

The Fort Street Cafe, is a bar and restaurant run by Benji Cooey, a super nice guy originally from England and also a great drummer (reminds me of Levon Helm’s drumming style).  I felt really at home there having played there before and having been warmly welcome by Benji and his staff. They run a really cool bar there, the stage has a drum kit, a Hammond C3 organ with two (count em two!) Leslie rotating speakers, the real deal! They also have a piano and a bunch of amps, all things I cannot use or need unfortunately!

The night was amazing, Dave’s set was interesting too. It was good to see him play live again as I love his music. Then Dylan Stone band went on for whom Benji Drums, and they were pretty awesome too. They just had a great country/Wilco-esque sound. I went on last and did my thing with a renewed sense of energy and revitalization from being out west. I played really well and the crowd seemed to enjoy themselves. I was happy for that night cause it excited me again to keep on chugging for the second-to last leg of the tour.

The next day was spent just bumming around at Dave’s parents beautiful house overlooking Cedar Hill in Victoria. They have a gorgeous view right from their kitchen window. We drank coffee, chatted with his mom and watched a documentary on the history of England. It was so nice not to have to travel that day and just doing absolutely nothing was divine.  That night was our second show at the Solstice Cafe. We were also met by Nick Lyons and Margo his wife. Nick is an awesome writer and such a fun guy to be around. HE writes a blog called Milk & Honey, worth reading! He has a fantastic sense of humor and probably the best hardy full laugh I have ever experienced. He was kind enough to write an article on the JCEX for Monday magazine, the arts weekly in victoria that week to help promote the shows.

After the show, which was not well attended but beautiful in its own way because of the quiet nature of the songs we played and the intimate audience, the soundman came up to me and returned the 50$ I gave him for his fee. He said he didn’t need and that we needed it more. It was such a touching gesture on his part, I couldnt believe it or what to say so I did the only thing I could …I hugged him. I think in doing so I might have embarrassed him in front of his peers! Ahh the power of love combined with money!!! 😉

After the show, Nick, Margo, and five other friends and I all headed across the street to a victoria must-go-to establishment called simply “Swans”.

For those in the know Swans is a beautiful Victorian style bar and venue with a few different rooms and a main room with dance floor. There are always amazing cover bands playing there and that night was no exception.  We drank and danced into the night to songs by the Doors, the Stones, Beatles, you name it. It was an awesome Friday night and I was feeling super happy to be back in the west coast.  I was going a bit picture crazy that nights for no apparent reason at all except to say I was having a great time.

The next morning was scones and plum jam with home made Lattes for breakfast. I was heading back to Vancouver on my own by way of Fairy.  I had a big show that night at the Rickshaw theatre in the downtown east side. The Show was part of a music Festival in Vancouver called the Olio Fest. It’s their second or third year and they are already doing great things! They had Ladyhawk, Julie Doiron, and Brasstronaut whom I was opening for. The Rickshaw is an old Chinese movie theatre that was revamped and made into a large 700 capacity music hall.  It the place I came to see Yo La Tengo last year where I got to meet Ira Kaplan. It was amazing to actually be on that stage this year.

Patrick, the production manager for the festival, greeted me. He was a really cool laid-back guy and he told me he was part of the people who gutted the theatre when they were making it into a music venue. He said that under the stage when the were emptying it out, they found thousands and thousands of old Kung Fu movie reel to reels left from a bygone era. I wonder what they did with those? Backstage I met the guys from from the opening band Ants and Uncles, I was to play second. They were all so nice and it turns out I had already played a show in Montreal with them, so there was some familiarity there. I also had the chance to meet some of the members of Brasstronaut who were quite lovely and very friendly too.

The Olio fest guys were also very professional; I even had my own cooler with beer and water that had my name on it! That’s what I do it all for baby! Water with my name on it makes the struggle and hardship so worthwhile!

On second, I hit the stage with a fury. I don’t know what took me over but I felt like a rock star. I felt like for once I actually had worked hard and deserved to be on that stage. I deserved to blow people away including myself with this music. I played with fervor, precision, passion and fury. It felt awesome to be up on that stage. I think the crowd really vibed on it too, and I could feel it.  There was something in the air, maybe Chinese Kung Fu spirits of Bruce Lee, Jet Li or Jackie Chan were taking me over!

I think for a packed house that night I wanted to make this as good as it could be and I was super happy with the outcome. On tour, you get good shows and bad shows and this luckily was one of the good ones. I hung out with all the Olio and Rickshaw staff afterwards and they were super cool with me, so I hope I will be welcome next time through. At the show I met up with my long time friends Matt and Janine and Matts sister Kyra. It was good to see them and I was going to stay with them that night.  We headed back to their place in the south van. They have a lovely 3-bedroom house with large kitchen and nice big balcony. I felt right at home, Matt just bought a new ukulele and he was rocking out on it!  The he blew my mind by introducing me to one-man band extraordinaire, Reggie Watts.

The next morning they made the most lovely breakfast and we ate out on the back deck as it was so beautiful. It so weird but I think on this entire tour I only had one overcast slightly rainy day in 1 month which is kind of crazy. Every day I was blessed with the most perfect weather imaginable no matter where in the country I was.

We then went out to Queen Elizabeth Park, a gorgeous park that is more like a botanical garden, on a hill overlooking the gorgeous Vancouver landscape flanked by amazing mountains and water on all sides. Vancouver really is a special place. The park was named after the queen unveiled a very strange statue there of four gaudily-dressed civilians taking a photo together. Not sure why that was significant then again I didn’t enquire.  Then we went to what makes Vancouver life so special, we hit up a legion. Legions are like these old time clubhouses where you can get cheap beer and play darts or shuffleboard or bingo or whatever. They are like these large old style clubs with all wood décor that have live music, and are very funnily decorated. There were canned nuts in the vending machines. We had dinner at the Portland Craft restaurant after a game of shuffleboard and some of the best beer this side of the parallel. Apparently Portland brews are supposed to be the best, and that Apricot and IPA were living liquid proof! That night we took it easy and watched a Coen brothers film about growing up Jewish in Minnesota called A Serious Man”. It is very philosophical in a jewfish fashion and I highly recommend it.

The next day Dave picked me up and we headed to The Railway club for our last show in Vancouver together. It was a Monday night showcase so I didn’t know what to expect but it was such a great night! The people there were so happy and all the acts (3) were amazing in their own way including myself. I realized however that I had forgotten my red show shirt at matt and Janine’s AARRGH! Forgetfulness is one of my biggest weaknesses, must work on that one! But I was amazed with what ease I forgave myself for that foible! All my preaching must be rubbing off on me! I told myself that losing that shirt only opens a new door to something else to come along, and oh boy did something else come along!. I didn’t get a chance to pick it up which I am kicking myself in the ass for. I love that shirt and now I have no stage clothes, perhaps I will go Red Hot Chilli Pepper style next, what do you think?

There was a guy that night, who just kept buying us pitcher after pitcher. Paul, Dave’s guitarist was only too happy about that but we had a big morning planned ahead of us. Dave was taking me fishing early the next morning at the Vedder River (or as I call it the Eddie Vedder river).  It’s about a 45 min drive from Vancouver and in a beautiful valley near Abbotsford.

We got there and were greeted by six fishermen who looked grumpy and mean. They stayed preaching to us about what we should and shouldn’t do there. We Shouldn’t use certain floats or baits etc, then they yelled at us for parking where we did. David later told me they were kind of rednecks and I could see that. They were actually wrong about the baits and floats too according to other fishermen there. Dave is an experienced fisherman and totally told them where it was. As for me, I was like the urbanite that doesn’t know shit about fishing. But after my rod kept binding up and getting tangled on itself. I gave up and watched Dave do the fishing. Watching people fish can be as relaxing as fishing itself.

There were not many salmon in the river as the water levels were quite low. Right around this time of year all the salmon (even the pink-flesh Salmon) come back to the rivers, to the streams and swim upstream to spawn. It’s the best time to catch them as they come there to lay their eggs and die. It’s quite a beautiful journey actually. The salmon are born, then swim out to the oceans, grow up and come back home to continue the most amazing cycle of their existence, they lay their eggs and simply die. You can see them all on the shores inlate october, dead, you’d step all over them!

So Salmon fishing is strictly prohibited until this time of the year. That’s another thing I admire about BC fishery laws, they are very strict and punishment can be sever for disobeying them. I love BC. Here, they have a whole governmental structure based on the natural cycles of their environment as opposed to being based on the dreaded and unrelenting “Economy” which seems to have no regard for nothing but short term gain, and mocks us all with its insatiable appetite for more and more and more. What a sickness in our society it is, and what a burden on our poor earth, what disdain for limitations! In the words of our forefathers. Oy Vey!  I sincerely hope the BC government will continue to be a beacon for this type of environmental regard & stewardship, which is so lacking on the rest of the planet.

It’s great to protect the environment but mosdt people still seem to be so absent-minded about how to take care of their immediate environment. I noticed on the ground by the fishing shore lots of fishing rod lines (they are made of nylon and it’s like thin rope). I was appalled to see that people just toss their used lines on the ground. This is so bad for the environment, and even worse for birds, fish and wildlife that must get tangled up in this old line and die because of it. This line is worse than those beer can plastic holders that birds get trapped in because this is much thinner and easier to get tangled up in or even swallow!

I spent the last hour of our fishing time picking up all the lines on the shore and putting them in a plastic bag. That was my fishing experience! Meanwhile Dave didn’t catch anything but one of the rednecks did, a nice big white and silver fish. He battled with it for a few minutes too! It was beautiful to watch this dance between the fish struggling for its survival and the fisher using all his skills to follow the fishes movement and at the same time keep reeling it in. When a fish bites the hook, its only the beginning of the challenge. Most fish are able to get away even after a bite and the true skill comes in once the fish is hooked and the fisherman must know how to reel it in. Dave tells me that these waters also have Sturgeon, which can be up to 10 feet long and weigh 3000 pounds! They of course are illegal to fish in Canada and if you should be so unlucky to hook one with your fishing rod, it’s more likely that the Sturgeon will fish you into its waters!

We moved onto another spot where the fishing was better, but there were even more fishermen there. At one point one of the fishermen finished his smoke and threw the butt in the beautiful waters. I was shocked. How can people still be so unconscious of their actions? It took every ounce of will for me not to tell this guy he was the scum of the earth, most likely because it would have gotten Dave and me in a whole heap of trouble. Dave spoke to a guy who told him about a place where the fish was plentiful called Allison Pond a few miles south. Dave later went after I left Vancouver and told me it was amazing!

I realized then that fishing is not really my thing. Watching that salmon get battered with a rock and netted, made me feel sad yet amazed at the same time. It made me reconsider being a pescatarian. Too much pain is inflicted on animals by us humans, too much power overexerted and too much abuse on our wildlife that it cannot be ovelooked. Even though fishing is one of the lesser evils, watching that man killing without even a though or a prayer for his pray made me think how we take so much for granted, how we think mother nature is only here for us and no one else. Eventually this attitude will be our undoing.

That night Dave and I and Eddyn went to meet up with Matt and Janine for what is becoming our traditional Vancouver restaurant meal at the Legendary Noodle House,  a restaurant where the make the noodles fresh on the spot. It was a quick but very slurpy and yummy dinner, with garlic pea shoots as an opener, then lovely garlic noodles with veggies and peanut butter noodles and finally the gorgeous flat noodle plate! All made fresh on the spot.
Man I love that place, 15$ for a full meal! You can’t beat that. Then we checked out an amazing mixed nut and dried fruit place on English Bay. Their décor went above and beyond what any dried nut on this planet has ever seen!

After an nice evening listening to Turkish music which Dave and Eddy brought back from their trip to Turkey, I packed my bags for an early start back east to play my next show in Penticton the Nelson, then Golden BC, and finally, Kelowna. A route that takes me into the Columbia glaciers, via the peachy and breathtaking Okanagan Valley! Onwards, no rest for the wicked! Dave waked me at 5am and we hit the road. Read on to see what happens….

Salutes from the West Coast in British Columbia!