US/Canada tour leg – Part 1 (Eastern US/Canada)

by Cesco Emmanuel

Here’s how the tour went: June 6th – June 15th – Detroit, Pittsburgh, Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Vermont, Quebec City

June 6th – Gig # 1 – Concert of Colours, Max Fisher Music Center, Detroit. So we (Drew, Rob, Linsey and myself) drove to Sarnia and crossed the border to Detroit at 3.30PM. We had a rehearsal at 4PM, but we were running late. The border patrol officer was rather animated when we told him we’re a band and had a gig in Detroit. We met our substitute trombone, trumpet and bass player for this show – Noah Jackson (bass), Peter Nelson (trombone) and Anthony Stanko (trumpet), nice guys who picked up the tunes fairly quick. Our regular guys, Jan (trumpet) couldn’t make the show as his father-in-law had just passed, and Terry (trombone) had a next gig in London, Ontario, he was meeting us the next day and Jan was joining us later in the week. Don (bassist) had a visa issue that had to get resolved with the U.S Embassy, we were hoping he would join us by the end of the week.

We practiced till 7.15PM at the School of Rock studios in Detroit, then rushed to the Max Fisher Music Center for the ‘Concert of Colours’, where we met our good Jamaican friend Leighton, he drove down to hear us from Leamington, Ontario. We played at 9PM. All things considered, we had a pretty decent show for one rehearsal with so many new players. The folks backstage were really nice to us, after we checked in to the Westin Hotel, a rather spiffy place. I crashed at 1.30AM.

June 7th – Gig # 2 – Thunderbird Cafe, Pittsburgh. We met Terry in the Westin Hotel lobby, he had travelled by bus all night, we grabbed breakfast, said goodbye to Linsey and Leighton as they headed back to Ottawa and drove to Pittsburgh with our bassist for the week – Noah. We were playing at the Thunderbird Cafe at 9PM. We checked-in to our hotel and attempted to find Maryland Ave. We had a pre-show appearance at another place, where we were going to play for this crowd, get dinner and hopefully get the folks to follow us to the club after. We never found the place, we got to Maryland Ave according to our GPS (which was truly possessed by the devil), drove around and eventually gave up trying to find the place, we had soundcheck at 7PM at the club so we headed to the venue. It was a bit of a grimy, hole-in-the wall place, rather small. The crowd there seemed like a punk/rock crowd. We discovered that there was half of a drum kit, no cymbals, no guitar amps and no bass amp either. We were told that the other band would let us use their stuff, we met the other band, a reggae unit called ‘Truth and Rights’, cool bunch of guys, found out the lead singer was a guy named ‘Quest’ from Belmont, Trinidad, small world indeed. We had dinner at the bar and then waited for soundcheck, which took a while. We then met a rather short, obnoxious man named ‘Manny’ – the promoter, who insulted Drew and told us all that we ‘stood up’ the crowd at Maryland Ave. When we tried to explain to him that we got lost, he insisted that we weren’t in Pittsburgh, that we went somewhere else. He insisted that Drew show him his cell phone to verify if we had indeed called his number as we said we had done when we got lost. Right then and there I wanted to walk out of the place and hit this guy. He was a real jerk. I ignored him the rest of the night. Nevertheless, we played the show, nobody was really into it. The crowd was small and the sound on-stage was not good. The band was not tight at all, we clearly needed another rehearsal to tighten up the bass sound especially. After the show, the promoter came by, very happy how we sounded, and planned when we would come back. I know when we’ll be coming back. Never, that’s when. We drove back to the hotel and didn’t say much to each other. Drew planned a rehearsal for the next day in Washington.

June 8th – Gigs # 3 & 4 – John F. Kennedy Center & Club Tropicalia, Washington, DC. We had two gigs today, the most important on this entire tour was at the John F. Kennedy Center at 6PM. We found a rehearsal studio, and practiced the set, we tightened up on the arrangements that were off the night before. Feeling a little better, we drove to soundcheck. We were performing at the Eisenhower Theatre at 6PM. Everyday there’s a free show at the Kennedy Center. Everyday! That’s amazing! We played the gig and had a packed house. Folks were a bit reserved to get up and dance but we eventually had a full house. The entire performance can be viewed on this link. We met a number of Trinis after the show, they all told us what a great thing we were doing, keeping the art-form of calypso alive. It was very heart-warming to hear.

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We hung around a bit after on the upstair patio overlooking the city, it was beautiful. We had a later show at Club Tropicalia. The Garifuna Collective was playing there as well. The show ran an hour late, so we eventually started after 11PM after the Collective, by then the crowd had thinned out a fair bit. Rob played on a kit with a broken, chipped, eaten hi-hat cymbal. After the show we went for chili at Ben’s Chili, where there’s pictures of President Obama, Bill Cosby having chili at Ben’s. We each had our own room in a very fancy hotel, with a small kitchen. I slept like a log that night.

June 9th – Gig # 5 – World Cafe Live – Philadelphia. We had a late breakfast and drove to Philly, we had a decent soundcheck and drove to our hotel, there was a mix-up with the rooms at the Four Points Sheraton, so Drew and I booked at the Hampton last minute. The area was a bit dodgy. We had a small crowd again at this club, but there were a number of Trinis from south there as well as two of my sister’s high-school friends – Carla Waldron and Natasha Murphy were there, it was great to see them at the show. So after a while, everyone was on the dance floor, waving Trini flags, it was sight to see. We limed after with all of them.

June 10th – Gig # 6 – S.O.B’s, New York. We left after 10AM for New York, got in after noon, got stuck in traffic and eventually found our hotel, in the Hasidic Jewish district, it was very interesting to say the least. The area was a bit run down, seemed almost like an industrial estate, and nobody acknowledged us, we looked like aliens to them probably. It was strange, but I’m used to people not noticing you. It’s the same thing in any big city, it’s how I always felt when I lived in Toronto, hated it, I guess that’s why I moved back to Trinidad. But anyway. We walk around endlessly to get a taxi, ended up squeezing into one with all our gear in the trunk. When we do get to the venue, I am starving and pissed, so I go get food. Funny enough, as the law of attraction would have it, I meet this rude pizza guy, when I ask him how long it was take to get a pizza, he tells me, ‘Well, I dunnno what ya gonna order, so I dunno how long it’s gonna take!’ So I thanked him and walked out, I got chinese instead. Our soundcheck runs late, so we walk around the area, it’s busy and hot. We find out that there’s three separate shows tonight at S.O.B’s and we’re the first show, so we’re the last to soundcheck. Three separate shows? Anyway, I heard that’s how they do it here in New York.  Jan has joined us now, his father-in-law’s funeral was yesterday, so we’re back to our full count of six. We have a quick soundcheck and go chill out in the dressing room. We play to an almost empty club, there’s 15 people there, but luckily, most are press/industry folk. An old school-mate from primary school – Joanna Budries is in the crowd with her husband; rather nice of them to come hear us. Even though the crowd is small, the entire staff at this place is so nice, the bartenders, the security, the owner and they fed us a home-cooked meal and thanked us for playing.

We give an almost perfect performance and go back to our hasidic hotel, and head out to the Hipster district. Everybody looks like they haven’t bathed in months, we grab a late-night pizza in this dingy place and head back after 2AM.

June 11th – Gig # 7 – Middlebury Festival, Vermont. This is our last show with Noah, Don comes to meet us in Burlington tomorrow, his visa is approved. Finally. We reach this beautiful town, have soundcheck and get treated to a great meal downstairs in a church.  We walk around town, it’s almost like a Christmas picture, this place, very quaint and pretty. We’re playing at 8.30PM. Jacob from Cumbancha Records comes to talk with us downstairs. He’s a master at promotion and while we’re playing, he’s helping us sell CD’s. I think we sell the most amount of our CD’s at this festival. It’s in a tent, but there’s folks all on the lawn, by the time we start our first song most of the folks on the side are dancing already. We do our usual walk off and the crowd is just screaming. We pack up and head up to the farm where we’re staying for the night. We get lost but our guide eventually finds the place. The farm is a bit run down, bugs everywhere, but the beds are clean. We stay the night and head out in the morning.

June 12th – Gig # 8 – Club Metronome, Burlington, Vermont. We say goodbye to Noah who takes the train back to New York, Drew makes us all breakfast and we head to Charlotte, VT where we meet Jacob and he takes on a tour his office and studio set-up for Cumbancha Records. We then head to our hotel to discover that Don did not get his passport on time from the embassy and thus misses his flight. Drew tries to find a bassist frantically, but I suggest that I play bass, and that’s what happened. I played bass at this show. Soundcheck was quick and I rehearsed the lines right there and then. The place was huge and the crowd was again rather small, but Jacob gave us such an introduction that from the first note people were dancing. We did a walk-off unto the street and had everyone looking at us. We later have dinner at this crazy, bohemian place where I ate fried chicken and waffles, quite the combo let me tell you.

June 13th – drove to Quebec City, five hour drive. We take the boat across the river and explore the old part of Quebec City, it is absolutely beautiful, definitely my most favourite new place in Canada. It doesn’t even feel like a Canadian city, it feels like Europe. Don flies in to meet us and we head back to the hotel late.

Finally, we are a full band line-up again.

June 14th – Gig # 9 – Le Festival d’ete de Quebec – We leave the Four-Points hotel, take the ferry across and check-in to the Hilton hotel and goto soundcheck at 1.30PM. We have our own backstage area, soundcheck at 2.30PM and play in an hour. We’re at the Hydro Quebec stage. The crowd starts to build as we play but it is such a hot day that most folks are standing in the shade, not that I blame them. We do the walk-off which gets everyone screaming and they demand an encore, which was very gratifying. We head back to the hotel, jump in the pool, then go back to the stage to hear our friends – The Soul Jazz Orchestra from Ottawa, such a great band, amazing stuff. Me, Drew and Rob go grab dinner and try to find Jan, Terry and Don, they’ve left for the Bell stage at the historic Plains of Abraham, where we’re going to see the one and only Stevie Wonder. We never find them, the crowd is too massive. But what a show, what an amazing musician and person – Stevie Wonder. I reckon about 70,000 was there. We later walked back to our stage and caught the end of Kassav’s set, then we go for a beer and meet up with Phil Lafreniere from Soul Jazz, we walk back up the hill to Hilton after 2AM.

June 15th – We take the long drive back to Toronto. We leave at 8.30 and after dropping off the guys in the band, I reach back to my friend’s place at 8PM. Twelve hours on the road, more or less.

Part 2 of our Canadian/US tour starts on the West Coast this weekend. We head to Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Pasadena. Thoroughly looking forward to this, and we will have our regular line-up for this tour, so that is one less thing to worry about.

I am tired, exhausted, a bit frustrated, and whatever else you can think of that happens while on tour. The mind is fuzzy, the stomach is upside down and life is anything but normal and routine.

But, this is a tour and I’m sure this sort of thing usually happens to every band when they’re on tour.

What an experience, what a life, what a mess!

I guess that’s music for you

See you guys next week.