Western Canada/US tour – July 2013

by Cesco Emmanuel

So it was just a week of shows, but it was a little bit of a vacation at the start of the tour. The last few days were more than crazy. So here’s how it went….

The lineup for this West Coast tour was as follows: Drew Gonsalves (Vocals, Guitar, Cuatro); myself (guitar, backing vocals), Rob Milicevic (drums, backing vocals), Linsey Wellman (sax, backing vocals) and Don Stewart (bass, backing vocals).

No first things first, we had a good lineup, no subs, so that was a relief.

July 20th & 21st – Vancouver Folk Fest. But first….

July 18th – Me and Drew got in late on Thursday (18th) night from Toronto and met Linsey in the hotel room. We ate some pretty good late night pizza at this place on Granville Street. We soon found out that our show in Seattle on Wednesday was cancelled, so we were in a bit of a quandry, do we stay out West for an entire week with no shows, or do we go back to Ontario?

We start to look at both options, staying out West vs. heading back east to Ontario. The cost to fly back to Ontario was rather pricey. Why is the cost of travel in Canada so bloody expensive?

July 19th – The next day was a free day, Drew had an all-day rehearsal for the Alan Lomax workshop happening on Sunday at the folk fest. So Linsey and I just chilled in the hotel room, got a late lunch and visited a music store on Granville Street. Vancouver is such a complex place – relaxed people, happy hippies and strung-out homeless people all on one street. I guess that’s the same in most cities? We went to the Folk Fest that evening to just check it out, there’s something special about Vancouver Folk Fest, it is my favourite Canadian Festival, the crowd here is so appreciative and really amazing. Later I met up with a friend of mine from Trinidad who now lives in Vancouver, he took me on the town, we ended up on Granville Street, man was that place loud and just a bit too much for me. Rob and Don were flying in late that night in time for the workshops the next day. There was a thunderstorm warning in both Ottawa and Toronto, but the guys made it in okay.

July 20th – Workshops 1 & 2 – Folk Fest – The next day we had two workshops at the Folk Fest. At Canadian Folk Fests, a workshop consists of various bands (usually between 2 – 5 bands) all on one stage, jamming their own songs for about an hour. After a short while, all the bands will play on each others songs (hopefully). Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The last time we were at the Van Folk Fest (2008), two of the workshops were sort of confusing. But this time we had a blast for both of the workshops. The first one was called ‘Get Up, Stand Up’. We were on stage with the Shirleys, Sarah-Lee Guthrie, Johnny Irion and Maria Dunn. It wasn’t long before we were all singing along on each others’ songs. The crowd loved it. And for the last tune – Marley’s classic, we had the crowd screaming out the words. It was a humbling experience. After the show a Trini family approached us about coming to Victoria to do a house concert at their place sometime in the future. Drew asked them ‘How about Wednesday, we have an opening slot in our tour?!’

The next workshop later that evening was called something to the extent of ‘The Trinidad Connection’ we were hosting this one and we were on stage with Anthony Joseph (a Trini living in London) and the Spasm Band, man were they funky! We had a great crowd for that one. We had the evening off to check out other bands. We met a few nice folks backstage and hung out till late. We caught the festival transport back to the hotel. Rob, Don and myself headed out to Gas town with a friend of Rob’s. We stayed out till 3AM. The time difference and jet lag was starting to impact on me. I really needed sleep.

July 21st – 7PM, Stage 3 – Our show – Slept in a bit, Drew had a workshop at 1PM – Alan Lomax workshop, where various people performed music that Alan Lomax recorded and catalogued when he travelled across the globe. The theme was West Indian music, so the group played tons of old time calypsos. Drew sang most of them. On stage was Danny Michel and the Garifuna Collective, Jayme Stone and Moira Smiley. The crowd really dug it. I sat at the side of the stage and took it all in like a spectator, Linsey joined me and we enjoyed the show. We had a few hours off till our main set at 7PM at Stage 3. I headed back to the hotel and got ready at 5PM to head back down. We reached stage 3 to hear Nomadic Massive, they were incredible! Just a massive group pounding out some wicked hip-hop. I think we all felt nervous following them, the crowd was so hyped, we were wondering if we could keep up that energy. It didn’t long to get people singing along and dancing. We did our usual walk-off into the crowd. They really loved that. There were a few Trinis in the crowd and they waved our flag, it was a sight to see. Rob caught a plane back to Ottawa right after our set, he will meet us in Victoria in three days. We stayed to hear the Spasm Band on the same stage, they had the crowd eating out of their hand. We ended off the night backstage, liming with the the folks we met the day before, listening to Natalie Maines close off the festival.

There was an after party at a club just down from the hotel, Delhi to Dublin were performing, they were a tight unit, really solid and the crowd was just going wild. We stayed for a bit but then headed back to the hotel, there was a jam session downstairs in the lobby with all the folkies from various bands – Elephant Revival, Sarah Lee Guthrie, Johnny Irion, Maria Dunn and Moira Smiley. I sang ‘Green’ by Brothers Grimm, and they all joined in and jammed along. Drew sang a few ole-time kaiso tunes. We ended going to sleep after 4AM. Now I really needed sleep!

July 22nd – The next day was a bit of a downer, no more Folk Fest. We walked around, ended up in Gas Town, grabbed lunch and walked into East Hastings – the rough, run-down part of Vancouver. I went to Stanley Park beach later that evening with a new friend – Tracey from the folk fest. We stayed there a bit, then headed back to the hotel. The band had a house party to attend. I went for a bit, then split after a while to go meet another friend for dinner.

I’m always amazed at how many people I meet at Vancouver Folk Fest, how many people want to take the band out and show us around town. It’s really a special festival and a special place -Vancouver.

July 23rd – We leave Vancouver for Victoria. The Trini family – The Encinas that met us after that first workshop are having us over for a house concert at their place in Victoria. So we take the train, then the bus then a ferry to Victoria. It was a beautiful ride there, but up on deck, the temperature was freezing! We meet the Encinas family, they pick us up at the ferry docks and we go get Roti at the only Trini roti shop in Victoria. It was amazing! Just like back home. We’re playing tomorrow night. The family puts us up in their home, we’re downstairs in what feels like a beach house. We all sleep in rather late. We’re being rather spoilt with home-cooked meals and all, our laundry is being done, what a life! It’s like being on vacation while playing a gig!

July 24th – Victoria House Concert – most of us just stick around the house while Drew goes to get the equipment rental for the show. We decide to perform on the garden deck on the lower level of the house. We set up all the equipment and give ourselves a rough, dry mix, all things considered it wasn’t half-bad. Rob flies in via helicopter with his friend. We get a pretty decent turnout for a house concert and we do two sets. The crowd loves it, there’s a few Trinis after and we end up talking a bit about the good ole-days of kaiso way back in the 1930s. We stay the night and then head out the next day to Seattle.

July 25th – We get treated to a huge breakfast by the Encinas family and take a lil sight-seeing trip to see a few seals. It was breathtaking, the view. We say goodbye to the Encinas family, what a great group of people (thank you all so much Aunty Sue, Uncle Ainsley, Keith and Keli) and meet Rob at the Fairmont Hotel, we catch the ferry to Seattle. A bit disappointing as there wasn’t much of a view getting there, but we managed to get a glimpse of the city as we were docking. We’re staying a good distance out from our show tomorrow at Starbucks Headquarters – people at the company like the album, so we’re doing a show tomorrow at noon. The taxis in Seattle are organized into some sort of cartel almost – there are no five-seater taxis, so for the band to get anywhere we have to hire two taxis, a bit of a scam if you ask me. We arrive late at the hotel and decide to go grab dinner downtown, we catch a bus and end up getting fish and chips. Great stuff. We catch the bus back and turn in for the night.

July 26th – Starbucks headquarters in Seattle – again we have to get two taxis down to Starbucks, we arrive rather early. We’re playing in the open,in the hot sun. It’s a lunch-time show for all the staff of Starbucks. We don’t get much of a response because the stage is far away from the food tents, so as folks get their lunch, they go back to their offices with nice air condition. We feel quite dejected to be honest, but we soldier on and finish the gig. The liaison from Starbucks is very nice and apologetic to us. Now we have to pack up and head to the bus station, we’re going to Portland to play a gig tonight! Soundcheck is at 6PM. We cannot get a taxi, again same nonsense. We get the staff of Starbucks to call us a cab and none are coming. Finally we flag down two taxis way out in the street and rush to the bus terminal with all our luggage. We get there only to find out there is no ticket office and Drew has to get the confirmation number in his email. He goes to find an internet cafe. The bus comes early. We panic, waiting. The bus leaves at 2PM and there is no other bus to Portland. Drew comes back with the email, the bus driver tells him it’s the wrong confirmation number, Drew goes again to the cafe to access his mail again. Finally he gets the right tickets number and we’re on the bus with five minutes to spare. We should get to Portland by 5.30PM.

July 26th – Mississipi Studios, Portland – We get in after 6.45PM, just our luck today’s traffic is the worst the bus driver has ever seen! Great! Anyway, we all get in a taxi and goto the venue. We do get a proper soundcheck, and there’s dinner there for us. There’s even someone there who can sell our merch for us, now this is how it should be done, rather than us after a show scrambling to get to a table to sell our stuff. A local group is opening the show – Brother, and they put on a great show. Tons of Trini friends come this show to hear us, primary school friends and my sister’s high school friends who live in the US all come to hear us. They bring a huge Trini flag and we get the biggest crowd of all our club dates. Thanks Carla, Siobhan, Natalie, George and family for making my night. It was really great seeing you all.

This was my favourite US show after our appearance at the Kennedy Center a few weeks earlier. I lime back a bit with them and then get dropped to our hotel. We’re leaving on a 6.30AM flight to San Francisco.

July 27th – Brick & Mortar, San Francisco – I hate waking up early, even worse yet, I hate waking up early to fly, my stomach is always in knots and I feel as If haven’t slept and I have this nasty habit of waking up every hour to see if it’s time to wake up. I get up, grab a shower and meet the guys at the shuttle bus. We get to the flight on time and arrive safely into San Francisco. We wait for a good while to catch our shuttle to the Hilton Hotel. We arrive to find out only one room is ready because it’s so early. We grab breakfast and all crash in one room. We sleep on the floor, on chairs, wherever there is space. Drew goes to get the rental car. We are all exhausted and unfortunately waste most of the day sleeping. We finally get the other rooms. I unpack only to realize that I left one of pants back in the hotel in Portland. Dammit! We end up in Chinatown after walking around for a bit, grab a late lunch/early dinner and goto soundcheck. The venue is pretty cool, but there’s no adverts stating that we’re playing tonight. We get a decent soundcheck and the engineer is really cool. We head back to the hotel, change and go back to the show. The place is almost empty, just about fifteen people. I think we eventually played to 25 people, but they all enjoyed the show. We met a really nice guy – Paul, who travelled a good distance just to hear us. We go grab burritos after in this nasty, grimy place. We head back to the hotel. Rob might not be able to make tomorrow’s show unless he can get a flight out the same night. So it’s a bit nerve-wrecking. Who do we get to play if he can’t do it? He’s the backbone of the band!

July 28th – Levitt Pavilion in Los Angeles – Rob is able to get a flight out right after our show (phew). We have a 1PM flight to LA. Our show is at 8PM. Paul meets us for breakfast and gives us some great advice about how to create a buzz, such a nice guy. Our flight is delayed. We end up at the back of the plane. As the plane is taking off there’s a cross wind and the whole back buckles, as we’re in the air we tip to one side and for what seems like a good while it honestly feels as if the plane is falling apart and I think to myself that this is it. I’m not scared of flying, nor do I like to fly but this was the worst flying experience ever. I thought we were gonna die!

We have a rough landing in Long Beach. Get the rental and drive to our hotel which is a way out from the show. The hotel receptionist looks like Elvis, it is too funny. We get to the venue at 6.25. It’s in MacArthur Park, which was famous for being a drug-haven. It’s been ‘cleaned’ up.  Err, sort of. But we notice a number of homeless people just hanging around. We do soundcheck and are about to grab dinner when we find out that we’re on at 7PM, not 8! So we change quickly and get back on stage to start. The crowd was small, and a bit strange and disconnected. We had a few homeless couples dancing to our music. Most of the Latino families that were there just sat and looked bewildered at us, I don’t really think they understood Caribbean music. Nonetheless, we gave our best performance and even did our walk-off afterwards and the little crowd really got into it. Rob leaves to catch his plane. Moira Smiley was there and she took us around the town afterwards. We head back to the hotel.

July 29th – Drew drops Linsey and Don to the airport early in the morning, we’re sticking around to do a radio interview in Hollywood at this radio station with millions of listeners. We get to play a number of songs acoustically and talk about the album. We drive to Newport beach, take a quick dip in the ocean, well….I got my feet wet…. and then head to the airport. We’re flying to San Francisco, then connecting to Toronto, we should get in by 6.30AM. When we check-in, we’re put on another flight as there’s some weather problems in San Francisco. We end up missing our connecting flight to Toronto, so we get put through to Chicago, then Toronto. We arrive at Pearson at 9.30AM. Our luggage is in-transit and we should get it later that day. We end up getting it at the end of the following day. But hey, at least we got it!

In the meantime, I’m home by my good friends – the Hurej’s, awaiting my suitcase.

We have no shows until Friday, August 2nd where we play at Harbour Front Centre in Toronto for the Island Soul Festival.

But I’ll leave that for another blogpost.

Thanks to all the wonderful folks we met out West, you guys truly are special.