Saturday, September 23, 2006

FWG’s hopefully-more-excellent all-week adventure

I’m on vacation! Hoo haw! Hadn’t planned on doing anything exciting or going anywhere. Was just gonna write and write. Turn the 3-day novel effort into a proper-length novel perhaps or finish a couple short stories I started a while back and let slide. The Squirrel Solution and Hold Me Gently Big Sky. Is that a terrible title or what? Does it sound contrived? It concerns a couple teenagers and abandonment issues. One seeks solace on the open road, the other dreams of flying planes. It’s heavy stuff. I sought a heavy title - you know - like Long Day’s Journey Into Night or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Something with that kind of depth. I never found it obviously. Filled three pages brainstorming title ideas and hated them all. First time this has ever happened. Normally I like the first title that comes to mind and I just use it. I don’t normally worry about it. The last short story was titled You’re My Bill. Sounds stupid as hell but I didn’t care. Don’t know why I became so fixated this time around.

But as for the vacation - at the last minute I got the itch to travel. Felt like I wanted to get away on the road - a solo trip. Wanted to go East and see the Maritimes finally. Find new sources of inspiration and do lots of writing. But the amount of driving started looking daunting for a one week trip so I let myself be seduced by the last-minute deal idea and very nearly clicked confirm on an Las Vegas package when a little voice in my head said ‘What the hell, boy? Is this what you really want?’

Thank god I listened. Regrettably, Charlottetown and Halifax are still off the radar but here’s a respectable smaller loop: Two days in Toronto, one each in Kingston and Ottawa and three nights in Montreal with an optional fourth should I happen to land decent tickets for the Habs-Sens exhibition game at the Molson Centre on Saturday - or Bell Centre or whatever the name-of-the-month is. God bless the dear departed Forum is all I can say. God bless. What a tragedy.

Day 1

Southbound 427 traffic is thicker than mud and I say, ‘To hell with this. I’m on vacation. All crap is optional and I’m opting out of this particular crap.” Hey - you know what? I think that’ll have to be the motto for this road trip. Crap optional. It’s not profound but I like it. Beats some of the other tour titles I’ve had - like the How Bizarre Tour that was also Montreal focused and included pals Porn King and Beer Store Larry. Or the Plaid Cow Tour. What a trek that was. An eight-day lacrosse tour that prompted six or seven articles that were actually decent articles for a change. While I was the only tourist start-to-end I was joined for various periods by some of the most eccentric people you'd ever meet - all huge lacrosse fans. Such as Thistles Forever, The Wamper, Mr. Negative, maninthetub and of course my excellent pal and mentor Dr. Lock (a.k.a. Ben Knight).

So I duck out to the collector lanes which end at Brown’s Line, dumping me in the South of Etobicoke which does little to enrich my life. I hope to be in the heart of Toronto’s Greek Town by 6:30 when Rings of June takes the stage at the Bain Co-op’s 31st annual Street Festival. Dr. Lock is a Bain Co-op resident and bass player for ROJ. Following that gig, the band Quagmyre - billed as Celtic-pyrotechnic is slotted to close the night playing 8-11. Never heard them before but anything Celtic always grabs my attention and I’ve learned they’re Gemini award winners with an international following.

I end up on Horner Avenue for a long speedy stretch before finding my way onto the Gardner Expressway - back on track having saved no time but having saved aggravation. Under the new crap-optional rules - this is a success.

Now to run the development gauntlet. The heart of the Gardner Expressway is looking more and more like the landscape from Blade Runner every day. There’s nothing like highly tax-leveraged waterfront property and six dozen high-rise condos to soothe a city with perceived financial woes. So what if the skyline’s gone to shit and no one can see the water anymore? I like the way they’re building a seamless wall o’ condos around the CN Tower and Skydome. That’s right. I said Skydome. What are you gonna do about it?

This way whenever the provincial Conservatives gain power again they can sell these two landmarks off to the highest bidder and no one will notice that they’ve gone missing.

Yikes. What’s with all the bitching? Sorry!

I actually find a decent parking spot and head Bain-ward on foot to the rising volume of really really bad singing. I mean - dreadful. Rounding the corner onto the main drag I see a large stage set up under a party tent and I see a bunch of little girls there struggling to add lyrics to an instrumental recording of My Humps.

Karaoke. The bane of humanity. Call me old-fashioned but I just find it a little disturbing - these ten-year-olds singing about their lady lumps.

It’s crap. It’s optional. But I choose to endure it for the time being. I have not long to wait.

Rings of June takes over. I hear them live for the third time and I’m impressed all over again. They’re getting better all the time. More cohesive, that is. Individually they’re all excellent to start with. They’re pros. Sarah Boucher’s music, piano and voice are all strictly enchanting.

Rings of June makes an unusual first impression. It’s this incredible sweet haunting voice that blows you away and makes you wonder where it’s coming from. Then you finally notice this unassuming wooden doll standing in the corner and you realize that’s the voice. She tends to wear this smock sort of thing and floor-length bell-bottoms. The result is a formless kind of body that doesn’t move around. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not looking for Madonna. Surely stage presence is the least of concerns. It’s just a little odd for me when the bass player is the only motile organism on the stage. I grew up with bands like The Who where the bassists were the only things on stage not moving. But I don’t mean to be critical. That stuff’s all fluff. The music is dynamite. I still compare it to Loreena McKennitt.

I pass on the slightish folding chairs, estimating their weight allowance at around 299 lbs. I once sat on one of those white plastic lawn chairs at a garden party and people were looking at me strangely as I found myself slowly sinking. I literally drove all four legs deep into the soft lawn. I don’t need any more embarrassing scenes of that nature. Instead I sit on the curb and I’m quite comfortable despite a constant stream of blading, biking and big-wheeling tykes and teens who are keen to risk my neck and theirs with each hair-raising fly-by.

Jeff Stamp plays magical mystical sounds with max reverb on his guitar and sings a couple of his own songs. Mother is a simply amazing ballad. Pure genius.

I could really do without the Jefferson Airplane cover tunes but Sarah’s a huge fan of them and isn’t ready to believe that she’s better than them. That’s okay. I can wait.

Quagmyre takes over at eight. And look out. Ringleader Jon Pilatzke has stage presence coming out his ying yang. He’s funny and engaging. He’s a skinny, scruffy, kinky-haired, bespectacled lad with a mean mean fiddle. He snaps more bow strings tonight than I’ve had hot dinners. Okay - you got me there. Nothing in the world is more plentiful than the volume of dinners I’ve eaten. Sorry. Got carried away there. The wild and woolly fiddlin’ combines with some heavy electric guitar rifts for a sizzling kind of sound I aint never heard before and can’t wait to hear again.

Jon trades off vocal duties with brothers Jef and Ryan McLarnon who are also busy trading bass, electric and acoustic guitars back and forth. The McLarnons’ voices are nothing alike. Ryan sounds a tad adolescent if I may be blunt. Jef sounds like a young Murray McLauchlan which I dig in a big way.

Cara Butler wows the audience with her Irish stepdancing on a couple tunes and to close the performance Pilatzke trades the fiddle for a pair of clodhoppers and together they rattle up a storm. Brilliant. I buy a copy of their latest album - Of Cabbages and Kings and get Jon and Jef to autograph it.

Rings of June and Quagmyre. Best double bill I never had to pay for. The holiday’s off to a great start. Tomorrow - the Word on the Street festival at Queens Park. With a whole lotta luck maybe I’ll meet the ever-so-excellent Andy Berry at the CBC tent and score another autograph!

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