Off the ship and into the blackness. Cape Breton, Nova Scotia at night. Kenny Rogers and the boys roar past in a cloud of diesel: a convoy of sleek busses, they're bound to make Cleveland, Ohio. Flying in fresh drivers like fresh horses, tonight they own this dark road. I'm three days behind from the storm, and since there's not a hope in hell I'll make the Gaspe, I pull the big Lincoln off the highway to wait for morning light.
It's cold now, and I climb into the passenger seat where the heat seems to work better. I can't find any radio, so I sleep in shifts- waking to run the heater. Dawn creeps in shyly to reveal my situation. Maybe I lost a few years, waking up someplace outside Reno, NV. Bad booze? A stroke? Shit happens. I'm not getting any younger. I woke up one time in a burning car in the middle of the desert. At least my car's not on fire today. My GPS says I'm in North Sydney, Nova Scotia.
Fresh coffee and a full tank of gas. I'm headed west for New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. Atlantic Canada has been the last major leg of this year's National Steel "Big X" Blues Tour. From here on I'm counting down to the designated 1000th show under the National Steel banner. The tenth consecutive year of ten provinces, two territories.
Detour to Musquodoboit, NS. I can spell it. And I can pronounce it. I've played Middle Musquodoboit a few times. Somewhere, in the deep dressing rooms of the Bicentennial Theatre, my name is written on the wall. Today, I'm meeting a fan from Halifax who wanted to buy more CDs. I need the cash, so I've taken this crazy detour. A beautiful, calming drive through near abandoned rural lands. The tax base to pay for these roads seems to have left with the rising of the water, the rise of the scrub, the fall of family farms on sticky, soft clay soil. I have friends here who use horses to work their farm- tractors are too heavy, and get bogged. Today is an opportunity to drop in and say hello. A few coffees later, I'm back on the Big Road and bound for Moncton, New Brunswick.
Jean's, in Moncton. You want breakfast? Jean's. It's half the reason I stop in this town. The other half is Plan B. This time, I've missed the gig for the storm, but the venue still treats me like gold. Tracy and Meadow really get it. They understand that I live in a car most of the time. A Big Car, but still- a car. They've seen it all roll up and down the big highway. I wish I could get a Plan B welcome in my own, home town. But I guess this is just part of my bigger home: this map, this Tour. If home is where you hang your hat, than this it it. Where the heart is. This car. This tour. This place and That.
Toronto. The Six. Big Smoke. T-dot. Whatever. It's as good a place as any to get an oil change and a set of new tires.
Osgoode, Toronto. Trying to scrape silver off this hard ass town. Somebody took ten shots yesterday, just upstairs and around the corner. This is a place where the stories crawl past me. Or walk past me, done up in perfume to punch. My imagination would have me elsewhere: a younger man with fewer stories. More disposable income. Walking past. Spare change for a busker.
Some days there are people who jump in front of trains. And some days there are people who don't. Walking past. I don't see you, I don't hear you. "I heard your music, and I changed my mind." Driving down the highway is like that, too. When you cut beneath the grime and hit the clear sky you can be anybody. Or somebody. You can find yourself, or chase after your own soul. Win or lose on your own terms. Osgoode.
Fat City Blues, Toronto, Canada. I wrap this year's National Steel "Big X" Blues Tour here. Ten consecutive years of playing almost everywhere in North America. It's easier to list the places I haven't played under the Tour banner. And, beyond that- over forty years of shows now. Back in The Day shows were often four, five, six nighters. We travelled a lot. Stayed places for weeks, months. But "touring" was something that was done by acts with Agents, Managers, record Deals. I would never of dreamed of the Internet. A digital world. Science fiction. Me, and my Dick Tracy phone, playing the world. Talking to you. Songs and stories.
The life and death of a Tour. The National Steel "Big X" Blues Tour. Theatres, festivals, drive shows, bars, cafes, gas stations, house concerts, boxing clubs. Now wrapped with a couple of dozen people in a small, Toronto club. It's had me on the road most of the year. Ten provinces, and as many states. My Lincoln says it wants oil. My arms are getting acupuncture for pain, and Osgoode is waiting. I won't jump in front of the train, but I will imagine it: warm with soft seats. My personal train, headed for the distance. February and March will be shows in Chicago, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. Get on board!
A couple weeks of downtime before the Maple Blues Awards. An unusual, outdoor Christmas in Canada. Mom played carols on the porch, and you could hear the sweetness of the fiddle right down the block.