Monday, November 30, 2015

Censored by Facebook: the Reader's Digest of Culture

Yeah, so I'm not pleased today. There was a time when hundreds of folks followed the Tour on my Blog. Now a few thousand Follow along on Facebook. Sometimes over ten thousand people read a given post. But those are quick posts, for a quick read- and I always end up back here, to tell you what I really think and to put up pictures and stories. These days only about a dozen people follow the Blog.

This morning Facebook informed me that it would not allow me to promote my daily entry because it failed to meet their "guidelines for language that is profane, vulgar, threatening or generates high negative feedback. Ads can't use language that insults, harasses or demeans people, or addresses their age, gender, name, race, physical condition or sexual preference." This is negative feedback that threatens me. I think it's vulgar, demeaning to me and to my loyal readers, and implies that we may harbour negative (perhaps un-American?), perhaps secret opinions about age, gender, race, or physical condition. Some of us may apparently have... sexual preferences, too. God forbid that!

At the time of the Facebook intervention, over 5000 people had read my post, 22 had shared it, 125 had Liked it, and there were perhaps a dozen encouraging comments. The surprise refusal to distribute my post was a harsh reminder that our social media are not public forums, but privately owned and operated corporations who now control much of the public dialog. I've filed an appeal, but I bet it's lost in the Big Machine. I am very surprised at Facebook's allegations, so I've simply reproduced my post below. Eventually, it will join a more complete entry about the Maritime adventures. Here's what Facebook readers were denied-

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. Spring will see me in Chicago, St. Louis, Mississippi, and Alabama. Like this Page to Follow along my adventures. Thanks for the company.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Rock: Sonny's Dream

You forget, sometimes, how far away some things are from other things. Newfoundland. Like a memory: close when you are there. Smell it, taste it. Pictures of oneself in unknown places. It doesn't seem so long ago that I had drinks with Joey Smallwood and he invited me to visit this Rock. You know this place is special because it's in it's own time zone. Even if it wasn't, it would be.

In the morning, I'll wake to a raw Atlantic coastline and 2000 km of blues highway. If I'm really lucky, I'll have a mess for breakfast, 'bye. What it is 'bye. Cod tongues and late nights with cherry bourbon. Fireball. I'm bringing the blues to the most easterly parts of North America, to a place that only joined Canada in 1949, to a place with one of the most interesting and colourful English dialects in the world. As I drive I'll be watching carefully for moose. What it is, 'bye, what it is! Meanwhile the wind snaps at the flags as I wait for the midnight boat out of North Sydney, Nova Scotia. An omen, perhaps, of weather to come.

Rain, not snow. But even the highway signs are brooding in the late November chill. Eight hundred and ninety kilometres to St. John's. Port aux Basques is a Tim's crowded with ferry passengers. The voyage wasn't bad. I'm not a good sailor, but I've discovered I can sleep in rough seas. I've had a solid six hours. Now I've got coffee, lost cell service, and wifi is a mystery to all my devices. Highway time. The wet and empty roads hump the low mountains at this side of the island. Cruise is good. Soon Corner Brook will loom up, puffing and spewing.

Seeing some posters around town is always a good thing. God knows what a Monday night will be here in a small theatre. I go around to Mudder's, have a mess for my lunch, and then sleep in the Lincoln for the rest of the afternoon. In the distance, the omnipresent mill honks and clatters. 

It's a small crowd for the first show of this Island tour. Both the morning and evening drive show featured some country artist who- it was breathlessly announced- would be coming to play the civic centre in about four months time. Kenny Rogers will be playing in a couple of days time. He didn't get mentioned either, so I guess I don't need to feel slighted. The local CBC offices have been reduced to a storefront in a strip mall- next door to a payday loans place. If I blow a tire in the morning, I could go there in a vain effort to get out of town. As it is, I sleep in my car behind the theatre, and put my money in the gas tank.

The day looks brighter. I'm glad to be drinking coffee and heading east to Lewisporte. I've played here before. I don't know what kind of numbers I'll have- but I know I'll be well taken care of- and a warm, wood stove awaits me.

The ferry to Labrador used to run from here. Now it sits, abandoned and rusting in the harbour. A massive hulk. My view from the front window.

St. John's. My friends Rick and Sue live in a rambling old house close to my venue. Our time together is always too short. Rick cooks cod. I drink beer. We all talk politics. The closer you get to St. John's, the snappier the conversation becomes. Finally, here in the downtown, it fairly pops!

Canada has a new Prime Minister, and a new government- and over this St. John's kitchen table there is plenty of optimism. Bitter sweet optimism for some. I took three weeks off the Tour to help defeat the previous government, but my candidate- and my party lost. Still, the nation feels good again. Or better. Canadians haven't been as united in a long time.

And then this: the passing of Ron Hynes. Maybe not a household name beyond Newfoundland- but he was it's "man of 1000 songs." He wrote tunes such as Sonny's Dream- a song which has become a folk anthem in Ireland and elsewhere. When I reached St. John's I saw posters for my show stapled next to his posters. I knew he was ill, so I thought that he must of been feeling better if he had a show booked. He died the next night and suddenly there were people weeping in the streets. A difficult man who will be greatly missed. Tough. He intended to play that show. The outpouring of grief across the province reminded me of what I had witnessed following the death of John Lennon. Later in the week I would listen to his service broadcast live on the radio.

When I visited CBC Radio St. John's to play the morning drive show, I was amazed to hear the host, Anthony Germain- former head of the China bureau- lead with a story about a dead moose on the Circle Highway. I could have made that up, if I was making up the news, but I didn't need to! Canada's public broadcaster has traditionally connected the sprawling country: a national voice, a presence in kitchens and cars that touches all points. It has long been the glue of Canada's national character so, I for one, hope that the new Canadian government will restore operational funding and rebuild the institution. 

One of the many interesting place names along the way. Newfoundland is gifted with some strange and unique names. If a poet and a pornographer put the map together- oh, my jesus, 'bye- what it is. Red Head Cove, Dildo, Conception Bay, Come By Chance, Cupids Crossing, Happy Adventure, Heart's Content, Heart's Desire, Heart's Delight, Bareneed, Blow Me Down, Bread and Cheese, Devil's Kitchen, Exploits, Goobies, Great Barasway, Ireland's Eye, Jack Ladder, L'Anse-Amour, Leading Tickles, Little Heart's Ease, Mistaken Cove, Muddy Hole, Nameless Cove, Pushthrough, Rabbit Town,  Salvation, Seldom Come By, Spread Eagle, St. Jones Within, St. Jones Without, Three Arms, Virgin Arm, Wild Bight, Witless Bay, Woody Island... One place just leads to another, and the cartographer flushes as he prints the maps...

Moose were introduced to the Island many years ago. After they totally over ran the place, some industrious souls brought in coyotes in hopes that these would diminish the moose population. Today, there are plenty of moose and plenty of coyotes... I know an old lady who swallowed a fly...

At dusk I stood outside my cabin in the village of Glovertown. Dinner hour, and the warm, hospitable smell of woodsmoke hung over the valley. Woodsmoke. It pulls at ones fondest memories, conjures up visions of comfy kitchens, the smell of good food, the chatter of conversation among friends. At once I felt both comforted and alone. For some reason I thought of my old friend, the Mole, finding his way Home to his own fireside as Winter arrived. The Wind in the Willows. The blues can come to you in many forms and places. The important part is the heart. It certainly came to me as I looked out over the twinkle of the little lights below. The hungry heart: it's beats echoing quietly in my chest. Consolation is a glass of red wine, a hot shower, and a warm crowd arriving to my show.

You never know who's going to show up at a gig. On this Thursday night, in Glovertown, NFD, Buddy Wasisname (Kevin Blackmore) attended. I've seen his tour posters all over the Maritimes for as long as I've been travelling. Neat! 

It's been a fast paced week- nine shows in six days, covering the entire length of the island. All the presenters were great. Dedicated. I played theatres, house concerts, galleries, pubs, schools, and radio. I thought the shows went well. Off-season again, the crowds were small and local, opinionated and enthusiastic. Many drove considerable distances to hear me- taking their chances on the dangerous, dark roads. I appreciate the effort spent. Large numbers of moose roam the province- and hitting one can be fatal. It's a huge mass which can come right through the windshield of a car, or jam a semi off into the ditch. A deer will wreck your car. A moose can kill you.

Between such pleasant thoughts I play Gander, NFD, and learn that Fidel Castro once went snow sledding there. I figure if Fidel can have fun there, so can I. My breakfast is a traditional, Newfoundland tauton. Not a biscuit, not a pancake, not a roll, not a pastry. It's a thick, doughy thing cooked in a pan and then served with bacon and molasses.

This kid will be winning the East Coast Music Awards someday. Right now he's the King of the music program at Queen Elizabeth High School in South Conception Bay. My "blues in the schools" presentations in Newfoundland are aimed at helping these kids with the business end of music. They already play well! If Rodney doesn't sit in with me next year, I'll probably be his opening act...

On Friday night in Seal Cove, piano man and children's entertainer Terry Reilly came out and played some very adult keyboards at my SS Meigle show. That was big fun, and we intend to do it again sometime. Who knew? Blues DJ, music historian and promoter Terry Parsons did! He and his extended group of family and friends have done much to make me welcome on the Rock.

And driving. Way over two thousand kilometres of mostly empty highway. Sometimes I bask in the silence, alone with myself, my thoughts. Maybe I think too much. Or not enough. Sometimes I let my friends sing to me, mile after mile. Sometimes when a friend sings to you it can really help. Well, it keeps the heartstrings in tune anyway.

And now that it's raining in big sheets of water, wind howling over the crashing waves, all ships are held to port. I've driven slick roads all day to get to Port aux Basques: over 500 km of naked blacktop. Now the tangled houses of St. John's are long behind me, their colours still clinging to the rock hills, their stories still half secret, still half made up, half smiling, still leaning on one and other like old sisters embracing. Newfoundland. Now I'm stuck on her wild shores in a storm.

I've had to cancel a couple of New Brunswick dates. Moncton and Saint John- Monday and Tuesday. I'm sorry, but I'm sitting in Port aux Basques drinking Iceberg beer out of a blue bottle, waiting for the boat, 'bye. We'll see how the wind blows in the morning. Thankfully, they've got plenty of beer- because I could be here for a while. Worse things could happen!

Almost alone at the terminal as the winds gust up to 140 kph, the Lincoln shakes and the rain comes down and down. There are a few stranded semi trucks, and... three posh looking busses. I'm not the only musician to get stuck here. That other guy who didn't get on the radio in Corner Brook doesn't fly- he travels with his crew and his gear. He's on one of those nice looking rides. Kenny Rogers pulls some strings, and we all get to board the ship early. It's not going anywhere- but at least we have our cabins, a bar and a penthouse view of the crashing storm. Nice folks. Nice conversation. Football on the big screen, Ron Hynes on the stereo. Sonny's Dream.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Twelve Rounds Bare Knuckle in Nova Scotia

Ok, I'm short on time. I'll be back to fill in the story here as soon as I get a little down time. Meanwhile, here's a taste of the Nova Scotia adventures...

There's got to be a story behind this old trunk. Found in a Halifax, NS, Canada junk store.

Melissa Ellsworth took the above warm, golden photos at the boxing club.

Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Making a slow run to catch the night boat from North Sydney. Billed out, I'm bound for Port aux Basque, Newfoundland.