Tuesday, November 20, 2007

End of the Big Road

Doc MacLean & Big Dave McLean, backstage at the Exchange, Regina, SK. Photo by Dale Williams.

Except for coming back to make any corrections, maybe add some more photos, or respond to comments— I think this is it. The last Big Road Blog. Many thanks to everyone who took part in the Big Road Blues Tour- the buyers, the media, the Blues Societies, the volunteers, the staff, the audiences. This was truly an epic venture and, I hope, an indicator of what the future holds for blues and roots music. Over 60 dates played back to back over 25 thousand km.— with most shows sold out or near capacity. Wow! Dave and I are humbled and ever so grateful to everyone. Sincerely. Each of us has been at it for nearly 40 years, and we’ve known what it is to be hungry. We talked about this as we travelled. We’re agreed that we’ve probably earned a little bit success in this life but, believe me, it’s certainly not something we take for granted. We try to do our best every night, and we are thankful for every seat in every house and for every hospitality extended to us. As the road ahead of us is likely shorter than the road behind, we’ll not forget where we’ve been, nor the kindness of friends and strangers. Again, thank you everyone who had anything to do with any of this tour. We couldn’t of done this without you.

On a less personal level, I remarked in an early tour blog that niche audiences, artists, and presenters are more closely networked and connected than ever before- and that this works well for all of us. While this was a Canadian tour, I believe that the same factors apply nearly everywhere in the digital Western world.

And I believe that this networking- this digitally connected world- will enable niche artists to prosper. Television— and then radio— homogenized content, and then marginalized the small. The internet has done away with that. We can now have a viable, creative world scaled way, way down from million unit evaluations. Where it will go is anybody’s guess- but the here and now is good and getting better.

So, while it ain’t easy, it is more possible now than ever before for independent artists to mount successful tours. By extension, it’s also possible for agents to successfully broker this music, and it’s possible for promoters in small places to host very successful blues and roots shows. All of us are better informed than ever- but especially the audiences- the consumers- of roots and blues music. They have impressed me everywhere. Location has nothing to do with the breadth and depth of someone’s musical perspective. There are guys out there with satellite radio in their tractors- working the land in places where you can see the horizon… Anybody with curiosity and an internet connection. People who have spent their lifetimes listening. The older demographic is probably almost as liberal as the young- we are seeing genuine support and enthusiasm for new, blues-roots based music. That the blues is alive and continues to evolve, grow, touch, heal, reassure, rock and move us is a measure of this support and enthusiasm.

Given the number of dates on this tour, two of the most asked questions were “what was the best venue?” and “what was the worst?” For a time, as we moved through the venues scaled for this Tour, I tried to sort this out. What it comes down to is that there are now many, many fine places to play across Canada in the 100- 300 seat range. Great rooms where magic moments can happen, operated by people who really care and take huge pride in their spaces, their shows and their well informed audiences. Rooms where people have done all (or most or many) of the right things- stages are well constructed, quality production gear, dedicated audio tech, good lighting, consistent booking policies, good marketing and branding, long term business plans with integrity and vision, great staff, great hospitality, the return of green rooms…
And there are also places where magic shows happen in spite of the lack of all these resources. For instance, great hospitality and a great audience in someone’s living room. We played a few house concerts over this tour and really, really enjoyed every single one. The people who present these are patrons and friends, and we end up making connections that are personal, and go way beyond the business of simply arriving somewhere and putting on a show.

There were very few venues I didn’t enjoy on this tour. Even the one’s I enjoyed least were pretty darn good- including the 4 venues that did absolutely nothing to help promote our appearance. (But I guess we are experienced enough to make our own fun and roll with whatever situation we have.) Some of the venues and shows that we especially enjoyed: Union St. Café, Berwick, NS, Le Zaricot, Ste Hyacinthe, PQ, The Silver Dollar, Toronto, ON, The London Music Club, London, ON, The Exchange, Regina, SK, The Blue Chair, Edmonton, AB, The Stop, Black Diamond, AB, Lorenzo’s Café, Enderby, BC, The Blue Grotto, Kamloops, BC, The Duncan Garage Showroom, Duncan, BC, The Dream Café, Penticton, BC, The Red Onion, Calgary, AB, The Slice, Lethbridge, AB, Times Changed, Winnipeg, MB.

There were some other- quite fabulous shows- presented by Blues Societies or by Festivals. As these utilized facilities which were merely contracted for our concerts, these venues are not listed above. Thanks to the Atlantic/Yarmouth Blues Society, Canada South Blues Society, Great Lakes Blues Society, Karma, Halton Blues Society, Bruce County Blues Society, Lake of the Woods Heritage Festival, Regina Delta Blues Association, the Hornby Island Blues Society, and the Saskatoon Blues Society for hosting some really memorable shows. A number of other Blues Societies and their members helped promote our shows, and sometimes helped us connect with key presenters in their regions. Thanks to the Montreal Blues Society, the Toronto Blues Society, the Ottawa Blues Society, and the Okanogan Blues Society. If I’ve neglected to mention an organization I should of, please let me know- there’s quite a few to thank, and it has been my intent to acknowledge everyone. The Blues and Jazz Societies are remarkable organizations that are really making a difference. Thank you!

The Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, Fredericton, NB, showed us every hospitality and graciously added us to their programme late in their planning. We had a great time in spite of the rain. We ate, drank, and hung with our musical friends. We went to Joe’s Diner— that's it on the left. Best breakfast in the Maritimes— (‘Bird you should of come with us!), and sat in here and there around town. After a theatre show had to be postponed, the festival ended up as one of the anchor dates for the Atlantic leg of the Tour- and we very much appreciated the opportunity to perform under it’s banner.

Here's me and my pals Matchstick Mike and Watermellon Slim, sidestage at the festival.

We had a great time hearing Matchstick Mike and 'Bird Stafford. I've heard 'Bird many times doing his own, great, cool thang- but this night Mike had him pumped up like some modern day Al Wilson. He was loud and pure and could do no wrong. A thrill. It's so interesting to hear people in different contexts. The Harvest Festival provided many such opportunities. Thank you!

Here we are with some Harvest volunteers on a rainy night in Fredericton, NB

Thanks are also due to the local CBC Halifax, Fredericton, Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Calgary stations, to David Barnard at CKLN, Toronto, ON, (below- Photo by Alasdair MacLean), to Johnny Max at AM 1430, Toronto, ON, Ian Angus at CIUT, Toronto, ON, to Chopper McKinnon at Canadian Spaces, CKCU, Ottawa, ON, to Holger Petersen at CKUA, Alberta, to CJTR Regina, SK, to Rob Macleod at “The Coast 99.5 FM” Kincardine, ON, to Rowan Poots at CHRW, London, ON, to Vince Almond at CFBX, Kamloops, BC, to CKXU, Lethbridge, AB, to the Duke of Uke at FM 99.2 Ucluelet, BC- indeed to any shows that mentioned the tour, and especially to those who did live interviews or phoners. This all really helps make a tour go. That the Tour was able to gain the momentum it did may be credited partially to the interest of these national, regional and community broadcasters. Catherine McClelland at CBC Calgary recorded us for both Canada Live and for Saturday Night Blues national broadcast. Thank you very much. Like the Blues Societies, the collective impact of specialty, niche radio, is great. And the national broadcaster, the CBC, continues to be of importance to artists and audiences alike.
Holger Petersen came out to our show in Edmonton, AB

There were some other highlights to this tour- being mistaken for the old comedy duo of Maclean and Maclean. Being mistaken for Bob and Doug McKenzie. Signing autographs for all these guys. Making and renewing so many friendships. (Here's some new friends at the Acoustic Grill in Picton, ON). The Tree House in New Glasgow- the limo, the boat, the venison sausages (deer- the walking vegetable), the company- what a blast! Being lost in rural Nova Scotia. Pulling American lawyers out of a ditch. Meeting all kinds of musicians up and down the road. Being well fed. Joe’s Diner in Fredericton, NB. Swartz’s Deli in Montreal. Every encore. Every tour jacket raffle. Feel Like Goin’ Home, Charley James’ Blues, Fixin’ To Die, Bone Train, Canadiana, Jimmy Lee Jackson’s Blues… Playing for the breakfast drop in at the Vancouver Native Health building on East Hastings St., in Vancouver. Everything about the west coast islands. Being on CKUA with Holger. Hangin’ with Hoogy and Suzanne and Rick in Black Diamond, AB. Waking up at the Ocean House on Hornby Island. Eating the seafood chowder that they made us there. Smelling the special, island air! Drinking scotch with Mortz in London… That's our pal Hoogy on the left.

The Ocean House.

Dave’s induction into the Blues Hall of Fame was also a highlight. I’d structured the tour around this date and Dave’s wife, Patti, flew in to join us for the weekend. A huge thank you to Ted Boomer and the other members of the Canada South Blues Society for hosting and for making everything happen. Dave is honoured and touched by the induction. I feel honored to have been with him for this event.

Big Dave McLean, photo by Dale Williams.

The Maple Blues Award (Canada’s BMA’s or Handy’s) nominations were announced while we were in western Canada. It was really gratifying to see that our Tour has had a national impact, with Big Dave McLean receiving a nomination for “Acoustic Blues Act of the Year.” Dave’s had quite a few Maple nominations before- so maybe he’ll win this one at last. Good luck, Dave! Vote for him, if it’s not too late! Visit http://www.mapleblues.ca to vote for nominees in all categories. The nominations are probably more significant than the Awards themselves. Congrats to all the nominees.

The Big Road Blues Tour- Doc MacLean & Big Dave McLean, photo by Dale Williams.

What else? Dave and I had a great time together. We’ve become close friends, and I think it’s safe to say we have a high degree of respect for one and other. The music was good from the start. By the end we were doing some pretty special stuff. Would we do it again? Absolutely. In a heartbeat. Will we? That remains to be seen. The Big Road Blues Tour was planned and executed as a “one shot” opportunity to see Dave and I play together in this duo, acoustic context. Judging by the response we got across Canada, we could do it again without making anyone mad. I’m already getting a few calls asking about it. So I guess future shows will depend upon the offer. However, we’re both pretty busy artists on our own. I’ve got two other package tours in the works, and Dave has his band, plus a new album expected out by next fall. So we’ll see. Off the top, I think we’d be open to at least some festival appearances together, and we’d consider USA, Europe and Australia as Big Road tour destinations. It might well be some time, if ever, before Dave and I go out on a Canadian tour as big and as cool as the Big Road Blues Tour. It was great. Thank you so very much for stopping by and sharing it with us.

I hope some of you have enjoyed following the Blog. It’s not everything, but I’ve tried to give a picture of the inside of a huge Canadian blues tour from start to finish. I was hoping to see more comments, but I guess the reality is that much of the blues-roots demographic doesn’t blog yet. Ah, well… Hey, we’ll see you out there on the Blues Highway. This ain’t good-bye. Best Regards — Doc MacLean

P.S.- Dave says “hi!”

***NOTE: in some browsers the "older posts" link at the bottom of the scroll does not seem to work! To check out the entire Big Road Blues Tour from the beginning, or from whenever, use the ARCHIVE links in the black sidebar (upper right) which do a great job of bringing up the archived tour blogs. And give 'em time to load- there's plenty of pics. Thanks.

Big Dave McLean is a Stony Plain recording artist and has two cds available— "Blues From the Middle," and "For the Blues Always." For additional information visit http://www.stonyplainrecords.com

Doc MacLean's recent cd, "Narrow House," is available via CDMojo, CDBaby, iTunes, and dozens of other on-line distributors. For additional information visit http://www.sonicbids.com/docmaclean. For bookings or interviews please contact doc(at) docmaclean(dot)com

No comments: