May Buzz – SXSW and Toronto

My last flight out of Charlottetown took me over the familiar sand dunes on the north shore, still covered in ice and snow. Three flights later I had landed in Austin, Texas, guitar in hand, ready for one of the biggest music festivals in the world.
During South by Southwest (SXSW) the streets of Austin are overloaded by 2000 bands and countless people taking in the non-stop music in every spot that has any capacity to be a music venue. From cafes to used-clothing stores, from tents to high-end clubs, this city is swarmed by musicians, music fans and industry heads. Somehow, I managed to see very little music. I was lucky enough to play with fellow label mate Lynn Miles, catch the Six Shooter showcase with Amelia Curran, Justin Rutledge, and Melissa McClelland, and witness a strange set performed by Paul Simon’s son – Harper Simon. As we headed for home, I was suddenly attacked by a feeling of never wanting to hear another band anywhere ever again. Ha. The feeling passed quickly enough.
I had two days at home before packing the van and driving straight from the Crapaud hills all the way to London, Ontario, where we began our short but sweet mini tour in Ontario and Quebec.
This tour had been based around one show in Toronto at the Glenn Gould Studio. I wanted this show to be special and celebrate some of the friends I have made in the Toronto roots music scene.
Some of the first shows I played in Toronto quickly launched me into this close knit and vibrant scene. I remember taking the downtown ferry to Ward’s Island, the home of an event simply called the Jambo. Here was a buzzing mini music festival, one day every summer, put on by Joanne Mackell. Joanne always said she made this event so that all of her touring musician friends could actually be together in one place at one time. A rare treat.
This is where I first heard and met many of the friends I would soon claim as my own. Joanne is one such friend. A rocking country singer, with zero ambition but tons of heart, Joanne is a one of a kind gem.
Also at the Jambo, I met David Baxter, a producer and player for many roots musicians in Toronto and now, as CBC calls him, Canada’s oldest emerging artist. He has played many a show with me since then and introduced me to a jewel of a songwriter, Jack Marks.
Jack, Joanne, David and Shelley Coopersmith (an amazing mandolin and fiddle player) all joined me and my band onstage that night. It kind of felt like my version of “The Last Waltz”, but far from a farewell and far from a “star” lineup. These were my friends and I was so grateful to share the stage with them.
If the tour had ended there, we would have been happy, but we were barely warmed up. We travelled on to Wakefield, Quebec, just outside of Ottawa to play at a legendary venue, the Blacksheep. Opening for us was the Wilderness of Manitoba. I have never been quite so blown away by a band in a bar. They had the room silenced with their beautiful three and four part harmonies and interesting arrangements.
Our last stop was a church in North Hatley, Quebec. Playing in the Eastern Townships on a beautiful spring day, there couldn’t have been a nicer way to end this tour. We were welcomed in to this lovely town with a potluck dinner, a beautiful old house to stay in and an amazing breakfast to help us on our way.
Now back on the red isle, the smell of spring is in the air and I realize we’ve made it. We made it home and we’ve all made it through winter. Soon, I’ll be standing on the sands of the north shore, no more snow or ice to contend with.

(Originally published in the May 2010 edition of PEI’s entertainment monthly, The Buzz)