I ended the previous blog with the conveniently conclusive statement “that’s the UK all wrapped up”, but actually it was midnight and we still had 90% of our packing to do before our alarms go off at 4am. On our original flight at the start of he tour from Melbourne to Hamburg, we got masses of free luggage due to our hard earned frequent flier points, but for these Canada flights, it made more sense to go with budget airlines. At least, it made more sense at the time we booked them, but it didn’t make quite so much sense in the wee hours of the morning when we realised that we were hopelessly overloaded with luggage. There was a time in the not too distant past when we weren’t pampered Velocity Members, and the experience we gained squeezing the most out of Tiger Airways all those times equipped us with a life long skill set that kicked into action like an automated survival response from deep in our cerebellums. Out came my ultra geeky Microsoft Excel luggage allowance spreadsheet, that I have been refining over the years. There is a column for each traveler, and rows for every conceivable luggage related parameter. We weigh all our bags with a set of £2 portable luggage scales, then divvy them out on the spreadsheet, which automatically calculates how much weight allowance is left over for each person. It is genius, and frankly, I’m proud of it. I would turn it into an iPhone app and try to sell it, but I know all too well that the type of person who would need it would invariably be DIY cheapskates like me who’d rather spend hours on their own elaborate spreadsheet rather than spend $1.99 on a decent app.
Weight was one thing, but there was also the problem of the number of bag. We were allowed 8 check-in bags between the 4 remaining band members, we had a total of 13. This problem alone would have cost us €1,620 worth of excess baggage fees – this is not an exaggeration (apparently I have a reputation…). No problem is too big for a couple of rolls of heavy duty Gaffa tape, so we literally taped together the banjo, guitar and trombone into one big ugly, awkward item, and did a similar thing with just about all our bags. The trick is to tie them with rope first, with same tape to keep it from slipping, then cover the whole thing in a $2 stripy bag or two, followed by more tape. God, we are pathetic. Even a geeky spreadsheet can’t defy the laws of physics, so we were still over weight, thus bringing in the “Grace of God” factor, which in atheist terms translates to “Ability to Charm Airline Staff” factor.
We all took different flights to Toronto and Camilla and I went with IcelandAir, who took full advantage of their captive audience by saturating us with full immersion Icelandic tourism propaganda – even the food wrapping was covered in tourism tidbits. Luckily we were lapping it up and when we spied out the plane window the starkly beautiful scenery around the exotic Reykjavik airport, we were completely sold.
Meeting up red-eyed in Toronto airport, we piled our mountain of junk into a pair of Hummer-esque maxi taxis and headed to the plush hotel supplied by the festival.
When we finally decommissioned Camilla’s old green $5 “dump” keyboard about 6 months ago, replacing it with a state-of-the-art, bright red Nord, we knew that never again would we have to open up a keyboard and tinker with it’s insides. That was meant to be a relief, but it was actually a secret disappointment for a certain geeky bass player, so you can imagine my excitement upon discovering a sneaky way to convert the Nord’s internal power supply from accepting 230V to 115V, enabling you to plug straight in to an American power point without an expensive and bulky transformer.
We were there to play at Toronto Scotiabank Buskerfest, but we were told that we wouldn’t actually be busking and that there would be proper stages with professional sound systems for us to play on. Some people really know how to tell us exactly what we want to hear… The reality was a little more humbling, and required a little more hard work from us. These days we like to act hard-done-by if we are expected to play for more than one and a half hours, so we had to reconsider our rock star status when we learned that one of our slots was 8 hours long. Yikes. Luckily, you sell a lot of merch here, and the more you play, the more you sell, so we swallowed our pride and worked the streets, just like the good old days.
The hotel we got was nice, but we spent most of our time at the slightly more odorous Buskerfest green room in a building with the somewhat imposing name of The Fraternal Order Of Eagles Club*. The green room was never boring, with a constant stream of wildly eccentric buskers coming in and out wearing weird and wonderful costumes, practising their tricks and sharing their road stories.
*Originally started by a league of theatre owners, with past members including a who’s who of notable US presidents. At one point entry requirements was “to be 21 years of age, possess a good character, not be a Communist, and be a Caucasian”.
The festival was hard work and at the end of each day most of us retired quietly to bed, but Camilla, usually the grandma of the bunch, took it upon herself to show the other performers that Perch Creek know how to party. She stayed up late playing shuffle board and pool as well as various other games designed to ensure the participants remain plentifully hydrated with all sorts of outlandish characters, including a Dr Spock dead ringer. In an ideal world she would have pulled out her phone and taken a happy snap with Doc Spock, but in reality she insists that she doesn’t need a smartphone and that she is perfectly happy with “mental snaps”. So here I will include a space for you to create your own mental snap of Camilla smiling with Dr Spock at the pool table.
We didn’t fly with a tap-board, so it was up to Eileen to source one locally, but after walking around the block once and failing to stumble upon a discarded tap-board, Toronto was deemed a tap-board free city. Despite the complete absence of wooden boards at ground level, we did notice some scaffolding, which, if scaled, could provide a great surface for tap dancing, as well as a vantage point over Yonge St. The crowd held their breath as Eileen ascending the scaffolding during the Carper Catinach break down in pursuit of a rich tapping tone.
The excitement of the scaffolding climb even caused me to momentarily forget the fact that I was sick and wretched. The first and last thing I ate in Toronto was some “Mexican Chicken” that was a little more Mexican than I had bargained for, and for the whole rest of the weekend I was nauseous, aching, drained (literally) and miserable. I had chosen to put on a brave face and fulfil my band duties the best I could without complaining too much, but my inability to appear enthused on stage or off was cause for criticism, and my popularity hit an all time low. It was a PR disaster, but I learned from it. Next time I fall ill I will make a much bigger deal of it, try to get admitted to hospital and then go to the gigs in a wheelchair and hospital gown, pulling round an intravenous drip on a stand. My perseverance and unwavering commitment to the show would be applauded and I’d be a hero regardless of whether I cracked a smile or not.
Since we have now inadvertently landed on the topic of gastrointestinal problems, I think it’s a good time to mention that toilets in North America have the best and most exciting flush we have experienced to date – hands down. It may not be very eco-friendly, but the problems of water conservation seem a million miles away when you are captivated by that miraculous, whooshing whirlpool of water.
Back at the hotel room, Rob and Eileen were trying to cancel Eileen’s flight home, so she could stay an extra month in America with Rob. Expedia are not known for their customer service skills, and the Skype connection kept cutting out. After three frustrating hours of communication failures, it transpired that they had finally managed to successfully cancel the flight, with the Expedia employee proudly stating that “Christi Hodgkins’ flight has now been cancelled. Would that be all?”. Oh, dear. After literally six more stressful hours on Skype, and a couple of day’s waiting, the problem was finally resolved with Christi’s flight restored and Eileen’s cancelled.
We had managed to get around on foot during the festival, but know it was over, we needed a set of wheels. Unlike Europe and the UK, the cars in North America are notably different to those in Australia – it would appear that the laws around feeding growth hormones to vehicles are a lot more lax here. The vehicle we hired was a Ford E-Series 15 seat monster.
It may interest readers to know that Camilla is in fact, a “big car girl”. She is more than happy getting around on a cute little bike with a cute little bell and a cute little basket full of carbon neutral groceries, but when she gets behind the wheel, it’s gotta be a mean machine.
We had one last big show coming up, but first a few relaxing rest days. Camilla and I got a head start on meeting all my long list relatives by staying with my mother’s cousin Vanessa and her husband Matthew, which was great.
On the Wednesday after the festival we finally had a proper show at an iconic Toronto venue called the Horseshoe Tavern, which we had been promoting all weekend on the street. It was a three act show comprised of us, and our Aussie friends Daniel Champagne and The Bearded Gypsy Band, and it was a blast to play our last official show of the tour with those guys.
“See ya later, Toronto!” Eileen pulls off a move she learned from Elvis Presley. The two photos above courtesy of Patrick Lemieux (https://www.facebook.com/PatrickLemieuxArtist)
Thus concludes the second last blog episode for this tour – I’m getting all sentimental! The next and final chapter details our adventures in the US of A – see you then!