Canada 2015 Blog #1: Bye Bye, Vegemite – Hello, Winnipeg!


Leaving from Brisbane airport we met up with Lenny, Bob and Rob where we played a farewell game of 500 while Lenny gave us the lowdown on the Greek economic crisis and the price of Lamborghinis.

About 10 hours from Brisbane an announcement suddenly came over the loudspeaker announcing that we have entered American airspace so we now have to comply with their somewhat bizarre anti-terror law which states that no more than 2 people are permitted to queue for the toilet at a time. Strange but true – apparently terrorists have weak bladders…

“Coming in to Los Angeles, Bringing in a couple of keys, Don’t touch my bags if you please, Mister customs man”… Arlo Guthrie’s lyrics are going through our heads as we descend into LAX airport, hoping that the officials there were as lax as the airport acronym would imply. Thankfully though, the only “keys” that we are bringing in is Camilla’s shiny red Nord keyboard, and we have nothing to worry about, unless the border security decide that we will perform during our one night stop over then sneak off with their precious greenback dollars (They actually believe that musicians make money?!).
After getting through customs Hollywood was our oyster for a night! Except that we never left the LA hotel… Why leave when the hotel offers unlimited access to a complimentary cheese machine?

cheese machine

“Mmm, cheesey!”

After getting some much needed sleep we were ready to tackle the next leg of our flight – LA to Minneapolis. Being spoilt rotten by Virgin Australia with our gold and platinum frequent flyer status as well as their ultra generous musician’s baggage allowance, it came as a shock when the lady at Delta Airlines tried to charge us USD$150 per extra bag, of which we had 8. After a quick reshuffle, we worked it down to 5 extra bags, but we were damned if we were going to hand them more than a thousand Aussie dollars to fly a few measly bags. Actually, we had read on Delta’s website that you are only charged $35 per extra item, so we pulled out our smartphones and showed the lady at the desk, whose repeated response was “I just don’t read it that way!”. In desperation we whipped out some $2 stripy bags, string and tape and proceeded to package several items together as one big, ugly parcel, but again we were thwarted. In the US security is a big deal, and a high percentage of bags get opened up and inspected, and since our hideous Frankenstein parcels were not easily resealable, we ran the risk of the parcel coming apart and us losing our gear, which was a risk that the airline (understandably) was not prepared to take. So with our heads hung low, we proceeded to undo the wrapping we had started. If only the string and sticky tape could repair our damaged egos! Eventually, the supervisor came and we managed to convince them to only charge us about $70 in excess baggage, making it easy on the wallet, at least.

If we weren’t already feeling like foreigners in a strange and harsh land, the final insult came when we went through security and in what seemed like a cruel symbolic gesture, we were made to throw out our tube of Vegemite!

Fighting back tears we boarded our plane for Minneapolis, before changing again and hopping on a tiny little plane for the final leg to Winnipeg, Canada.
little plane
Wait, I thought the red pill made me smaller, not bigger!

We were there to play the Winnipeg Folk Festival, but first we had some business to take care of.  Stumbling out of the hotel, we popped on our rock star sunnies and went out to grab a quick coffee to help us with our jet lag (and – let’s be honest – feed our undeniable caffeine addiction). The thing is that there is a translation problem, for the word “coffee” in Melbourne, means something completely different in Winnipeg. In the end we walked about 3 kilometres through the mid summer heat (turning our noses up at countless Starbucks and Tim Horton’s on the way) before finally reaching a sufficiently hipster coffee joint.

coffee trek
“Give me hipster coffee, or give me death!”

The artists were all staying in a big hotel in downtown Winnipeg , but the festival was held out of town in a beautiful, grassy and partially forested area, with camping for the punters. It would have been nice to camp at the festival to have a more inclusive experience, but the comfort of the plush hotel was nothing to complain about. The festival comprised mostly of “workshops”, which are nothing like the workshops we have at Australian folk festivals, where artists teach techniques or tricks of the trade. In Canada, a workshop is when you get three or four bands/artists, give them some kind of semi-abstract conceptual theme, throw them on stage together and see what happens. What does happen is sometimes awkward, sometimes sublime and the audience seem to love it either way. One of our workshops was with a band from way up north in Nanavut who sang songs about life in the far north including eating seal meat. They featured a woman doing traditional throat singing, and in a fit of “talent jealousy” we vowed to send Eileen up to Nanavut to learn the guttural singing technique. Or maybe we just want an excuse to send Eileen to Nanavut… Another workshop we were in was entitled “We come from a land down under”, featured four Aussie acts plus Marlon Williams, who can’t seem to decide whether he’s from New Zealand or from Melbourne…


The only thing more hipster than an Instagram filter is an actual Polaroid. PS Camilla copped a lot of flack from other band members about the hat choice in this one, so feel free to send in your messages of support!
money fingers
“Money fingers”. Lear uses super glue to attach an assortment of coins to the end tips of his leather golf gloves to make some blinged up washboard gloves.

The days were long and the weather was nice and hot and the grounds were populated by heaps of dragonflies, whom I discovered were bred specifically to be released during the festival to control the mosquitos. It was a very eco friendly festival, and anything eco friendly is always great after spending a lot of time on aeroplanes with all their tiny little plastic cups and little plastic spoons and little snacks wrapped in plastic and little plastic water containers – not to mention the fuel…. Everywhere there was reusable this, recyclable this and compostable the other – only they don’t say “compost” in Canada, they say “calm post” (with a long “o” sound). In fact, the festival was so damn eco friendly that at one of the complimentary crew dinners, they served up cricket chutney – which sounded innocent enough until I realised they don’t play cricket in Canada…  then I looked closer at my plate:

Yikes – cricket chutney! No, it’s not a Canadian staple, just the result of having an eccentric chef on the volunteer cooking team. In the name of journalism, I ate the entire serving and can only report that they taste pretty much how you’d expect crickets to taste….

Did I say the weather was hot? It’s hard to imagine that it can get to minus 40 degrees Celsius in winter here.

One great thing about playing festivals is you get to see all the friends that you never see because they are always touring and so are you. We were pleased to meet up with mad cello goblin Rushad Eggleston and Mouse Princess, the eccentric and lovable Steve Poltz, Marlon Williams and Daniel Champagne to name a few.
Old friends: Perch Creek chillin’ with Rushad at the hotel lobby.

blind boy

New friends: Cowgirl Camilla, Blind Boy Paxton and Rubberfoot Hodgkins.
Musically, the festival had some great acts, including Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros (voted festival favourite by us), Jose Gonzalez, Arlo Guthrie (who happened to sing “Coming Into Los Angeles”) as well as heaps of new discoveries. My personal highlight was seeing Rushad Eggleston in a workshop leading a group of very talented and slightly confused musicians in an ecstatic rendition of his song “I peed on a bird”.

The festival ended dramatically when dark clouds blew in before dropping torrential rain, thunder, lightning and general chaos just as the final headliner Wilco started the third and what turned out to be their final song.
This could almost be two different photos stitched together, but is in fact one big panorama taken by Lear.

Next stop, Vancouver Folk Festival – stay tuned, readers!


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