2/05/2016

What happens in Natchez...


Jesus, what a night. I'm still wrapping my head around all the events that took place last evening during our stay in Natchez, Mississippi.

I guess the best place to start would be right at the very beginning.


We pulled into a parking spot on Main Street in downtown, historic Natchez, MS. The town is celebrating its 300th anniversary this year - making it the oldest settlement on the mighty Mississippi River. The venue we were playing at was The Rolling River Bistro & Listening Room, and man, this place was sweet. The restaurant occupies one of the beautiful old buildings that flanks Main St., and embodied every bit of old world charm and class. Upon arrival we soon met Michael, one of the co-owners, and were immediately treated to his overflowing generosity and southern hospitality. It wasn’t long before we were bellied up to the bar with a pint of beer in hand and a dozen chargrilled oysters in front of us (this was before we even started playing). Michael was insistent that we try the oysters - claiming they were the best way to eat the delicacy - and holy shit guys, chargrilled oysters are the.best. Even Brad, who is not one to enjoy the treasures of the sea, was hucking them back one after another. So there were were, well fed and watered before we even sang a tune - we were feeling pretty good.


The show went great. People clapped after every song, threw paper money in our tip jar and we chatted with some great folks during the breaks - I can’t say enough good things about the establishment, the patrons or the folks that worked there - if you ever find yourself in Natchez, MS you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t stop in (and eat as many chargrilled oysters as humanly possible).

So after the show during tear down, Michael approaches us and asked if we’d be interested in going to see some real Mississippi blues at a little place down the way. He told us that there was a newish venue in town that brings in some incredible talent and that he’d be more than happy to have us come along and would even take care of the cover charge. Being adventurous folks, we thought this might be an interesting opportunity and decided to see where this road would lead - so we said yes. Once the restaurant had closed it’s doors, we sat at the bar with two of the bar staff who were also coming along and we had a few drinks, ate a burger (cause the dozen oysters surely weren’t enough) and shared some conversation with the three Southern gentlemen.

When the time came to head over to the juke joint, Michael grabbed a bottle of Maker’s Mark (the venue only sold beer but permitted you to bring your own liquor) and we caravanned over the three blocks to the venue. From the outside, Smoot’s Grocery, appeared to be a dilapidated old row house. Sitting across the road from the Mississippi river, the outside was clad in weathered barn wood and housed under a rusted old tin roof. We had passed the place at least twice that day and didn’t think much of it, but under the cloak of darkness this place was a buzz. The barn wood was aglow against the various neon signs that adored the outside, the windows were pulsing with shades of blue and yellow and there were folks on the surrounding porch lighting up darts. I was not prepared for what I saw when we walked through the heavy oak doors. Two steps inside the door I felt like I entered a different world. The inside was completely redone in a mix of modern/rustic/industrial - it was incredible (and sadly I don’t have any photographs to prove it). The building was a shotgun setup with a stage at the far end and the bar along the side wall. The rest of the floor space was peppered with a few couches, tables and chairs. On the stage sat a single chair and a resonator guitar on a stand and on the back wall was a simple sign that read Smoot’s Grocery, Blues Lounge. We followed Michael to the end of the bar and he quickly turn to me and said “Come with me”. He grabbed my hand and lead me over to a grouping of chairs and couches and told me to have a seat then asked what I’d like to drink. Then he quickly turned away and was gone, and I was sitting in the middle of a buzzing room all by myself (it should also be noted that Michael referred to me as ‘the feline’). After a few minutes my mind started to get the better of me and I had a mild panic attack – after all, here I was in a strange city, alone in some weird-ass bar, separated from Brad. But just as soon as my eyes grew wild, Brad swept in from behind me and had a seat in the adjacent chair, and was soon followed by the rest of the fellas. It wasn’t long before a tall, slender man dressed in black with shoulder-length white hair wearing a black cowboy hat took the stage (he was clearly the Mississippi cousin of Paul Court). The man picked up the steel guitar and began playing some incredible hill-country blues, and the room quieted to a murmur. After a few numbers, the man was joined on stage by Jimmy “Duck” Holmes (best described by Brad as “a 70-year old black dude that looks like he works at the gas station”). The black man sat down with a guitar and the white man picked up the harmonica and the sounds that came out of these two for the next 40 minutes was incredible. During each number, while Jimmy paused between lines, hoots and hollers and “oh yeahs” were shouted out from random folks in the audience. I felt like I was in a movie scene, and had to repeatedly remind myself as to where I was and that this was indeed happening.

Somewhere around 12;30am, Brad and both agreed it was time to head out. The southern gentleman had been doing a fine job at depleting the bottle of its liquid and at one point had all gotten up for the chairs – so that is when we decided to make our exit. We headed to the doors and quickly discovered they were locked, which seemed rather odd. We went to the other side of the room and tried the other set of doors, they too were locked. I don’t know how bars in Mississippi work, but it seems very strange to have a bunch of folks in a room for a concert and have them locked inside. Finally we spotted a third exit near the stage and when Brad pulled on the latch, they too were locked. We both kind of looked at each other and thought “WTF?”. The locks consisted of iron bars latching the doors by the top and bottom into the beams and foundation - with one quick jolt, Brad freed one door from it’s holdings and we quickly made our escape, heading back to the RV which was parked just out of sight.

Once inside, Brad fired up the engine and we slowly weaved through the narrow streets of Natchez and out of town on Hwy 61. After having driven for a bit we both realized that there was not a single other car on the road, not even a transport truck - the road was deserted and we were basically in the middle of no where as we headed towards Baton Rouge. At one point the engine in the RV started to choke out as we ascended a hill. It sputtered and missed and I was sure we were going to have to pull over and call CAA. Eventually we flattened out, the issue passed and we sat silent for what seems like forever. From the darkened side of the road, a sign came into view “Rest Stop – 2 Miles” and a sigh of relief was shared. We pulled in beside an 18-wheeler, used the restroom and tucked into bed.


I can’t wait to go back to Natchez.


2/03/2016

Cheap beer and grits


I had my reservations about Alabama. I had a very clear picture of what it would be like even though we’ve never spent any time here. But I couldn’t have been more wrong and am ashamed that I had so easily lumped the entire state into one stereotypical picture. Alabama, you done good.


Shows have been going really well, we’ve drank almost our entire body weight in craft beer to date - which has both its upsides and downsides. We left Birmingham on Monday after a great show on Sunday night at Moonlight on the Mountain, a wonderful folk club ran by Keith Harrelson. We shared the bill with The Rough & Tumble – another travelling folk duo who have been on our radar for a few months – it was great to meet Scott and Mallory (and Butter) and hope we can meet up for another show together down the road. 


We finally cashed in our Steak & Shake gift card (thanks Lauren and Adam) on Saturday night. The place was packed, so instead of waiting for a table we bellied up to the counter and had a front row view of the kitchen hard at work – it was insane the amount of burgers and shakes they were pumping out. We ate our burgs (and side salads - I'm pretty sure we were the only people in the whole place who ordered salads), drank our shakes and then felt the need to walk for a bit so we strolled over to Target and did a lap of the store just to get moving (and pick up some beer). Most days/nights that we’re not playing shows we eat pretty well at home. The kitchen in the RV is small yet mighty and I’ve surprised myself (and Brad) with some tasty meals that mostly revolve around sweet potatoes, black beans and grits – grits guys, grits.




We've been staying at the Roosevelt State Park just outside of Jackson, MS for the past few days. There’s only a handful of campers here and we basically have one whole side of the lake to ourselves. Crazy thunderstorms rolled in yesterday and didn’t let up for almost 15 hours – on the bright side it gave us a way to test the water-tightness of the RV, and luckily only a few minor leaks were found – nothing a little caulking won’t fix.


Later today we’re headed for the Natchez State Park for the night, tomorrow we’re playing a show at the Rolling River Bistro & Listening Room in downtown Natchez. After that we’ve got a week off before we head into Texas. Hoping to get back to New Orleans and pick up some Cafe Du Monde coffee and eat as many benets that I can before I hate myself.

See you soon,
-a.

1/27/2016

Big wheels keep on turnin'


It's 8am and I'm sitting here with a cup of tea and on the front seat of the RV, Winnie is beside me and I can hear Hank whimpering from the bed area (he can't jump down and will continue to pout until I go get him). For the past 4 days we have been staying at the Driftwood RV park just outside of Foley, Alabama (gulf coast area). I've really enjoyed this park. It's certainly not fancy, but the people are super nice and there's a huge open field for Winnie and Hank to run around in, plus we're on the Alabama Scenic Byway which provides some great running trails. Brad has made a new friend at the park – a retired gentleman who always seems to appear whenever Brad has his tools out to fix something. He quite happily parks himself at our picnic table, lights up a cigarette and the gab-fest begins (an East coaster and a Southern man, it really is something to hear). This has been happening at least twice a day since we arrived.


Today we're pulling out of here and heading north for a show in Montgomery tonight at Railyard Brewing. But let's recap for a bit, shall we.

I believe we left each other last just before out show in Bonita Springs, FL. It was a great night at the Momentum Brewhouse. The folks were kind and enjoyed the tunes, the beer was friggin' good and we had front row parking – Winnie was watching us from the driver seat. Many thanks to Lauren for having us and sending us down the road with a full growler of 'Dress Down Brown'.




The next day we pulled into Tallahassee for our show at The Crumbox – what a place! The Crumbox, an old caboose, is located in the middle of an art community which was formed in the old railyard working area of town. There are a bunch of huge old buildings/warehouses that have been converted in galleries, vintage shops, boutiques, cafes and breweries. When we pulled up outside of the Crumbox we were met by a man wearing a blue and white striped conductors cap and a Katz's Delicatessen t-shirt. He immediately shook our hands and introduced himself as Pete (one of the founding partners and the man behind the incredible homemade Italian sausages that are the Crumbox specialty). Beside the restaurant was a large covered patio, filled with picnic tables and throughout the rafters were strings of christmas lights – this was where we played. Pete handed us a few brews and we got set up. It was an intimate show with a handful of folks, but that gave us the opportunity to converse and in the end we made some new friends (hope to see you and the LaSharo on the road one day Veronica). By the time we left that evening we were extremely well fed and happy – it truly was a beauty night.

And so here we are, back to Wednesday morning. It's pouring rain now. Hopefully it eases up soon before we hit the road. That's all I've got for now, time to put the coffee on and get the gits a cookin'!


Big rig mama, signin' off!
-a.

1/19/2016

Hello from Florida


Winter Garden certainly did not disappoint. The town is adorable, very much reminded me of Niagara on the Lake. Our two shows at Crooked Can were great – man, what a place! Huge thanks to Robert (and crew) for having us, and sending us off with a few tasty beverages.


After Saturday's show, we pulled out of town and headed to the East coast. Made it to Cocoa Beach and hunkered down at a rest stop on I-95 for the night, the next day we made the trek South to the Keys. Soon enough we were heading over Hwy 1 and crossed into the islands. We pulled into an RV park around 5pm and found that the office was closed (it was Sunday and we soon discovered it was also a long weekend and everywhere in the Keys was booked solid). While driving around trying to figure out where to stay, Brad found a great little county-run park, right on the coast. The beach was gorgeous, there were public restrooms and free wifi - YEAH BUDDY! The only catch was that the park was only open until 6pm - so we decided to park for the last half-hour and see if we could figure something out. As we rounded the entrance lane, we came across another Winnebago Chieftain (older model) and both kind of chuckled. Soon enough we were greeted by a slight, older gentleman wearing baggy clothes and a toque. 

“What year is this?” he said, as he motioned to our RV
“She’s a ’76 - what year is yours?” Brad replied
“an ’86 - from Canada huh, I’m from Michigan” said the man

And just like that, we found our first Winnebago friend. He gave us the scoop that the park was open from sun-up to sundown, weekdays are free but weekends are $5. Folks around here down’t take too kindly to the campers, trying to get them run outta town on many occasions – but you can park at the WinnDixie up the way and no one seems to bother you there – cops haven’t been around in weeks. And so, when the park manager came around to tell us it was closing time, we fired up the rig and headed to the WInnDixie. To be honest, it was a little strange to be parked in a bustling parking lot, knowing that we were staying for the night – it’s one thing to pull into a rest stop around midnight when there is no one around and tuck into bed – but this was not the case. There was a constant flow of cars and folks, hustling around us to get their last minute groceries before the holiday on Monday. But we tried to make the best of it. I fired up the stove and cooked dinner, we ate and cleaned up, then I retired to the ‘bedroom’ and cracked the spine on “Travels with Charley” (thanks mom!).


The next morning, we were on the move at 7:30am to hopefully snag a great spot at the park, and when we arrived we were the first ones there – the beachfront spot was ours. We opened the windows and soon the ocean breeze was moving through as we waited for coffee – sleeping in the WinnDixie was definitely worth it. Soon the search was on for a place to stay the night, but we just couldn’t catch a break and knew we’d have to head out of the keys. I spent a few hours sitting on the beach, looking for more gigs, while Brad found us a place to stay up in Naples (3.5 hr drive North - but close to our gig on Wednesday night). Around 3pm we packed up and hit the highway (again) and by 7pm we were pulling in to Lake San Marco RV resort - holy nice!

The resort is meticulously maintained, a mix of park model homes and RVs – some full timers and others just passing through. We have a nice grassy spot with a patio and picnic table and are staying put until Wednesday. It’s nice to be plugged in to shore power again. 

Looking forward to playing at Momentum Brewhouse on Wednesday night – every brewery has been a blast so far. After the gig we’re heading north to Tallahassee – hoping to get a few hours on the road on Wednesday night after the show, so we don’t have an 8 hour drive on Thursday.

We’ll catch you back here soon, I’m sure Alabama will have some interesting stories to reveal. In other news we finally broke our streak of eating McDonalds everyday, I know... but the $1 sausage burritos are so friggin' good (even though they sound totally gross but you gotta trust me on this one).
Hope this week has been treating you kind so far.
-a.


1/15/2016

And we're off


As I write this, we’re parked at the bottom of S. Market St. where the road ends and the ports begin, in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. The air smells salty and of the sea, and in three hours we’ll be sitting in the front row of the Charleston Music Hall to see the hometown show of our favourite husband-and-wife band, Shovels and Rope. It was exactly three years ago that Steve sent us a link to one of their YouTube videos, and from that moment, I was hooked. It could be said that we’re following in their footsteps, and I can’t even begin to tell you how excited we were that this concert serendipitously fell on the last day we were slated to be in Charleston. Hail, hail rock and roll.


So here we are, just under one week since we pulled out of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Last Saturday was a mad race against the clock to make it to Charleston, WV for our 8pm show at Black Sheep Brewing. But we made it and it was a great show. I can’t say enough good things about the brewery – the staff were all so friendly, the beers were oh-my-gawd good and the menu featured a huge variety of tacos (which of course we devoured - three each to be precise). After the show, we loaded up the RV and got back on the highway, cause nine hours in one day just wasn’t enough, and stopped at the first Rest Stop on the Interstate. We were exhausted and salty from the show, but elated. The first show was under our belt and we were about to sleep our first night in the RV – life is good.


The next morning we got up and continued down the interstate, next stop – Johnson City, TN. The rolling mountains of Virginia and West Virginia were stunning, but took their toll on our incredible gas mileage (still, we didn’t make out too bad, averaging 8 mpg). We arrived in Johnson City a few hours early and snagged a parking stop right beside the venue – Acoustic Coffeehouse. We went inside and met Jim, the kind man who booked us for the evening. After a quick set-up, we were off and running. The show went really well - the audience was attentive and we even sold a few cd’s. So far, we were two for two - tour life was looking pretty great! After the show, we piled back into the RV - Winnie and Hank have been holding their own quite well. Each night after the show, they’re perched up in the front seats keeping watch over their new home. We headed south on the interstate and pulled over at the Tennessee welcome centre. It was late when we arrived, and cold - freezing actually. We fired up the heater and climbed into bed. Night two in the RV was not as great as the previous night - we just couldn’t generate enough heat to keep it comfortable and spent most of the night shivering under the blankets (including Hank and Winnie). When we woke up, everything was covered in frost, but as I made my way into the centre to brush my teeth, I was met with the most stunning views. The sun was just cresting the Smoky Mountains and everything looked frosty and golden. After growing tired of the perpetual chill, Brad fired up the RV and we were southbound again, next stop - Charleston, SC.

We pulled into the KOA around 3pm that afternoon (Monday), and began the mega task of unpacking and finding homes for everything we stuffed into the RV when we hastily left Ontario. I wish I had a photo of how packed (and messy) the rig had been. There were 5 guitars and 3 amplifiers taking up the majority of the front living space, bags and boxes crammed into the hallway - and don’t even get me started on the bathroom. We emptied the contents out on to the campsite - we must have looked like a set of redneck hillbillies in our 70’s RV and tons of crap piled around it. It took us the next two days (until Wednesday) to get everything sorted. We had a big garbage heap and another pile for Goodwill (I can’t believe we still had more stuff to get rid of). After two trips to Home Depot, all the gear was finally secured in the top bunk area and our living room was spacious and clear - finally.



We played one show in Charleston, on the Tuesday night, at the Elliotborough Mini Bar. What a fantastic little gem of a place. Hat tip to the wonderful bar lady, Kristen, who kept our glasses filled and to the small but extremely gracious (and generous) folks who made our night one for the books. It really is true what they say about the Southern Hospitality. 

So that brings us up to today (Thursday, or Friday morning, by the time I actually get this posted to the blog). We left the KOA around noon and hit a few stops before venturing into the downtown. After the concert we’ll be hitting the road for a few hours to gain some distance for tomorrow’s show in Winter Garden, Florida. We’re playing Friday and Saturday at the Crooked Can Brewery and I think we’re both pretty excited about this gig.

Sorry for such a long post, but we’re up to date now and I’ll try to keep a handle on the regular updates.
See you down the road,

-a.

p.s.
The concert was absolutely amazing. Quite possibly the best show I've ever seen - and that's sayin' sumpin'


12/01/2015

We're hittin' the road!

Two years ago, Brad and I were sitting at a pub in Orillia and decided that we didn't want to do 'this' anymore. 'This' referring to our stationary life where we owned a rad guitar shop in a sleepy little town and played gigs within a few hours drive every weekend. After returning from Texas three years ago, something changed. A spark was lit and we knew we couldn't go back to a 'normal' life.

For two years we plugged away, getting all our ducks in a row - squirrling away cash, restoring the Winnie, sending out hundreds of emails to venues, applying for our musician visas and countless other tasks that needed to be checked off the list. While there are still many things to do before we leave, we finally have a date for liftoff and we're going.

Our Biscuits & Beans tour is a 4-month trek across the US starting in January - down the East coast, across the bottom and back up the West side. We'll be crossing back into Canada at the end of April and plan on parking it for a while in BC. I'm excited for the new view.

The first leg of tour dates are up on the website . If you've got connections in California, Oregon and Washington - holler at me yo!

Much more to come, including a tour of the Winnie-mobile.
Stay tuned folks!



7/02/2015

tiny house base camp

Did you celebrate Canada Day yesterday? Did you eat strawberry shortcake and wave tiny paper flags while waiting for the small town parade? However you chose to do-it-up, I hope your day was grand. We spent most of the day hunkered down at our place. Went running, soldered some new cables and sat outside with snacks and beers - all of which was very patriotic. It's been on my mind for a while to snap some pics of our current camp, but what can I say, I've been easily sidetracked - until yesterday.
I guess these photographs are for my own memory than anything else. So here we are, our tiny house in the country...









Our tiny house is located at the back of a large farm. We overlook a giant pond (which is clean and great for swimming) and have more outdoor space than the dogs know what to do with.
The house itself is just shy of 600 sq/ft, but suits us perfectly. There are tons of windows that let the light shine in, and at night showcase the brilliant firefly displays. Life is good.


Hope you've got some fun plans for the weekend. We've got a gig on Friday night then we're heading over to the Mariposa Folk Festival to catch Lucinda William's show on Saturday night. In-between we'll be working on Miss Winnie to get her fixed up for our July 25th test run.

Cheers to the summer finally arriving, we'll see you soon!