The Quest For Real Country Music

Archive for October, 2016

40. The Equestrian Ouroboros

October 27th 2016 10:37 am

The Jenkins Twins summon a roar from the crowd with a lyric; “Nashville…I can’t trust a word you say.” The epicentre of aspiration fraud lies 245 miles due southwest, close enough for a quick-fix yet easier avoided. However, there’s no denying the symbiotic relationship between Kentucky’s talent and Nashville’s machine as proven at the Hall of Fame days ago.

The harmonies of Trevor and Trenton Jenkins shared a womb and they’re keeping me from being fully present in my conversation with Emily and Mooney – every line is sung together and I can’t tell if their interval choices are from innocence of no outside assistance or conscious dissonant decisions. Either way they are spot on and causing me to twist my neck in interest. They take the liberties of rendering “Mama Tried” – an homage to the original but with the half-time feel that The Grateful Dead incorporated into the chorus, throughout. Haggard covers are two for two today.

Our trio conversation has evolved to a tetrad and the new contributor is approaching Canadiana. As if I were being set up for a prank reality television show, my reactions are in kind. Yes, I’m a Hip fan; yes, Gordon Downie’s condition is heartbreaking; yes, he’s a warrior; yes, I dig the Weakerthans; Yes, Jian is fucked. Nathan Thomas is the music director at 88.1 FM out of Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia and a remarkable hub of passion. He’s unassuming, charming and an obvious resource to pull regional music knowledge. Like the jar in Hesiod’s Works and Days opened by earth’s first woman, Pandora, the localities escape Thomas like evils. West Virginia: The Fox Hunt, Coyotes in Boxes, Sean Knisely. Kentucky: Nick Dittmeier and The Sawdusters, Quiet Hollers, John Moreland. Canadian transplant: Kaia Kater. Oh, and obviously, Tyler Childers.

Tyler Childers. Both Emily and Mooney interrupt at the mention of the name. I’m asked if I’ve heard, heard of, Childers. A similar familiarity to that of The Horse Traders but nothing that can be pinpointed. I answer with a no and am responded to with shock. My ignorance to Childers’ music releases a flood of adjectives from all parties in listening distance of my answer describing their own takes on everything from his voice to presence. He’s elevated quickly in the insights. The personal connections are obvious but the praise comes off as unbiased. Emily, Mooney, and Thomas are laughing amongst themselves in disbelief that I’ve never been exposed to Childers’ sound and are calling dibs on who gets to stand beside me as I take in his headlining set in a couple hours. Like the devil, He appears.

Somber and with swagger. I suss two obvious particulars from Childers appearance: Seattle fashion circa 1993 is analogous to Appalachia 2016 and The Red Headed Stranger causing excitement outside the Sturgill concert in Ashland is standing before me. He imparts wisdom spurred by the green bottle in my hand opposite the one shaking his and suggests a couple shots of Evan Williams bourbon in my Ale 8. Kentucky Mouthwash. The adoration for the man continues as Emily’s husband joins our circle, again, in disbelief towards my naivety and furthers the personal connection to Childers with pride that the young songwriter stood in their wedding party. Expectation, high.

I’m wanted at the stage. Confused by the random request from birthday boy, Kenton, I hear a ‘where is he’ from the speakers opposite side of the homemade bandstand, see a few side-stage volunteers point in my direction and, out of nowhere, am hustled to the back steps. Unbeknownst and confused, I take one step at a time as a festival crowd applauds. Byron Roberts is a man to give recognition and through an appreciation for my distance travelled and mission committed to, upholds his gratitude publicly. It’s surreal. Like a scene from a medieval revelry, I’m centre-stage. ‘All the way from Sas-kat-chew-wan, Canada,’ Roberts’ annunciation of the syllables are strong through his southern delivery, finalized by an endearing rhyme with ‘yawn’. The acclaim is welling and felt in my throat – complete strangers in a rite of adoption.

My journey to hunt out the Spirit of Real Country Music. A pathway that continued to present itself with every mile travelled and pliant with the flow. A commitment to the wind and being open to guidance, relying on intuition. It culminates with an unknowing cast of celebrants playing into a storyline of importance to nobody but myself. I overlook a mass of proponents in a place where the soul of country music arguably originated and if I were to pay heed to the instinct and knowledge that has presented itself throughout my journey, I could confidently claim the Spirit was undoubtedly conceived in these hills. I found it, the heart. Roberts is pursed-lipped and gives all respect through his eyes, nodding in his clutch. The sentiment and setting is larger than anybody understands and in this moment I award myself a victor.

Roberts meets me back at my previous perch with a continued appreciation for my attendance and in the same manner as Patrick Stanley was informed, is told that I am a virgin to the sound of Tyler Childers. Roberts is lavish.

“He’s got Dylan and Prine beat, unlike anything you’ve ever heard. He’s a walking legend to be.”

I’m filled with pulled pork, beans, Ale 8s and gratitude. Digestion and decompression from the intake, I excuse myself. The collective hail for Childers alters my view of him as we cross paths on my way to spend a few minutes alone – if anything, a testament to his family, friends and fanbase. As I approach my vehicle I continue to be welcomed to Kentucky, singled out mere minutes ago. My pork rind supper replaced by an opposing quality cut, I indulge on a few salty dry wafers and finish off the last of my jugged water. Having only visited half the artisan tents I move towards completing the round and am drawn to a jeweler.

The canopy covers a collection of homemade trinkets, charms and totems. An amulet stands out and calls to me like Frodo’s ring. A bracelet, leather strapping with a horse head locket. In its completion, an image with a striking resemblance to the eternal snake. Another spiritual symbol offered in my travels. The Equestrian Ouroboros of Gnosticism and enlightenment. Egyptian in origin and a predecessor to Christianity. I purchase the talisman as my symbolic Holy Grail and have it placed around my wrist.

This signals my return.

Equestrian Ouroboros

39. The Hospitality of Byron Roberts

October 21st 2016 9:52 am

Tents line the holler. Artisans hawking goods. A stereotype that one would expect in the Kentucky hills is overshadowed by tone of the metaphysical. Crystals, smudges, pendulums, and skulls are prevalent on multiple displays. Quartz, found in The Columbia Mine in Crittenden Country, used in the amplification of energy and thoughts, healing, channeling, meditation and overall spiritual protection. Agate, Kentucky’s official state rock, found exposed in the Borden Formation, gives courage, self-confidence, emotional strength, connects the body to the earth. Geodes, found at the formations of Warsaw-Salem and the Fort Payne, bridging communication with a higher Deity and assisting in astral travel. Fluorite, found in East Faircloth Mine in Woodford County, increases intuitive abilities and links the human mind to the universal consciousness.

The largest of the tents inhabit a corner plot acting as home and hang to Fire Pranksters, a more accepted nomenclature than Ash Punks. A loving hodge-podge of rope-darters, flame-whippers, and fire-eaters incorporating movement and dance into a spiritual testing of limits. Mastering the art of harnessing centrifugal force when in action and passing a blunt around on their downtime, mentally preparing for tonight’s ten o’clock performance. I hold a blue kyanite rock (mineral) and talk to a dog.

From stage the MC is polling the crowd in hopes of finding the oldest veteran attending the gathering. He identifies him as George MacIntosh and approbates the eighty-something year old as a personal hero. He continues by affirming the two rules of the festival; to treat everybody as a brother or a sister and have the time of your life. He introduces West Virginian William Matheny, complete with band The Strange Constellations. They hearken to brit-invation. The Hold Steady meets Bobby Bare. I have a soft spot for a Gibson Flying V and guitarist, Bud Carroll, runs a natural finish with black pick-guard through a Kentucky made Hall amplifier. His tone is defining as it resonates through the holler.

All four Horse Traders are peppered throughout the crowd as the MC walks into the mass and is stopped one person after another. Hands to shoulders, sincerity in face and ending almost every interaction with a hug and another in line. I’m holding a piece of fluorite, my intuition names the MC – Byron, buddy of W.B.’s. I set the fluorite down and continue poking around the artificers. Another West Virginian, poet and renegade graphic designer, Jimbo Valentine draws me in with his prints, pictures, and comic book. Issue One, $5.00, Coordinates Unknown – an Anthology of Space and Time. Heck yes. It’s neon pink cover has a singular eyeball with splashes of stardust, cosmic rays and underlying star maps. The more I open up and accept the ride, the more universal symbols appear in my day-to-day and synchronicity rewards the progress – all a challenge to conservative spiritual views I was initially raised with. Valentine’s abilities are unparalleled. A quick discussion about freelance work and I immediately dive into the comic book on the grass while The Strange Constellations interpret a Tom T Hall classic.

“That’s how I got to Memphis, that’s how I got to Memphis.”

Valentine’s vision is brilliant and I can’t deny finding his work is playing into a larger plan. His poetry spells out memories of formlessness and the transition into the physical world, innocent. His views challenging organized religion and science giving way to atomic destruction. Visuals of the crucifixion collocating World War I. Part Two; Epochs, dives into the concept of infinity, the alpha and the omega. His work in blues and pinks as an homage to anaglyph or stereophonic work of the 1950s.

“That’s how I got to Memphis, that’s how I got to Memphis.”

Moose Jaw Eric has kept and eye on me and approaches with an IPA, a southern gesture which I decline. He accepts my reasoning as trying my damnedest to keep it on the straight and narrow. If I change my mind, to find him. The end of the Strange Constellations set has The Horse Traders wandering, all except drummer, Wood Roberts. I hit the nail on the head with identifying singer, Patrick Stanley’s wife as they walk side by side in my direction – she’s as receptive to the compliment as he when expressing my enjoyment of their set. I’m enamoured by her as much as him. I repeat my small-talk to guitarist Travis Egnor and as indie musicians do, insists on giving me an album, feet away from the festival merchandise booth.

The most successful indies tow the line between ruthless hustlers and generous providers – it’s reading the expectations of the recipient and counter-offering. If they think they are entitled to free merchandise you hammer them for every penny they have, the opposite at times applies as well, however the ideal exchange at said value leaves both parties satisfied…well, the artist usually feels guilt for charging. It’s the new business of undervalued art seeping into the transaction. I have two types of “supporters” – unfortunately better described as “clients”, the ones who expect free tickets because they are your friend and the ones who insist on paying double because they are your friend. I’ve come to disclose these types to the initial that buddies-up and with a “c’mon, put me on the list man, I’m an old friend.” You know who’s on the list? My mom and pops. Which is funny – she insists on paying and he expects to get in for free. The ten-thousand dollar loan warrants his expectation.

Bryon is back on-stage.

Photo Credit by Senora Childers Photography

“We were drinking and I told Chris Stapleton, he’s my second favourite singer in the world to my Ma.”

William Matheny and The Strange Constellations are followed by The Jenkins Twins. Identicals, acoustic and banjo fronting a rhythm section. Their banter on the microphone discloses Byron as Uncle. It’s obvious at this point that this is whom W.B. has sent me to see.

A self-introduction, catching him between other attendees lining up to shake his hand. Thank yous and congratulations. Byron is soft-spoken and genuine – he immediately extends his appreciation for my presence. Word has reached him at this point that a lone Canadian has found his way to the celebration on his land – this celebration being a gift from father to son. He scans the area over my shoulder in search of his boy, Kenton. A twenty-fourth birthday celebration in the hills, bands and a thousand in attendance. The love between the two is paramount. Kenton is as sincere in his welcoming as his father. I’m pointed towards the house behind the stage asking if I’ve eaten – anything I need. It’s insisted that I’m family and with that, further introductions begin en route to the house. ‘He’s come all the way from Canada for Kenton’s birthday.’

I’m overwhelmed and comfortable. Family friends, volunteers and strangers are extending hospitality as we all make our way backstage. I find a camping chair beside Horse Traders bassist, Mooney, and singer’s wife, Emily. I fill a plate with beans, coleslaw and pulled pork. Mason jars labelled with their contained flavour of homemade moonshine available for the swigging. Emily assumes role as hostess and puts an Ale 8 in my drink holder calling it Kentucky’s nectar of the gods. That it is, I have two.

Kenton joining in on conversation is interrupted by his father pointing at him from across the yard – ‘son…son…’ – ‘I love you son.’ It’s a heartwarming moment that encapsulates the tone of this celebration. I feel I’m at the centre of it both physically and emotionally.

“I love you too Dad.”

Let the celebration begin.

38. The Horse Traders

October 19th 2016 9:08 am

It’s Kentucky fashion to complete a hello with a ‘y’all’ and as my East Nashvillian roommates have been making sincere efforts to incorporate ‘eh’  into their dialect, I’ve been reciprocating by honouring local slang as well. It’s a thin line between acceptance and offence, where an accent can throw the tone of the greeting in either direction. As a species we have an innate ability to detect cynicism and sarcasm but a genuine smile will crush any view of insincerity. My greeter’s display of the small Saskatchewan city has me beaming through my usage of the southern vernacular. Hoping to bond geographically, my expectations fall short as the Moose Jaw shirt reveals no recollection of purchase and is worn based on its hip design. It does look good, well done Moose Jaw. The departure of my assumed Moose Javian is replaced by a brotherly welcome from an individual I recognize from the entry gate.

Zack Walker has a spring in his step and is headed back stage, a loose rope barrier separates hundreds of attendees from a handful of guitar pickers and porch swingers. The stage’s rear steps exit onto the front yard of a home. A house tucked into the baseline of the trees; a backyard, seemingly endless national park. The abode is quaint and hospitable – musicians coming in and out as a wedding party would. I break my walk with Zack as my liaison to the entrance and find where I belong. I am back stage, therefore I belong backstage.

Since the dawn of celebratory Rock n’ Roll status, “getting backstage” has been the conquest. An elusive lair of misconduct, debauchery, and special treatment where societal norms do not apply, illicit drugs spur stories of legacy and all sexual fantasies are granted upon mere suggestion. But mostly, just an area that ensures peace and quiet. The unwritten rule that if you make it backstage you are welcome backstage. A realm of respect and conscious action. Don’t drink the band’s beer unless offered. Don’t fan-out, don’t request pictures, don’t ask for autographs. Just be. If you are backstage you belong backstage. The harder the entry, the greater the conquest – dodging security, lining up inside access. However, slyness will always come second to confidence. My backstage acquisition is consistently achieved by walking directly up to security, thanking them for a job well done and asking if I can bring them anything back, walking in immediately as they answer and heading directly out of view. They teach visualization in sport. This is a sport – visualize.

Kickin’ It On the Creek is slightly less stringent. And by slightly, I mean substantially. I nod a hello to a group of bearded brothers who are clearly the upcoming act and walk side stage as they resume up the steps. An introduction that is nothing short of loving refers to the band as family, again supporting the communal vibe throughout the festival. A master of ceremonies in a ball cap, relaxed and off-the-cuff. I experience a subconscious recognition as the band is introduced, at some-point some-where I’ve heard the name The Horse Traders.

Patrick Stanley stands centre stage attracting a motley crew of enthusiasts. With the opening measures, listeners that were once sitting, rise and gravitate towards his energy. From the casual to the emphatic. The characters of the festival are exactly that – unique in their attire and personalities. One can only assume it’s exaggerated through alcohol consumption. A couple bear a sign warning onlookers of ducks. A comedic display complete with costumes; wigs, an orange Stihl chainsaw cap counteracting a forrest green floral dress.  She drags a fowl hunting decoy on a rope and he wields a Commonwealth of Kentucky Flag tied to a branch twice his height. Stanley takes pages from The Drive-By Truckers, Gin Blossoms, and Ozark Mountain Daredevils – he’s an intentional writer. The melodies are what should be on the FM dial and the content connects. I moved away from writing about love due to its complexity and mundane representation; Stanley approaches it head on.

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A couple mid tempo rockers lead into a hit, unofficial, but none-the-less. If what preceded “Hey Carolina” in the set urged a 90’s mindset, it is now further back in the chronological influence two more decades. Travis Egnor runs a telecaster through a Fender Tweed and sits his vocals a fifth above Stanley’s. Snaps undone half way down his chest and sunglasses atop his head, Egnor is more loose in appearance than performance. Jeremy “Wood” Roberts pushes snare/symbol, snare/symbol, matched by Brandon Mooney’s low end – Stanley sings of the crowds in San Antonio. Solo. Big Chorus. The Kentucky Flag Bearer and his Duck Strangling better-half are leading the dancing charge, now joined by an Ash Punk; a member of a group of travelling fire spinners from Louisville.

Roberts counts in the Bluegrass standard, “No Ash Will Burn” – the congruency as the fire spinner sways to the 6/8 swing. His black denim is covered in soot, he bums a cigarette off of his fellow dancers. It burns just like West Virginia coal. The Horse Traders control the flow of the festival furthering into their show. Stanley writes songs for his wife – in a crowd of a thousand, it’s obvious who she is. Sitting on a blanket forty feet from the front, fixed on her husbands delivery. He receives the reaction he anticipates as he calls the lap steel a cry stick, Egnor sits and whines underneath the lyric: ‘We’ll be home soon’.

The tempo picks up and more Kentucky characters come to their feet. Short brimmed tan felt hat with a pom pom, beaded band, a resemblance to stoner piano rocker Leon Russell. Four leaf clover throat tattoos, t-shirt tattered removed of sleeves and sides draped like a poncho, muscular and strung out. Elderly, netback cap and overalls, crippled and cane in the air. Halter-top bare back, devil horn hand sign, vine-like “tramp-stamp”. Tie dye upon tie dye upon tie dye, joints to cigarettes. Volunteers in peach orange. Straw-hats, hippies and hoola-hoopers. Bandanas and beer-bongers. Shirts: ‘Heaven Must Be a Kentucky Kind Of Place’, ‘Got Agriculture Hemp?’, ‘Wooks’ and ‘Colter Wall’. Fellow Saskatchewan Songwriter, Wall, is amidst a perfect storm of successes and making home in Bowling Green, Kentucky – yet to have seen him, his merchandise beats him to me. The black shirt with a coyote smoking a cigarette, his name and ‘Imaginary Appalachia’ – I request a picture.

The Horse Traders come to a close. A new song as introduced: “Watch Your Speed”.

Ian Thornton of William Matheny and The Strange Constellations meets Mooney on stage. Mooney’s skull and crossbones bass strap is badass, Thornton is right. The MC returns to the mic, not after hugging Stanley. Quick strip of the stage and the crowd is still applauding. It sits in my gut – knowing that my departure from home was meant to lead here.

Patrick Stanley, Travis Egnor, Brandon Mooney, and Wood Roberts have lured the Spirit of Country Music. Rocky Tonk. It approached them like a mare to foal, gentle and willing. The band is blatantly rock but refuses to reject the southern accountability, bending licks and drawl delivery. Their content is simplistic and digestible, what we want of the mainstream – an accumulation of Wilco’s Summerteeth, Neil Young’s Harvest, and The Trucker’s Southern Rock Opera. Everyday-man emotion and humility rooted in quality. The Horse Traders are what should dominate radio waves. And will.

The Ash Punk puts his cigarette out on his own pants.

37. Through the Hills to Kickin’ It On The Creek

October 13th 2016 8:55 am

I jotted quick directions down as Kelli gave them but succumbed to her information of the green dots. A homemade brown plywood guitar scribed “Kickin It On The Creek” sits on highway 89 headed south into the hills. My first landmark. The drive is pretty, it goes from farmland to brush quickly, the rain continues to come down, I set my windshield wipers at half speed. I notice a string of vehicles lining up behind me as the brush turns to forest and the roadway inclines. Again, hesitant on speed at the recommendation of both my gas attendant and Kelli, I pull into an approach to let a quarter ton pick-up speed by me. I push the van but soon lose the pickup’s lead into the beginning stages of a winding labyrinth. Neon green cardboard dots show up intermittently with homemade signs as a payoff. One, a large skull. Paint on plywood.

The state and structure of the homes have changed considerably since entering the hills. For every home in good shape are two that push the limits of habitable. Slanted tin rooves with plywood patches. Steep embankments with trailer hitch dwellings parked in the bottom, small with wheels. Interm wooden crate patios. Residents working in the yards, harvesting gardens. Scrawny and shirtless. I gain altitude.

The width of the highway has narrowed. What has been referred to as hills by locals would be more properly labelled as small mountains. Birch for-sure, Maple maybe. The road is slippery from the shower and I decrease speed even more. Homes without windows and tenants looking through, as if they awaited my passing. A tin wall erected mere inches from pavement bearing an American flag tattered and torn. Off the front of the house another deck complete with swing – a young girl pets her dog as her father stands shirtless watching me pass. I stare back. Deer sheddings collected on the exterior of the house, ceramic and glass jugs upside down as if dripping dry on nails angled into the tree off the front step. Broken window.

As I climb, the worse the housing conditions become and the harder the rain comes down. Shanties constructed for the bear minimum shelter, dogs on the road. I recall the sound of the gun shots back in Irvine, miles downhill behind me. Habitually, I open up Google Maps and my anxiety is fed. A small red triangle with a white exclamation mark has “No routes found” underneath. In blue, Try again – there’s no point.

I make it too a communal settling before reaching the summit at a clearing in the trees. I grab my notepad to recall as many reference points as possible, visualizing my turns and documenting them backwards to avoid confusion when trying to get out. Next left after white church, right after American flag – tin house, masks on trees, left at “new” log house. I record my mileage with the intent of doing so again at other features.

A plateau opens a view that is breathtaking. The sun is completely blocked creating a multitude of texture. Charlie Russell would have added purple to convey the depth but the bleakness of greys and blues are saddened by the rich green hills. Open pasture with single donkey, slate coloured hide. Paths forking off the main route, or what I’m assuming is.

My decent is done at half the speed of the incline. Steeper. A roadway that cuts back on itself like an avoided commitment. One would be days attempting to exit without neon green dots – which at this point are few and far between. I’ve found myself lost where a loyalty to a general direction is usually a sure-shot resolution but that logic would not apply in this geography. My skill-set would come up short. I continue downward.

A man stands, a reflective highway vest with a pleasant demeanor. I feel safe in slowing to a stop and asking for directions. He calls me Bubba. I give him my name and he says he’s been expecting me, The Canadian. Standing on the corner of the last turn-off, sent by Kelli to make sure it wasn’t missed. As the turn cannot safely be made coming from the direction I am, I head up the path and turn around at a small clearing in the trees – my friend has since jumped in a small red pickup and went ahead of me. I already have a sense of intimacy about this festival – the host’s extended efforts in assuring my attendance, without a ticket and sold out. My vested friend not wanting me to damage my vehicle instructed me to take a “straight shot” down the hill. The pathway is of a white shale and slightly washed out at points, I laugh at my decisions in disbelief. Nervous and courageous at once. The kudzu vines reappear, destructive and calming – they’ve eaten the area and assumed the general shapes of the vegetation like a python ingesting a goat. I’ve fabricated them as protective entities and again, regardless of the vine’s nature, I’m placid.

I’m clearly late to the party. I reach the bottom and am among hundreds of vehicles parked in no particular fashion, some paralleled, some angled. Another group of people stand alongside the entry, again, expecting me. I’m given my wristband no questions asked. A young girl is taking donation for the local fire department, I give what would have been my entry fee and am told how welcome I am. Acres provide parking that feels more like a rural wedding on the home quarter than music festival. Aunts and Uncles cooking BBQ, second cousins sitting on the tailgates having an afternoon beer in the drizzling rain, extended relatives playing frisbee, and friends of the family introducing themselves to the subgroups as they meander. Hundreds upon hundreds of family members in what I am told is a holler.

At the base of the mountain is a stage. Covered, homemade, and epic. Practical and artistic. Semi stripped tree trunks as side pillars increasing in height from rear to front. A slanted covering faces lawn chairs and umbrellas. The base covered with garden lattice and the woodwork, neat. A reinterpretation of Merle Haggard’s “Workin’ Man Blues” comes from onstage – upbeat and hard, almost punk. I park the van and change into more appropriate attire – jean cut-offs, Nathaniel Rateliff tee, Bass Pro Shop ball cap and chucks. Wardrobe chosen solely by not wanting to get my straw hat wet – with the hat goes the boots, with the boots go the jeans, with the jeans goes the snap-shirt.

Kickin' It On The Creek Stage

I made it. Kickin It On The Creek. A vibe of familiarity fills the air, zero tension, and a warmth that is juxtaposed by the light rain. Vendors line the side of the trees. Food trucks, tents, and coolers; libations and nosh. Again, more like a heroic family gathering than indie festival. A celebration opposed to financial endeavour. Deep in the hills of the Appalachian Mountains.

Deep in the hills of the Appalachian Mountains a man in a Moose Jaw shirt says hello.

36. Wandering into the Unknown

October 9th 2016 6:26 am

Obama loves bees.

In June of 2014, the United States government established a Pollinator Health Task Force as a response to the rapidly declining numbers in honey bees and other pollinators. As an immediate threat to the agricultural economy, sustainability of food production and environmental health, each state was required to establish a plan, however complying with Obama’s executive memorandum remains voluntary. With the Kentucky economy heavily reliant on agriculture and hence, their benign buzzing friends, two-hundred thousand plus acres of state-owned right-of-way was transformed into protection habitat zones for pollinators.

The native grass grows high south of the I-65. A diamond sign with butterfly and bumble bee characters pokes its head above the blossoms looking like it was transplanted from a Disney themed park. A grassland refuge taking me towards the Daniel Boone National Forest.

Usually my desire for attending festivals as a music lover is outweighed by my lack of desire for public debauchery and camping. This leans more towards the superstar headlining stages and cover band beer gardens – I have a feeling that Kickin’ It On The Creek, my festival destination in Irvine, KY, won’t be that. A small town turn-off Shell station displays an IGA Express Station sign – a quick grocery fix for the night so I’m not reliant on a nine dollar hotdog supper. The burning sweetness of stale cigarettes greet me upon entering, immediately taking me back to my grandparents abode across from the high-school back at home. I’ve only once in my life inhaled a drag, accidentally at that. Del would hollow out the beginnings of a smoke and I’d replace it with my own tobacco of choice, aggressive with the hauls my spliff went from smooth to igneous on my virgin lungs. The lack of cigarettes in my youth, first hand, was filled with the much more pleasurable Red Man loose leaf chewing tobacco. Spitz sunflower seeds being the gateway drug. A high school party habit that was once again used for its male bonding capabilities when moving to Medicine Hat. Sitting in the ball diamond dug-outs at 2 am complete with cigars, Pilsner beer and Clamato Juice. I haven’t bought the stuff in years. And so I do. The straight-edge life no more. It is more in inability to pass on the price, four U.S. dollars versus the thirty Canadian at home.

Red Man, two granny smith apples and a two dollar bag of Baken-ets $2 Only Hot n’ Spicy Chicharrones – my fifth of the trip. My pork rind fixation passed down to me by my mother. This meal not being a healthy alternative to a hot dog – but to be much more enjoyed.

I’m slightly intimidated by the heavy accent and for the first time, mask my own. Weak attempt at that. An offensive, “Aaumph” replacing a “Thank You”. The inside of the door headed out bearing a “No Smoking” policy. I peel the strategically placed sticker off a Granny Smith as I’m down the road, to reveal a rotting hole – I bit the other side to taste the rotten contents. I’m diverted from my path as I pitch the apple by a sign giving direction to a Bluegrass Music Hall. I have no schedule and follow its coaxing. The well kept yards surround an unkempt mansion – eerie and deserted. A yard resembling a newly instated pollinator habitat zone. Past it a sign for the Meadowgreen Park Bluegrass Music Hall, I’m met by a disclaimer to enter at my own risk. A combination of my instincts and time of day have me turned around in acknowledgement of the warned risk, ignoring the abandoned  mansion and making my way back to the highway to Irvine running parallel the the Kentucky River. Where the bluegrass kisses the Smoky Mountains.

The overcast is darkening. The overload of the last four days has been an adventure in its own and I begin to toy with the idea of checking in to this festival, catching an act or two and making it back to Nashville. It’ll be late but the Quest has thrived on late night driving and this means filling up the fuel tank at my next stop. I pull into the Go-Time station that sits on the edge of Irvine and top up the tank with twenty.

“Excuse me miss, where will I find the festival in town today?” I ask the attendant.

“The Mushroom Mountain Festival, son you’ve missed that by five months – I don’t know of any other festival in Irvine.”

“Hm. Kickin’ It On The Creek? Apparently it’s just outside of Irvine.”

“Oh thaaaaaat one? Hun, that’s way out there in the hills. You be careful if you aren’t from here.”

Slightly discouraged, I think what I hear is a gun shot. With the second, undoubtedly. As if the hillbilly stereotype couldn’t have come on stronger. And another shot. Three separate pumps ringing through the air. Jesus Christ, you’ve got to be kidding me. Another. Knowing this will be a story for my return I rush to grab my phone and in the process the perpetrator unleashes, firing shot after shot into what I assume is the sky. If I hadn’t made my decision to go immediately back to Nashville with the well wishes from the gas attendant, I most certainly was headed back now. I hit record on my iPhone and catch another two shots for proof. Loud and clear.

I’m an alien. This terrain is menacing. The hills are the unknown and the locals are warning me of my safety. The coincidence of me entering the Appalachians with impetuous gunshots is almost too much for me to believe. It’s beginning to rain and I’m feeling like I’m at the base of Mordor. Hollywood has succeeded in shaping my expectations. I let this judgement run wild and start seeing the locals at the pumps with physical differences than me. The Kentucky accent is strong and I’m actually feeling fright setting in. I pull away from the pump and hang in limbo at the exit back onto the road – head left across the bridge or right back to Nashville. A four hour trip and the comfort of my own air mattress serves multiple desires – I can enjoy my Lovers and Leavers download that came with the Hayes Carll vinyl and process meeting Sturgill and my time in Ashland over a nice cheek-full of Red Man. I’ve come accustomed to the long driving days, today’s two hour jaunt makes me wanting more. I can get a head start on my preparation for a couple weeks in Music City. I won’t be rushed for the Opry with Craig on Sunday. All arrows point right.

But all signs point left. W.B. suggesting its attendance, using his relationship with Byron to get me in. Shawna at The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame & Museum having Irvine as a hometown. “Mountain Music” by Alabama on Outlaw Country. Fortuity to most but serendipitous to me. Adventure. I’m almost sixteen hundred miles from home with a public declaration of attaining the Spirit of Real Country Music. It would be a gut-wrenching shame to return having chickened-out on the possible grasping of the Holy Grail. Gun shots and warnings be damned.

I’m on the verge of completely losing signal, again having been informed about by the attendant, but my phone chugs through the ether to bring up information on the festival. A single page website offers directions and a contact number. I ask for Byron. There’s no way of reaching him but I’m passed off to his wife Kelli. The idea that a Canadian musician heard of their festival randomly and is looking to “write a piece” on it is beyond her with the initial description. I admit knowing the festival is sold out and use the fact that I’m sixteen hundred miles from home as leverage. I drop W.B.’s name.

“You know W.B.? Well parking is slim we might have to put you down by the barn, there are green dots posted the whole way, there’s absolutely no cell service, its about thirty miles into the hills. Please be careful.”

And with that my decision is made. I make a last phone call to my love that awaits my return and head off into the hills.

Road to Kickin' it on the Creek

35. An Elderly Man and a Tree Fort

October 7th 2016 7:05 am

We grew up on the backs of horses and in the branches of trees.

Left over building material from barns, tractor and hay sheds was kept in “the wood pile”, a neverending supply of plywood, two by fours, two by sixes, and scraps. Jarid, Jody, and I would root around to find the desired lengths of lumber and drag them into the bush of the edge that it sat. We straightened bent nails. We found a way to pry the metal banding off the edge of an old wagon wheel, chip at the perimeter and pull the hard wooden spokes from the hub. Club-like, the pegs were round reaching the outside of the wheel and squared to connect to the center. Rock hard, they served as hammers.

Early constructions had five by eight sections of chipboard connecting trees. Looking more like a holding pen for imaginary cattle than shelter, roofless. An old barn ladder was spared for its material and seen for its original function. Four trees as corners, we nailed two by sixes to make a parrallelogram raised six feet off the ground. Two by fours, a deck planks to finish the platform that sat up off the ground. It beared the weight of three children under the age of eight. So there we would sit.

A series of these platforms popped up wherever tree formation could accommodate. This elevated sight prompted us for greater structures. Even though we graduated to actual hammers reclaimed by my grandfather with hockey stick handles, sawed off, nail usage was damaging to the living foundations of our forts. We scouted the bushes scattered throughout the farmyard and found four beauties in a copse west of the shelter-belt and east of the dugout. Each about nine inches in diameter with strong branches ten feet up. We were about to consolidate all barnyard materials to create our magnum opus. And that we did.

Summer days filled with brainstorming and building, working into the fall. Hiatus for winter, reclaim in the spring and expand in the coming heat. Our youngest sister, Casey, at an age to take delegation. Get us this, get us that. Nails used within the structure but using the structure’ s own weight to wedge itself into the corners of the boughs, strengthened with bailer twine, three strand yellow rope and old halter shanks.

An old house couch hauled from the ‘back room’ up into the trees. We were ready to furnish. Another Costco purchases mom and dad brought home from the city, a dart board. A bunk bed built above the couch. A box made in woodworking 4-H, holding hockey cards and McCormick’s five cent candy. We were inclusive, having sleepovers and allowing friends to do there part in the tree-forts construction and renovations. If a friend had a vision we’d go for it. This lead to a roof top patio and a bailer twine canopy above that. A rope hanging from the edge of a branch – intended to jump from the roof and swing, never used.

Our farm is special. Hundreds of horses once filled its pastures. My aunt would bring the Esteemed down from the city to get a quick fix of ranch-life. High-status friends excited to see a horse and get a country meal. As children, we’d do our performing – on command piano recitals which would eventually lead to a comfort with the company to constitute showing off. Drawings, homemade hockey cards, and our fort.

On one of these Sunday visits we took my aunt and uncle’s single companion through the trees. He was reaching eighty years old but a sport. We latched on to him quickly, besides not everybody got an invite beyond the shelter belt, trip wires exposed. Careful, we invested in protection. We spread the branches through the Caraganas and held his arm coming down the embankment. Unmowed quackgrass and rhubarb. Our pride in full view. We wanted him to come inside, we were proud of the fact we had a couch, bunkbed. He remained on the ground looking upwards. We’d scurry up the barn ladder and jump down, practiced when called for meals.

We grew out of our building phase. One of the most defining of my childhood. That spare time erecting forts was replaced by being old enough to pull our weight with the horses. When we’d once fill a summer in trees we filled summers in the field. The elderly gentleman that we were so proud to show our fort to, passing away. Him and I, one encounter together.

On the eve of my grade twelve graduation I was asked if I recalled that day. I did. Following it, the man made a change in his will and at his death had a sum of money placed in a mutual fund that would grow to pay for my post secondary education. Entrusted to me on my eighteenth birthday. A number I had never seen on a bank slip before, modest.

Against my mother’s will I walked into a car dealership and bought a brand new 2002 yellow Ford Mustang. A peacock display for nineteen year old values. A vehicle that has been a sentimental consistency in adult ups and downs. Guilt-ridden and held onto but unlike an education, has seen its end.

I will sell the car. I will use the money for an education…some kind. Then again, I don’t think anybody can refute that that little yellow mustang has seen me through ten times the education that any post secondary institute could have provided.

Mustang

34. Father David Banga, A Single Drop Of Rain

October 4th 2016 2:08 pm

The small town church is the fabric to a strong community. If allowed to be. If its leader recognizes the truths beyond the institute and grows the fellowship in harmony with his continued study. If he leads through selflessness and inclusion. If his followers challenge his teachings and are open to truths brought about by other faiths in the community. This interconnectedness gives rise to discussion. In a perfect world, a discussion that would take the place of coffee row rumour talk. Appreciation for prayer of thanks in school. A tone to a populace of acceptance, compassion. The atheists, agnostics, and spiritually rich all entitled to their opinions and respect. This is idealism. In reality, the small town church does its best to house a collective of love.

Father David Banga was one of my best friends. He was an example of all the previous ideals. He was a disciple of Mother Theresa. He was a horseman and a farmer. He was the Catholic priest and my open book.

Sunday mornings included feeding horses at 6:30 am. If mass was at 9:00 am we’d feed hay after, if mass was at 11:00 am, we’d feed hay before. If mass was at 7:30 pm on Saturday night, as Father Banga oversaw St. Anne Parish in Kennedy and Kipling, St. Francis Xavier in Wawota and St. Pius in Windthorst, we’d go straight from evening mass to wherever a house party was being held. Catechism was prior to Sunday mass, from there Jarid and I would dawn our robes and assist as alter boys. My piano studies made me a candidate for church organist so from thirteen to eighteen I assumed the responsibility. I loved having control of the musical volume, was ok with drowning out the choir and found humour in playing hockey arena standards as the congregation filled. Father Banga enjoyed it as well.

Jarid, Father Banga & I

He assisted me with three of the seven holy sacraments and hauling grain during harvest, The Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, and oats. I would do the driving and he would guide me. Everything was easier with him in my rear view mirror. No accidents.

A harvest night would have me grinding through gears. ‘Were Adam and Eve actually two people or did they just represent humanity?’ ‘How can creation be supported when we have scientific proof of evolution?’ ‘Did Jesus actually rise from the dead?’ – The basics. His answers included the metaphorical strength in the Word of God, the inception of the human soul, and a blunt yes. It fascinated me. The more questions I could throw at him the more he gave me answers that pandered to logistics but were rooted in faith.

It was special when he’d say grace. Even more special when he brought the meal. Hungarian dishes of paprika chicken and cabbage rolls. ‘Bless us, Oh Lord’ he’d stop and smile, glancing overtop his glasses. A large man with the daily sweat adding sheen to his side part, ‘and these thy gifts’ said slow and with heart. ‘Which we are about to receive…’. ‘…From thy bounty…’. It was as if every line had dire importance to his being and the love he had sharing them, ‘…through Christ, our Lord. Amen’. He would slowly open his eyes and single out one of us four children and give special acknowledgment. ‘…and Bless Chickie,’ as he called my youngest sister, Casey. He’d slam his hand on the table following the most thoughtful and powerful short graces. As if he was striking the force of God into table top. I always saw it as a blessing in itself. To this day, I will replicate the shocking motion if asked to say grace and not give any back story to its importance.

Father Banga and my Mother worked as a team to give me all the tools I needed to move forward in life knowing I had protection in every situation I found myself in. The power of the rosary. The summoning of the Virgin Mary. God’s Holy Angels. If I disappointed mom in not wanting to go to church, I disappointed Banga by not wanting to be a councelor at his beloved Kenosee Lake Boys and Girls Camp. Each of them because of rules.

If a circumstance wouldn’t allow us to attend mass, mom would gather us four kids on the floor of my sisters bedroom and we’d say the Rosary. Hail Marys, Our Fathers, Blessed Be. Father Banga would usually pay a house visit that night.

I woke up on Friday, December 14, 2012 to the word of his death. A heart attack building a boarding school with his life savings in Kharsala, West Bengal, India. They buried him on the spot. A broken deal on him marrying me.

My mother continues to be a staple in the development of my belief system. My friendship with Banga is the other that keeps me titling myself as Catholic. Believe me, I see the corruption up the chain but sometimes you need to appreciate and devote yourself to the bottom where the purity still exists. Hold pride in a place that was so important to others, that they devoted their lives to passing it on to you. My ideologies have changed through my experiences – experiences so profound they prove my Catholic teaching wrong. However proving teachings of Christ as fact.

Banga didn’t need another trip around – he got it right this time. But if for some reason he wanted one more physical experience it would have been of such a subtly that it could have gone unnoticed.

“I’ll fly a starship across the Universe divide and when I reach the other side, I’ll find a place to rest my spirit if I can, perhaps I may become a highwayman again…”

“…or I may simply be a single drop of rain, but I will remain and I’ll be back again, and again and again and again and again…”

A single drop of rain.

Removing the Veil; Insecurities, Vulnerabilities and Creativity

October 4th 2016 12:19 pm

Real-time.

Allow me to bring down the fourth wall.

I left home on September 7 with a simple goal in mind. Go with the flow. I have a brand new album in my back pocket that I spent months working on. A challenge in its own rite – a ton of material scrapped weeks before stepping into studio with my producer and now even closer friend, Jason Plumb. Months of preparation, playing songs on the road, the boys knowing there parts, only to have me break the news that we were going to go in a completely different direction. A concept album about the breadth of the human experience – some of the songs able to translate over but essentially start from scratch. A cosmic and spiritual event on December 9, 2015 left me with a world turned on its head. Still searching out explanations for the experience I felt the best way to find answers was to have my art imitate life. Everyone involved in the project gave me their trust and I will forever be grateful – our time spent together with an overall common goal and truth in that process has made myself, The Vultures, Melanie and her trio a tight family – and like any family, dysfunctional at times. But they all followed my lead and vision. The all managed my insecurities and recklessness, especially Melanie. A search that she remains by my side in.

Any other producer would have seen their role to get the product completed but as an artist, Jason understood my torment. We spent hours recording players and parts, only to scrap them – late nights and bunting heads. Arguments that put me in tears at the end of the day. I had never been a part of such a draining process. I tapped into the depths of my emotions, parental relationships, family issues, and personal dependancies to lay all vulnerabilities on the line, and out there for judgement. For as cathartic and healing as it was, it left me dry. All this, in and around parameters to stay true to a concept, sub-themes, and artistic integrity. It is my most truthful self-representation.

I’ve developed a map of how to release a record over the years. It isn’t perfect, in fact, it’s riddled with flaws. But throwing it all at a wall, seeing what sticks and having my nose to the grindstone has blessed me a modest support group, ticket purchasers, and a network of industry people that support my moves – but outside of my joint efforts working with Melanie, I’m still a lone dog in the game. For the fist time in years I chose to use my recording as leverage in building a team to take everything to the next level, share a vision, support vulnerability in art and day-to-day decisions. The years of hustling door-to-door has me confident in approaching people, so by relying on this I felt it was time to build that team. A contact event like Americanafest in Nashville seemed like a good place to start – I received the masters a week before leaving.

With a lull in our touring schedule, having started an intense summer on May 7 and working the road until the end of August – part of me wanted to take my five weeks off and help my family harvest. Fill the creative well and spend time with my mom, dad, sister Jody, brother Jarid, his wife Britt and two adorable nephews, Tucker and Clyde. But something was just eating at me inside to honour and instead of heading home for harvest, taking a weekend to fly to Nashville for Americanafest, and heading home, I allotted five weeks of freedom. I had Americanafest as an anchor but weeks before and weeks to follow I would find my creativity again through osmosis and see as many live shows as I possibly could.

As independent artists, we are programmed in this day and age to report back – Tweet, Instagram, Facebook, etc. Part of this is driven by ego – I was ‘here’ and you are not. However, it is an outlet for the growth of any artist’s brand and should be treated as such. With my decision to drive around the states, I was excited to unplug. But no indie artist can afford to neglect that instantaneous fix their followers desire so I thought I would commit to a few blogs. Take some notes in a couple of the live shows and share a vein of country music that is dear to me. Sacred, if you will. Then the first blog got shared.

For as confident as I am with songwriting, I’m extremely insecure about other forms. Longhand, essay, creative, blogging. It’s been instilled in me that I’m ‘too wordy’. My grammar is weak and I make up words. After suppressing this side of me for years I felt it needed to be approached head on so four years ago I began reading. An intense workout for that side of my brain. As many different styles and authors as I could take in. I had yet to still put myself out there with writing.

I followed up with a second blog on September 11. The intent, to pay attention to detail – a prevalent attribute to McMurtry, McCarthy, and Irvine. But nobody did it better than Donna Tartt in The Goldfinch. Little did I know that by developing this story about a conquest for Country Music and approaching my writing insecurities it was becoming a massive creative outlet. A side I hadn’t tapped into since March. I brought my guitar on the trip with the intent to write – it was replaced by my laptop. As the blog gained traction I also found its evolution into reading like a book with backstories and memoire-esque entries. All which I welcome and am excited about.

The Quest is still a thing and is being honoured. I’ve been frantically taking notes and attending amazing shows, meeting influential entities and still going with the flow as much as possible but now the responsibility of keeping up on the story in blog format is shaping my decisions in the journey. Where art imitated life, I find myself making decisions for the sake of how the story will play out in blog format. I’m three weeks ahead of the storyline and filling my time with typing in a coffeeshop in East Nashville before having to leave on Sunday for responsibilities with my band and partner, Melanie. I guess this is a small spoiler to the story, conflict with self.

I’m jumping back on the wind, friends – I have one more week in the state of Tennessee and will be astounded if it plays out wilder than my last few weeks. There are major developments in the Quest for Country Music, characters that have changed my life, truths I have recognized within myself.

I am committing to a dedicated amount of blogging time to continue the exercise of writing and moving through creative insecurities. I am committing to developing these entries into book format – I never saw it coming – these original entries will remain but an editing process and additions will find their way into a publishing. All based off this blog. This entry included. You are all getting my first draft in real time, uncensored and honest. Lastly, I am preparing the release of a record that I’ve never been more proud of – who will be a part of the release is still undetermined but regardless, its content is devout to the Spirit of Country Music, its my songwriting at its best. Its Bryce’s guitar, Steve’s drumming and Melanie’s voice in their truest form. My brother Chris Henderson and sister Megan Nash give the album texture. And Co-creator Jason Plumb proves why he is one of the most forward thinking producers in the country. We have local players from local bands – Saskatchewan being the most vibrant scene…well, internationally.

The Quest has become Spiritual. It’s become a battle and I recognize my role. Actions that I stand by may have been skewed from the original message and undoubtedly have affected my career and maybe even the career of others – namely my outspokenness about the quality of today’s songs driving the mainstream market – but I will remain true to my belief that no matter who has taken the hit, myself included, it can all be fixed with one thing.

A well written song.

Coffee-shoppin'

33. Six Songs & a Yellow Mustang

October 3rd 2016 10:59 am

“…TILL THE NIGHT CLOSES IN…DUH DUH DUH DUH…TILL THE NIGHT CLOSES IN…”

I have a tummy full of Timmys and I’m belting out my guilty pleasure song at the top of my lungs along to the radio. It’s a moment of rejuvenation.

This morning’s shower returned me to my original state. I’ve interacted with hundreds of people in my Quest thus far, full contact and personal. My openness to beliefs and ideologies has me vulnerable and influenced. Encounters with all levels of others’ good and bad energy. It’s liberating and contaminating. The rain sent it all back to where it came from. I’m a new version of clean.

Outlaw Radio on SiriusXM with Hillbilly Jim, six songs in sequence:

Exile – “I Wanna Kiss You All Over” – Kentucky superstars. The simple progression of the one chord to the four chord repetition is all that’s needed to put lyrics to. I think it’s melodically perfect. That first bass “ba-doop” gets me every time. An enjoyable period before they go to the five. And of course the big ending. Damn. Every time. I nice musical tie to my whereabouts geographically.

Alabama – “Mountain Music” – I’m about to drive into the Appalachian Hills, hopefully to get a taste of just this. Mountain Music, like grandma and grandpa used to play. Alabama sits in a similar place as N’SYNC for me. Remember “God Must Have Spent A Little More Time On You”? Nonetheless, I sing along, like “Bye, Bye, Bye”. Bass shots at the end…ba-doom, crash, ba-doom, crash, ba-doom, crash…snare, snare, snare.

Waylon Jennings – “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out Of Hand” – Big bass notes, bow-bow-bow. This song says it all. The online pissing matches and self-proclamations of being an “Outlaw.” I sit beyond it – a Truther. Allow me to let the cat out of the bag, the unwritten rule is you can refer to others with the word, but never yourself. I thought everybody knew that. Qualities held by iconic individuals referred to as “Outlaws”: Compassion, truth, loyalty, devotion, artistry, spirituality, courage, authenticity, encouragement. The ability to fully dedicate to and honour these qualities comes with the recognition of duality. We all have a dark-side and its a difficult battle to live a passionate life by suppressing the evils. The indulgence gives a sense of balance and can easily run amuck. This is where the ‘bad-boy’ fasçade originates from. An “Outlaw” will always stand up for the underdog and empower others. Hopefully in the journey, overcome demons. The “Outlaws” also championed God – Cash’s rebirth in the cave to Nelson’s sense of spirituality. Jenning’s disclosure in “I Do Believe”, Kristofferson’s gratefulness in “Why Me Lord”.

John Hiatt – “You’re All The Reason I Need” – With his usage of the word ‘baby’, this song is about a woman. A devotion to a woman. I allow myself to interpret the word to suit my thoughts as I drive through the Bible belt. I’ve scanned XM radio I found myself curious in the content on the Christian stations – I can appreciate a positive message but wow, cookie cut fodder. “You’re All The Reason I Need” speaks to me deeper about my connection to Christ than anything on those other Christian music channels. I’m genuinely moved by this song with the reimagining of the message. I pass three crosses on the side of the road – another synchronicity.

Margo Price – “Tennessee Song” – The phase on that lead. Sha-wing. Considering my direction of travel, southwest out of Ashland, I am doing as Margo suggests – going back to Tennessee. We went to see Sturgill in Winnipeg this summer to suite our touring schedule. The coming Saturday we were to play the “Rock the Harvest Festival” in Austin, Manitoba. Six Shooter Record’s Interstellar Rodeo happened to be the same weekend in Winnipeg so as a band we made a live-music listen/play/work trip out of the whole ordeal. Margo Price played Interstellar on the Saturday night alongside Wilco. The Saturday that we had to miss to head west of the city to play “Rock the Harvest”.  Double disappointment, Wilco and Margo. She rocks – seems cool, collected and vibrant in her own sound. Hardcore. I dig.

Sturgill Simpson – “Brace for Impact” – All the other songs have held their own cosmic message, I can only assume it’s time to buckle up. The Apotheosis has spoken.

three crosses

I’ve made my way back onto the freeway and am passed by my yellow mustang. Same colour, make, model, year. Tinted windows – maybe replaced bumper, who knows. Not enough time to see if the hind driver side rear panel has the paint scratched off in a three inch chuck where their brother ran into it with the front end loader. Or if the rear drivers side quarter glass was shattered unexpectedly while they were driving around pissed off one evening. New clutch, windshield, and mustang emblem. Someone tore mine off the first week I had it, drove around for thirteen years without one.

That car has done me well. Like my Catholicism. Sometimes tough to be seen in as it doesn’t properly represent my character. Like my Catholicism. But room needs to be made for greater things to come in. With the news that my landlord was selling my place of residence on September 1st – I held a garage sale. Again, very sporadic. One day I was packing a couple items into boxes and then next, everything must go. It was a success and cathartic. Vehicles were up for sale as well – The Whitebear, my diesel touring van with 440,000 kms and my 3.8 L 2002 yellow Ford Mustang. 240,000 km. Highway miles. Medicine Hat to Regina and back. It ended up being an efficient little acoustic touring vehicle, tough sleeps though. I’d arrange gear, pull down the backs of the read seat and lay half in the trunk, still unable to stretch out. A reclined driver’s seat gave for more zzzz.

I took pictures of it before I left with the intent to go through the avenues of sale. Bill of sale already signed, sitting on Melanie’s kitchen table.

Sometimes you have to part with emotional attachments to make room for greater things.

Mustangs, for sure. Maybe even Catholicism.

32. A Gift From The Gods of Canadian Iconicism

October 2nd 2016 8:13 am

An elderly couple sits to my right. He’s mumbling over a crossword and she’s reading the Daily Independent. She’s excited for tonight’s show at Poage Landing Days.

“Travis Twitty plays tonight, he’s one of those overnight sensations.”

I can’t help but eavesdrop after that just came out of her mouth.

“Was his daddy that famous singer?” She asks her now engaged husband.

“No,” he replies, “his mama is from Conway, Missouri and his daddy is from Twitty, New Mexico.”

Solid gold.

She accepts his answer and goes back to thumbing through the morning paper.

“I can’t stand those brown people either,” she breaks the silence.

Jesus.

Obviously inaudible to the morning barista, she is coincidently brown and yells ‘Lord Jesus, help me.’ She spilled milk.

“If that Hillary wins, she gonna be in the White House, dead within a year. All kinds of health problems. She is a woman you know.”

This woman is just spitting them out this morning.

On the opposite side of the coffeeshop one is being harassed by another twice his age. How he’s dressed.

“You’re wearing a puffy shirt,” pointing. “You have eighteen pockets in the vest. Boys, he’s wearing a puffy shirt like a pirate and has pockets like a fisherman.” They are all erupting with laughter. “You have the same problem as Sheldon on that T.V. show my wife likes.”

The subject shows his nineteenth pocket on the inside of his vest. Let’s his hecklers know the jokes on them.

I’m cruising around the Farm Aid website yet allowing W.B.’s weekend suggestion to unbalance my decision in attending the Willie Nelson festival. Something isn’t sitting properly. For as willing as I am to making the six hour trek to Bristow I’m being pulled by a much less glamorous event. I committed to a journey to find the Spirit of Real Country Music – everyone knows Willie is it, that doesn’t need discovering. I’m looking for the unknown. That, and the core identity of Real Country Music. It makes more sense to travel to Abbott, TX as the birthplace of Willie than to Bristow to see him live. As far as Margo and Nathaniel go – I’m sure we’ll cross paths in the future somehow. I send W.B. a text and let him know that I didn’t end up driving out to Irvine yesterday. The little festival is sold out. If I head in that direction today, what are the chances that I can even get in? He replies telling me to ask for Byron, that Ol’ Dubya Bee sent me.

Aye.

Decision made. I grab my book and leave. I look forward to returning to this little Starbucks in Ashland.

My first red light has a vetern standing on the corner. His cardboard sign lets me know, that, and he’s hungry. His left foot doesn’t exist, a bandaged stump does. He stands upright on it, slightly leaning into crosswalk pole. Just heartbreaking. I drove the I-65 S from Chicago on September 11. The overpasses had single bearers waving or draping the starts and stripes. Displays of patriotism; anger, hurt and pride. America will come out strong on the other side of this. The image I see in this moment is heart-wrenching.

I battle giving all I have – it would be a grand gesture. I settle on dollar bills and all my apples. He’s grateful, blessing me like many of the other Kentuckians I’ve encountered during my stay in Ashland. An unhealthy but effective stimulus; guilt triggers commitment. I want to make a change, is this my fight? I’m not American. It’s not about being American, it’s humanitarian. The light turns green and I sit there. The cars behind me are patient as I give my friend more money.

I turn onto 13th St to eventually connect with the I-64 E and I cannot believe my eyes. The paradox couldn’t be any more uplifting. A gift from the Gods of Canadian Iconicism. As if my longing for home couldn’t have been cured any quicker; I’m stunned. I drive smack dab into the revelled and iconic. In the heart of Kentucky, ready to puke with homesickness and there it is. I’m immediately transported to Cranbrook, Taber, Weyburn, Virden, Vermillion Bay, Iroquois Falls, Sherbrooke, Moncton, Truro and Baddeck.

A Tim Hortons. In Ashland, Kentucky.

Tim Hortons

I can’t pull in quick enough. I bust through the front doors and I’m in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

One regular medium coffee, boston cream donut, sausage breakfast sandwich on an asiago bagel – toasted. Four ketchups. The usual. My excitement is shared with the staff. They tell me they’ve never heard someone speak like me before and ask for a picture. I return the favour and snap one for my own memory. I’m revived and craving the coming adventure.

Back driving with my knees I eat my donut in four bites and move on to the corner of a ketchup package – lost in the moment. I have someone exited the 65 and am driving on the more scenic highway 60. No worries, it connects down the way.

Hillbilly Jim on Outlaw Radio is talking about September 11. It’s a somber recount of overlooking the remains from his hotel room – he’s not one to get too sentimental over the radio waves but is sharing a personal moment.

Again, my life is being filled with this synchronicity that cannot go unnoticed. The connection between my thoughts and how the road is unfolding is enough to make a guy pinch himself.

“Anyways, I thought I’d just share that,” Hillbilly Jim concludes, “Here’s Kentucky’s finest – Exile.”

“I Want To Kiss You All Over.”

31. Harvest Moon & Kentucky Rain

October 1st 2016 2:10 pm

The late afternoon heat makes breathing difficult. The air has a water quality to it and condenses in my lungs. By this point in the day it’s too late to leave for Irvine, I more-less expected it to slip away on me. I make a lap through the carnival section of the Poage Landing Days. The dings and whistles are tiring. I’m told to throw a dart for a chance at “winning” a piece of garbage in the shape of a plastic alien. I just flash the peace sign and continue to my vehicle. I don’t think I’m going to stay for Travis Tritt tomorrow but am going to spend the night tonight. The heat is making decision making more difficult than usual. I’m hungry but have let perishables parish in the heat of the cooler. A bag of carrots turned to mush, hummas hot and overpowering, strangely my last Walmart tomato is not only cool but rock hard. I come to the conclusion it isn’t a tomato and garbage it along with the other spoiled goods.

The Starbucks has become an unexpected place of Zen and its air conditioning is comfortable if prepared for. I put on my jean jacket and root around for my Rebel T2i owners manual. I’ve avoided this part of my learning, relying on the easy of the iPhone. Boisterous Big Pharma and his skite side-kick have vacated the Starbucks premises – I return to nobody having experienced the earlier drama. I’m board by my reading material and make for a Contigo supper. Requesting hot water, my barista counteracts the offer with decaf coffee, I lie and say sometimes I just like to drink hot water. A free Contigo full of hot water and a make my way back to the van. Pouring a little out I break a bag of Itchiban noodles in half, and place one half on top the other in the mug – a save a small chunk to eat raw. Add half the seasoning, twist the lid on and let sit. Sprinkle a touch of the flavouring on the raw chuck and crunch on it 90’s style. I let the vehicle run to cool it down and listen to Mojo Nixon hype up Farm Aid. No hyping needed – it’s Willie and Neil. John and Dave. Sturgill, Nathaniel, Jamey, Margo, Lukas. Holy Shit, when is this. Tomorrow.

A mega line-up, four-hundred and ten miles east of Ashland in Bristow, Viginia. I’m going. I have to. Six hours, that’s nothing. Margo Price and Nathaniel Rateliff – how could I pass that up. They’ve each become two of my favourite artists this year. I’ve never seen Neil. Done. I’m on a high waiting for my noodles to cook in the vacuum-container. The broth is my favourite. The noodles are cooked perfect. Quick supper fix.

I can’t sleep in the Starbucks parking lot. So I go up the street to the Bob Evans parking lot. A restaurant chain with decent evening lighting. The sky moves from clarity to cloudy. A hot sun is replaced by a hidden moon. A hidden harvest moon. The last one for the next eight years. Since being more vocal with spirituality through my online mediums I’ve attracted and reacquainted with friends of similar experiences. One being an old Medicine Hat golf course co-worker, Jessi. She’s guided me through changes and shown support in areas that I felt relatively alone in. Even if completely psychologically based, I’ll keep a couple rocks around for good measure. The van holds an orange calcite. My jean jacket pocket, a rose quartz, breast pocket a citrine. They were gifts with good intention. My friend, Megan Nash suggested a blue kyanite for throat blockage – sure, I tense up when I sing, why not?

I reach for my calcite, it accompanied my Guy Vanderhaeghe book from Melanie before leaving.

I lay on my back, stripped for comfort and fall asleep.

Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon

I isn’t a dream. It’s of a lucidity that I’ve experienced very few times in life, if ever. It more of a memory playing out or ridding itself. It doesn’t even completely feel like my memory. I’m of the opposite sex and confused. Hovering as if floating on water, two densities, in to one and back into the other. It isn’t pleasant. I’m back into the heavier density and in a room, walking to overlook the space from the top of a stairwell.

Awake. The moon as clear as a bell cutting through the open window. What in the living shit did I just experience. I’m shaken and stay up for another hour or so reading. I slip under again into a dream world – Unlike the last experience this is clearly a dream and I’m myself. Wild sexual escapade. One that brings me to a 5:30 am wake-up.

It’s raining outside. I skipped out on the baby-wipes last night so begin the four napkin process. One for my face…wait. It’s raining.

Barefoot, shirt off, jean cut-offs. I open the side door and stand in the downfall. This is more than just a cleaning. I can feel every drop on my scalp, shoulders, back, tops of my feet. I just stand there with my head hung, water running off my nose. The early morning work commute watches from a red light. Bob Evans breakfast staff pull into the lot. I undo the button on my jeans to allow water flow, subtle move. The moon has shifted in the dark morning sky as the rain continues. It lets up. I give thanks. And feel one last single driving drop of rain.

I use the towel my aunt gave me and dry off in the drivers seat. One more Starbucks coffee before bidding farewell. A quick Facebook fix lets me know today would have been Hank Williams’ 93rd birthday. I wonder how Ethan is doing.

One, one-dollar refill, slightly salty from last night’s supper. I map out my route to Farm Aid.

30. “He’s Studying People, Nick”: The Jehovah’s Witnesses & The Republicans

October 1st 2016 7:42 am

Kentucky

Three couples stand under a tent. A television playing images of people looking distraught, head in their hands. Two in black suit jackets, a third with sleeves rolled up and the women in dresses. Flower print patterns. Middle aged, they look eager. All six watching me walk in their direction. A woman walks from behind her post, around the table, holding her hands beneath her breasts and above her navel. Crossed, content and smiling.

I’m intersected by a balding gentleman with a small orange book. Psalms and Proverbs on its cover backed by vine looking vector images. A stock design. With the self-reflection Proverbs has provided on this trip I accept his gesture but not after letting him know I already have a Bible. ‘I bet it doesn’t fit in your pocket’, again, I accept. It’s the size of my iPhone so i tuck it the back of my jeans.

I express how happy I am to see the group of six, a mixture of being genuine and throwing them a bone. With my past connection to the Jehovah’s Witness religion, I admire their hustle and judge their ideologies. However, in a current search of enlightenment I am open to any tidbit of spirituality that can move my journey in a positive direction. They ask who I am and what I do. I answer with a pompous description rooted in humour. ‘I’m a twang warrior on a journey traversing the nation with light and love in search of authenticity and the Spirit of Real Country Music.’ It garners a genuine laugh, my welcomer, Grace, blesses me.

“Are you a follower of Christ, Son?”

“Ummmmm…yes. well…yeah, I am. I’m a version of Christian – still shaking it all out. But yes, I believe the teachings of Christ.”

“Are you a believer in the Word of God?”

“Ummmmm…yes. well…yeah, I am. I’ve found truths in the Bible. I question its history but I think its all there. I’m a traveller and its given some guidance for sure.”

Grace quotes Psalm 84. “…blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.” “That’s for you, young musician.”

I’ve always been impressed by the ability to quote the Bible. The most Badass in Westerns seem to do it flawlessly. My desire to do so, however, could be ego driven. A display of intelligence opposed to its true worth. This is a nice opportunity to ask questions. I’ve allotted myself a couple hours before possibly making my way to Irvine. Yet to decide, influenced by the fact Travis Tritt is playing tomorrow night.

I’m asked if I ever wonder why God allows bad things happen to good people, this feels like a text-book approach to connecting with me on a humanistic doubting level. She points out the key word ‘allows’ and offers that it’s not ‘makes’.

I imagine it’s due to habitual practice, Grace assumes I’m a lost soul. I did give that impression with my choice of the words ‘journey’ and ‘searching’. I retaliate with a synopsis of my upbringing, my years as an alter boy at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Kennedy, my dedication as organist following that, what the Catholic Church instilled in me. She snagged the Catholic point and re-established her connection admitting her Catholicism at one point in life – she quotes Matthew 23.

“…and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethern.”

Another literal biblical point. How could you call one Father, when there is only one Father; God. Not Father or Rabbi, but Brother. Grace continues. This kinda works for me. The usage of the word Brother has become my most sincere form of connection. Yes, I agree, we are all brothers. Now I have them.

I challenged the updates of the Bible. They say we no longer speak in old english and the King James Version accommodates to modern linguistics. I take them back further to a time when the translation of the Bible left omittance. They ask how the Word of God could possibly be changed. I ask if we can still communicate with beings of love such as angels, they ask why would we need to if all the answers are in the Bible. I admit marijuana usage, they condemn its inhaling but condone its strength for rope. Graces husband enters at this point and begins to re-quote her already quoted passages. They follow up with alcohol consumption being acceptable. I verbally recount Rennebohm’s experience and attest for his core beauty. Members in his meeting hall living dual lives, the hypocrisy in his dismissal. They quote repentance. Through this rally, I am becoming fond of Grace, also a fellow Canadian. London, Ontario. I demand a critical mind and a compassionate heart in religious practice. Non-judgement. I’ve found seeds of beauty in all Faiths and more ties that bind than points of contention. Grace held her own in our discussion and wishes me well. Her husband is passionate in his mission, he pokes me in the chest in our engagement and shakes my shoulders. I appreciate the physical contact.

I make my way past a wood workings and crocheted dolls. To the Donald Trump cardboard cutout.

Two ladies manning the booth. Sweet in appearance, one wearing the revolting Make America Great Again cap. I have a short fuse for any Canadian that wears that cap out of irony. It disgusts me. An uneducated opinion attempting to snag attention, supporting an embodiment of racism, homophobia, corporate interest, male bigotry, and the objectification and degradation of women. Fuck them.

Phoebe on the other hand, actually wants to make America great again. Trump has successfully tapped into America’s fears implanted by past government and is perceived as a saviour to the desperate. His lies resonate as blinding truths that give hope. The issue with American complacency is controlled by Trump’s ice-cold stainless steel snaffle bit; giving into its direction, trusting the controller. Prejudices and racism live in all of us, it stems from the biological instincts of protection. Trump feeds this wolf making compassionate, hardworking, accepting people turn vile. A plethora of degrees.

Phoebe and Diana call me Love. Their southern charm is beautiful. They speak to me in a gentle calming tone. They’ve worked their whole lives and have been manipulated by the man. They disclose their Christianity and remind me I’m in the Bible belt. I’m so enamoured by their pleasantries that I don’t want to leave. They were Democrats, Kentucky has been a Democratic state since the mid-sixties. No more. I’m assured that Donald Trump will become the next President of the United States. I work my best at challenging their beliefs. I ask how a Christian could refuse refugees. I advocate my Nationality.

I’m introduced to Phoebe’s husband. Another good ol’ boy, Nick. He asks what I’m doing – strange question. Phoebe answers for me and says I study people. What a wonderful reply.

I’ve been in Kentucky for two days. The people have a soul that is unique to them. Accepting and talkative. Intelligent in conversation and proud of their beliefs. A sense of social progressiveness is awakened in conversation, a paradox to their Republican and Fundamental Christian titles. The ones that call me on my accent are thrilled it’s Canadian. It’s as if they have some unconscious connection to my homeland, almost stereotypically Canadian themselves.

I’m filled with their love but miss home. I missed home the first night in North Dakota but the sense of adventure overcame it.

My longing has returned.