The Western Hootenanny Revue! Part I
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Ladies, let me introduce you to the handsome man beside me. A former member of the Australian Truckers Union, he's with us tonight courtesy of the boys from cell block H over there at William Head Prison who are tuned in tonight courtesy of X-CON Radio. The man with the hardest working colon in country music today-Twin Butte this is Milky-T and he's about to put the hammer down-Mr. TOLAN McNEIL on the guitar!
This freak of nature was discovered rubbing his scent sacs inside the wall of Miss Lily's cottage and oh the terrible smell! But, she taught it how to dance and noticed its nice fingers when she caught it stealing her bass guitar. He wears the blinders to keep his prying eyes away from your eggs, Ladies. Here's CECIL THE WEASEL. Look but don't touch!
The son of a can spanker and a former general, he's half man half fowl and made almost entirely of teflon. A day late and a dollar short but hey, love isn't always on time! The Man that Lost Himself-GREGORY "THE GOOSE" MacDONALD on the drums!
Raised by carnies, stolen by gypsies, schooled by bikers and born with a tail, the girl with sorrow in her strings and a razor in her bow, ladies treat your eyes to pretty miss DIONA DAVIES on the violin!
A foundling discovered by George Jones in an Ontario bog who came in a box with a mandolin, six kittens, a nine iron and a four-pack of Guinness, raised by the bluegrass mafia when the government intervened. Ladies, behold The Man With Nothing to Lose. Music manifesting in human form-The Pride of Madoc, here's DAN WHITELEY on the mandolin and whatever else he feels like.
Playing the role of Dan Whiteley tonight, ladies, my Husband-and-Manager, Mr. JOEY WRIGHT on the mandolin!
Say hello to a former child star and jingle singer who ran away with the circus the day she completed rehab. Watch her juggle a baby and two juno awards and other feats of superhuman strength. Behold The Incredible Fortress, Our Inspiration, Representing Elphin, Miss JENNY WHITELEY!
Ladies! Sheild your eyes as when observing welding lest ye be permanently dazzled. This heartbreaker comes to us tonight from a town as famous for its universities as its prisons. A recent graduate from the school of hard knocks, a bachelor of criminal intelligence with a minor in women's studies. Allow yourself to fall in love but remember, all good things must come to an end, the man behind the curtain- hell he even sewed them-The Pride of Kingston, Mr LUTHER WRIGHT!
Ladies, please give him a big hand. He's travelled a long way to be Here. He's an amateur detective and bilingual in five languages! Don't ask about the mask. It protects his ravaged lungs from harmful elements found here on your planet. I mean town. In your town! Yes, put your working class hands together for Mr HANK PINE!
Gentlemen, see in the flesh, the living legacy of Nature's Indiscretion! She's right on, she's LILY FAWN-Half Deer and All Woman!
We stole this man from an outdoor production of Shakespeare's Henry IV in Saskatoon. Since he is thirst's tireless custodian and speaks in poetry, he need never know! Ladies, Mr. SHUYLER JANSEN. I pray you enjoy him!
In a previous life, he was the chief engineer with the Cirque de Soleil until a terrifying behind-the-board explosion at Les Foufounes Electriques left him horribly disfigured. Now he rides with us. Touch but don't look! Ladies, twisting the knobs for your aural pleasure, doing our sound tonight, Mr. CRAIG BOUGIE!
We kidnapped this little filly out of a Lethbridge hair salon in the middle of a spiral perm. Working it tonight out in the vending area, selling our merchandise, the only one of us who looks good up close. (And gentlemen, she's double jointed!). No Appointment Necessary. Walk Ins Welcome. Miss SHAWNA HUDSON!
It was all and not a bit less. It's like the experience was so DENSE it's hard to even talk about. I don't really know how to start writing about it. Traveling with so many people all the time made me feel like an animal. Like any desires I had weren't even my own.
Well, I may feel that way on account of cracking open this hateful book I found in one of the vans called The History of Love which made me so mad I had to keep going back to it when I was taking breaks from reading The Motley Crue autobiography. The quotes were all right but the author's main premise was that all our current behaviour stems from back in the cave man days. Like women flirt because they are actually trying to find a good provider for their young and all this shit. Reading this while traveling in a pack was really creepy because it seemed like every action had an exponential effect when multiplied. Like if you do something in a big city where nobody knows you, it wouldn't have much of an effect but when you are one fourteenth of a traveling COMMUNITY everything you do becomes amplified.
Some dealt with this better than others.
I guess it's sort of like the feedback scene in the Being John Malkovitch movie.
I feel like I was in the trenches getting dirty with my fellow soldiers and survived.
These are probably not everyone's facts but they are mine.
Day 1 - On the road to Twin Butte, AB
It took longer to drive to the practice ranch from Nelson than I thought so we ended up arriving in the dark and we had to trial and error our way down all these unmarked farm roads.
I'd only been there once before a couple of years ago and I was stoned and it was raining but I figured I could remember.... "Hmm.... Well I remember there was a field and a fence..." It was kind of like thinking you can just find The Old Brick Building By The Tavern when you're in Chicago!
Anyway we were a convoy with the other van following behind and boy were my ears warm every time I had to turn around to try another road. When the brake lights came on for like the eleventh time, my ears were practically on fire. I guess Diona could see I was getting a little tense and seriously questioning my leadership abilities as we'd been driving all day and it was way past wine o'clock. She touched my shoulder and said, "You're the fairest captain I've ever served under."
"Yeah, but we're never gonna win the war"
"Oh I know."
Finally we found Spread Eagle Road.
There's no sign if you're heading South.
The ranch house was all lit up with Jenny and Dan already there with silos of wine on the counter and noodles on the stove. Of course The Ontarians who have never been there before found it no problem but they did have our Albertan spiritual advisor Matt Masters on hand to guide them.
A very subserviant dog came over to visit the second we got there which was just what the doctor ordered.
Everyone started cooking and drinking and rolling joints and catching up and I was all for it but I was also really hoping that we could still practice even though it was so late and it actually happened! We stayed up until two and got the order of the first act hammered out and everyone was actually willing to learn the spectacularly gay theme song with the zillion key changes and the boy and girl parts that I had found for us.
I was so happy.
Day 2 - Twin Butte General Store and Bar, Twin Butte, AB
I got up early and snuck out for a walk but was intercepted by Burnsie our ranch host.
"If you're going for a walk you should go get Lucy", he commanded. (Lucy is his wife.)
"Aw, Lucy can't walk. She's on a cane." I whined. (She broke her leg dancing.)
"Go get Lucy!"
This transaction took up valuable time and Luther and Jenny and Dan were all of a sudden standing beside me in their toques and scarves and then Lucy came through the gate with her walking stick and six or seven dogs and we set off through the bog with its gnarly groves of wind toughened aspens.
Lucy showed us an alarmingly fresh bear track and I figured out why Burns was being such a bossy boots. Well he's bossy in general and I think we kind of freak each other out. ("Why do these women have to DYE THEIR HAIR?!") But I guess out here where survival is the main goal it's clarity over manners.
We got back and everyone else had woken up but it took until about about 2:30 before everyone got themselves pointed in the same direction and we could practice. It's no one's fault. It just takes incrimentally longer to do anything the more people are involved.
I spent the morning pacing and emitting tiny passive aggressive whimpers every time I heard a door open which, of course, proved most ineffectual.
Eventually we sang and pinned glitter musical note appliques onto the costumes and made song books and worked out the in between act musical segues feeling like professional geniuses. Then it was time to pile into the vans and debut this muthereffin' thang!
Our Poet, Miss Ali Riley of Vulcan pulled up in her new car, resplendent in black velvet fall fashions, and we spun each other around the parking lot.
We got through the show but I think we freaked out the locals a little bit. I heard one farmer say "Well I get the deer girl but what's with the bug?" in the break after Hank and Lily's set. Hank and Lily wear costumes based on comic book characters of their own invention and well, out of context, the mask Hank sings through and the goggles could make him seem a little 'buggy' in certain lights.
We have added a "Motley Moment" in the second act where Tolan reads a pre-selected passage from the Motley Crue autobiography. I think it's my favourite part.
One really great thing about traveling with this many people is that the joint seemed full even before the audience got there. Sometimes it's advantageous to outnumber 'em in the smaller communities.
Day 3 - The Ironwood, Calgary, AB
I got up really early determined not to be intercepted, bears be damned, by any bossy ranchers or anybody to have a much needed solo mission. I left a note for everyone telling them to pick me up at the General Store whenever they were ready, put my suitcase in the van and headed down the road in a beautiful sunrise. I made my escape companionless except for one of the dogs. And oh man the wind! I had to walk sideways sometimes just to breathe. I looked to my right just in time to see a white tailed deer sproing over a fence against the backdrop of a giant full rainbow. At the end of the driveway me and the dog had to part ways. It felt like we were breaking up. I knew I couldn't look back after I told him to stay. Maybe he's still there waiting for me.
Forty minutes later a farmer in a pick-up truck slowed down to ask was getting my excercise or in need of help. Three other farmers stopped to ask me the same thing. The fourth time I heard a car coming I lay in a ditch so I wouldn't have to talk to anyone and wreck the moment. Can't a lady get some alone time at dawn in the country? I told this story to my friend J. when she joined the tour and she said "Oh my God. You're the only person I know that's a fugitive from their own life!"
I got to the General Store just in time to see Burns and Lucy pulling up in their truck which was kind of funny. "Oh we could have given you a ride!" Ah well. Maybe next time.
Meanwhile back at the ranch... I guess a pair of mating turkeys in the driveway held up the rest of the gang's departure.
It's funny because at some point the day before I had seen the male turkey standing on the female turkey's back outside my window when I was reaching into my suitcase for a sweater but it just looked so unreal I must have put it out of my mind thinking "Jeeze I gotta lay off the pot!"
Apparently Hank tried to move the co-joined turkeys by bumping them with the van until Lily, who speaks all the animal languages, just moved them out of the way by picking them up with her hands. I had just ordered a coffee and unfolded the local paper when the armada of vehicles pulled up.
We all had breakfast together and afterwards Jeni, the owner, gave me a cup with the show money in it. This is how we have always done it. She and I have never once talked about money and it's always worked out. You don't need a contract with people you trust.
I rode in the ladies car to Calgary with Ali, Lily and Diona so we could all be back in love come sound check and the talk was pure porn. That Motley Crue book ain't got nothin' on us. ("Double anal is the new black!")
Calgary was kind of a bust.
The Ironwood had done no advertising and the posters "got lost" so nobody knew we were coming and the promoter was awol so everyone was trying to phone their agents and managers and stamping their feet and patting their wigs a little bit but there was spinach salad and we all still wanted to play the show anyway thank god. And the deal at the end of the day is what it always was and what it always will be after all the expenses- a nice relaxing zero. I got to sneak away with Jenny for a quick hotel room glass of wine whore-up session before the show.
Day 4 - The Tongue and Groove, Lethbridge, AB
We all met for breakfast at Diner Deluxe which happens to be just a few blocks up from the vintage store. I love it when a plan comes together.
Jenny and Dan were leaving us for the night to go and play some showcase so we put our velvet vampire handcuffs around Matt Masters' wrists not ready to let him get away just yet and really, how could he say no? What a dude. He drove everybody home from the bar after the show and everything.
We stopped in Nanton for thrift shopping and onion rings to keep the ladies' tour boners up. After five minutes the men were pacing. It was time and money well spent though because Lily's new black and silver swimsuit was the star of that night's show.
As payback, the next day the men pulled over into a field and made us watch them set off a rocket.
My friends Wallis and Jay had volunteered to make us all dinner. They are long married teachers who drink bourbon and bicker and live in Lethbridge. Everyone needs a dose of the feeling of parents no matter how rock'n'roll you think you have become. As usual Wallis had drunk all the bourbon while she was waiting for us and then didn't eat any of the dinner she'd spent all day making.
After the show, the others went to the hotel but Tolan, Diona and I went back to our host family's place and hung out on the porch.
Out of the blue Wallis said, "We're so old we should just die. I'm too tired to even feel despair about it" which was a real party starter. Everyone I know, myself included, stays up too late talking about how tired they are. I think it's the booze.
I told them about my friend David P. Smith who just gave up the radio show he had been hosting for the last ten years.
He said, "When I decided to give it up I started enjoying it".
Then we all went to bed and I got to sleep in the Teddy Bear Room.
Day 5 - The Powerplant, Edmonton, AB
I spent the day wound up like a guitar string in full blue heeler mode snapping at everyone's heels from the second I woke up. I just really wanted Edmonton to go well because I had booked the show and changed venues and everything.
I got to the hotel parking lot at eleven on the dot only to discover that everyone was still asleep despite late night heartfelt promises to the contrary. Also, Shawna, our merch girl, swollen with power from being on home town turf and momentarily deluded about her status in our heirarchy, made off with one of the vans to do some personal errands. While I was busy urging her to return stat, everyone started dispursing down the street to the Tim Horton's.
Not me. Oh no.
I just stood there making a huge point of Not Eating and getting weirder until the group amassed. Eventually I succumbed and once again the seemingly simple order of 'one toasted multigrain bagel with swiss and tomato' proved to be too much for the New Girl to handle. A manager was brought in to close the deal as our tears mingled on the keypad.
Finally at 1pm our fleet hit the road and of course we made it. The Powerplant stage was big enough for us all and it had stairs on either side for all our dramatic entrances and I think everyone finally knew the order of the show and who plays on what song.
The only thing was that they had put out tables and chairs so the audience was sitting down in full dinner theatre mode so it was really hard to whip them into any sort of lather. In Lethbridge, the people were wild so we got wild. Here it kind of felt too straight like we were putting on A Mighty Wind or something.
We had a green room filled with booze so everyone naturally gravitated back there which kind of stole focus from the show. In Lethbridge we could all smoke and drink and sing and be together which is important.
When it was over, Lily learned a valuable lesson: When all the freaks you know come back stage with their spiralling eyes and ask where you are staying, you say "Oh I'm taken care of, thanks."
Instead she said, "I'm in room 305 at the Days Inn downtown on 106th St" and they all materialized at her door later when she was brushing her teeth.
I stayed up with Diona drinking wine vowing to let someone else play the role of Uptight Guy for the rest of the tour.
Day 6 - The Arts Centre, Golden, BC
No time for nothing in Edmonton. No breakfast. No shopping. No nothing. Ah well I'll be back. Stopped at a 7-11 for breakfast just in time to see a woman puke a lime green stream the colour of a slurpee onto the floor. The man behind the counter just mopped it up while she was crying holding her medicine saying "I've been like this all week".
Our drummer Gregory (aka The Goose) was meant to be joining us at the Golden show but he phoned me in the afternoon in a state saying that they'd somehow directed him to the wrong bus and that he was stuck in Kamloops until the next one left which would get him into Golden at 3am.
"Well you're a goddamn good looking man. Get out there on the highway and stick your thumb out!"
I could tell he wanted some sympathy but I was already feeling a bit diversified on that front from riding in the wake of everyone else's ups and downs. Gregory is sort of famous from our past tours for losing things and freaking out. Wallets, CDs, Shaving kits, hotel keys, belt buckles you name it.
When I told Tolan that Gregory was going to be late he said "You mean he lost himself?" which was pretty funny. The others had yet to meet him so I'm sure they were thinking the worst.
Well, to get on the Hootenanny Express it's up to you to climb aboard...
The show went well despite his absence and Ali, Our Poet joined us again. The audience was super all ages with grannies and children and everything. Jenny, fresh from seeing her daughter in Edmonton, was in full Mama Bear mode.
She suggested to me and Lily that we tone down the racier elements of the act. I knew she was probably referring to the Motley Moment and perhaps Hank and Lily's song "I Like Having Sex With Old People!" would have been kind of inappropriate. Ali can be quite filthy but I don't think she can help it.
Lily and I talked Jenny down while we put on our fake beauty marks and fishnets and held fast to our western show business values.
I said, "Well there's people here that aren't children or don't have any and I'm gonna sing to them."
Plus, since I come from a small town it always bugs me when people assume that people in smaller communities are too simple minded to enjoy the finer nuances of risquee business. Just because you live in Golden doesn't mean that you are a stupid redneck. The bottom line is that you can get away with anything if you do it with love.
Jenny is so great because at the end of the night she said, "Oh you guys were totally right and I take it all back".
Mysteriously, the Motley Crue book couldn't be found before Tolan's big moment so Golden was spared from a blast of undiluted filth.
I told Gregory to come and find us at The Trans Canada Hotel when he got in but I must have just made that name up because there isn't one. When I was standing at the front desk of whatever our hotel was called trying to figure out how to leave a message at the bus station, I saw him get off a bus accross the street at the Husky.
I waited in the lobby for him with the intent of greeting him heartily from his travels with a beer but he took so damn long I went back to the room and realized that I could see the Husky from the window.
As he crossed the divided highway I yelled to him and he came running over and jumped through the window which was quite an entrance. He'd grown a giant beard since I'd last seen him too. I think the others were impressed. He looked very civil war.