Monday, January 30, 2006

Confessions from a 5 Pillow Hotel in Stampede City!

photo by James Bremner

Day 1

I awoke to Luther Wright banging on my bedroom door saying "It's ten. Aren't you late for your plane?"
Aw hell.
Since it was the man's birthday I felt doubly bad that he had once again become road manager by default. (Okay and now triply bad since he's asked me not to write about him anymore!)
I had stayed up until fuck o'clock recording piano tracks by candle light for Amy Honey's record (which is going to be amazing!) and of course despite our best intentions, there was the ensuing celebratory nightcap to reward ourselves for a job well done. (Are we seeing a pattern here?)
Miraculously, Hubby Honey got me to the airport with moments to spare and I woke up on the tarmac in Calgary drooling onto my sheet music.

The mission this time was to play piano in my friend Peter Moller's show called The Shrine of Impossible Love which was a live version of his album of the same name, which was part of The One Yellow Rabbit Theatre Company's festival, which is called The High Performance Rodeo.
Got it?
Calgarians tend to refer to stuff in overly familiar abbreviated slang because they're kind of deluded about how much their endeavors are noticed by those outside the city limits. It takes a few trips there to know that when someone says, "Oh you should come to The Rodeo. The Rabbit's are really into having you and there's a party at The Devil's space after" that these
are good things. It's pretty cute and it makes me wonder if there's stuff we talk about in Victoria that would confuse a visitor. Probably.

Peter's girlfriend Bridget picked me up and also Lester Quitzau of Pender Island who was on the same plane. She drove us into town and we checked into The Marriot Hotel which was our home for the next five days. My room-mate was slide guitarist Rachelle VanZanten formerly of The Painting Daisies and we knew each other from way back so we lay on the luxury beds catching up. She'd just come from running a skidder, logging with her dad up in Prince George to make some money to pay for her new record and she had the arm bruises to prove it. Of course I was like, "Well why don't you just make a cheaper record?" but before we could get into that conversational cul de sac, it was time to go to rehearsal.

We convened in the basement of The Big Secret Theatre and there were microphones and monitors and music stands for everyone. And a grand fucking Steinway grand piano for me! Eleven musicians-Dave, Kris, Chantal, Dianne, Lester, Rachelle, Bridget, Peter, Keri, Onalea, Dan and our stage manager Eileen. As musical Canada is a small town, most of us knew each other from somewhere already, although I'd never met Dan, the bass clarinetist before.
We were each handed red duotangs with the words and chords to all the songs inside them.
Thank you Jesus.
Thank you Lord.
Peter had sent us all MP3's of the songs but since neither me nor my computer are smart enough to open the files, I was wondering how I was gonna pull it off this time since I wouldn't consider myself enough of an 'actual musician' to navigate musical waters without a chart. Luckily Peter and Eileen had thought of every contingency of how a person could fuck up so we could do no wrong and I had at least heard the record.

We started with the first song "Arcane" and we sounded pretty good together. The core group had had some rehearsals before we got there plus they play together all the time so the rest of us just watched how they were doing it. I kept noticing one of the singers Onalea, who already appeared to be "off book" with crisp diction and straight posture. She screamed "Theatre Person". I was intrigued.

We got through six songs and then somehow it was late in the evening. Rachelle had mentioned earlier that one of her friends had said, "Oh my God, if you're sharing a room with Carolyn Mark, then you'll be partying for sure!". I convinced her that there was no 'partying' left in me and that I was as excited about pillowy beds and cable television as the next guy as we marched home through the overhead ramps home.
It's true what they say about Calgary; about how you can cross the whole town by means of these overhead tunnels without ever going outside. Coming from twenty five days of rain in a row I was anxious to experience an outside that wasn't drizzling but the overwhelming lethargy led me down the indoor path without much fuss.
And we had just put on our respective pyjamas in time for the start of a C.S.I. episode when there was a knock on the door and it was Chantal and Dianne and Bridget and Keri and Kris and Dave with two bottles of wine and all smiles. Fuck. Well what can you do? So we uncorked and all had a wee dram with no smokes and were nonetheless horizontal by 12:30. Plus we got to hear Bridget, the violin player's awesome explanation to the men of exactly what the deal is with ladies and shoe shopping.

The next morning Rachelle and I went for a swim. Since the Marriot's pool was out of commish we were awarded free entrance to the pool next door at the Hyatt, which was all ours for the price of navigating many elevators and overhead ramps wrapped in our fluffy hotel towels. Okay, so the pool's on the eighteenth floor overlooking the Saddledome and there's a hot tub
and steam room.

Hmmm. Better call Luther. I knew his plane was stopping over in Cowtown on his way back to Kingston and just knew he had to be a part of our theatrical hootenanny which was to happen after the Shrine show opened the following night.

Later that morning, in the phone booth outside of Diner Deluxe as we waited for a table for six, I got to make the best phone call I've ever made. I called Lance Loree who lives two hours south in Nanton and asked if he could bring six bales of hay and his pedal steel to tomorrow night's Hootenanny and he said yes.

Right when I was getting off the phone with him I thought "I should call Matt Masters". I had my phone book open to M and all of a sudden he was beside me in the phone box. He said he'd seen the flash of my skirt when he was driving by and pulled his van into the parking lot. Well I'll be corn jiggered. I love it when a non plan comes together.

When we all sat down to breakfast (grilled pink rosemary grapefruit, spinach and feta omelet with a side of fresh diced roma tomatoes, freshly squeezed orange juice and an americano-"Gee, have you anything more expensive?") Matt told me that my favourite singer Terra Hazelton was In Town so we called her up in Carstairs or Cochrane or some place like that and she said she'd be there.

I then called home to see if we could fedex the quilted hootenanny banner to the theatre stat. Everyone sounded so slow and sleepy. Forgot about the time change. Oops.

Then a ten hour rehearsal to keep us all out of trouble and we all started realizing what was expected of us and trusting our instincts and then home to the pillowbeds. Peter was losing his voice just in time for opening night but we found out that we were allowed to have our red books on stage with us which came as a huge relief.

Opening night

The lights dim to black while the eleven of us settle into our positions. Then as the lights come up to half, the orchestra tunes itself. We sound like an experimental jazz band but I think we looked as pale and nervous as kids in the band at the elementary school Christmas concert. We start the first number.

Peter was losing his voice but also his microphone wasn't turned on. Also I could see a giant blonde hair coming out of his mouth shining in the light. He coughs. The hair falls and the microphone gets turned on. The song starts. And we all do our parts.

It sounds a little like Up With People or a Coca Cola commercial with all the voices together but that shit is moving. I wondered sometimes if I was playing the devil's music. And when I say devil I mean God! There's something about being a part of that many people with freshly washed hair all singing together that feels vaguely Christian or something. Like a cult. Like we all become exponentially more powerful than we could ever be individually as a group. Like a religion. Or a family I guess.

I had similar feelings on the Hootenanny Tour especially the day that people in the ferry line up were watching us and LOCKING THEIR CAR DOORS! I've never felt powerful enough to scare anybody before and it's heady stuff and must be used only for good and not evil.

I don't remember much about the show except the parts where Peter had us improvise to films that were projected behind us. Dave Clark, our drummer and resident monkey trainer (since he's half monkey, it's no fur of his back to speak the language and become the conductor), had
divided us into three groups: The Eyes, The Ears and The Conducted. The Eyes could see the movie and play along with it. The Ears could only hear what The Eyes were playing and join in and The Conducted were uh, conducted by Dave who was watching both the movie and The Ears. Yeah well whatever. We sounded like Ornette Coleman meets the soundtrack to Naked City during rush hour in Manhattan-all eleven of us diligently sawing away for twenty minutes because we thought we had to.

The next night Dianne, our bass player, who has a policy of only speaking up when she feels her life is in danger, suggested that we do it more in waves through the orchestra and it was much more gentle and tasteful and I left my body during one piano part which is one of those rare moments that you get given if you do something long enough to quell the occasional thoughts of doing something else.

But back to opening night...

When it was over there was much hugging and air kissing and "No, YOU were greats" in the green room but there was only an hour before The Hootenanny was to start.

Oh my God the hay bales! Oh my God where the fuck were we going to put everybody? Oh yeah, ON the hay bales.

I forgot that I used to speak theatre and forgot that "Opening the House" doesn't mean "Starting the Show" and freaked out for no reason about the lack of time and then suddenly had a lot of time to be embarrassed about freaking out.

We hung the Hootenanny banner from the catwalk and it was rolled up and the show started with one spotlight on it and then some hands (Eileen the stage manager) unrolled it. Of course it stuck for a few perilous moments and it was a total Mighty Wind "Ee A Oh's" full of tension moment and then it unfurled properly and we started the show.

It was awesome. Everyone was amazing and the guests were all spectacular. Everyone loved Luther and Terra and our poet Miss Ali Riley of Vulcan and all the people in the first show had been having secret practises with each other so it was pretty classy. Plus having the sign-up list boast the names Luther, Lester and Lance made us feel like bona fide country musicians or something.

The Dean Martin finale with everyone gathered around the grand piano is something I'm never gonna forget either! Oh! And Onalea's spontaneous 'burlesque tap-dancing' routine during my whore song was one of the bravest things I've ever seen and made me later wonder why the word "shameless" is considered an insult.

Afterwards all the fancy people putting on the theatre festival in the bar were all like "Oh you MUST come back!" and it was so cool to be there and very weird to think about how we studied this very company way back in Canadian Theatre History and how I used to sit there in that auditorium dreaming about working with people who sounded that cool and how unlikely it would ever be and then arriving there in the end not through theatre but through music and how maybe all roads lead to Rome and all that.

Miss Ali and I smoked some giant joints with The Producer in his office and totally came up with an idea for a Really Big Show. It's gonna say it all and look good too. It's gonna be called Twain and tackle that old inevitable quest for the Canadian Identity. Rock'n'roll meets the fur trade! Here we are world come and love us! Top secret until next January.

Closing night went well. The show felt like it lasted ten minutes or something. Got to go outdoor skating in the afternoon and experienced the surreal moment of hearing my own song on CKUA through a speaker tied to a tree outside The Bay while I glided around. They played my roomie
Rachelle's song too.

Watched a Humphrey Bogart movie with Ali and Rachelle back on the pillowbeds. Funny moment where Humphrey Bogart grabs Lauren Bacall's arm and leads here down the hall and Rachelle from the far bed says, "Oh I would hate that!" and me and Ali chime in "Oh I'd LOVE
it" simultaneously. Ah well. Guess that The Lady Pirate's version of feminism includes actually, you know, LIKING men. Actually that sounds kind of harsh. It's probably more likely another classic case of how all us "tops" in real life are usually total "bottoms" when you get us into the old fartsack. (It's like, could I feel, just for a second, like SOMEONE was, like, stronger than me?)

We all went to see Peggy Baker dance at a theatre before the show and it was amazing. I'd never seen monologue and dance put together before. I would like to hearby apologize to the man sitting beside me for the relentless rumbling emanating from my stomach which was the result of digestive trauma caused by that afternoon's dietary misadventure with "Beet Chips" which are french fries but made out of beets. I tried to use my coat as a silencer but I don't think I was fooling anyone. So if you're ever in Calgary for "The Rodeo" and have free tickets to "Peggy Baker", don't eat the "beet chips". Got it? I'll live this trial and error life so you won't have to.

Peggy studied under Martha Graham and told stories about it. Her toes were awesomely mutated and arms were muscular symphonies. I think every person in that theatre left vowing to get really in shape and become dancers. Our show that night, all of a sudden, featured much more dramatic gesturing.

Afterwards most of us ended up at a bar called The Arden, which may or may not be affiliated with Jann Arden. All I knew is that they permitted indoor smoking and Wolfblass was the house wine and really what the fuck else do you need to know when it's closing night and everyone's leaving the next day for the next mission?

Peter did an amazing job of organizing everything and was like one of those five star chefs that you only see bringing the amazing dish out of the oven at the last moment and not the brow sweating toil part. Genius. I would love to take a page out of that guy's book.

I vow to be this organized for my upcoming Ladytour but of course there's only a day and a half to practice and pack and of course it's ladies which is like herding cats and my big plan of making plans goes all to hell as the sand runs through the hourglass. The train never stops and the tracks never end.
Over and out.