Tag Archives: viarail

“Rock Train” Cross-Canada, 2012 / mixed media collage

"Rock Train" Cross-Canada, 2012 / mixed media
“Rock Train” Cross-Canada, 2012 / mixed media

Roll east, young artists: #TracksonTracks creating a cultural journey (as seen in Vancouver Observer)

As published in Vancouver Observer in Uncle Weed’s Dossier column – here for archival and reference purposes.

Bands, documentarians, photographers, social media makers onboard a VIA Rail from Vancouver to NxNE Fest in Toronto: what hijinks could possibly occur?

Nine bands, a documentary film crew, ace photographers, curious broadcasters and rengade storymakers leave Vancouver on Friday, June 8 aboard VIA’s Canadian special serive en route to to NxNE Music and Interactive festival in Toronto and carve out a wee bit of culture, fellowship, and adventure along the tracks.

via train stop

Trains, sure they sound romantic to roll across the vast spaces sipping bevvies and perusing poetry… but just as easy train trips can turn into something cramped and rollicking in all the wrong ways. Just watch Dr. Zhivago or travel Eurail on a shoestring for evidence. Ideally, train trips should be a bit weird, evocative and creative, which is where this story begins.

Get on the Couch

A couple of good Canadian kids Michelle Allan and Johnathan Krauth grabbed hold of a vision and invented a plan which pulls out from our lonely train station Friday bound for Toronto.

They started the quest with a Tweet ‘ed suggestion @VIA_Rail about bringing their ugly green couch for a session aboard the train. The erstwhile couch – found in a Vancouver West End alley – is the set for a generous series of live performance videos shot with emerging and established bands over the past three years. Creative, unique, quirky and quality – If you love music, start watching the Green Couch Sessions.

The train’s manifest includes: nine bands of various genres, CBC Radio 3’s Grant Lawrence, the green couch film crew, social media makers, a few contest winners, and me. We’re riding in two cars attached to VIA Rail’s normal Canadian service and making stops for mini busking-style concerts along the way. Melville, Saskatchewan – beware and keep your beer store open!In between stops, the bands will perform on the couch, conduct interviews, play for unwitting patrons, and miscellaneous hi-jinks not to be disclosed (with Topless Gay Love Tekno Party onboard, this is a given).

Once in Winnipeg, the bands roll out for a half-day festival (ideal for the band called Portage and Main) before crossing the Canadian Shield and arriving in Toronto in time for the NxNE music and interactive festival. The bands will all play a CBC Radio 3 showcase and i’ll share my social media stories in a keynote spiel. Everyone happy, History made.

Festival Refreshed

A while back, I shared a dossier of ideas and backgrounders about a trip to refresh and respect the Festival Express, the freewheeling 1970 tour which failed miserably for the promoters but the bands loved the trek as they (tried to, at least) bring the music to the fans instead of bringing them all to Woodstock or Altamont.

The film footage survived in garaged boxes for decades before a recent release which shares mind-pleasing-chilling footage of Rick Danko, Janis Joplin and Jerry Garcia in hammered late night jams with Buddy Guy stepping in, juxtaposed with live footage of their bands at the peak of their velocity – The Band with all healthy and alive, Grateful Dead with dual drummers and PigPen and Janis owning each note.

This chapter, almost lost all but the most crunchy Canadians, makes me wonder – what would happen if Janis in full wailing grandeur had auditioned for American Idol?

But this isn’t about recreating that rollicking, gonzo train, but instead taking a wee slice of inspiration from it onto the late night cars careening o’er prairie, and see what magic we can draw from the tracks and scapes in our own way.

Story Making

UW with Suitcase

As the un-ordained minister of miscellania and anecdotes for the trip, I’ve set out a few quests to earn my train scout badges, ergo:

I’m toting my old-timey suitcase filled with recent paper point slides to share “Fck Stats, Make Art” a soliloquy for creativity in the ephemeral digital age (see TEDXCapU for a reasonable facsimile) and, “Vancouver Counter Culture Anecdotes” as I shared at Pecha Kucha All-Star night at the Vogue Theatre.Social kung-fu: As my rock n’ roll dreams are long over, I can help bands by sharing my knowledge of blowing stories up with the social webs. I’ve surveyed the bands and prepping cold ones to share tactics for building audience, selling merch, and booking tours using all that Twitters and stuff. Also, intro to Marshall McLuhan since we are Canadian.

Canadian documentation: I’ve made a list of topics to discuss with Grant Lawrence who, between building Canadian indie music into a global cult, he’s promo’ed his book of uniquely left-coast stories. I have topics to riff to complement his banter including: our literary history from Mowat, Berton, Coupland; bio-regional music scenes; goalies and poetry; and what really went down in West Vancouver high school elections.

Bonus Ideas and humble suggestions: Yeah, I’ll be Tom Sawyering bands into schemes for posterity:

– Band collaborations for train-themed songs (imagine The Matinee playing Canadian Railroad Trilogy, or Maurice singing Train in Vain, or Sidney York performing Peace Train, Chris Ho sings Train I Ride… I have a list.

– Bands share tips: With many hopeful bands among the virtual audience, how about bands interview bands to share their tips for booking first tours, staying healthy on the road, avoiding the wrong deals, working through writer’s block, dealing with band dynamics? Send your questions via Twitter and answer right from Adaline or The Belle Game.If none of the above are accomplished, I’ll have at least for my part, return to my accidental birthplace of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (which I’ve spent my life spelling for Americans) after hitchhiking and traipsing around 30 countries and 48 states.

Get Onboard

Too late to get aboard (well maybe)… but you can follow along on a bonanza of social channels:

Transport Specifics:

Can You Hear It? 
As for the cross-Canada media, I expect once the train pulls out, folks will wonder what VIA has set out to accomplish, and interact with the digital artifacts as the musicians, documenters, storytellers, and associated renegades collaborate to chart a new tale in the Canadian pantheon of culture, adventure, and fellowship.
I’ll share the answers as i see ‘em emerge from the cars or the windows or from a bottle of Wee Angry Scotch ale. It might not be Gordon Lightfoot contextualizing this contemporary train story – it’ll more likely be you. I hope so.

Slow Train Coming – Talking Cascadia Trains in Vancouver Courier

from the article by Robert Alstead, Oct. 22nd, 2008
from the Vancouver Courier article by Robert Alstead, Oct. 22nd, 2008

I was interviewed (and used loquacious quotes like “super lame”) for an article about train travel in the Vancouver Courier.

I am including my quotes and a few other snippets about my pet-rant – inadequate train travel between here and points south as well as the photo by Dan Toulguet so it doesn’t disappear into the internet tubes like my previous photo appearance in this local newspaper. By the way, if someone could pick me up a paper copy, i’d be very pleased.

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Slow train coming

Robert Alstead takes a journey north by rail from California and wonders if Canada’s vanished passenger trains will once again carry us from coast to coast – Robert Alstead, Vancouver Courier
Published: Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Print version of Slow Train Coming
Web version of Slow Train Coming

Dave Olson, who works in marketing for Gastown web design company Raincity Studios, travels six or seven times a year by train, on business and pleasure. “I don’t care for jet travel because of the incredible hassle and huge eco-footprint,” says Olson. Like many, he would take the train more if he could. “I like the pace and not having to drive, I like the rhythm and the scenery you normally don’t see, the rail yards and seashores and forgotten neighbourhoods. I find the train-riding experience somehow charming, even poetic and certainly creativity stimulating,” he says.

However, he complains Amtrak’s evening train south is hardly convenient for trips to Olympia or Portland, seeing as travellers must make an overnight stopover in Seattle. The Amtrak Cascades is also infrequent and often booked up. Amtrak does offer several “train buses” which Olson has found “super lame” with long border waits. He’d rather take the car if there are no seats on the train, although it did mean a $124 parking bill and a chipped windshield on a recent three-day trip to Seattle. “I know we would’ve enjoyed some work or playing cards or meditating on the train,” he rues.

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However, the Amtrak Cascades offers a good example of the difficulties faced in enhancing rail services.

For years, Amtrak has wanted to add a second roundtrip train between Eugene and Vancouver. However, congestion due to heavy freight movement on track this side of the border meant that a new siding needed to be added to allow trains to pass. For six years, Canadian and U.S. officials and railroad owners Burlington Northern Santa Fe had been unable to hammer out a deal over who should pay for the upgrade.

That means that a second Amtrak Cascades has been running only as far as Bellingham. Then in March of last year, spurred on by the onset of the 2010 Olympics, B.C. transportation minister Kevin Falcon announced that he was committing “up to $4.5 million” (reportedly 57 per cent of the upgrade cost) to build the siding.

In June last year, Premier Gordon Campbell marked the new service on the platform at King Street Station in Seattle by exchanging a large symbolic train ticket with Washington Governor Chris Gregoire in a photo op.

The siding was completed months ago. Amtrak is ready to go. But the service hit the buffers due to complications with the Canadian Border Services Agency, which reportedly wants $15,000 per day to clear the train.

Graham says the matter is in the hands of the B.C. government. A spokesperson for the province says it’s a federal government issue. Faith St. John, spokesperson for the CBSA, said she could not comment on the matter “because we are in discussions.” But she did say that “decisions to provide CBSA services at a new location or to expand current services take into account human resource requirements and the ability to provide security and service to the public.”

She could not say when the matter would be resolved.

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