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.
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.
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.
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.
Too late to get aboard (well maybe)… but you can follow along on a bonanza of social channels:
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.
The Seabus is a passenger ferry running between downtown Vancouver and North Vancouver across the Burrard Inlet. The crossing generally takes about 11-12 minutes. This video is a simple single shot of the crossing with ambient sound and no alterations.
The Seabus (there are 3: The Otter, and The Beaver, were launched in 1977 and the Pacific Breeze was launched in late 2009 just before the Winter Olympics) are operated by Translink, the transit authority for the greater Vancouver BC area. Many folks ride this daily as part of their commute to work in downtown or even closer, in Gastown or Railtown.
The dock on the south side is adjacent of the wharves of Canada Place and accessible via Waterfront Station or the Heliport door on the low road. The north dock is in a complex with Lonsdale Quay market — a great tiny alternative to the busy (especially in the summer) Granville Island Market.
Both docks closely connected with other transit modes: at Waterfront, all Skytrain lines and Westcoast Express train; and, busses to all points on the North Shore at Lonsdale Quay (including busses to Grouse Mountain, Deep Cove and Horsehoe Bay).
Tip: Exit via the Heliport door and walk to unknown CRAB park just a few 100 metres away to the east – further east, a bridge connects you to the north end of Main St.
Tip: Ride the Seabus to North Vancouver and catch the 228 bus and ride to Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge. It’s free, unlike Capilano, and it’s not a tourist trap
Note to say i’ve fastidiously documented thick slices of my travels in London … Didn’t make it Scotland this time around but heaps of good times starting with staying at Piccadilly Circus in the midst of downtown chaos taking late night walks through famous sites, to lounging in a nice middle class neighborhood equipped with vaporizer to a proper English day trip to the seaside of free-wheeling Brighton and a herbal respite on a canal in Camden before an interview with an ex-pat author.
Around my toil, I managed dozens of hours of concentrated goodness in audio recordings including intrepid dark adventures past the new Globe Theater over Tower Bridge in the pouring rain en route to Cleopatra’s obelisk while Big Ben’s bonging 3AM – seems i didn’t record *allthatmuch* but ended up with a’ plenty – and even a decent stack of photos and video clips from the front row of a double decker bus. Yeah i am a sucker for thrill ride (heh).