New Canadian Rules May End Club Tours by US Bands

The Canadian Minister of Employment, Social Development & Multiculturalism has really done it this time.

According to the Calgary Herald, new regulations “could deal a crippling blow to live music at the club level.” Large concerts and music festivals, thank goodness, are not affected. But the new rules hit touring bands like Delta Moon where we live.

The way it works is this: temporary foreign workers in Canada (that’s us) have to apply for a document called a Labour Market Opinion. In the past we would file one application to cover the whole band and the whole tour, and once the government decides we’re not taking jobs away from Canadians, and once the guard dogs finish sniffing our van, we get to pay $150 each for work permits and come on in. But according to the Ottawa Citizen, “Taxpayers are footing the bill for the cost of processing those HRSDC labour market opinions…. Those costs should instead be borne by employers, the government says, since they benefit directly from the service provided.”

So now employers have to pay for separate applications for each band member, and in our case that’s often six different employers a week. For a four-piece band, that makes 24 applications at $275 a pop – $6,600 a week the venues would have to pony up for Delta Moon to do another Canadian nightclub tour, before they pay us the first dime. We’re scratching already to break even on these tours, and so are the clubowners. I can tell you right now this kills the whole deal.

Delta Moon has been playing festivals and clubs in Canada for several years now. We’ve made friends from Halifax to Banff. We’ve driven the Canadian Shield, around the north side of the Great Lakes, where the highway dwindles to two lanes through the woods with little stone men by the roadside to remind you that other humans have passed that way. Though we still haven’t seen a moose, on the Icefields Parkway we met a herd of bighorn sheep and a pack of silver wolves. We hope to continue playing music festivals in Canada, but without the bread-and-butter club gigs we’ll be flying short stabs in and out. No more driving to Sarnia or Sault Ste. Marie or Saskatoon. That’s our loss, and everybody’s loss.

I’m sure the new rules weren’t written to punish small venues and touring bands, to say nothing of music fans. Perhaps (I’m always the optimist) the Canadian government can put some thought into rewriting the regulations. They’ve already made an exception for agricultural workers. Why not musicians? But, please, US Immigration, don’t you start.

(Photo by Vincent Tseng)

Invading Canada

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the United States’ failed invasion of Canada. Our schoolbooks don’t describe the War of 1812 that way, but the Canadians, though quite friendly, have a different angle on it. They also know that, as in almost every other civilized country, their Coca-Cola and catsup, made with real sugar, taste better than ours made with corn syrup. Okay, no argument. When and how did that happen anyway? Were we sleeping? Still, I think the US has Canada beat in areas which out of politeness I won’t mention, but one of them rhymes with smarbecue.

Delta Moon’s 2012 invasion of Canada has been a big success. We’ve had some memorable shows, hung out with some good friends and made a lot of new ones I hope we’ll see again. At the Kitchener Blues Festival we saw many inspiring acts, including Los Lobos (still one of my favorite bands, even without Cesar Rosas on this show), Taj Mahal, Bobby Blue Bland, Harry Manx and Marcia Ball, among others. I had the pleasure of meeting and playing a duo show with Ray Bonneville (Ray: “Do we need to rehearse this?” Tom: “I don’t think so.”). Then I played as a sideman for Ray when he opened for us at a club Sunday night. It was a lot of fun, and we have promised to stay in touch.

Invading Canada is hard work. We’ve been covering a lot of highway and playing constantly, sometimes two shows a day, then the next day getting up and doing it again. We might feel a little ragged sometimes — I’ve consumed my weight in throat lozenges and hot tea — but we’ve had a blast. Then in Toronto I saw this message posted in the hotel lobby:

Here are a few photos and videos from the never-ending struggle which we embrace:

Tom in Kitchener

Mark and Angela

set list

The View from the Stage, Canada, 2011

Mark told me he saw a poll the other day showing Canadians were the second most cheerful people in the world, after only the Australians. We’ve been here a week now, and once again I have to say that Canadians are some of friendliest, nicest people we’ve met anywhere in the world. Delta Moon needs to spend as much time around them as possible, in hopes that some of that will rub off on us.

Just look at these smiling faces:

Mont Tremblant International Blues Festival

The Boathouse, Kitchener, ON

We love you, Canada.

Delta Moon “Summer Tire” Tour

Mark Johnson and Tom Gray

I just checked the Moon Pie’s odometer. We logged 8,418 miles on the Canadian trip, driving up the east coast of the United States to Maine, then west to Alberta, then back home to Atlanta. We played 17 dates in 20 days, maybe not such a heavy schedule by back-in-the-day standards (on his first European tour Duke Ellington played 74 shows in 72 days), but it was enough to keep us jumping.

We hit our rhythm pretty quickly: get up, eat breakfast, drive, load in and set up, eat dinner while the sound man mics the stage, sound check, change clothes, play the show, load out, go to bed, get up and do it again. We did that for eight days straight, driving 700 miles on our off day, and then five more days. By that time we were good to keep going as long as it took.

One thing we discovered (well, we knew it already but now we really know it) was that we love Canada and we love the Canadians. The audiences are wonderful. People, even hotel and gas station clerks, just seem a little friendlier there. The road food is way better. On the down side, there’s more snow and ice. A lot more. We set out on the advice that we’d be okay with good all-season radial tires, but even with the weight of Franher’s SVT amp in the back, we had a few white-knuckle moments on the icy Rocky Mountain grades. A bartender in Jasper told us, “We call those summer tires.”

We learned that North America is huge. Road maps of Canada don’t even show its northern edge. It just seems to stretch out to infinity. Even traveling east to west, the distances can be staggering and the connections between towns sometimes tenuous. We drove the Trans-Canada Highway around the north side of the Great Lakes — mostly two-lane, with nothing but rocks, trees, “moose crossing” signs and the ever-present inuksuit, little rock men on ledges along the roadside, to let you know that others have passed this way. On the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper we met first a herd of bighorn sheep and then a pack of wolves.

Another thing we learned – perhaps the best thing from my point of view – was how well this foursome travels together. We’ve grown into a solid unit now both on and off stage, and we genuinely enjoy each other’s company. When we finally arrived home everyone was glad to get here, but at the same time all of us were saying, “When do we go out again?”

Delta Moon,Tom Gray

Delta Moon,Mark Johnson

Delta Moon,Franher Joseph

Delta Moon,Darren Stanley

(Thanks to Michael A. Murphy and Jennifer Murphy for the photos.)