One Week in Canada

Thursday, July 10 – Having driven from Atlanta to Toledo, Ohio, the day before, with all the right papers and the right answers we crossed the border at Windsor with no trouble at all. The London Music Club in London, Ontario, is a venue Delta Moon has played a few times now. We have a good following there. We saw lots of familiar, friendly faces and a few new ones too. Thanks to Brian Mortimer and Karma Productions for booking another great show. Zack Albetta, on drums with us this week, did an outstanding job. After the show it was smiles all around.

Later Mark, Franher and I walked downtown to find a snack. We blundered right into a family of skunks clawing through some garbage bags on the sidewalk. They never looked up, but we fled across the street in panic. At a bar that we were able to find just minutes before closing, we asked the bartender if skunks were common there. She said, “They’re pretty popular.” I said in Atlanta we had raccoons and possums. She said, “We have raccoons. We have possums, too, but they’re not as popular.”

Friday, July 11 – We had breakfast at the Covent Garden Market in London, a large indoor market with booths containing restaurants, fruits and vegetables, a bakery, a butcher, dessert shops and lots more. Mark and Franher got Thai, Zack bought a Greek pastry and I hit the New Delhi Deli. We reconvened to eat together at a table by the coffee shop and then dispersed to stock up with provisions for the road. Every city should have a market like this.

Angelyn Smolders, the co-owner who booked us in Paddy Flaherty’s in Sarnia, is a force of nature and a dear friend of Delta Moon. She and the staff of the club went out of their way to make us feel at home. They had planned an outdoor show, but a purple sky and a tornado warning forced us inside. We remembered with dread a tiny shoebox stage, but they had enlarged it and put in a new PA too. This was a fun night.

Saturday, July 12 – We played four shows in two days at the Kitchener Blues Festival. The first was the biggest, on the Clock Tower Stage in Victoria Park. The festival had shut down the night before for the tornado warning, though someone told us the actual tornado was 300 kilometers away. At any rate, by Saturday evening everybody was ready to rock, and even more so at our second show of the night in the remodeled bar of the Walper Hotel. “This place is too clean now,” a woman told me. “You need to swamp it up.” There was no stage and the people were right in our faces, even throwing their arms around us and yelling in our ears while we were playing. Spilled beer might have contributed to the swampiness, but that all got mopped up pretty quickly. The evening ended with a conga line snaking through the venue as we shook and banged percussion and our friend Dave Tree Man blatted away on his tuba. Kudos to our limo driver, Alan, who got us from place to place on time and in one piece.

Sunday, July 13 – We had a 3:00 show at the Boathouse, sharing the stage with the Tarbox Ramblers. I have listened to Michael Tarbox’s records for many years, and he was familiar with Delta Moon, but we had never met until 15 minutes before our show together. We swapped songs back and forth, as rhythm section members took turns on and off stage. I missed Franher’s bass backing vocals on a few songs, but other than that the show was big fun. Good things happen when all the musicians are on the same wavelength. Our second show was on the same stage later that night, when we followed a powerful set by our Atlanta buddy Michelle Malone to close out the festival. Our friends Rob Deyman and Silvia Dee from the Water Street Band joined us on guitar and accordion for a few songs. They sounded fantastic, and I love that Silvia’s shoes always match her accordion. It was a good ending for a great festival.

Monday, July 14 – We had a wonderful time in Canada. Now back to the madness.

We felt the tension immediately as we drove up to the US border. We’d never before seen border agents going through the trunk of every car. We have re-entered the US many times and thought we knew how to prepare and give the right answers. I never expected the agent at our gate to raise his voice and bark at me. He slapped a sticker on our windshield and told me to drive over to the building. There were so many people being questioned that we had to wait a long time just to get into the waiting room. The border agents seemed overworked and frazzled. The people in the red plastic chairs were stressed and miserable. When a small girl followed her father into the room, beaming, it was as if clouds had parted. I realized it was the first time in two hours I had seen anyone smile. Over all this, from a frame on the wall, our President glowered with knit brows and chin thrust out, as if to say, “You’re fired.” From America!

The border agents have an important job to do. I respect that and respect them for doing it. But Delta Moon has visited ten different countries so far this year, and the only place we’ve been treated rudely and made to feel like criminals was our own native land.

Finally, after the agents and their dog had searched our van, they determined there was no reason to deny us entry or to send us to jail. They released us into the wilds of Detroit.

At a gas station in Ohio we heard an employee brazenly use to N-word to a cop in pointing out some kids who had littered in the parking lot. We didn’t stick around.

It was after 4:00 in the morning by the time we reached Atlanta, with Franher at the wheel.

I said, “Good job, Franher.”

Franher said, “Good job, everybody.”

(Photos by Zack Albetta.)

Northeast Tour – Part 2


Tuesday in Boston, Wednesday in Buffalo (we loved playing the Sportsmen’s Tavern, a great place to see a band, a great place to be a band). Thursday’s crossing into Canada stretched into Friday, as we had to leave Franher behind at a motel in Buffalo because of some confusion with his passport. But the Kitchener Blues Festival people came through in a big way and got a Member of Parliament (the Canadian federal government, not the band) to straighten out the situation. They even sent a limousine. Franher pulled into Kitchener Friday one hour before showtime.

Delta Moon played three shows at the Kitchener festival: one in Victoria Park and two more at indoor venues. In addition, on Sunday I played a trance blues workshop with Otis Taylor (I showed up with just my guitar; he brought his whole band) and a special show Saturday on the downtown tent stage, with Otis Taylor’s bass player and drummer side-by-side with Darren and Franher, and Otis Taylor and me fronting this one-time-only band for half an hour each. There was no rehearsal. Our only rule was no chord changes. A woman backstage said, “This could tank so easily.”

But the two drummers and two bass players meshed like a big machine. Here’s some of what it sounded like:

Thanks to Milton Young for the photo at top, and to Jesse Bl for the video.

Loving Canada

Next week Delta Moon will cross the border to Canada to play the Kitchener Blues Festival in Kitchener, Ontario, one of our all-time favorite gigs. In all we’ll play four shows in Kitchener — one on the big stage, one in which I’ll play in a duo with the trance blues master Otis Taylor, and two club dates as part of what the festival organizers call the 12 Bar Blues. And that’s it. We’ll turn around and head back to the US.

In years past we’ve enjoyed playing clubs as well as festivals in Canada. If you’re going that far it’s worth staying a while. We’ve worked from Halifax to Banff, driven the Canadian Shield and the Icefields Parkway, seen wolves and porcupines (but no moose) and met a lot of wonderful people. We thought those tours had ended last year when Canada passed what came to be known as the “tour tax”, an extra fee on top of the work permit that made playing Canada out of the question for international bands working at the nightclub level. Music festivals remained exempt, thank goodness.

Now several Canadian friends have written to tell us the law is history. According to the Hampton Spectator, “The removal of a work permit requirement for foreign musical acts, part of the government’s overhaul of the controversial temporary foreign worker program, went largely unnoticed amid a spate of other measures announced last week.” Not unnoticed by us!

I immediately wrote to our Canadian booking agent, Kap Palmer, who replied, “Yes, the rules are changing, however like most government things it takes a while for the bulletins to be read by the people who have to follow them. On Wednesday I phoned three departments involved in this and not one of the people I talked to knew about the change. At least three do now.”

Kap directed them (and me) to an operational bulletin from the Canadian government spelling out that musicians and their crews working nightclubs for time-limited engagements “will be eligible for a work permit exemption.”

All I can say is hurray.

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 Kitchener Blues Festival

Delta Moon Kitchener 2010
“Neat moments: The band Delta Moon holding their cellphones up to the upper facade of Kitchener City Hall to take photos of their program photo being projected far and wide.” – The Kitchener Record, August 7, 2010

When we first played the Kitchener Blues Festival two years ago we had a great time, but that was one of the longest days I can remember. We rose at 4:00 AM to catch an early flight to Toronto, then rode an hour or more to Kitchener and played an afternoon show at the Tent Stage. By the time we finished there Mark and I were already late for a slide guitar workshop at the Boathouse in Victoria Park. Then the band grabbed a quick bite before playing two sets at the Boathouse that night, a scene I remember as wall-to-wall pandemonium. When I finally got back to the hotel the bedside clock said 4:00 — a 24-hour day.

This year we managed to spread things out a little more. We flew up Thursday evening, played the Tent Stage Friday and the slide workshop and club show at the Boathouse Saturday (pandemonium again – these Canadians are our kind of folks). In between shows we had time to hang with some Kitchener friends and even see a few other bands. But with an outstanding line-up on three stages and our own schedule to keep, I didn’t catch half the acts I’d have liked to.

A high point of the weekend was running into our friend Ted Pecchio, who played bass on Delta Moon’s Clear Blue Flame CD and who is now with J.J. Grey and Mofro. After midnight Saturday night that band was gathering in the lobby of the venerable Walper Terrace Hotel, about to pile into a van and ride to Buffalo to board a 6:00 AM plane.

“Where are you guys going next?” asked the guitar player.

“To the bar,” said Mark. “We’re on a more relaxed flight schedule.”