Wednesday October 26th
Day after Saskatoon show
Somewhere between Saskatoon and Winnipeg
Restaurant shows can be hard. People are eating full meals, and are therefore usually pretty distracted. There's a lot of noise in a restaurant, which makes it hard to focus, and a lot of the time people don't know there is music going on so they just come in and do their own thing, unconcerned with what's going on onstage. To sum it up, lots of the time in restaurant shows, people just aren't listening. This is fine if you've been hired to play wallpaper music. But if you've been hired to play a show, this can be a little discouraging.
I will try to draw energy from the people in the crowd that I've noticed are listening, at least a little. There are always a few. In Saskatoon, it was a six year old girl named Ava.
Weeks before I even went on tour, Ava's mom Kate contacted me through Facebook to show me a video she had shot of Ava in a pink tutu dancing a carefully choreographed ballet to Things That I Learned When I Worked at the Hospital. Obviously, I melted. Told her when I would be in Saskatoon, and sure enough, she showed up.
After signing her CD, Kate leans in to me and says: “Oh, you have no idea. As soon as we get home from school, your album is on. All day long, every single day.”
Midway through the show, Ava gets her mom to move her closer to the stage, so for the rest of the night, she is sitting ten feet away, her arms crossed over the back of the chair, staring me down. She is wailing the chorus of About a Lover, she is leading the applause and looking around at everybody to make sure they are all clapping too. She knew the album so well that when I hit a wrong chord at one point, she turns around and whispers to her mom: “She made a mistake.”
So after the show I give her stickers and buttons and she hugs my legs and says “Thank you,” which of course made all the ovaries at the table quiver. But I think I appreciated her being there even more than she appreciated me being there. Sometimes it's hard to feel like a superstar when people are talking, dishes are clattering, and half the room doesn't even notice you're there. But it's hard not to feel like a superstar when your biggest fan is sitting right in front of you, hanging on your every note.
She made it such a good show for me at McNally Robinson's in Saskatoon.
So thank you, Ava.
Tuesday October 4th
A few days after Calgary shows and before Victoria shows,
Victoria, or at least, this particular Thriftys in Victoria, doesn't even give you the option for plastic bags (God love them). Your options are the old-style paper bags, or buying a cloth bag if you didn't bring your own for your groceries.
Now, not only am I just recently getting used to being poor again after quitting my job to go on tour, but I've always been cheap, even when I had money. The last few weeks I've been making it a personal challenge to see just how little I can get by on. So when the cashier tells me the only bags they have with handles are the cloth bags that cost a dollar each, I look at my two small bags of food, think breifly about my walk back home, and with confidence tell the packer nah, just throw it in the paper bags.
This story, as I'm finding a number of stories in my life lately, would go very differently if I had a different purse. My purse/box/make-up case/vintage train case (thank you) has no shoulder strap, and requires a full hand to grip and carry it. Ok?
Ok. Two paper bags full of groceries and one box that requires a hand. I don't even make it past the parking lot. Finding creative ways to balance these bags and hold onto my purse is not only difficult but tiring as hell. My fingers, wrists, hands and arms are taking a beating. I think about how long the walk to my place is, and remember that it's BC, so it's mostly uphill.
Here is when an important crossroads presents itself:
I spot a small shopping cart that wouldn't be hard to nick. I'd have to wheel it down the driveway, as the pedestrian walk is stairs. I'd get the weird looks, but no one would stop me.
I am poor. But do I still have the same dignity? Is avoiding looking stupid, stealing and then pushing a shopping cart up the street, worth the struggle of balancing those grocery bags for a 25 minute, uphill walk?
I decide it is. I hoist up my burdens, get as comfortable as possible, turn my back on the temptation of the wayward cart, and set off down the steps and up the hill.
It is almost immediately a mistake. I am stopping every twenty feet to re adjust myself. My shoulder muscles are screaming. I stop at the bus stop and fish for change, which ironically would have cost more than buying those fucking bags (I KNOW). I don't have any, there is nothing coming, I keep going.
Dignity versus comfort, I am still glad I didn't steal that cart. But when I see a cart that someone else has stolen and pushed off the sidewalk into the bush, you'd better believe I take it.
So there I am. In my $200 Sevens, my $325 Fred Perry Harrington jacket, my hair still perfectly coiffed and my eyeliner in its flawless Cleopatra swoop ... pushing a shopping cart down the sidewalk of Victoria. At one point I notice how noisy it is and put my headphones in to save my hearing, as is always my priority. (THAT is what I'm thinking about, at this point in my life.)
Yes! I see you staring at me from your cars, people of Victoria. I'm just so involved in Cage the Elephant that I don't even notice, what??
When I get close enough to my house, in one swift move I lift my bags, leave the cart, and set off (quickly!) in the opposite direction. (I have been stopped by a cop the one other time I stole a shopping cart. Even at 19, when you're pushing your boyfriend around town at two in the morning because you're drunk and you think it's hilarious, being stopped by a cop who barks: “Where did you get that shopping cart?!” is embarrassing. I imagine at 26, having legitimately taken it to wheel home groceries, would be worse.)
But I make it unscathed. I saved two dollars and it wasn't worth it.
Amazing time in Victoria. So many good people and lovely music. Lots of new fans and friends.
Best was meeting and playing with Amy Wood, staying with her and her lovely roommates Taylor and Julia. Download Amy's album for free here. She is such a special songwriter, amazing pianist. You will be hearing more of her.
Also loved meeting Chris Ho with Rob Phillips. I can't wait to go back and play music with these people again.
Break in Vancouver to do some writing and sleeping.
Vancouver, Raw Canvas, Wednesday Oct 19th w/ Vancouver duo CAST
September 30th, around 2:00 AM
right after Higher Ground, Calgary show
It's cold, and very clear, I notice. Melissa (my drummer for the White Keys record and current drummer for Deadhorse) is standing with her car doors open. She and my friend Eamon like bookends on either side of my keyboard, unloaded, waiting for me. We've just come back from a bar in Kensington, where we'd been hanging out with a few other friends after my show at Higher Ground. The house behind us is dark, and locked. One cat is staring at us from inside, silently refusing to let us in.
I am rifiling through my purse (make-up case, whatever), for the keys. I had held them in my hand before we'd left the house, to make sure I took them. So they were there. Yes, yes, they were there.
“How long before this stops being funny?” I ask, only because it still kind of is.
Then the inevitable “You have them, right?”s begin, as is the standard when one has spent this long looking for one's keys. At 2:00 AM.
So I begin unloading everything I've been carrying onto the trunk of Melissa's car. This is about 25 records, all my pins, wallet, loose change, comb, phone, everything. There is nowhere else for these keys to hide.
The cat still stares at us from inside. Just two steps to the right and she could help us out immensely.
It stops being funny when I realize that Ben (my bass player and engineer of the White Keys record), to whom I gave the contents of my purse to hold while it became my merch stand, must still have my keys.
The classic 2AM post-bar phone call to get you out of bed and look for something too important to lose but your friend has lost it anyway, confirms that they had slipped inside jacket pocket. But yes, he has my keys.
After a little more chastising and laughing from Eamon and Melissa (respectively), Eamon's girlfriend lets us in. I know Eamon. I will not hear the end of this for at least a year.
Everyone important came to the Higher Ground show. Old friends from Nelson, Calgary friends, and a few uncles and aunts in the city. Ben and Melissa, who played on this record and lived with it 24/7 for weeks, knew every word and every note. It was odd and a little off-putting to see people actually singing along. Off-putting in a good way.
After me came a 16 year old kid named Landon Gabert. He had a guitar, a stomping box, a violin, a gloc, and the spot-on look and sound of Canadian indie right now. Watch for him. In a few years, he's going to be dominating CBC Radio 3, I'm sure of it.
Conan O'Brian and a sober-up bowl of Shreddies with Eamon. One more comment from him about how stupid it was for me to lose those fucking keys. Yes, I get it. And it's time for bed.
One more time Calgary, at the Auburn September 30th, 9:30 PM.
Victoria: Moka House Hillside Oct 5th 7:30PM
House Concert with Amy Wood Oct 8th 8:00PM
Monday Sept 26th
Day after Regina show
somewhere between Regina and Calgary
After all the pains I'd taken to make sure it was taken care of, no one at the Regina Greyhound station batted an eye at my very oversize, or excess baggage. Not even the guy who had to lift it.
Anyone who has ever ridden the Greyhound for any length of time knows what the glories of it include.
Today, it's a young single father (or brother, maybe?) carting no less than four children, all under the age of 5. From the depot to the bus they've had their faces and hands pressed up on every glass surface they could find, have tried to knock over the vending machine, and have drenched each others shirts at the water fountain. Now they are yelling (yelling) “choo choo” at the bus window to a prairie landscape that doesn't actually include a train, and their father (brother?) has stopped trying to silence them with his stern but absolutely futile shushes. Can't help but feel a little sorry for the father/brother. I can't imagine trying to corral four bad children through a Greyhound bus depot and onto a bus. On the other hand, this is why I've chosen not to have any.
This is the bus. This is what you sign up for.
Show in Regina last night at Java Express was kind of perfect.
Fell asleep watching The Addams Family with one of my best friends from Nelson.
I know that there is a social responsibility put upon us when we're in a small space with a number of other people to make sure we don't smell. But I'm here for the next ten hours. You'd better believe I'm taking my shoes off.
Calgary, Thursday Sept 29th – Higher Ground Cafe – 8:00PM
Calgary, Friday Sept 30th – The Auburn – 9:30PM
Victoria, Wednesday Oct 5th – Moka House Hillside – 7:30PM
Friday Sept 23rd
Day before tour kick-off
The trip to the Greyhound bus depot was supposed to be only to pick up what was supposed to be my print-out-at-home ticket from Brandon to Regina. My mum had put the idea out on the dinner table the night before that it was possible Greyhound charged for a second bag, and that I had better check that out. So, fine, in addition to the tickets, a small part of the trip to the bus depot was to disprove her obviously silly and misguided idea. But a dangerous part of my brain had been nagging me that not only might there be an excess bag charge, but an overweight bag charge.
I'd gotten through one plane ride and only a few car rides from Toronto to Winnipeg and already this heavily armoured 88 key monster had become the bane of my existence. Every move I made, I had to think how this keyboard would or wouldn't fit into it.
The new Winnipeg bus depot is impressive. The same old Winnipeg bus drivers are still unplesant. (Save for the security guards. The three of them complimented me on my haircut, then under their breaths but still completely audibly commented to each other on how interesting they found my make-up case. Hair stylist bag. Actually, purse gentlemen. Whatever.)
There is a billboard upon entering the depot advertising the new excess baggage charges. A little further down the sign are a few notes advertising the new overweight baggage charges. I make my way to the service desk and pretend that the sign does not exist.
I am trying to be as pleasant as possible to the Greyhound service desk man. The fact that your life sucks enough to have to be taking the Greyhound in the first place always makes that difficult.
First, I get my ticket. I do a pretty good job ignoring his eye rolling at the fact that I actually tried to print my ticket out online. (“Why do people bother to do that? It never works.” Yes, bus driver. My frustration exactly.)
There is another sign on the desk advertising the baggage charges, so I casually ask about it. He points to it, and then reads the facts in front of me. One free checked bag, under 50 lbs. Excess bag charge, $10. Overweight bag charge, $25. Now here is where I come dangerously close to being fucked: Any baggage over 70lbs will not be stored and must be shipped as frieght.
What is this, the fucking airport?! You have to PAY to take your shit on the BUS?! IS IT NOT BAD ENOUGH YOU HAVE TO TAKE THE BUS AT ALL?!
“What?” I ask the sign.
“Anything over 70lbs can't go on the bus,” the Greyhound man answers for it. “What are you carrying?”
“Is it over 50lbs?” My case and board specs are at home, but a dangerous vision of the number 89.2, in my handwriting, flashes in my mind. Fuck. Actually, fuck.
“Um, yes. Most definitely.”
“What kind of music do you play?” he asks, which is always the first question out of peoples' mouths when they see me dragging a case the length and shape of a small coffin behind me. He is nearly smiling, and I remember the fact that in any situation, we catch more flies with honey. If flies are what you want. What I wanted was to get permission to get my likely overweight keyboard on this bus. This guy has control over whether or not that happens.
It takes most of my strength to allow myself to soften, slightly. So we talk for a moment about my music, this tour I'm embarking on, his daughter who never plays the keyboard he bought for her, and the hotel he owns outside of Winnipeg that hires live music.
“Alright,” he says, “you're sure it's over 50lbs?”
I'm sitting here hoping it's not over 100lbs.
“I'm going to get you bag tags right now, and I'll only charge you the one fee for it. Here's your reciept, so nobody at the bus stop is going to give you a hard time about packing it. See, it says you paid for it. See, here are your tags. Put these on, and they'll get where you need them to go.”
I heave a big sigh and thank him, still worried about the thing but slightly warmed by the kindness of strangers. He wishes me luck.
When my dad and I get home, we weigh it. The case empty is 29 lbs, and not only have I filled it with an 88 key keyboard, pedals and cords, but we've strapped a keyboard stand to the outside of it. The bitch weighs 67 lbs.
I came three pounds away from being completely fucked over for the next five weeks.
Instead, I gained a 67 pound third arm that won't leave my side until October 29th.
Now I'm excited.
Brandon, Saturday Sept 24th – Lady of the Lake
Regina, Sunday Sept 25th – Java Express
Calgary, Thursday Sept 29th – Higher Ground Cafe
Calgary, Friday Sept 30th – The Auburn
*originally published in Roots Music Canada April 02/2011 http://www.rootsmusic.ca/2011/04/02/nicole-byblows-juno-gala-fairy-tale/
I firmly believe that if we are honest with ourselves about what we truly desire in our lives and aggresively pursue these desires with the utmost integrity, we can not only hope for great things but expect them.
But when these things happen to me I'm always stunned.
On Saturday March 26th 2011 I performed at the Juno Awards Dinner and Gala at the Allstream Centre in Toronto. You know the annoucements they make during the Junos?“Last night (blank) won the Juno for (blank).” This is the non televised awards ceremony the night before the televised one. It is the industry event, and there were 2000+ members of the Canadian music industry in attendance.
I sang k.d. Lang's Constant Craving and accompanied myself on piano.
“Start at the beginning. And when you get to the end, stop.”
At 4:00 that afternoon I fell down the entire flight of stairs in my basement apartment. At 4:45 I turned around those same stairs because I forgot the tickets.
Security in dark suits have my sister and I flash our gala passes like at the gates of a royal tea. We check our coats and enter a roaring world of diamonds, stilettos, expensive suits, and waiters carrying trays of hor d'ouerves. An occasional band guy in button down plaid, chucks, and Versace sunglasses. There are probably close to a thousand people mingling and talking with champagne and cocktails in that lobby. I can't help but feel a certain satisfaction when I realise how many of them I recognize from my post at the other side of the hostess stand at Nota Bene.
Spring rolls and salad across from a very amiable Matt Dusk. Beef tenderloin, mashed potatoes and red peppers and asparagus beside a columnist for the Globe and Mail.
Sarah Slean is the next table over. Neil Young is across the room. Arcade Fire is a few tables down. The former senior VP of Universal Music and current executive director of MusiCounts, CARAS, and the Junos is pouring my champagne and leading a toast.
I don't start feeling that familiar dread until I see the keyboard is set up and ready for me.
The five minutes in the holding area are the worst of my life, quite literally. I'm not feeling nauseated, but still glad to see water glasses lining the wall so that if I have to throw up, I can.
They lead me onstage and I sit in the dark (yes, shoes removed), look at the 88 keys and remind myself that I know how to play them. I'd been squeezing a paper towel the last 30 minutes in the green room so my hands aren't clammy. I look around at the massive hall and remember not to glance at myself in the jumbo screen across from me (there are four more above me, broadcasting my face to every corner of the room).
I'm introduced, I breathe, I put the first chord underneath my fingers and I own the song with more confidence than I've ever owned any song in my life.
It's like when I was 12 and spectators at the Red River Ex Youth Talent Show so couldn't believe that I sang so well for such a young child that they just had to approach me to say how impressed they were. But this time it's record executives, agents, and other musicians rather than middle aged women whose own children are in the show. The feeling is amazing either way.
Later on I meet Sarah Slean, an absolutely brilliant musician and poet and the artist who inspired me with Night Bugs at 16 to start trying to write my own music. This woman was my absolute hero for a solid five to seven years, I wanted to be her. I gush and blabber like a moron. She smiles and patiently listens. And the most amazing part: then tells me how much she enjoyed my performance.
Seamus O'Reagan of Canada AM hosted the show, and he is a Nota Bene regular. Since he is the type of person who actually looks waitresses and coat check people in the eye, he recognizes me when I approach him later. He flatters me with kind praise about my performance, but the best compliment he could have given me is his response to my good bye: “I'll see you at the coat check.” He laughs and says “Yeah right. Not for very much longer.”
Mike Hurley, the man to whom I owe a small piece of my life and whom I can never repay for the opportunities he's been able to present to me, offers my sister and I rehearsal passes to the Junos for the next afternoon. I decide to break my afternoon date with my big bag of chips and DVD rental to go. (Seriously. That's what I'd had planned to do that afternoon.)
On Saturday March 26th 2011 I performed at the Juno Awards Dinner and Gala at the Allstream Centre in Toronto. I was honoured to perform on behalf of MusiCounts. Thanks with all my heart to MusiCounts, Steve Cranwell, and Mike Hurley. They made sure it happened.
It was a fucking fairy tale.