To Your Mother’s and Back: On the Road with Carolyn Mark and Clay George

photo by Ilijc Albanese
photo by Ilijc Albanese

Day 1- Powell River

Ferries come. Ferries Go.
Except when they don’t.
Powell River Tourism Bureau bumper sticker

My long-time pal and musical associate Clay George and I decided to do a tour together. We wanted to do house concerts, take no band and try to make some $. Clay had recently quit his job at the post office and spent the summer playing for tourists. He has always been an amazing finger-picker but the summer of constant playing has made him extra fluid.

There is no afternoon boat on Wednesdays from the island to Powell River.

For, you know, NO REASON!!!

When we realized our error, promoter Jason Scheurs secured an opening act so that we could arrive later instead of going through Vancouver and having to take 3 ferries.

Powell River is fucking weird. You take 2 ferries from Vancouver and you’re not even on an island. My friend Ford Pier refers to it as “the Brooklyn of the West”.

“We’re all going to end up there,” He announced one night.

“Not me!” I told him, “I want to keep touring!”

He looked me square in the eye and said, “Well that’s your hill to die upon.”

Powell River people look at you with realtor eyes. They want you to move there. They’ll hand you a beer and say things like, “Vibrant arts scene”, whilst waggling their eyebrows suggestively, practically going “Ah? Ah?”

We payed a very intimate show at Base Camp- nouveau hipster coffee place.

“Are you sure you don’t want a sandwich?” they kept saying.

Very loosey-goosey performance but it was day one and we didn’t want to look too slick in such a remote and intimate environment. We were kind of rattled from being late.

We ate post-show stew with our host family. Both the food and their dream home is like something out of a magazine. They wanted to move closer to Townsite- the old part of town- which is also closer to the pulp mill and the asbestos ship breakwater.

Clay got a t-shirt from Base Camp with the latest Powell River tourism slogan. It shows a picture of the pulpmill with the caption “It’s Just Steam!”

In the States, I’ve seen former mining towns currently inhabited by the back-to-the-landers and I was trying to think of a Canadian equivalent. I guess in BC it’s the old mill towns that are still remotely affordable. And remote.

Their house is all wood everything, pantry, giant kitchen, screen-printed posters. I got the proper room. Clay was on the inflatable (double-tall) in the livingroom.

Our hosts had gone to work by the time I woke up.

A man running his dog beside his Gran Torino said good morning (though it was past noon) in the dappled sunlight while I was taking pictures on the street. I liked that.

Lunch at Base Camp served cured steelhead sandwiches by John Wright himself!

Then a ferry, then a stop in sunny Gibson’s Landing. Photo shoot with The Persephone- Relic’s boat from The Beachcombers.

Tried to use the bathroom in the place where I scalded my tit the last time Clay and I toured.

Hit Robert’s Creek around 5. The Gumboot Garden Cafe. Fancy dinner for 2. We were unsure if we had to pay which always induces musician indigestion. (Always find out in advance who is paying.) Turns our we were taken care of. And how! Joe de Leo runs the place and he is the kindest, sweetest host. He was cooking in the back and then he played bass with the opening act. Billy Gruff (aka Jamie ?). Hilarious, filthy, political songs. Full on filth which allowed me to relax about my own levels but Clay was looking pretty nervous. Unlimited wine. We are doing the sets singer/songwriter style. We trade songs, back and forth, taking turns.

We crammed Joe into the Sebring and he took us back to his tastefully 3 minutes up the dirt road best modern house I’ve ever seen.- cement, wood, open concept. Whisper drinking by the door of the basement. Clay reminded me the next day that I was dissing The Blues to our host who, judging by all the posters and paraphernalia- like the house was basically a SHRINE to The Blues while Clay was trying to run interference.

Inevitably, our host went for The Country Jugular, which is a fairly standard move.

No hard feelings because well, arguments about taste are ridiculous.
Slept in the boiling hot basement kids’ room. I passed right out but I guess Clay tossed and turned all night.

I woke up and found the remnants of a Mexican breakfast in skillet on the stove and was gobbling and slurping various beverages out of the fridge before I realized Joe’s wife was home upstairs on a conference call.

Packed up the car. The location, the scenario is constantly changing but you’d be surprised about the relentless similarities of every day touring.

A brooding decision maker- an agonizer at best, Clay has decided to winter in Cambodia- it’s warm, he can play guitar for $, not dip into Canada Post savings. As his passenger, I get to be the sounding board for the details, the cost of malaria immunization, what kind of guitar case to bring etc.

Ferry to Vancouver then samosas on Commercial Drive from Sweet Cheribum (the price has gone up but they’re so good) and then to Li’l Miss Vintage where I was outfitted by Cora in seconds. Dress, belt, hair flower, sunglasses. Just go limp cuz she’s always right.
We got to the Commercial Street Cafe and half their power was out. They only have acoustic shows there but one of the fridges with the sandwiches and the espresso maker were down.

We went up the street to a Portuguese restaurant I’d had my eye on for a while. Casa Verde. A soccer ball hit me on the thigh when I opened the door. (Authentic much?) Fluorescent lighting. I wanted the famous chicken but they only have it on Saturdays. It smelled like cleaning seafood off a burning grill with industrial soap. Met Paul Rigby, who was gonna play guitar with me and we shared a half carafe of vino. Airy buns with margarine were brough to the table.
Back at the venue we were locked out until a line formed. Clay saw the $25 cover charge written on the sign-board and looked kinda stressed. I told him not to sweat it.

Rusty Ford was scheduled to open but he got there late and therefore headlined!

The people really dug Clay’s tunes. Rigby’s friend Paul Morestad (Amazing artist! Lives about Casa Verde.) came with his banjo and his daughter- Georgia Gale. Rigby’s son was also there- Harlan Finch age 3 in curls and desert boots. During one of Clay’s songs I saw Harlan just poke Georgia. Very slowly and gently. It was pretty cute. A slow poke.

Went over to Rigby’s afterwards for some light partying and conned him and Jenn into letting us stay over.

Up at dawn to greet the sun… Cruised into Hope and took the Crowsnest #3 Hwy to Cawston, BC (the Organic Farm Capitol of Canada) where my dear friend Tamara Richardson (entomologist to the stars) had hired us to play her 5 year anniversary party of working in the area. Guitar Joel and Drummer Juli drove out to join us so we’d have a band.

Clay mentioned in the car that he had read an article stating that A 440- the standard tuning- is out of sync with the actual vibrations of the earth. The article suggests that A 341- a few semi-semi tones down- vibrates more harmoniously not only with the earth but resonates with our (if you’re a believer) chakras. AND that it was The Nazi’s who implemented the 440 tuning to inspire fear and dissonance. I said I was up for trying our set using 341 but Clay pointed out that doing so would render his harmonicas out of tune.

Had lovely sunset porch wine session upon arrival. Tamara was making chocolate meringues. A couple from Washington brought a bottle of red from the Columbia Valley called Shameless Hussy which was delicious!
I had mentioned to Clay in advance that one of us would “get to” sleep in the earwig room and was very much enjoying his mounting distress. He was picturing a damp wooden cell, the walls crawling with insects. When he finally saw that the insects are all secure in tupperware containers and in a double-zipped indoor tent he breathed a major sigh of relief.

The Cawston Hall was cute and had a piano and all. I gathered from the multiple signs posted that someone on the board has very specific ideas about chair storage:

Stack FABRIC chairs separately
Stack PLASTIC chairs separately
Stack 15 chairs ONLY per dolly
Look after the chairs!
They belong to the community

I figured that it would be pretty unlikely for me and this person to ever be best friends.

The party started with a potluck and what a spread!! The guests were all organic farmers and vineyard owners! The 2 plates of samosas the East Indian family from down the road brought were devoured in seconds flat!

Juli’s kick pedal had broken so Corey (the handsome poultry farmer/duck smoker we met in the spring) leant her his Iron Cobra for the show.

I think we fooled ’em again.

People were dancing. Tamara was smiling.

At the end of the show, I told Juli to go get herself some wine and got Corey to drum on These Boots are Made for Walking. Complete with NoMeansNo into/medley.

I remember Clay saying, “I’m starting to feel bad for Kelowna.” I guess the locals were filling him in on the current National Park debate. We kept seeing signs saying “No National Park”. More than twice the phrase “We don’t want another Kelowna on our hands” was uttered.

I am of the opinion that Kelowna totally blows and don’t feel bad when people dis it. Not just because when I lived there in Grade 8, a creepy grey-haired lady grabbed my ass in the swimming pool change room. Mostly because I am a country mouse at heart.

Clay’s mother lives in Kelowna.

And was putting us on a show.

She had rented the Italian Hall.

45 tickets sold in advance.

After setting up the PA, and after a labored familial discussion about chair placement, Clay and I found ourselves standing on the street out front of the hall. Clay took a sudden breath and said, “Huh. STILL nervous after all these years.”

I gestured towards the hall and said, “Um… sober, daylight, parents? Your reactions are perfectly normal!”

The audience seemed pretty straight and it was Sunday afternoon so I decided to not start with the blue material. One of Clay’s mother’s friends mentioned that she was an opera singer and her presence was making me nervous. I kept thinking that she was watching my breathing and knowing I was doing it all wrong.

In the break I met another singer. She was really sweet. I told her I felt like everyone there could see directly into my soul and she said suddenly, “OH WE CAN!”

Combated the heebie-jeebies with outer bravado (and secret sips of Periquita) but honestly, I am shit-scared of straight people especially when they are someone’s parents.

Clay’s mother and step-dad had everyone over for a bar-b-cue after the show. It was raining but they put a tent up in the back yard and step-dad Walt grilled up some burgers.
Several inches gone from a box of Copper Moon, Clay left to sleep at his sister’s house leaving me to his parents and the partial water bed.

Walt got out the good tequila.

And his chilling opinions on the Syrians and Muslims.

Late breakfast with Ma and Sis and while Clay booked his ticket to Cambodia, I walked to the Value Village, which was about an hour away. Kelowna is not the most pedestrian town- most people seem to drive big trucks these days. It was pretty cementy but I needed the walk.

Drove about an hour to Armstrong for our quiet night off with our newlywed friends Dawn and Mike.

Apparently, Clay had come back for his phone last night and when I saw him I put my arms around his parents, brandishing the tequila bottle and announced, “We’re all gonna sleep together in the same bed!”

I kill me.

We got to Armstrong at around 5:30. Since Dawn nor Mike weren’t home from work yet, we went to the Branding Iron for a pint and a game of pool and loaded up the quiet juke-box and hung out until Dawn came flying in.

She didn’t want to cook but we somehow tricked her into feeding us snacks and a delicious spinach salad. Dawn and I took the dog for a walk into town and knocked on various peoples’ doors but it was Monday night. I went to bed but Clay stayed up with our hosts until the crack o’ Dawn.

There was an election.

Tanya and Rusty- friends of Geoff Berner’s- offered to put us on a show in their house. A lady brought this awesome pearl couscous chicken casserole. Maybe 10 people came. Very intimate. It’s hard to know how loud to sing, what pressure to apply, when it’s such a small show. But our hosts were gracious and we ended up in the hot tub!

As we rolled away at the crack of christ the next morning, Clay revealed that he had always associated hot tubs with swingers. I told him about the time I was in a hot tub with swingers and wanted to warn the friend I had brought that there were lurking perverts in our midst. I slowly reached my hand under the water and grabbed her boob. She just looked down at my hand and raised an eyebrow.

By trying to warn her about the perv, I had BECOME the perv!

Clay told me that when he was young he would listen to records before bed. One night when his father came to tuck him in, Clay tried to explain to him that when he listened to music he would experience all these feelings, that he would become flooded with emotion, that when he sang sometimes his eyes would fill with tears.

His father, a brusque man, said, “Yeah, yeah. Your singing makes me cry too. Now get to bed.”

This was a weird tour in that we were coming back to Victoria for a show and then continuing with the tour. Clay and I came up with the plan to treat Victoria like it was just another town. Just some people in a town. No big deal. “Oh I like that!” Clay said. He expanded on the idea: “Oh you can’t possibly expect me to get involved, I’m just passing through!”

I was putting on the show at my friend Brit’s place around the corner. Ever since the upstairs lesbians complained to the landlord, we can’t have shows or parties here which kind of sucks since the place is an old speakeasy and needs to be constantly admired. Plus, it means loading the gear and beers down and up 2 huge sets of stairs. Thank you, lesbians!

A few people came. Very intimo. I bought too much booze. The whole town is in rehearsal for the upcoming production of Rocky Horror.

Met at Brit’s to load the car and head to Ladysmith. I didn’t have high hopes. New venue. The guy had called me 3 times to ask what date we wanted after I had sent the poster. His facebook picture is him with a giant pot leaf. We ate dinner and then the waitress informed us that we got 50% off food and zero free drinks though I had it in an e-mail that he would feed and drink us. The owner was conveniently absent so there was nothing we could do about it. Set up the gear and played to barely anybody. 2 fun-looking chicks drank 6 half litres of wine and tipped us $20 but our tab was $40. We did come up with a new rule: 50% off food means we play half the songs! You do the math… We spent the whole set looking at the calendar. David P Smith had played the week before and beside his name in red, taunting us, were the words: Sold Out.

Must be nice.

Left Ladysmith as soon as we could and headed to Nanaimo to stay with our pals Shannon and Dwayne.

We played on CHLY radio in the afternoon. The hostess was really sweet. She let us play the records we bought at Value Village and we played live too.

My old pal Cathy came to meet us with Gryphon the dog and we went back to Dwayne’s porch and hung out until it got dark. Dwayne and Shannon got home from work and ordered pizza for the kids. We were getting fed at the bar so we we headed down. The Vault. Very snazzy. Multi-leveled. A lot going on. We ordered pizza and wine and set up the gear. Fun show. People came. And it was more like a bar show. Not deathly quiet between songs, people were talking, which I like though I think Clay may prefer the whole respectful silence.vibe.
I’m what my friend Dre would call allergic to quiet.
In school, that minute of silence on Remembrance Day KILLED me!

Toast and coffee with the family then to take the Crofton ferry to Saltspring. Got there early and found a thrift store and a pub. Crofton is another pulpmill town. It’s pretty stinky but I guess the rent’s cheap. I felt sorry for the blonde bartender. The Saturday afternoon boozy dude regulars were horrible.

We were playing our friend Kimberlina’s house on Saltspring. She is the grounds keeper of this amazing acreage overlooking the water. Her bosses built her a garage crash pad in the garage. When we first arrived she opened the door and I saw some tools and dirty chairs and I thought, “Well I’ve played worse places.” but then she opened a second door which revealed this huge fancyass open concept apartment with a fireplace and huge kitchen. There were snacks on the table. She had made savoury croissant dough pinwheels from scratch. I think she was nervous partially from social anxiety but also because the owners of the acreage, normally delightfully absent, had decided to make a surprise appearance. She had invited them to the show.
I met the husband outside. He was young and fit. I told him that I thought he’d have way more silver hair. Kim says they do something with computers.

Saturday on Saltsrping means market day, which means people are tired and wired from vending all day. The show was nice and full but I was feeling awful peculiar. Maybe because I was sitting by the fireplace. Or maybe it was the turmeric health drink Kimberlina urged me to try. Maybe only beige food all day. Maybe organ failure. Who knows. Felt like a fever dream. Felt well enough afterwards to stay up with Kim after we put Clay to bed.

Our friend Leslie had gotten us an extra show at a Nanaimo vineyard but Clay met the owner and this soundman character at the Vault who told Clay, right after he got off stage, that he should play the vineyard for free and do it for the practice! He also told Clay, “I charge $4,000!”

We decided to bail and just go on home to the Hootenanny.

Watched most of a Fargo episode on the ferry.

At the Hootenanny. Clay looked at me and said, “What should I play?”
“Well do you have any songs about LEAVING?!” I asked.
All his songs are about leaving.

Clay George is a most thoughtful and excellent tour partner.
Would I do it again? Hell yes!
Bon Voyage, Baby!
Send me postcards from Cambodia.
Xo cm

words: Carolyn Mark
photo: Ilijc Albanese