Thursday, October 23, 2003

Just back from the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals conference in Sudbury where I had a great old time even though (whine, whine) I was not selected to showcase and the song I submitted did not win the "Song from the Heart" contest.

As we were driving up, my travelling companion Michael Wrycraft mentions that he was on the selection committee...Whaaat! ...and it turns out I know all of the damn committee! Once again, proof positive that it's *not* "who you know."

Paul came by this afternoon to get my studio set up - I added a couple of new devices and trying to get them "in the loop". He's been on the road non stop so I was glad to have him here for a couple of hours to straighten out a few things. He helped me get the MIDI running too, though I'm sure he thinks it's just another vehicle to enable my "fear of completion."

While I was out, he ran a couple of the tunes through some mastering tools to show me how the sound could be improved. It sounds pretty good already, but this did make it a little less boxy. Now I can play these tracks on some different sound systems and make sure my monitors are not hyping us. Bax (my producer) sent a "how's it goin?" email. Fred (my record company) hasn't been in touch lately and everytime he calls me from the 401 and asks me to meet him, I'm sure that he's about to tell me that the deal is off, but so far, he's been very supportive. I'm sure he has his limit, but we all agree that there's no point releasing an album before I have some gigs in place, so we're now looking at a February release. I definitely want some copies to distribute at the Blues Summit at the end of January. For the OCFF conference, I burned a few with 4 songs each, two with original mixes and two re-worked versions

Back to the conference, I'm still intent on playing for the folk audience rather than the hard-core blues audience. There was some blues at the conference and Harrison Kennedy was one blues guy that made a big impression. His showcase seemed quite short, he started with a work song singing and playing a shaker. After that he did something on guitar then quickly went back to a blues "sing-a-long" with harmonica accompaniment. Then it was over - he got a great reaction. Other showcasing artists who knocked me out were Chris Demeanour and a lady called Allana (both from Manitoba, I think)

We had our own little blues enclave in 221. Lily had her piano set up and I brought a bass - and glad I did! The first night I was jamming with a high-energy kid called Dan Frechette. He brought a mandolin and played the hell out of it - I found out later from his manager, the legendary Mitch Podolak, that he's only been playing mandolin for a few months. Amazing.

Podolak was the founder of the Winnipeg Folk Festival and I found myself around a lot of Winnipeg folks. I asked them all if they had ever heard about an RCMP narcotics officer who had infiltrated the Winnipeg Music scene in the seventies by playing in a band and had then busted half the rock musicians in town. Nobody could verify that legend - too bad, because I've got a tune I wrote back then called "Winnipeg Nark" and I'd like to know if there's any truth to it. I'm sure I didn't just make up the story. I'm one of those rare songwriters who does his research *after* he writes the song. Ken W chided me when he heard one of my songs that starts with the line "In Nineteen Thirty-Five or Six"...Can't you nail that down?

I had a great time playing with Harrison Kennedy himself, Mo Kauffey, Doc McLean, Ken Whiteley and even Paul James dropped by. Flo saw him playing at a bar in Downtown Sudbury and invited him back to the hotel. He'd never seen a "music conference." We got busted on the second night - boyish, but burly, security guard walked into the room and asked. "Smokin up in here???" Everybody held their breath. Then he asked if we would please keep the windows open!!! Sure, no problem.

The most fun I had was when the London group Mosaic dropped by our room and launched into some amazing harmonies and I found myself (scat)singing along. I *never* do that, but I must be changed forever by that vocal workshop I did with Elaine Overholt a couple of weeks ago. I was finally ready to just let my voice pour out - and it did.

I also had a little session with Liam Titcomb, who is on the fast track to the big time, and who's grown musically as the entire folk community watched (his dad is Brent Titcomb, a veritable guru of the folk scene - and his mom happens to be my Reiki Master). I lured him to my room with a song idea and we jammed a bit with it - now I have to follow up and have another session with him. That will be tricky knowing his schedule, but we'll see.

What did I get out of this conference? Well, let me pass along a few "tips":

When you head into an interview, you should have three things in mind that you want to get across, whether or not you are asked.

Radio guys like to have a CD sized insert that gives a short description of each song - nor do they want to receive an entire press kit. A CD and a little sheet as described above is all they care about.

Call the local radio show two weeks before an appearance in their town to set up an interview, or at least to get something played

When you plan out your showcase set, also plan what you're going to say and when you're going to say it. (That's advice I'll have trouble following)

The day after we got back, The Toronto Blues Society announced the nominees for the Maple Blues Awards and the dates for the Blues Summit. If you're interested in either visit Congratulations to all the nominees.

Yesterday, Harry Manx came through town on his way to Montreal. He stopped at the house long enough to re-dress the wiring in his rack - he bought a new preamp - and I left him in my kitchen as I took off to a "casino party" at my agent's office. They had rented all kinds of gambling equipment and everybody that arrived got $10,000 in funny money, which we then used to buy chips. I learned a lot about playing blackjack but I did better at roulette. They've gotten me a lot of work at the Woodbine Racetrack (their biggest client, I discover) but for all the times I've been, I've never made a bet...

So what else have I been up to since my last post???

I've booked a series of house concerts at the Downtown Jazz office - I did this before and it was a very nice setup - there's a built in PA system and a piano, too. When you push aside the big board table there's room for 30 or so. Tomorrow I'll be doing a "preview" concert but after this I play Oct 30 with Lily Sazz, Nov 20 with Paul Reddick and Dec 13 with Butch Coulter who'll be visiting from Germany. Next Thursday (Oct 29), I open for Harry at Hugh's Room and I do a couple more gigs with him. Hoping to keep up the momentum by scoring a few more concerts. Anybody out there interested in having Brian Blain entertaining them in their own living room??? Just ask.