The way Joni sings that line… is how I feel when I think about my most recent musical adventure.
After a long flight across the Atlantic, another flight, and then a few hours on the highway... we finally landed at Quiet Earth Farm. And awoke at dawn to THIS. A place full of peace and wonder. The distant sound of freight trains, crickets, and coyote. Fresh fruit and sweetcorn, and lashings of maple syrup. Southern Ontario, where the air is fresh and the sky goes on forever.
It was a whirlwind of a trip, and a much needed reset too... I found myself on stages, in halls and beautiful old barns with a guitar in hand and songs that seemed to belong there. Maybe it was the way they listened so closely, or that my songs seem to fit with the landscape and values of folks there. ‘We're playing a few songs tonight' Brent would say. ‘What shall I play?’ ‘Songs about hope and healing?’. Luckily, I have a few of those.
After a tough few months it was very affirming to feel valued and appreciated for the lines that pour out of me during those times when I need a little hope too. ‘You paint a picture with your lyrics’, ‘so inspiring’, ‘poetic’, ‘real, honest', ’meaningful, deep'. “You've really been through some stuff haven't you?”
I was thrilled by the standing ovations, the fact that CBC unexpectedly played my tracks, and the lovely article in the local paper about the visiting “English stars”, and that I had the privilege of seeing one of my favourite songwriters of all time sitting in the audience one night. But what really touched me the most was the generosity of spirit, the sense of community and support, and what a difference it makes when you try to live with gratitude and in harmony with nature and each other.
People that care about the homeless in the cities, so much that they grow and make food to take to them. People that care about the land they share. Even the smallest houses have well-kept gardens and a place to sit and talk on the porch. I love porches and being outside. It was of course glorious while we were there. Warm summer days in early autumn. But the freezing ice and snow will come soon enough. I hear we timed it perfectly. The trees were just turning to beautiful reds.
One day we took a road trip to the USA to see Peter Gabriel play in Detroit. For me, crossing border control felt intimidating. No one smiles. Apparently that's as good as it gets. We drove down Rosa Parks Boulevard, bought records at Jack White's 3rd Man Records and went to Hitsville, the original home of Motown. Stuart got us backstage passes and we met the band pre-show. Peter Gabriel sang about a little hill down the road from home and the arena went wild. How fitting to be going to that show on a full moon, and it was very special to be there with Brent Jones. I wouldn’t have been in Canada if it wasn’t for the fact we met whilst he was recording at Peter's Real World Studios. I love it when life goes full circle, and the visuals and performances were stunning.
I was glad to be going back to friendly Canada though.
It's true, everyone is So friendly. From the first day in the music store when we went to get our instruments (I don't trust baggage handlers so I left my old Gibson at home) and everywhere else we went. “Welcome to Canada!”. With great big lakes that look like the sea, and place names like Dorchester, London, Cornwall and Hull - in random configuration - it's somewhat confusing for us English folks. The Avon (which means river) runs through Stratford, Ontario, as it does through my hometown of Bath in the UK. I wrote a song about swimming in that river (you might know the story) so when we played there I included ‘Only the River’ in the set. Somehow on finger-picked guitar it felt more intimate and vulnerable. We followed it with a beautiful song written and sung by Barry James Payne and I added some harmonies. “Where do you go when you're going up river…”
We'd only met Barry a few days before and he'd done an amazing job orgainsing the event at Revival House (as well as writing a song that still lingers in my head!). It was great to be part of a Canadian/UK show, meet so many talented muscians, collaborate and enjoy each others music. Voices and songs can take on a new life in different places and at different times. Brent Jones opened the second set with a transendent version of one of the songs that Stuart mixed for his forthcoming album - and having made 6 records with the fabulous artist and Stratford resident Loreena McKennitt, it was lovely she managed to catch the show.
One day we did two gigs. From thanksgiving in an old pioneer church saved by the local community, to jumping on stage at Purple Hill Country Hall for the Opry. We were last on, and that was the first moment I met the house band. It was quite a thrill when I started singing the John Prine classic ‘Angel From Montgomery’ and everyone cheered. I felt like I had a taste of being Bonnie Raitt herself. Then they played on some of my own songs with no rehearsal, with gorgeous pedal steel by Steve Smith who has played on countless records including Jimmy Webb's ‘Easy Pieces’ which I love. Stuart and Brent sang some covers too. It was a lot of fun and we got a good meal as well. Another fine example of people coming together to create a place for the magic to happen.
Canada - a country whose artists inspired me to become a songwriter in the first place. Joni, Leonard, and many more, including Ron Sexsmith. It was lovely to see Ron and Colleen Hixenbaugh at our final concert and farewell gathering. I first met them in Box, UK - as I did Brent Jones and it was Brents intention to hold a gathering to strengthen the connection between our two communities. The beautiful barn at Quiet Earth was full of faces that we didn't know 3 weeks earlier, that had become friends along the way.
There was the Gordon Lightfoot tribute concert (where we briefly met his former producer Bob Doidge) and how his songs really landed differently for me being there. All the trains, trucks and trees. Finding the lovely Roshan recording piano in the barn one day, finding the cows from the neighbours farm had strayed across the fields and were eating the soya beans. Playing my Epiphone Hummingbird on the deck and picking raspberries for breakfast. Being greeted by the family dog and made to feel so welcome at the farm. The full moon lighting up the night.
As we head towards the next full moon - Hunter's Moon (purportedly named by the Algonquin indigenous people of southern Quebec and eastern Ontario) I realise I will be digesting it all for sometime to come. I feel unbelievably grateful to all the people who helped make this such an enriching and soul-nourishing experience. Knowing the songs are connecting with people across the water and experiencing all the unexpected ways music brings us together - these are the moments that feel like home.