Great North Tour Recap:
Canada is a nearly impossible country to travel. It is an unconquerable landmass with desolate stretches of beauty and nothingness.
The Great North Tour was a 3-week outing through Alberta and B.C. in June 2015. I was accompanied by my friend and pedal steel guitarist, Dylan S Keating. We placed a particular influence on obscure and off-the-beaten-path markets in B.C.
There are 13 primary touring markets in Canada. That is not a good thing for mid-sized or large artists trying to tour the country. Fortunately, I am a small artist and can afford to roll the dice in secondary markets and virtually non-existent markets. I also play Folk music, a genre that is often embraced by smaller markets.
The reasons we tried out these obscure B.C. markets:
- It was a really good excuse to see more of Canada and go to places we never normally would.
- No one else is really doing it, spare a handful of artists. We felt like this helped separate us from the herd.
- There are heaps of small festivals popping up in these secondary markets, and I believed that playing these markets may help my chances to play the festivals next year.
So...here are some of the highlights:
Waterton - This place is such a hidden gem. I played two nights solo in town and they put me up, fed me, payed me well. It feels more like being on holidays than working. You are pretty much hired to be background noise but I worked really hard to fight for attention. It was a slug but I was able to win over the crowd, which is always a good feeling.
Edmonton - Played a house-concert style venue on a Sunday night. Had a great, warm, receptive audience. It was hot as hell and sweaty. It feels like we are making some slow gains in that city.
Jasper - We played here on a Monday night, which is never a good night for a show. We had a nice little crowd, and got treated like gold. We were put up in really nice hotel rooms which is unusual. Jasper is such a great place. It’s so nice to be there.
Squamish - This was my first time in Squamish and it got me. Such a beautiful town. We got a really nice hike in, were put up in another really swank hotel room, got fed local oysters and sea food, drank good local beers. We played to a full room to half attentive people. The people that liked it, loved it, while the others were just there to socialize. The entire experience was so nice that I felt like I should be paying for it, not getting payed to do it.
Blind Bay - Just outside of Vernon, this was a last minute show our friend helped us set-up as we had to cancel our Haida Gwaii portion of the trip due to logistics. We played outside, overlooking the water. It was a nice and attentive audience and we were treated like gold. Overwhelming hospitality by everyone. Beautiful setting for a folk show.
Kelowna - The Streaming Cafe in Kelowna is a top-notch venue. This is next level. They have a great built-in crowd, they film and live-stream the show to an even bigger audience, they put you up in a really nice place outside of town and they treat you well. If you can play places like this all the time then you have made it.
Prince Rupert - This is a small coastal town. The scenery was worth it alone. Got a nice hike in and some good seafood. They have the best brewery I’ve ever been to in my life. The whole town felt like they came out for the show. Everyone listened and I sold a ton of CD’s. Some things went sour after the show, but it’s not relevant to the story. Plus, things like this are expected on tour.
My touring philosophy is to keep things economical when possible. We did partake in some touristy activities which costed money, and we did treat ourselves to some quality food. We also drove my Mazda 3 which kept our fuel costs relatively low.
Here are some of our tour rules:
- No gas station food ever. Nothing. No exceptions.
- No fast food ever. No exceptions.
- Try to never pay for a hotel, except when necessary. Get the venue or promoter to cover accommodations when possible, stay with friends, or worst case...sleep in the car.
So....Was it worth it????
Financially, probably not. We made money from the tour, not a ton of money, not as much as we would have made by staying home and working a day job. But not bad money either. Some places payed us very well, some places payed us a little. We also received a small tour grant from Alberta Music, which helped off-set some costs.
You can’t try out new markets and expect it to be worth it financially. I did feel like we built an audience and made some valuable contacts. Do I think it could be worth it....Yes. I think there is a way to make both the Southern and Northern B.C. runs lucrative.
I would have made good money if I would have streamlined the tour to 14 days or shorter, and if I had done the tour solo. It is expensive to bring another musician out on the road. This would have greatly reduced my enjoyment of the tour and not have allowed us to try so many new markets. Touring alone is a mental game and adds another element of stress.
We got back from our tour (which consisted of more than 15 shows in 3 weeks) and then had one day off before we started playing corporate gigs for the Calgary Stampede. We will be playing 10 shows during and around the Stampede. These shows pay immensely better but don’t help your career at all.
I’m finding I need to balance my career-building shows/tours and my financially viable shows. Not only this, but I need to be playing over 100 shows per year in general to survive as an independent Canadian singer-songwriter.
Dan Mangan told me that once I play 1000 shows I will be an expert. I think I’m around 450. This is a relatively thin nail to hang my hat on, but it’s the only real sense of direction I have in this choose-yer-own-adventure of a music industry.
But, back to the Great North Tour
Was it worth it for the experience???
Yes, absolutely! I wouldn’t trade it for the world.