Welcome to the second instalment of Frank Wolf's new blog:
Peirson Ross is a Toronto, Ontario-based musician who’s done his share of concert tours over the past decade. He loves playing his tunes for people, but he doesn’t relish the ordeal of life on the road.
Performing on stage seems like a pretty cool job. Groupies, adulation, wealth, travel—what’s not to like? Unless you’re The Weeknd or Bruno Mars, plenty. For most professional musicians, touring is a straight-up grind. There are no jets or penthouse suites. It’s mostly endless hours spent in a van driving to a show, hoping enough people show up at the gig so you can afford a crappy wayside room, then repeat.
Connecting with an audience of any size is what musicians live for, but those couple of hours of respite on stage pass far too quickly compared to the drudgery between. Music tours are driven by the hope of making a living doing what you love. As the weeks drag on, hope can quickly fade in an endless soul-crushing stream of fast-food, motels and highways.
To solve this indie act conundrum, Peirson and I convened one winter evening at the Communist Daughter, a drinking hole on Dundas Street where artists gather to dream and scheme. Lubricated by craft beer, we hashed out a palatable and unique way to promote his recent album. The key was to create a tour where we’d enjoy every aspect of the experience, where life on the road would be as good or better than the shows themselves. It had to be “as much about the going as the showing.”
As passionate canoe trippers, our solution was to combine our love of music and wilderness by replacing the touring van with a canoe. Peirson would paddle to each venue like a Voyageur troubadour, playing to humans and animals alike on the ‘The Ultimate Canadian Music Tour.” The idea sounded great at the “ComDot” that night, then stood the test of clearer heads the next day. It was on.
With a series of performances booked and a route planned, we shoved off into the waters of Georgian Bay a few months later to fulfill our musical destiny. I acted as roadie and tour manager while Peirson performed his “blues played in a meadow” to intimate audiences in an eclectic mix of cottages, rafting camps, lodges and bars with a finale performance in Ottawa on Canada Day.
Instead of hours in a van between gigs, there were days in a canoe. Instead of highways, there were waterways. Instead of dingy motels by a busy intersection, there was our tent in a forest full of birdsong.
The 24-day, 750-kilometre tour took us through the classic Ontario and Quebec canoe country of Massasauga, Moon River, Muskoka, Algonquin Park, Mattawa River and the Ottawa River. It wasn’t always easy (nothing worthwhile ever is) but it was constantly engaging and fun. We were either canoeing or putting on a concert, so no matter where we were it was a happy place. Success wasn’t counted in dollars or exposure, but rather the immediate visceral pleasure of the journey and the afterglow of a shared adventure.
Arising from this tour is my first “rockumentary.” Entitled Wild Ones (after Peirson’s album), this celebration of Canadian wilderness and music will have its World Premiere at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival (VIMFF) on February 11, 2017. If you happen to be in town, come check it out. If not, look for it at other upcoming festivals as well as on CBC’s Documentary Channel.