Reborn in Montreal - FOLK ALLIANCE - One boy's journey: Day 1
March 9, 2005
I have to admit I was scared - A different country, a different language, a big city. I was about to be surrounded by living versions of my CD library while staying in a French speaking city's Chinatown, walking down streets I couldn't pronounce. On top of that, the Conference Hotel just changed names so even the cabbies didn't know where they were going. I think I had good reason to be nervous. If you think about it, I spend most of my time by myself. I'm either in a timberframe cabin back in the woods or I'm in a small production studio. Yesterday - Ohio. Today the most European city in North America - a city of over 4 Million: Montreal.
Some of my anxiety went away, however, when I saw another out of place man at the airport. He was wearing a floppy hat with straps that hung down below his ears. It buttoned up in the front. I owned that same hat...when I was five. He was also carrying a guitar. It was Pete Morton from England. I so admire his songs Two Brothers, about Israel and Palestine, and The Shepard's Song about a peasant poet who walked across England 200 years ago.
I have a goal at conferences: don't wait to say hello to someone. Time flies by because every hour is filled with activities. Instead of waiting to possibly run into Pete again, I stopped him in his tracks to remind him how talented he was. He didn't seem to know it. The conversation relaxed both of us. We decided to share a cab to the newly named hotel, even though neither one of us were staying there. The cab driver was from Jamaica, which was one more language to sort through, so one destination seemed best. I had made the first of many new friends, and Pete Morton is....a hero! I thought to myself: "Montreal - I think I can do this." Now I needed a city map.
It turned out that I had planned well. My hotel was just a block from the Conference hotel, 2 blocks from "Club Soda" and 5 blocks from "Medley" (two nightclubs featuring music showcases). Plus, it was $40 cheaper and they joined the cause by adding performer showcases as well. I checked in, found a map, and developed a plan. It was too late to officially register at the conference headquarters, but not too late to take in the French Canadian Dance party at "Medley." Five bands were playing.
The stage was high with many colored lights and a dry ice fog was added for effect. Most of the groups featured accordion AND button box, and two fiddles. One of the fiddlers usually sat in a chair and wore oversized shoes, stamping his or her feet in a percussive rhythm. The player was essential playing fiddle, drums, and dancing all at the same time. The singers often sang "acadian mouth music," sort of an improvised "scat singing" as known in jazz. Halfway through each set a caller would lead half the audience in a group dance. I was amazed at how quickly a large group of strangers learned what to do. While the group would play, the caller would teach, and in minutes I was watching choreography. The rest of us roared with delight. I saw Lagaudriolefrom France, Vishten from The Prince Edward islands, and Monsieur Lambert & Compagniefrom Quebec. I needed a beer.
I tried to see what everyone else was ordering as all the choices were unfamiliar. I made my choice, but alas - the barkeep would not take a credit card. I had no Canadian currency, so I returned to my small table, alone, disappointed, and thirsty. Three minutes later a stranger walked by, placed the canceled beverage on my table, smiled, and kept walking. My mouth hung open. I began to like Montreal. And this was only day one.
The next time you log in Jim will report what happened on day two.
Posted by Jim Blum at March 9, 2005 1:14 PM