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Notes from the Road
by Catherine MacLellan

I boarded the plane to Calgary for the shortest of tours, two shows in Alberta, not really wanting to leave PEI on that beautiful spring day. I rearranged my iPod with only my favourite records and started playing them beginning to end.

At the very start of this list is Halifax's Acres and Acres and their album All Nations. It has been out for a couple of years now but refuses to get old. Their music touches my heart and mind. Songs about polar bears, cell phones, Johnny Appleseed, and so much more. Dave and Kris, the two main members, have just started working on their follow up and I can’t wait.

I also just downloaded Rose Cousins’ newest album, We Have Made a Spark. This is her third full-length record and as always it is full of strong, heart-wrenching songs that seem to read my heart. Rose is in constant motion, always traveling back and forth between her different homes - PEI, Halifax and Boston. This latest offering was recorded with her Boston friends and shows off their talents. Another beautiful record from Miss Cousins.

Someone that I’ve heard of for ages but never had a chance to hear is Cam Penner. My journey to Alberta started with a night off so we headed to the Ironwood in Calgary to hear Cam and his band. The guys playing with him that night were the same folks who recorded his most recent album, Gypsy Summer. The songs are personal tales, sung with a gruff but emotional voice that pulls you into every line. I almost always prefer to hear someone live rather than recorded, and it was great to see him live before hearing the record, but the canned version certainly didn’t disappoint and I can’t wait until he finally comes East to the Maritimes so everyone else can hear him too.

Eventually, we headed south out of Calgary to the town of Nanton. Many of my friends had played the Auditorium there and I had heard a lot of stories about this small town tavern. Even so, I wasn’t really prepared for what we were in for. Chris and I walked in to a room full of  taxidermy—bobcats, moose, birds, and so much more. Leading up to our show and in between sets young local guys playing pool would put on Metallica and Iron Maiden hits on the jukebox. The place was dirty in a way that only an old tavern can be but the people were amazing, the biggest hearts you’ll meet and huge supporters of songwriters.

The next night we arrived at the complete opposite of a venue, the Arden Theatre in St. Albert, just outside of Edmonton. There, we met up with Ron Hynes, Dave Gunning and Madison Violet. We were playing a songwriter circle for Bluebird North. Lisa and Brenley, who are Madison Violet, had just arrived the day before from Australia, and were feeling like they weren’t really in any time zone. We had all performed quite a few shows together over the years, but never all of us at the same time. It was a really sweet night and made the whole trip worthwhile. I also got to sneak in a visit with some of my Edmonton family, which is a rare but special treat.

Getting on the plane home, I put on another of my favourite records, Mercury by Pieta Brown. It was the perfect happy, rootsy soundtrack to head me back East to my home, back to the red mud roads, the snow-edged fields and the quiet of a Prince Edward Island night.

Ribbon of Highway

Notes from the Road
by Catherine MacLellan

Jadea Kelly in the back seat with Catherine and ChrisAfter a nice, long break at home, I found myself back out on the road with my guitarist Chris Gauthier, heading down that long stretch of pavement from PEI to Ontario. As a child, my family would take this trip several times a year, going home every summer to the peace and quiet of our Island and my grandparents log home. I remember always being asleep when there was a moose spotting on the Renous highway, and also the unfortunate time Dad decided to see just how far we could go on a single tank of gas (we ended up stranded at 4am in Grand Falls, NB.)

This trip, though, was broken up nicely with a first stop in Fredericton, NB, for a fairly new winter festival called Shivering Songs. A great bunch of friends and an eclectic group of musicians made up the roster: David Myles, Mark Kozelek, Mike O’Neil, Acres and Acres, Paper Beat Scissors, Babette Hayward, Owen Steel and many more. It was hard to get back in the car, leaving all of these fine folks behind.

As we headed towards Montreal, it was hard to believe that it was really the middle of winter. It was looking more like an early spring day with the snow all gone and the birds chirping away. We landed in Montreal and decided to check out a restaurant that I had heard of for ages but had recently been recommended by a friend—Au Pied De Cochon. This is not your typical French cuisine and we realized this as soon as our appetizer of Beef Tartare arrived, wrapped in nori and with a raw quail egg on top. This may have been the best thing I have ever eaten, I’m still dreaming about it now. Anyway, I won’t go on about food because it’s just making me hungry. I think it’s enough just to say that it was a stupidly great meal.

There was no gig in Montreal this time, so we continued on the next day to Port Hope, just outside of Toronto, where we met up with Jadea Kelly who would accompany us on most of this trip. With the help of my friends who live in Cobourg/Port Hope, we organized my fourth annual Ontario version of my pie-off. We raised funds for the Greenwood Coalition, a really amazing group of people, and were amazed at how many pies were brought out. (Am I talking about food again?) Port Hope really brought the pie spirit to this event.

We left our little lakeside paradise and headed towards London, ON for a show at the always friendly and full London Music Club. Upon entering the club I was praised by a woman for my onstage energy with my musical partner, which was lovely, I thought, until I quickly realized Chris and I had once again been confused with Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet. She was kind enough to stay for the show anyway!

Next to Toronto for a show at Hugh’s Room and an exuberant room seemingly populated by mostly Maritimers, as is often the case wherever I go. Then off to Guelph for a beautiful show in a beautiful room full of beautiful guitars. Folkway Music, an independent guitar shop, is perhaps one of the more dangerous venues I’ve played. I’m not talking chicken wire around the stage here, I’m talking Martin and Gibson guitars from the 20s and 30s with price tags that couldn’t fit on my credit card (thank goodness).

We headed back to Toronto for a house concert with some of my extended Dixon Road family and this turned out to be my favourite show of the tour. I could have stayed there for days with these folks but we had to head on to the wonderful Blacksheep Inn in Wakefield, Quebec for our last show of the tour. A short but sweet adventure, and hopefully my last time driving that ribbon of highway for at least a few months.

Stories of my Father

Notes from the Road
by Catherine MacLellan

Singing the finale, “Put Your Hand in the Hand,” at the concert and CBC broadcast Just Bidin’ My Time: A Tribute to Gene MacLellan at Zion Presbyterian Church in Charlottetown (photo: ©pixbylorne)It has now been 17 years since my father, Gene MacLellan, passed away. I was just a kid, 14 years old, watching my dad fall further and further into the turmoil of mental illness at a time when people were still not really talking about that. Now, having been alive longer without my father than with him, I feel like it’s time to truly celebrate his life and stop mourning my losses.

This January I was given a great opportunity to celebrate the life and music of my father with the tribute to him put on by Music PEI and CBC. Famous for his songs, at least here in Atlantic Canada, my dad shied away from the spotlight. He preferred to write the songs and let other people sing them. The most well known example of this, of course, was Anne Murray’s version of Snowbird.

As with anyone, Gene’s success was made up of talent, skill and luck. Had Snowbird been released any earlier, he would have missed out on the new Canadian content rules of 1970-71 that required radio and TV broadcasters in Canada to play a minimum of 30% Canadian-made music. For Snowbird, this meant an enormous amount of airplay which soon crossed the border into Detroit and before you know it, my dad and Anne had a massive hit on their hands.

Anne was kind enough to say a few words about Gene for the tribute in a bio-video that showed my dad playing on Singalong Jubilee as well as some amazing footage of him in the early 70’s at his old farmhouse and in a little boat fishing with a friend. This kind of stuff is priceless to me, filling in more pieces of the mystery that my father is now to me.

On stage with us for the tribute was a whole cast of friends and fantastic musicians. The inimitable Ron Hynes was there singing his own song written about my father at the time of his unexpected passing, Godspeed. Lennie Gallant was there as well, and I remember how much my dad loved him and his music. I even had the chance as a kid to go with dad to see Lennie perform with his band at the rink in Rustico.

A number of local up-and-comers like myself were there as well. John Connolly was the musical director for this show, and his love for my father’s music has always been obvious, so this was a great chance for him to share that. Meaghan Blanchard blew the roof off with her version of Faces, her voice is just absolutely incredible. Dennis Ellsworth and the Haunted Hearts brought the barroom beat to the occasion which was especially great on Face in the Mirror.

A close friend of Gene and of our family, Scott Parsons was there singing the songs that he knows so well. Scott is the greatest collector of my dad’s tunes, having known him so well and retained songs for us that were never recorded.

Perhaps the most touching moment of the night was Jack MacAndrew’s talk. He brought tears to the whole room, including himself, and it was so lovely to hear these personal stories about Gene that only Jack could know.

Of all the things that happened during the lead up to this show, the most amazing part for me was just the fact that so many people remembered and loved my father. All the people across the country that called in to CBC Radio with their stories, the people who would stop me in the street or send emails with their memories… It became clear to me that there really was something special about my dad. Seventeen years after he left us, people were still waiting patiently to tell their story, their version of Gene.

On the Dixon Line

Notes from the Road
by Catherine MacLellan

On stage at The Dunk with Nikkie, Remi, Chris, Catherine and Reg (drums)After an exhausting but rewarding trip to England, I’ve been back home on the Island for a few weeks now, doing the holiday meet-and-greet and all the things that go with that. Holiday shows abound and winter has officially arrived.

I’ve been thinking about writing a survival guide for those of us who live year round in PEI. It’s not the same as the mainland. I may be wrong, but I find after a few months of being Island bound people need a little trip across the water to feel expanded. My career provides this break up to an extreme point where I never want to go away again unless I have to, but there are other ways to get through winter besides traveling.

The greatest boon of living in the country, as opposed to the town or city, is all the winter activities I can enjoy right in my backyard; skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, building forts, skating, etc. These things have kept the winter blues from taking over my life. Out here on the Dixon Road, a majority of neighbours and friends are active in these winter sports and turn them into community events and/or daily rituals. There are more ski trails out here than anyone probably knows and many of them connect one neighbour to another.

We also have the wonderful Dunk, run by fellow Dixon Roader, Hal Mills. The Dunk provides a space for our community to get together to hear music, play music, share meals and all without heading into town. It’s so great for me because I can walk there with my daughter and I never have to leave my road for parties, shows and gatherings. It’s really just Hal’s house, but he’s been so generous with his home, opening it up to everyone, that it’s really starting to feel like a town hall or community centre. A public house.

Unknown to many people, the Dixon Road has a long history of music. Starting in the 70s with the “Back to the Land” movement, an eclectic group of characters started moving in to this area. A band called Kit Carson included members Steve Naylor, David “Papper” Papazian, Paul Woolner, Philippe Elforde and Vianne Emery. We had a “girl band,” Josie Pye, and an all-star cast in Speed the Plough, which included Lennie Gallant, Margie Carmichael, Roy Johnstone, Sigrid Rolfe and David Papazian. Other notable members of this musical community were Allan Rankin, Malcolm Stanley and my own father, Gene MacLellan.

You could often find some of these folks at “The Ritz” (a much more rustic version of the Dunk, I imagine) with fiddles and guitars in hand, playing traditional and original music. Now the local landmarks such as the Ritz, the dome, and Papper’s cabin are either totally gone or falling into the ground but the memories live on in the stories I hear.

The tradition of music on the Dixon Road is carried on here by all the folks who live here or come out to play. There are second generation types like Michael Stanley who grew up out here and myself, a transplant with connections through my father. There are also the kind and creative souls like Hal, Phil Corsi and the late Hilda Woolnough who have been so giving with their spaces, inviting people in to celebrate things such as the solstices, equinoxes, sugaring-off, birthdays and whatever else we can think of to celebrate.

I have never felt quite so at home, or welcomed in to a neighbourhood as I do here in Breadalbane. The only thing we are really missing now is Ivan’s village store. As Malcolm Stanley sings in his Dixon Road song, “If it wasn’t for the whiskey, I’d never go to town.”

British Fare

Notes from the Road
by Catherine MacLellan

Catherine and Chris fuel upCream tea, Cornish pasties, blood pudding, Devonshire cheeses, bangers and mash… We have been on the hunt for British culinary specialties and eating them often in their land of origin. On every other trip to England, I’ve been mostly disappointed with my food choices so this time I decided we would eat as much and as well as possible. So far, I have gained at least five pounds from all this cheese, cream, bread and sweets but it has been well worth it.

Chris [Gauthier] and I landed at Heathrow airport in London after an overnight flight from Halifax and were feeling fairly destroyed by the journey when we were greeted by our new friend Hedley. Our driver for the two weeks, Hedley has been an amazing guide and saved us from the terrifying prospect of driving on the other side of the road. Neither Chris nor I were quite up for that challenge. Hedley has also served as CD seller, sound man, tour guide and British interpreter.

We drove directly to my booking agent’s house in Cornwall where we were treated to one of the finest curries of my life and a trip to the pub for some “real ale.” The next day, before driving across the Cornwall border into Devon, we grabbed some very fine pasties, one of my old favourite treats from when I lived in Australia. These hand-held, half-moon pies were originally made by the wives of the miners so that they could eat with their hands and without touching their food, hence the big crust on one side.

Once across the River Devon and over the stunning Dartmoor, we were faced with cream teas—hot tea and scones served with clotted cream and jam. So sinfully delicious and filling, we didn’t really need to eat an evening meal (though we did). We played that night in Torquay, known as the British Riviera, an interesting summer vacation spot right on the sea.

The next day we traveled north into Oxfordshire past Banbury Cross (as in the old rhyme, “ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross, so see a fine lady ride on a white horse…”) to a tiny little village called Cropredy. Famous for being the birthplace of Fairport Convention, Cropredy is now the home of Fairport’s own summer festival when 25,000 people descend upon this village for three days of music. We actually played in the pub where the members of Fairport Convention would sit and write the songs for their first few albums.

Off then to Colchester, the home of a native species of oyster which we did not get to try, sadly. Colchester, interestingly enough, is also the home to three famous songs and rhymes—Humpty Dumpty, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Old King Cole.

On to London, we played the Slaughtered Lamb and then followed that with a visit to Bob Harris, England’s most famous and influential radio host. Everywhere that we went, people would come up to me and tell me that they had first heard me on Bob Harris’ programs. To top that visit off, he had just finished a session with my heros Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.

Now I find myself in northern England, halfway through the tour which is just flying by and nearing closer to my ancestral home of Scotland. Who knows how many more local traditions we will try in kitchens and pubs, but we will do our best to keep up on our quest. Just trying to figure out what people mean when they say certain things can be confusing, even to other British folk. The word tea can have several different meanings as well as timings. Biscuits are cookies, flapjacks are oat cakes, pies are savoury but when done right, they are all delicious. The one thing I will really enjoy when I get home, though, is a good, strong cup of coffee.

Northern Lights

Notes from the Road
by Catherine MacLellan

Jethro and Summer in YellowknifeSomehow, everywhere I go, there are Maritimers in abundance. From England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales to B.C., Washington, Oregon and California. I’ve been in venues after the show talking to people, playing the “Who’s yer father” game, when it turns out that they are related to my Rustico guitar player, Chris Gauthier. Several times this has happened, and always in the strangest and most remote places.

Traveling around Alberta, we find this sort of stuff happens more than anywhere. We all have family and friends who have left the East to find work in the oil fields or the big cities. Back in my grandparent’s days, during the Great Depression, people would head down to the Boston states. Later on it seemed most people went to the centre of the universe, Toronto. These days it’s Alberta, B.C. and the northern territories.

It appears we tend to stick to our own out there in the big old world, because often at my shows a good third of the audience is from the Maritimes. It’s a pretty sweet thing. That was certainly the case for us on our last trip to Alberta and, in an almost extreme way, up in Yellowknife.

I had never been to the Northwest Territories before, and when I was sitting in my hotel room in Portland, Oregon, I got a message from my good friend Jethro who is a chef in Yellowknife, saying that his boss wanted to fly us up there to play a show. My first thought was, “Yeah! Sometime that would be amazing!” It turned out they wanted us there at the end of that tour, in just a week and a half.

I’m not generally prone to rash decisions or choosing to stay away from home longer than needed, but a free trip to Yellowknife with good food and fine friends to welcome us was an opportunity I couldn’t say no to.

It was warm and sunny when we arrived at the Yellowknife airport, and I was perhaps the only soul to ever wish it was colder and snowier there. We met up with Jethro and his lady Summer there and proceeded to take a quick tour of the city. We saw the shacks on the lake, where people live a very rustic but romantic life in these creative dwellings built on rent free land. Later we took a canoe ride out to a houseboat filled with Islanders and chatted while rocking on the waves of Great Slave Lake.

Eventually, after a nap, we made our way to the restaurant where we were wined and dined all evening. We sat at the Chef’s table in the kitchen, served dish after dish of deliciousness, watching them cook up tapas for the audience. I would say that 2 out of 3 people there were Maritimers, most of those being transplants from PEI.

After a great show and with bellies full of rosemary crème brulée we headed next door for some late night bowling. I was, at this point, totally exhausted and ready for bed, but our hosts had more in store. We headed to the restaurant owner’s beautiful a-frame house on Madeline Lake, a half hour away, where we drank more wine and had a gigantic bonfire while watching the northern lights dance in the sky. It was 5:30am before we made it to bed.

I woke to the sounds of cooking in the kitchen and found myself at a table full of happy, tired people and a plate full of eggs and beef. Soon we were whisked back to the airport and onto our plane to Calgary.

The whole trip was incredible and something I’ll never forget. The hospitality of the North is like nowhere else, except, perhaps, PEI. My thanks go out to our friendly Northern hosts who ended our Western tour with a bang and a laugh and a little piece of home.

Foggy and Soggy

Notes From The Road
by Catherine MacLellan

St. John's (photo: Catherine MacLellan)It’s been a crazy summer and it certainly seems to be over as I write this. The wind is blowing, the trees are bending and the heat of the sun isn’t enough to keep me from lighting the wood stove.

I’m about to take off again into the wild world, this time to Oregon, Washington State and Alberta. My new record is keeping me busy with new gigs and radio engagements across Canada and the U.S., which is feeling good. I definitely prefer to keep busy this time of year, instead of sitting around and baking too much bread and too many apple pies. Although, I do love baking pies…

The summer seemed to never really arrive this year and that was most evident at the Newfoundland Folk Festival in St. John’s. Our flight left late from Halifax and then circled for a few hours above St. John’s waiting for a break in the fog so we could land. The fog never lifted, in fact no flights landed in St. John’s that day at all, so they diverted us to Gander.

As we made our way out of security and into the main lobby of Gander International Airport, we saw a flood of at least 500 desperate travelers who had all landed there unexpectedly and were hoping to find someway to their destination, meanwhile completely emptying the vending machines and cafeteria of food and drink. Eventually, flight by flight, the passengers were loaded onto buses and sent by ground to St. John’s, a four and a half hour drive away. As my flight was the last to land, it was also the last to get a bus and it was nearly one o’clock in the morning when I finally got to my intended destination. There, at the airport in St. John’s, I ran into many other haggard and tired musicians including the Good Lovelies, who had been stranded at the Halifax airport for twelve hours.

As the Friday night of the festival had been so rainy, when I woke up in my hotel room on Saturday, the first call I received was to inform me that the entire day of workshops and performances had been cancelled due to extremely wet conditions. The grounds had been so soaked that the porta-potties had sunk into the ground and the doors couldn’t even be opened. The amazing festival volunteers, board members and crew worked all day to find an alternate venue so we could play. Eventually they managed to secure the Mile One Stadium, and spent the entire afternoon trying to get things there up and running, from stage requirements and lighting to food and craft vendors and backstage necessities. It was a whirlwind of a day for them, in the drizzling rain and at a bleak 10 degrees Celsius but they somehow got everything figured out.

All of the Sunday daytime workshops were also moved indoors to the massive stadium and instead of performing under tents we were in tiny concrete dressing rooms. Somehow, there was enough charm and good spirits to carry this off with style.

It continued to be rainy and cold in Newfoundland the entire weekend, but our hearts were warmed from watching just how tenacious and unstoppable the organizers of the folk festival were. From Saturday evening until the after party on Sunday night, everything went off without a hitch, except, of course, for the completely rained out Bannerman Park.

I flew out of St. John’s without a problem all the way to Toronto where I spent a few days hanging with friends and even took a drive down to Pennsylvania for a bit of a diversion from real life. Now, back home, I’m looking forward to things slowing down a little and, with my daughter back in school, a little bit of a routine forming. This year, I am welcoming autumn with open arms.

The Big Easy

Notes from the Road
by Catherine MacLellan

New Orleans breakfast (photo: Catherine MacLellan)Well, summer is upon us now. I can really tell that summer is here because of all the visitors that are landing at my house, taking me to the beach and going for massive seafood feasts. It is a season of indulgence, hectic social calendars and one of the few times when all of us musician are busy working.

I just got back from New Orleans where I played at a conference held by my U.S. distributor, E1. What a magical city, with bands and musicians littering the streets of the French quarter. We didn’t have a heavy workload, so the first two days in N’awlins felt more like a vacation than a business trip. We rambled around the streets, in and out of shops, cafes and restaurants, feeling lucky to be in the hot south.

After arriving and checking into our hotel, Chris and I made our way up to a restaurant called Antoine’s, the longest continuous running family eating establishment in the U.S., well known for their high end cuisine and inventing things like oysters Rockefeller and even the “appetizer,” originally known as appetite teasers.

We stopped, of course, at an oyster bar on the way, just to see if they could live up to our totally biased but not unfounded belief that PEI has the best oysters in the world. These weren’t bad, but apparently it wasn’t the right season to have these special bi-valves. At Antoine’s, a taste of alligator soup, trout, shrimp, steak and pecan bread pudding satiated our desire for delicious food.

The next morning we made our way to Cafe du Monde, on the muddy Mississippi River, where they only serve coffee, orange juice and beignets. The beignet is really a square doughnut, cooked fresh to order, smothered in icing sugar. This amazing “breakfast” food was brought to Louisiana by the French and has remained a very popular tradition there. Fried dough is, in my mind, very important—a necessity really.

The French Quarter is a very special place, populated by antique shops, art galleries, great food and endless tourists. On almost every block there is a band or a solo musician playing for spare change that, if living here in the Maritimes, would be playing theatres and selling out shows. It’s incredible the amount of talent littering the streets, playing jazz and blues, and every variation of those key genres.

Up on Bourbon Street, there is a chaotic mix of tourists drinking in the streets, sidewalks full of vendors selling tacky souvenirs, jewelry and street food, and bars full of loud Cajun music and blues. We made the unfortunate mistake of going into a hat shop on Royal Street that had a huge selection of beautiful paper and straw hats. If we had had access to the funds, Chris and I would have walked out of there with hundreds of dollars of hats.

After playing our set at the conference, we were taken out to dinner with the whole group of music business delegates at another amazing restaurant, Broussard’s. The wine kept flowing while we chatted and were served spectacular food: shrimp in Dijon mustard and dill sauce Florentine, baby spinach and mushroom salad with bacon, pecans and red onions with a currant balsamic dressing, gulf fish dore over crabmeat and oyster mushroom étouffée, tournedo Madagascar, and vanilla ice cream between Italian pastry cookies with chocolate brandy sauce and almonds. Wow.

The night didn’t end there; the whole group headed to the House of Blues for a set by the Smithereens and to The Dungeon to hang out with Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. It was an hilarious and interesting end to our trip to New Orleans, a city full of history, music, food and art.

Events Calendar

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Fräulein Klarinette

Piano and clarinet recital at UPEI’s Dr. Steel Recital Hall January 26
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