by Catherine MacLellan
Notes from the Road
I was having a bad day. You might say a bad week. Ordinarily, being stuck in Austin, Texas, wouldn’t be a bad thing for me. It was February 2010 and I was there with my guitarist Chris to play at the annual SXSW conference. There was some mix up with our airline tickets but we had been able to get to Austin with some luck and unusual kindness from the airline agents.
We were there for a week of endless music and business schmoozing, but, even before we left the Charlottetown airport, Chris got sick with a bad cold. I spent most of the conference wandering around by myself, checking out some of the thousands of bands and songwriters who show up for this crazy festival. We played some excellent shows and were reviewed very favourably in the Austin Chronicle for our show at the Driskill Ballroom. The day before we were to leave I had the task of rearranging our tickets to get back home so, with Chris lying in his sick bed, I got on the phone. I wasted hours talking to every airline involved, no one willing to help just passing us along to the next person and there seemed to be no way home. There was not a flight out of Austin—except a milk-run to Florida overnight and then eventually home. I was so broke and frustrated that I felt my world was falling apart. Chris kept sniffling words of encouragement as I dealt with the crisis.
At some point, I put down the phone and tried to distract myself from my problems. Chris and I talked for ages about anything but flights home and I told him about my pet project I had been thinking about for some time. I wanted to write about all of our strange adventures, about the places we go and the people we meet. I had been thinking about talking to the folks at The Buzz to see if they might be interested. Chris suggested I just email Peter, that it could be that simple. So I did. Within an hour I had a reply back that, yes, they would love to have me write an article for them. This idea that had been hatching for several years had all of a sudden become a reality. My bad day was swiftly transforming into a good one.
I started writing for The Buzz in May of 2010 and I find it hard to believe that I have continued for over 3 years now. Each time I sit down to write I ponder over the previous weeks and hunt for inspiration. It is such a treat for me to be able to follow a different path in my creative life, a tangent away from songwriting. Sometimes, though, I find it challenging to find anything to say. I spend my time going between life on the road and life as a hermit in the country. I dig in my garden in the warm weather and dig into books and sewing projects in the cold months. Sometimes the places I go and the people I meet are not things I should write home about, more like strange memories and headaches. Occasionally, I can take those hard times and turn them into a story which helps me feel that I have achieved something.
The first time I thought about writing this article was at a show I played in Ottawa back in 2008. I was sharing the stage with Raymond McLean and Mike Stevens who always thrill the audience with their old-timey-turned-new high caliber music. They were playing the Orange Blossom Special like only Mike can play it, on the harmonica at full tilt, as he had played it hundreds of times at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. I had seen them a number of times and was always blown away by their incredible shows—Raymond on the fiddle and Mike with his harmonica. I thought how much I wanted to share this with people back home, to shine a light on things that don’t always reach the shores of PEI. I thought the article would be mostly about that, other artists and my experiences with them on the road. More often than not, though, it turns out quite differently.
Sometimes I feel I have truly made something out of nothing when I haven’t been anywhere or met anyone. How many times can I write that the weather is changing and describe the view from my house. But every once in a while, especially in those times of inactivity, I try to dig up rough gems to polish and shine, little musings and moments of personal insight. My job as a traveling musician is the one I have chosen and though it is certainly not the easiest path to tread, it allows me the freedom to ponder and create. Sometimes the moment when I think nothing is happening is precisely when ideas are germinating, much like the leaves just before they burst forth from the bud, like the seed before it cracks through the earth and sprouts. There is always something brewing, hiding beneath the surface.
Looking back on my three years of writing for The Buzz, it pleases me to see that I have a record of all these experiences, even (or especially) the quiet times. The Buzz, for me, acts like a main artery, pumping news and cultural information out to the whole island and beyond. It is where I check when I want to see what’s going on and who is doing what. PEI has such a rich culture of art and music, storytelling and dance, and I do believe that The Buzz has really helped cultivate that, providing a place for events and new ideas to be announced and celebrated. I am grateful to be a part of it and to have this opportunity to challenge myself and share my view from the road, even if it is sometimes just the Dixon Road.
Catherine MacLellan is…
Catherine MacLellan has been a professional songwriter and touring musician for over a decade. Having released four records with legendary Canadian record label, True North Records, she has toured extensively across North America, Europe and the UK. Catherine’s performances have been described as “transporting.” Her songwriting and vocal interpretations have earned her love and respect among her audiences and peers worldwide. Catherine has spent most of her life in PEI where she now makes her home. She is the daughter of Canadian songwriter, Gene MacLellan (responsible for such songs as “Snowbird” and “Put Your Hand in the Hand”) and is proudly carrying on her father’s tradition.