Forget the glitz and glamour. Whether you’re a solo artist or one member of a 12-piece band, being on tour is a lot like Groundhog Day:
Get in the van (or bus); drive to the city where you’re performing; unload the equipment; soundcheck; check into your hotel for the night; play show; return to hotel; sleep. Then you get up and do it all over again the next day.
While there are always slight deviations to every day, including varying amounts of caffeine, deciding where to eat, and who’s going to do the first shift behind the wheel, the otherwise normal patterns associated with life on tour can be both simultaneously comforting and grating.
Every once in awhile, however, the universe throws out an inspirational, ironic, or downright comedic event to help keep everyone on their toes, that ultimately helps foster the all-for-one and one-for-all mentality found amongst band members.
To help provide insight on some of their most favourite performances or aspects of being on tour, we sought out perspective from Nova Scotia soul-R&B artist Erin Costelo, New Brunswick honky-tonk band The Divorcees and acclaimed Saint John folk duo Tomato Tomato. Each of the artists is among those nominated at this year’s East Coast Music Awards, taking place in Saint John at the end of April.
Asked to name one of the most memorable performances of her career, Costelo quickly cites a show that she performed with R&B legend Mavis Staples. Together with her father Roebuck “Pops” Staples, and a number of her siblings, Mavis was a part of the legendary Staple Singers, an R&B vocal group whose beginnings date back to the early 50’s.
“Mavis has been a hero of mine for a long time for such a long time, while [partner] Clive [MacNutt] has revered Pops’ guitar playing and tone for an almost equally long time,” Costelo says. “What made the experience so great was how open and giving she was. Mavis had just undergone knee surgery, but insisted on watching our show from the side of the stage anyway. Before she played her show, she welcomed us into her dressing room and I bumbled my way through how much I loved her. She was so graceful and humble. The experience was everything I ever could have hoped for.”
Arguably more important, Costelo says Staples imparted wisdom without even knowing she was doing so.
“Whenever I have a bad day, am frustrated with the music business, or feel tired from being pulled in so many directions, I think of Mavis, and what she would say, or what would she do. To be in the music business for more than 60 years and still be filled with such joy, and still be so energetically creative is just amazing. It leaves me in awe of her, because she inspires me to be better at what I do.”
While discovering a musical hero is everything you’d hope they would be is certainly something to treasure, The Divorcees’ Alex Madsen says sometimes the most unexpected surprises he and his band have encountered over the last decade-plus have been from the venues themselves.
“One of the best venues that we ever had the chance to play in Western Canada was a now defunct club called A Bar Named Sue,” Madsen says, noting the bar’s name served as an obvious nod to the Johnny Cash hit “A Boy Named Sue.”
“The bar staff and owner were so good to us. It was just a warm place that felt like home. When you’re thousands of kilometers from your actual home, those experiences hold that much more weight.”
For Tomato Tomato’s Lisa McLaggan, having the opportunity to bring their music to audiences throughout Canada and as far away as Australia is an unquestionable highlight. When it comes to singling out just one performance, however, one of McLaggan’s most favourite moments took place right in Saint John.
“Our most memorable performance would have to be the June 2016 album release show we did at Saint John’s Imperial Theatre,” she says. “It was quite literally, a dream come true and had all the elements for a perfect night: sold out show, full band of tremendous musicians and friends, majestic and historic setting, standing ovation, and love and support from our community. That’s a show we will never forget, and for all the best reasons.”