Roll east, young artists: #TracksonTracks creating a cultural journey

Nine bands, a documentary film crew, ace photographers, curious broadcasters and rengade storymakers leave Vancouver on Friday, June 8 aboard VIA's Canadian special serive en route to to NxNE Music and Interactive festival in Toronto and carve out a wee bit of culture, fellowship, and adventure along the tracks.

Trains trips sound romantic. Imagine rolling across the vast spaces sipping bevvies, perusing poetry… but just as easily, train trips can turn into something cramped and rollicking in all the wrong ways. Just watch Dr. Zhivago or travel Eurail on a shoestring for evidence. Ideally, train trips should be a bit weird, evocative and creative, which is where this story begins.

Get on the couch
A couple of good Canadian kids Michelle Allan and Johnathan Krauth grabbed hold of a vision and invented a plan, which pulls out from our lonely train station Friday bound for Toronto.
 
 
They started the quest with a tweeted suggestion @VIA_Rail about bringing their ugly green couch for a session aboard the train. The erstwhile couch – found in a Vancouver West End alley – is the set for a generous series of live performance videos shot with emerging and established bands over the past three years. This made for creative, unique, quirky and quality stuff: if you love music, start watching the Green Couch Sessions.

The train's manifest includes nine bands of various genres, CBC Radio 3's Grant Lawrence, the green couch film crew, social media makers, a few contest winners, and me. We're riding in two cars attached to VIA Rail's normal Canadian service and making stops for mini busking-style concerts along the way. Note to Melville, Saskatchewan: beware and keep your beer store open!  

In between stops, the bands will perform on the couch, conduct interviews, play for unwitting patrons, and miscellaneous hijinks not to be disclosed (with Top Less Gay Love Tekno Party onboard, this is a given).

Once in Winnipeg, the bands roll out for a half-day festival (ideal for the band called Portage and Main) before crossing the Canadian Shield and arriving in Toronto in time for the NxNE music and interactive festival. The bands will all play a CBC Radio 3 showcase and I'll share my social media stories in a keynote spiel. Everyone happy, history made.

Festival Refreshed

A while back, I shared a dossier of ideas and backgrounders about a trip to refresh and respect the Festival Express, the freewheeling 1970 tour which failed miserably for the promoters but which the bands loved as they brought (or tried to, anyways) music to the fans instead of bringing them all to Woodstock or Altamont.

The film footage survived in garaged boxes for decades before a recent release which shares mind-pleasing-chilling footage of Rick Danko, Janis Joplin and Jerry Garcia in hammered late night jams with Buddy Guy stepping in, juxtaposed with live footage of their bands at the peak of their velocity – The Band with all healthy and alive, Grateful Dead with dual drummers and PigPen and Janis owning each note. 

This chapter, almost lost all but the most crunchy Canadians, makes me wonder – what would happen if Janis in full wailing grandeur had auditioned for American Idol?
 
But this isn’t about recreating that rollicking, gonzo train, but instead taking a wee slice of inspiration from it onto the late night cars careening o’er prairie, and see what magic we can draw from the tracks and scapes in our own way.

Story making

UW with SuitcaseAs the un-ordained minister of miscellania and anecdotes for the trip, I’ve set out a few quests to earn my train scout badges, ergo:

I'm toting my old-timey suitcase filled with recent paper point slides to share "Fck Stats, Make Art" a soliloquy for creativity in the ephemeral digital age (see TEDXCapU for a reasonable facsimile) and, "Vancouver Counter Culture Anecdotes" as I shared at Pecha Kucha All-Star night at the Vogue Theatre.

Social kung-fu: As my rock n’ roll dreams are long over, I can help bands by sharing my knowledge of blowing stories up with the social webs. I've surveyed the bands and prepping cold ones to share tactics for building audience, selling merch, and booking tours using all that twitters and stuff. Also, intro to Marshall McLuhan, since we are Canadian.

Canadian documentation: I've made a list of topics to discuss with Grant Lawrence who, between building Canadian indie music into a global cult, has been promoting his book of uniquely left-coast stories. I have topics to riff to complement his banter including: our literary history from Mowat, Berton, Coupland; bio-regional music scenes; goalies and poetry; and what really went down in West Vancouver high school elections.

Bonus Ideas and humble suggestions: Yeah, I'll be Tom Sawyering bands into schemes for posterity:

- Band collaborations for train-themed songs (imagine The Matinee playing Canadian Railroad Trilogy, or Maurice singing Train in Vain, or Sidney York performing Peace Train, Chris Ho singing Train I Ride… I have a list ready for the trip.

- Bands sharing tips: With many hopeful bands among the virtual audience, how about bands interview bands to share their tips for booking first tours, staying healthy on the road, avoiding the wrong deals, working through writer's block, dealing with band dynamics? Send your questions via Twitter and answer right from Adaline or The Belle Game.

If none of the above are accomplished, I’ll have at least for my part, return to my accidental birthplace of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (which I've spent my life spelling for Americans) after hitchhiking and traipsing around 30 countries and 48 states.

Get Onboard

Too late to get aboard (well maybe)… but you can follow along on a bonanza of social channels:
Can you hear it? 

As for the cross-Canada media, I expect once the train pulls out, folks will wonder what VIA has set out to accomplish, and interact with the digital artifacts as the musicians, documenters, storytellers, and associated renegades collaborate to chart a new tale in the Canadian pantheon of culture, adventure, and fellowship.
 
I’ll share the answers as i see ‘em emerge from the cars or the windows or from a bottle of Wee Angry Scotch ale. It might not be Gordon Lightfoot contextualizing this contemporary train story – it'll more likely be you. I hope so.

More in Uncle Weed's Dossier

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Festival Express Redux: a cross-Canada train trip exploring art, culture, media and business

How do we spark intellectual and cultural exchange across industries? Hop aboard the Festival Express Redux – an interdisciplinary, cross-Canada train trip exploring art, culture, media and business.
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