Whole Lotta d’Amour

Finding the line between vandalism and art.

Why we love Quebec City: is it the cobblestone streets and old ornate buildings that make us feel like we are in Europe? Is it the sense of pride the people have of their vibrant history? Is it the beer and wine that you can buy in the corner stores? Or the cheese curds that sit in a basket on the counters? Well, it’s all of that!  But what really sealed the deal for our love of Quebec City is something else. Something that may not be above but it’s at least equal to all those good things.  Some may say this is silly – we were delivered a sign. Well, three signs. And the signs were music to our ears – literally!

On our first day wandering around this old city, an elderly man on his four wheel scooter passed by us with tunes cranked! It rivalled the volume of a Harley Davidson. Normally, excessive noise would get a head shake and eye roll, but when it’s Led Zeppelin, there’s an exception to be made! We continued on our walk  as “Ramble On” echoed down the street.

Day number two of exploring the city we come across graffiti. Every city has it’s share of spray painted public spaces that spark the debate of vandalism versus art. This piece we came across had nothing artistic about it. There was nothing really thought provoking. It was simply a name sprayed in silver on a utility box attached to a lamp post. “John Bonham” is all it said. If you’re going to deface public property it might as well be with the name of one of the greatest drummers of all time.

Day three. Walked into a hairdresser to get a much needed trim (gotta look pretty while on tour!) which usually means listening top 40 tunes. Not to stereotype the hair biz, but from the outside looking in there’s the usual decor and the usual scissor wielding folk – blondes with hair died black, the blue highlighted hair, Adidas or Converse or black boots, all sporting sleeve tattoos – it’s as expected as a folk duo with bearded guy playing an acoustic guitar. But right away, comes sign number 3  – “Your Time is Gonna Come” on the house speakers. Led Zeppelin is cranked in here. At that moment, it was like a slap in the face about stereotyping.

It’s music that connected these moments together. If it wasn’t for the music, these would be three individual incidents that would have disappeared into the ether and never thought of again. It’s music that can connect us, break down barriers and misconceptions. Seeing a frail old man wheel by us, seeing graffiti on the street, and just walking into a hairdresser’s, all to the tune of Led Zeppelin. The old man could easily be dismissed as someone of the age that wouldn’t care about music, especially not classic rock. Yet here he was, cruising by us, “rambling on” his way, with his own soundtrack. The graffiti, probably from a young punk that doesn’t know anything about anything, with too much energy and no direction or motivation. Probably vandalizing because he needs an outlet. Then again, maybe he (or she) is not young and probably knows more than we give him credit for – inspired and motivated enough by Bonham to go out and paint his name for everyone to read. The hairdressers, listening to Zeppelin, well more than listening, they were swaying and moving with Zeppelin. It wasn’t just background noise or a playlist made because it’s cool/trendy to listen to. It was on because they like it. During the hair cut, through the language barrier, beneath the anything skin deep, were friendly humans. Friendly folk that dressed the way they want and listen to what they want.

Farmer The Band gets to see Canada through sometimes rose coloured glasses. We see places and meet people under usually great circumstances – we are here as entertainers and “here” usually has drinks and food! But in Quebec City, we are here as short term residents – renting an apartment for a week, walking to the grocery stores, carrying our clothes to the laundromat, navigating the streets and the foreign language – we are not “here” as entertainers. We are outsiders. We are outsiders that have been warned about the snootiness of the French Canadians and their unwelcoming attitude. But the thing is, we’ve never felt like we were anything but welcome. We don’t know french. That could’ve been a problem but it wasn’t. Not even close. After clumsily saying “bonjour”, when we had the deer-in-the-headlights stare of ‘what next?’, anyone we came across, accommodated us with english. If they didn’t know english, they tried their best to help us with things like directions, or where to park and not get towed. There is nothing snooty or unwelcoming here, and that is said without the rose coloured glasses.

Quebec City has showed us, that this is not a place to judge or be judged. It’s buildings, though old and some quite tired looking, have life in them. They house live music, coffee shops, artist galleries, architects, doctors, lawyers, and of course the people. They house the young people that sit in benches reading, and the old that roller blade and jog the paved path along the river. These old buildings also house and welcome visitors, like us. This city is, everyday, proving that it’s not what’s on the outside that counts. It’s like a Led Zeppelin tune that you listen to and you move with. That is why we love Quebec City.

Beaucoup d’amour,


Where The Rubber (or Vinyl) Meets The Road

The time has come to hit the road! Our second national tour! Normally at this point, before heading out, we would have been filling the iPod with podcasts of “The Vinyl Cafe”.  But this year, it might not make the playlist. Hearing Stuart McLean may not bring joy and optimism but rather a sadness – a reminder of his passing earlier this year. His voice became the soundtrack to Farmer The Band’s first tour across Canada.

We cherished his welcoming address to the live audiences, describing the subtleties and nuances of their own backyards. That brought an excitement to us, looking at our tour schedule, knowing that we will be visiting some of those same places. Once we got there, it also brought a sense of accomplishment and connection after witnessing and experiencing the exact same things Stuart so vividly painted in our minds.

He read letters from his devoted fans during The Vinyl Cafe’s “Story Exchange” like they were his own. He read them so well that we felt the heartache and struggles as if they were our own. But we also shared the joy and the hope that Stuart pulled out of every story.

Then, of course, the adventures of Dave and Morley would start. What predicament will Dave get himself into this week? Will we be laughing aloud like when Dave gets trapped in a storm drain, or will we be sitting in quiet empathy as Morley watches her daughter leave for college? In those moments that are so normal and everyday, or so absurd yet so close to home, we realize we all have a bit of Dave and Morley – or Sam, Stephanie, even Mary Turlington! –  in us. Not that any one of us has ever cooked an industrial grade Christmas turkey in a hotel, but we all have stories that – if told by Stuart McLean – would be more than normal and worthy of  The Vinyl Cafe.

But it wasn’t just the stories that made his show so good. There was good music – sorry, GREAT music. So many amazing musicians were able to be heard coast to coast on CBC Radio every week – Kathleen Edwards, Whitehorse, Joel Plaskett, Bahamas, Said The Whale, The Weakerthans, and one his favourite (and ours) Danny Michel, and many, many others. He didn’t just bring on established artists. He also found up and coming musicians and introduced them to new ears either on stage or during studio recorded episodes dedicated solely to music. We wanted to be one of those up and coming. Maybe that’s really why our podcast playlist might not include Stuart McLean.

So where do we go from here? Yes, it was a dream of ours to be the musical guest on The Vinyl Cafe. No, we will never grace the same stage with Mr. Mclean. But when it comes down to it, every time Stuart introduced the musical guest and the music started to play, it gave us inspiration to write and perform our songs, to follow our dream of being musicians, to go out on tour. The sincerity in his voice and his openness gave us inspiration to share ourselves, our ups and downs, our normal and our absurd. He gave us inspiration to share… our stories. So, this tour, maybe our final destination of The Vinyl Cafe has changed, but our soundtrack doesn’t need to. Looking forward to being back on the road with you, Stuart.

We are Farmer The Band.  And if we may borrow your words sir: “We may not be big, but we’re small.”