Touring The Prairies in January
for Fun & Profit

(Or How to Lose Your Mind in Two Easy Weeks)

copyright 1997 by Monte Nordstrom
from issue # 38 - Cosmic Debris Musicians Magazine - March '97

Setting Up Your Own Tour:
As any record company Gollum will tell you, touring is the most important means of expanding your audience. That and having a video.

Both of these expenses will eventually come out of the artists' pockets by the way. This is known as "Recupable expense". It then makes sense that an independent artist putting out their own CD will incure extra expenses promoting that release. In business this is referred to as a "loss leader".

Step #1 is to get gigs in places that you have never been, from people that you have never met, for money you may not make. It is wise to combine club gigs for "scale" on a "concert" tour so you have certain guarantees of income. You can't count on making money off the door in a new market situation and eating plastic will leave an unpleasant afterta$te.

Also, don't count on selling a lot of product. The economy is pretty tight all over & the folks you meet out on the town (supporting the indie music circuit) are generally on a tight budget. A few mugs & cab fare seems to be the rule. People are cautious about what they purchase if they have never heard the artist before. Do not fear. The CD is an important promotional tool. A sort of digital audio business card. You are laying the groundwork for your next tour, after all.

An unknown artist performing in a new market area will have to do a thorough job of publicity to inform the potential fan of an imminent show in their area & hopefully attract an audience. You will need a database of potential venues & media contacts. This will require research: Yellow Pages for the target areas are very helpful for developing a city-by-city plan. Lists of radio stations, newspapers, clubs, agents & hotels can all be compiled by visiting your local library.

Contacting the press by phone is the next step. Find out the entertainment editor's name (& how to spell it). Getting their extension #, fax #, Postal code and Email address will put you in position to set up your pubicity juggernaut. Now do this for each of the appropriate publications and you're on your way to having a dirty great phone bill and a data base. Hint: Send a professional promo picture with your bio & CD. You'll have a better chance of getting something in print. Also look at getting this information to the media with enough, but not too much lead-off time. Follow ups are important. Remember to be prepared, polite & professional.

If all this sounds foreign or exhausting to you, get an agent, hire a publicist and concentrate on your travel & hotel arrangements. This will be complicated enough, if you don't leave yourself room for alternatives (always remember Murphy's Law).

"Into the Jaws of Deepest Canada"

On January 7th my nephew Kelly Nordstrom and I performed our duo act at Barthomew's in Victoria. The next morning we left for Saskatoon on a two-week promo tour which would also include dates in Regina, Winnipeg, Edmonton & High Level. It could have been an omen that it took six hours just to get to Vancouver International. We arrived in the brisk & beautiful city of S'toon by 10pm Central. The next day Air BC went on strike and plan "B" went into effect. Thank God for Greyhound & the down parka!

Anyway, we cabbed into the city from the airport and checked in to the Senator. Kelly opted to retire early but I smelled NEON so I caught a hack up to Broadway and swung by our first venue, "Lydia's". It's a funky alterno/ worldbeat/original club with friendly folks, so I was excited about our show there the next night. I introduced myself to Guy the barman and to Bob the owner and set up a time for a sound check the next day. Less than a block away was the famous "Bud's on Broadway". I buttoned up, put on my gloves and went off to peruse the blues.

I walked into to the steaming, purple hazey, voodoo chitlin' sounds of strat-slinger, Mike Shau & "Highway 61" (Dan McLean on bass & Tim Williams on drums). They were crankin' out the Jimi/Stevie Ray thang. I was pleased to hear positive response from the rowdy crowd to some original tunage off of Mike's new CD "Don't Lose Sight". Imagine my surprise when I eventually spoke to Mike on a break, to find that he's from New Westminster and knew of me from reading the Debris. Small planet, eh?

It was reassuring to see a fellow West Coaster braving the elements to propagate his music. For more info on Mike visit the Fiasco Bros Recording Studio's World Wide Website. Also keep your eyes open for the CD which features Mike's gritty vocals & stinging Fender tones. Smart rhythm & horn section work, funky piano and a big Hammond sound round out the album. Recommended!

The next night we did our show at Lydia's to a half full house which wasn't bad for a Thursday night with -40 temperature. The first night of a cold snap always weeds out the wannabes. Engine blocks can freeze up after 2 hours of being unplugged. My, we're spoiled out here. The following day Kelly & I hung out, went for the odd brisk stroll and caught a regular season match-up between the Saskatoon Blades & the Swift Current Broncos. We ended up back on Broadway. Saskatoon is a beautiful city and I look forward to returning sometime between the snow and the mosquitos. Gee, that narrows it down, hmm..

Saturday, we caught a late morning bus down to Regina and I kept getting the impression that I was travelling into the set of the movie "Fargo". Blowing snow & flat land with die straight roads stretched out ahead. After four hours, bleak became the adjective. We arrived and were met by Gord Fisch, our contact at the Saskatchewan Cultural Exchange Society. It had dipped to -45 and the wind had picked up to about 30K. We were pleased with the contacts made in Regina including Scott Wilson, who gave me some info for a future T.O. safari. The hospitality was great but not surprisingly, the turnout at our concert at "the Club" was small. This was unfortunate since we were playing for the door and the next night we had to be in Winnipeg. The Air BC strike was about to become a major factor in the feduciary outcome of the trip. Enter PLA$TIC.

The ability to sleep - sitting up - is a great advantage when one buses from Regina to Winnipeg. We grabbed a room at the Travelodge upon our butt-weary arrival and got ready for our Sunday night show at the "Bluenote", a cool & funky venue at 875 Portage Ave.

The staff were gawking at the tube when we got there. CBC's two-parter about the ill-fated Avro Arrow was on and the main character in the Winnipeg-produced feature was Dan Akroyd. Dan & crew took to hanging at the Bluenote during the show's production (which was the biggest thing to happen in the 'Peg in some time).

The windy city is a sad place without the jets and according to the clubowner, Curtis, the population is dropping like a barometer in hurricane season.

We did our first set as a duo to a receptive audience. This included a group of young local musicians known as "Les Mouches Noires" (the Blackflies), who were there to video a set for a YTV spot. We were joined by their drummer, Christian Dugas for our second show and had a howl of the paint-peeling variety. It was good to burn off some energy after the long ride and Christian proved to be a great feel player considering he'd not heard the material before, and the fact that he's 15 years old!

"Les Mouches Noires" ended off the Sunday night show with a quirky good time set of original tunes sung en francais. Denis Prieur handled the lead vocals & played mandolin, Ben Morier skanked along on a Teisco del Rey electric with Christian Beaudry on the squeeze box & harmonies. Bassist, Danny Bisson & drummer, Christian Dugas layed down the rhythm underpinning the young band's clever arrangements. My favorite tune was "Pourquoi?" which is about the "crazy people in their St. Boniface neighbourhood who always seem to be out cleaning the streets". I look forward to hearing more from "Les Mouches Noires". Hopefully they will record soon.

The next day I decided that it would be wise to attend a meeting that had been set up for us with a promoter in Calgary. Kelly & I caught the bus at noon and settled in for the long haul. I picked up a copy of Hunter S. Thompson's "Generation of Swine" during a rest stop in Brandon. This, more than anything, saved my sanity over the next mind-numbing hours.

On a midnight stop in Moose Jaw I took a fast spin around the block in my shirtsleeves. Brrr. I was looking for Capone's Pool Hall. Scarface funneled a lot of hooch through the Jaw back in the days of Prohibition and his legacy is still celebrated on fields of green felt here in this sleepy plainstown.

The side winds were vicious, sheering out of the south. They never seem to stop and the bus driver was hanging tight to the wheel all the way across Saskatchewan. I awoke in Strathmore, Alberta and watched the land open up before me, stretching all the way to the foothills of the Rockies. The sun rose behind us as we lumbered into Cow Town.

We had seven hours to kill before our meeting so we hung out at the depot for a while before taking the LRT downtown. It was a relief just to walk around after criss-crossing three provinces by bus. The temperature was near zero and the sun was shining as we went for our meet & greet with the promoter. We bounced some things around and left the meeting wondering if it was worth the bother. In this business you never know when something will go your way so its best to keep an open mind. We poured ourselves into the Unicorn, tortured some Big Rock & Appleton's and caught the next bus to Edmonton. Hey, when you're on a roll, why stop?

It was a relief to see a familiar face when we reached Edmonchuk. We were picked up by my old friend, Jeremy Sagar who wisely suggested a preliminary visit to the "Sidetrack". It was a "Swingin' Tuesday" and a jazz band was on the stand featuring Kennedy Jenson on vocals & Harley Symington on guitar. Martinis & cigars were de riguer as we settled in and caught up on events of the recent past. Sax monster Dave Babcock stopped by for a chat & I managed a hello with violinist, Shannon Johnson before Jeremy took us off to his place for a few nights of relaxing mayhem.

On Wednesday evening Jeremy's wife Renske took us to an openstage at "Sariena's Cafe". This was hosted by Brian Gregg attended by many members of the "Full Moon Folk Club", and I got to hear a few songs by Michael Sadeva, a friend from my old neighbourhood of Riverdale. Kelly & I played three tunes to the warm crowd, plugged our Friday night show at the City Media Club and made some new old friends.

I swapped CDs with host Brian Gregg, and was impressed with the small print on his album, "Electronic Busker": "Not for sale or any commercial use. For public broadcast or personal use only. Any commercial broadcast strictly prohibited. Any person may tape or record this music. Donations please:" It's a great concept and an interesting, well-produced work featuring the cream of Edmonton's players. Available from Brian Gregg, c/o General Delivery, Edmonton, Alberta T5J 2GA. By donation. DO IT!

The next day I spent on the phone & the computer. I awoke to a phone interview by Roger Lesvesque of the Edmonton Journal. After coffee I sketched out a rough script & proposal on a Videofact application for the folks at the New Picture Crew. The rest of the day was spent calling CBC, CKUA & the Edmonton Folk Festival. Knocking on doors...

I also reserved tickets home to Victoria with Westjet (since Air BC was still on strike) for after our next leg to High Level... and back. Oh my.

Friday arrived and our show came off without a hitch. We had Mike Saborin on drums & a great soundman & P.A. The Edmonton Journal gave us a great article & placement and CKUA played the new CD and "Buffalo Taxi" from the '94 disc (Cam Haydn of the Co-op radio station spins "Taxi" on a regular basis). Even with all of this preparation & a relatively mild night we didn't get the crowd we were hoping for. We still had a great time playing for the small but mighty crew that were assembled there that evening. Better luck next time. Posters, entertainment section ads & give aways will help.

We headed back to Jeremy's and sampled some of his fine wine collection down in the cellar. Before long it was time to cab to the bus depot to catch the Hound to Grande Prairie. There we were met by Kelly's friend Ferdie, the promoter for our show in High Level (another 5 hours to the north). The miles blended into a blur as we sped through the cold grey north jammed into Ferdie's girlfriend's car with all our guitars & gear.

We arrived in time to set up & play. The MacKenzie Music Society had rented a P.A. of somewhat dubious quality and it had the annoying habit of cutting out every now & then. But we had made it there, played our show, and after the dust had settled, made our guarantee. Kelly went off to visit with Ferdie & Celeste and I checked into the hotel and headed for the cabaret. Somebody's got to do the research!

I was surprised to see a full service rock room seating about 300 with high production onstage. Fog, strobes, huge in-house P.A. and a kick-ass rock unit called KIDD COUNTRY. With a band name like that I expected tunes from his Garthness and the like, but was amused to hear them cranking out "Enter Sandman" from Metallica and a note perfect version of Pink Floyd's "Just Another Brick in the Wall". Fatigue was setting in as I returned to my room to nap prior to backtracking the steps of what was rapidly becoming yesterday. Ferdie & Kelly arrived before daybreak with a late model Explorer and after breakfast we drove south to catch the everlovin' Hound back to Edmonton. We got in at 8:pm and were met by my stalwart amigo, Jeremy.

We spent a relaxing evening with the Sagar family and retired early in preparation for a 7:30am flight from Edmonton International. The cab arrived at 5:30 and soon Kelly & I were flying into Victoria. We were met at the airport by my wife MaryAnn. Kelly collected his car and left that day for his place in Nelson. MaryAnn & I got a room near the airport and the next morning I dropped her off back at the airport where she caught a flight to Mexico. I went home, collected my daughter & the family pooch and settled in to analyze events of the past two weeks. Why do we do it?

Note: Monte Nordstrom has produced over 75 demos and has recorded 8 albums to date (Nov '99). He performs regularly at numerous venues on Canada's West Coast.
Email Monte at:

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