The following is a recount of my experiences at Les Transmusicales de Rennes, France. Originally published by my homies at Ominocity.com, I’ve compiled the series for equal parts posterity and vanity.
—- Part 1 —-
Maybe Smith and I spent the past couple weeks crafting our set and practicing comical French phrases. I’m hoping to string together charming, semi-coherent sentences using my rudimentary high school French vocabulary. Colin is threatening to bring out his creeping Quebecois jargon, but I expect he’ll be nothing short of diplomatic.
An uneventful flight to Toronto and one predictable, expensive and kinda shitty meal in the airport later and we’re airborne once again. I capitalized on a temporarily unsupervised drink cart parked dangerously close to my seat. With stealth and cunning beguiling my otherwise gentile appearance I slipped two little plastic bottles of red wine into my storage pouch. I’m a rapper. We steal things. While a plane load of sleepy travellers nodded off, I sipped from one slightly pathetic little plastic bottle of wine and then another as I watched a Will Ferrel movie about a drunk who’s life goes to shit. (Movies are so fake.)
“France is beautiful,” our driver, and trumpet player, Julien quips. Piloting a tour van through a particularly unattractive area in the city of Renne, we eventually find our way to the venue, Aire Libre. A proper concert venue, the space is ballin’ hard with three chandeliers and almost too much red velvet. I left a nauseous, post vomiting Maybe Smith in the the hostel style lodging just steps away from the venue to meet one friendly French musician after another and tour the new home I will share with twenty of my new best friends. Kütu Folk has pulled together an ambitious one week program of collaborations and rehearsals with members of its roster culminating in soso performances on Saturday and Sunday (that’s what I’m telling everyone at home anyway).
I’m amped up and exhausted. No sleep yet. I need to brush my teeth.
Communal meal at 7pm. A bien tot.
—- Part 2 —-
Kütu Folk is like the little label that could. They’ve parlayed a series of limited edition, hand sewn releases into major European distribution, mainstream press coverage and an unprecedented week long run at the Transmusicale Festival. They’ve arranged for exclusive use of the performance space for the week, including a full service kitchen, a staff of audio and light technicians, and have assembled a cast of eighteen or twenty musicians for a collaborative set featuring songs from each of the participating bands. This extraordinary feat of organization requires a bit of strict scheduling and well-meaning ball busting. We’ve spent a couple of very long and weary days of rehearsal, performing for school children, festival organizers, invited media. My sweaty pits have been diligently documented by a hired photographer who has been shooting hours and hours of video and still photography. There is one particularly unflattering picture of me in the local paper bellowing out gang vocals. In the meantime, however, we’ve sorted out a lovely live interpretation of Hungover for Three Days Straight with Hospital Ships, Maybe Smith, and the Delano Orchestra. They also brought in a small string section, I assume, to make my music sound more credible. It’s a very sweet rendition.
The venue, though perfectly equipped and staffed with the most hospitable folks I’ve met, is a bit out of the way. During short breaks from the dark (and smoky) performance space, we’ve explored the immediate area on foot — a neat little suburban development located adjacent to the Rennes airport. After two very full days of rehearsal, Colin and I happily took the opportunity to bus into the city centre with our new pals, Taylor Holenbeck from Hospital Ships and Jonus and Sylvie of Evening Hymns. We gawked at cathedrals and ate churros in the square, returning in time for one more pre-show rehearsal.
—- Part 3 —-
The first few days here felt like I was in a performing arts school, like the movie Fame, or the famous school in New York where Tupac honed his acting chops. After consecutive days of twelve hour rehearsals, the first show was nothing short of cathartic. The cast was excited and there was a real camaraderie developing. We celebrated into the wee hours, drinking and dancing to Motown classics. The following day everyone was physically drained and more haggard looking than usual. Our performance that night suffered as well — I counted at least a few cringe worthy fuck ups and technical problems. I was the first to take the stage and I think my less than elegant entrance set the tone for the evening. Trying to pick my way through a maze of guitars, pedals, stands and other gear, I tripped over a monitor and staggered into centre stage in a hilarious, slap stick kinda way. The crowd applauded. Post show commiseration evolved into more revelry. I invented what became the official drink of the festival — a cup of beer foam mixed with Irish whiskey. I call it the parfait parfait.
—- Part 4 —-
We made amends for Thursday’s spotty performance with a perfect performance on Friday. Once again the musicians were in a celebratory mood and the party moved to an offsite festival venue. With a full day of scheduled rehearsals, sound check and performances, Colin and I (and my petite ami, Carleigh, who just arrived) decided to turn in and catch up on some desperately needed sleep.
The novelty of living and working with 20-odd artists in such close proximity is beginning to wear a bit thin. The house is ripening and the air is getting thick from the humidity of ten thousand showers, sour towels and cigarette smoke. An uninterrupted night’s sleep is impossible with the constant banging of doors, drunk giggling musicians, and angry outbursts from the most senior of artists (the otherwise affable and incredibly versatile drummer, P). Needless to say, the fake enthusiasm is getting difficult for old soso to maintain. Colin and I dragged our extremely tired bodies out of bed for a scheduled 11am rehearsal, first postponed for another band, and again for piano tuning (do pianos really need to be tuned everyday? Jesus Christ). We had just enough time to plug in our gear, figure out which guitar to use and run through two and a half songs when we were abruptly stopped so some skinny teen hipster band who I haven’t met could sound check. I don’t care if they’re the nicest teenagers in France. Colin and I hate them and their moustaches look stupid.
As I write down these last few bitchy remarks, one of the organizers passes me an envelope stuffed with euros. My mood has improved considerably. Sound check is at 3!
—- Part 5 —-
All the anxiety that accumulated over the day was alleviated during the the show. The venue was filled to capacity and I think my clumsy French was sufficiently charming. French audiences seem particularly well suited to my slow, melodic songs — they are respectful, engaged and seem genuinely interested in music. Getting them to jump around or clap along to a song is a bit more of a challenge but I’ll take a patient and curious listener over a rowdy crowd any day. I inadvertently did an encore fake out when I walked back on stage to grab my jacket. I’ll have to remember that trick. I had a quick interview with a French journalist between sets and took the stage for the finale. I channeled Band Swap type energy into our Kütu group set, bruising my thigh with an over enthusiastic sleigh bell performance (rookie mistake). Champagne and still more beers followed; the venue was incredibly hospitable. We were spoiled all week with quiche and roast chicken and lamb and gâteau aux poires and the most delicious cheeses and breads. I’m gonna miss this place.
Sunday was our last scheduled performance. The collective energy was pretty low following the success of our previous evening. I was not expecting much from the show and was pleasantly surprised by another great turnout. I did my best to grind out a meaningful performance. A couple of small fuck ups thankfully went unnoticed. Colin really killed it. We mingled with fans after the show and signed a few autographs. I made amends with the aforementioned band (they are very, very nice). We sold out of my CD at the merch table. I said farewell to most of my new music pals and retired to my little suite in the attic feeling content and very proud.
The next morning I said my final adieu to the few staff people still kicking around and the primary Kütu organizer, Alex. He gave me a copy of the popular French daily, Libération–in the festival recap I received props for the best performance in the festival. Incroyable!
I’d like to thank my homie, Maybe Smith, for lending me music cred and patiently enduring the first world hardships of tour. I’d like to thank all my new pals at Kütu Folk, the skilled and friendly cast of musicians, and the Saskatchewan Arts Board who offset my travel expenses through their appropriately named Travel Grant program. Merci beaucoup!