Some while back, I had submitted to play at the One Man Band Festival in Montreal throughSonicBids, an online booking and marketing tool for bands. Their electronic press kit is good to have, but it can cost up to $30 to submit to some festivals, which smelled scammy to me.And if I, Boxwood, couldn’t get into a one-man band fest then my suspicions would be confirmed. Not the case here.
“Congratulations, you’ve been selected!” Crap… That’s a long drive.
On Monday, May 20th, my girlfriend packed my musket and some sandwiches, our driver packed all my music gear into the carriage, and we were off to Canada. Three days later, on a wet and stormy Wednesday night, we arrived in the old city of Montreal, a long and uncomfortable ride to say the least. Along the way, one of our horses fell ill. Janette spent a good part of the ride tending to our driver’s arrow wound and we were almost rejected at the Canadian border. Apparently, and this is important, you need a work permit to play at a bar outside the U.S. No, you can’t just go in and take a Canadian’s job. Luckily, a work permit was not necessary because the festival was renting out the bar. A loophole… wow, epic fail averted.
So here we were, the day before the festival, shoes and socks soaked with rain, checking in to a 100 year old converted hotel. I was scheduled to play tomorrow, day one of this four-day festival at a place called Barfly. 10 venues scattered in-and-around Montreal’s St. Laurent district were hosting 50 one-man bands from around the world. Yes, 50 one-man bands from all over had congregated to this city for this bizarre festival, and I was one of them. I could feel them out there in their tiny rooms, calmly settling within the spectacle of this raucous weather. Any anxieties now defused to a mere giddy anticipation. A strange feeling was setting in, one of kindred-ship with the unknown because, really, that’s what we were, the unknown result of a brain left to itself. Different variations of the same species left to evolve on islands miles apart. We were a Darwinian experiment brought together, and soon we were going to display our plumes, our quirky mating dances, a curious posture. I hope my shoes dry by the time I wake up tomorrow.
Day 1 of One Man Band Festival
Barlfy is a dingy little spot that the locals hold in high regard, sort of like a Churchill’s but a third of the size. There were already a few scraggly bar patrons curled over the bar when I arrived at 5pm for my sound check. They appeared to be the loner/territorial kind, but were quick to lend a hand to my driver as he unloaded my heavy amps into the bar. After a quick sound check, I met up with a young French documentarian, Anne-Charlotte Gellez, in the back courtyard. She had flown in with a small crew to shoot some footage and to interview some of the acts in the festival. The documentary they were making was called We Are A One Man Band. A small excerpt of that can be seen here.
I regret drawing a blank on the last question, which was “if you could give a name to this documentary, what would it be?” I figure the answers will be compiled at the end of the film, displaying the varied personalities of each artist. They’ll have a shot of me staring at the wall for a long minute.
And it’s go time. This was one of three shows happening that night, and the turnout is looking pretty good. A mixture of Fest goers, regulars, and fellow OMB’s are trickling in. First up isDevin Friesen, AKA Bitter Fictions, from Calgary. He flew in with a bunch of pedals and rented a guitar and amp at a local music store. He turned on his gear and began layering fuzz, swells, and feedback, the kind of sounds that would float over a Sonic Youth track. Calgary is a few hours drive north of the Montana border. I don’t know anything about it, but it’s probably the exact opposite from South Florida. Through conversation, Devin and I seemed to be cut from the same cloth, and I couldn’t help but think I’d sound more like this if I lived in Calgary. As a result of his set, I imagine the place to be beautiful, vast and haunting. I’ll refuse any more knowledge on this city to retain this picturesque image for now.
Next up is the scene veteran, Evan Symons, an eccentric specimen from, I think, the Vancouver area. This was one of the stops on his seemingly eternal Canadian tour. Both Devin and Evan spoke of the dreaded drive through the barren wasteland that stretches between east and west Canada, usually breaking the few bands that attempt to cross. But Evan didn’t give a shit; he was a bad ass, a migrating road beast, more in common with the Canadian wildlife than it’s people. He played his set off to the side putting the main focus on a giant screen projecting videos of native birds pecking away at the soil or eating seeds off his hand, him ice skating on a frozen lake, footage of boats in a coastal village. He was like a nature guide speaking in code. The sound track was quirky 90’s pop rock. Maybe like Luna doing Captain Beefheart, if that’s possible. The man plays and records every instrument at home, then plays it back through a laptop on stage. He accompanies it with guitar and vocals and all the life lessons you’ll ever need in the lyrics.
My turn. Part of me was eager to show any skeptical rock purists that watched as my gear clogged up the little bar, that I wasn’t a diva for bringing in an overkill of equipment. It all served a purpose and it’ll all make sense in a minute. The other part of me was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to sing. I had been battling a cough and sore throat the whole way up, and knew that any attempts at a falsetto would be greeted by a squeal or silence, hopefully the latter. With a cough drop in mouth, I made sure to cake on the reverb, and to pull away from the mic when approaching questionable notes. Not bad. The crowd liked it, and I had no sound issues.
Danny Lutz, a local, was headlining the night. His load-in and set up was about as intense as mine. Where as I bring in an arsenal of amps, he sets up a cockpit of samplers, mixers, synths, guitar, laptop, more stuff, and shakers– essentially, a mini recording studio. I was very psyched to see his set after watching the live vid on his profile page via the festival’s website. He writes music for a living, and can whip up a catchy pop hit like it’s nothing. In fact, he wrote all new songs to perform specifically for this festival, and they were all solid. It was a great night overall. Got a great response after the show, sold some CD’s, got to chat with my own species, very nice people.
Finding Jesus, An Adventure With Couch Surfing
Jesus lived in a quiet, gentrifying, blue-collar neighborhood in southern Montreal. Our driver stayed outside to tend to the horses as Jesus welcomed Janette and I into his third floor apartment at around 1 AM. He was a thin olive skinned man of about 40 years or so. He was built with sharp edges and looked like an artsy Devo-type nerd. He cracked open some strange beers, and we talked a bit on his balcony. It turned out this man had no idea about the festival, of who I was, or what I was doing in Montreal, despite the whole OMB artist-hosting program. “So how is it we ended up here”, I wondered. Apparently, someone from the OMB staff went to CouchSurfing.com, found the profile of someone who seemed “normal” and voilà. I could have done this myself, I suppose.
It turned out Jesus was Venezuelan, and we switched to talking in Spanish. He tells us about a hand-gliding accident and his slow recovery, his boring work as a programmer, his love of music, etc. So whatever. We’re here, this guy seems normal, and all is good, let’s get some sleep. Yes…? No.
No, no and no. Something is very, very wrong here… not in my world, but in the narrative that’s been playing out in Janette’s head from the second she heard “Couch surfing”. A horror movie is unraveling within her brain and the plot thickens with every word that comes out of his mouth. Does anybody know this guy? This man was going to kill us and nobody knows we’re here. Did he put something in our beers? Woah, that’s weird, why would he say that? This entire time her casual conversation had been the proxy tip of a terror iceberg. She’d been planning escape routes, locating objects she could use as weapons and it’s getting worse. He shows us the bathroom. He warns us that the inside doorknob had fallen off earlier that day. Closing the door fully would lock us inside. How convenient. We stayed in a small, messy room that he uses as an office when not hosting a couch surfer. The slated thin accordion doors on the far wall seemed to be to a large closet but with the lights off it presented her with a more sinister revelation. It was his bedroom. This explained why we could hear him breathing, as if he were standing at the foot of the bed. We could see him moving around in there through the gaps in these flimsy doors. Had he been watching us? Were there cameras set up? Had we walked onto the set of a snuff film?
I slept like a baby. Janette stayed up all night with her iPhone in hand. The mans address followed by the word “Help!” was typed into her Facebook status box with her finger stiff over the send button. He had gotten up to use the bathroom twice that night and Janette was on high alert. She heard every detail of his morning routine. She recalls hearing a zipper that seemed to go on forever. Was that a body bag? No backpack is that big. When he finally left for work the nightmare was over… for now. We had time to escape before he returned. She woke me up. “We gotta get out of here.”
As the day progressed I tried convincing Janette that Jesus was not a serial killer, and that we should stay there the extra night like we first planned. We’ll invite him to this next round of OMB shows and get to know him a little more. In the sunlight and in the security of our carriage she seemed more at ease.
Day 2 of One-Man Band Festival
Our plans for the night were to check out guitar virtuoso and fellow looper, Emanuel Paquetteat l’Escrogriffe, who we had met at the bar the night before. Emanuel had flown in from a beautiful island off the coast of Portugal to be at this drizzly fest. Then we’d shoot over to Barfly to catch Shake it Like a Caveman from Tennessee. He was of the modern old school variety. A what…?
Ok, lets break down the different types of one-man bands:
- The Old School Variety: When one hears one-man band they usually picture something like Dick Van Dyke in Marry Poppins. These individuals still exist and there were a few of these at the festival, one of which, Washboard Hank, we caught at l’Escrogriffe … Awesome.
- The Modern Old School Variety: These individuals usually sit behind a minimal drum kit played by their feet while they play guitar or some other hand held instrument and sing. I say old school because it’s pretty stripped down with no technology needed. Shake it Like a Caveman or Florida’s own Ben Prestige are good examples of this.
- The Looper Variety: These folks, myself included, rely on a loop or delay pedal to keep things going, usually building layers upon layers to create a song. There are a lot of beat boxers in this category.
- The Laptop Variety: Here, the musician uses samplers and midi devises to trigger off and loop sounds on their laptops. Most of these people don’t realize they are OMB’s because they are more akin to the cooler electronic artist title, unless, of course, they show up to this festival.
- People who play every instrument on their album (Prince, Trent Reznor, Billy Corgan, etc.) can also be referred to as OMB’s but I have no category for them, they just are.
Jesus showed up during Emanuel’s set with a lovely young lady whose name I don’t recall. They seemed to be getting a kick out of the performances. Two rounds of Canadian beers later we decide it’s to far to try to make it out to Barfly to catch Shake It… Apparently, I had misjudged the distances on those over simplified festival maps. Instead, we ride out the rest of the l’Escrogriffe lineup, and head to a Jesus-endorsed bar afterwards. His friend does not join us. As we approach the bar, and I misstep into a giant pothole of rainwater, I realize I left my card and ID at l’Escrogriffe. This sucks AND may also be a good opportunity for Janette to get to know Jesus while I go get my card.
When I returned I was happy to see the two are hitting it off, and talking about something we can all relate to, relationships. The woman he was with earlier turned out to be his ex-wife who he hadn’t seen in a while but were starting to be friendly again. They had moved to Montreal together from Venezuela and had broken up shortly after the move. After another round of beers I started to piece together a more accurate narrative of this man. His ex wife seemed to be the free spirited type. She looked loose in that other bar, like she was of the city, fully integrated, reacting with the casual vibe of the place. He seemed awkward but introspective. He must have been uptight and rigid when he arrived to Canada. He spoke poorly of his nerdy coworkers, how they were no fun, rejecting his own kind, preferring the company of artists and vagabonds. Maybe he was controlling a few years back in their relationship but was now trying not to be, forcing himself to loosen up. What better way to break out of his rigid tendencies than to open his doors to complete strangers, to put himself in awkward situations, let an unknown situation sit on his impeccable couch, sift through his fridge, rummage through his cabinets for a new roll of toilet paper. Every couple months or so he would probably invite her out again to show her his new skin, a fluid gesture, and how he could laugh a little more. And she may be happy for him but equally sad because she knows that the only thing meant to be was her arrival to this city by some means necessary. And maybe he was meant to go back. But he was trying, maybe learning a valuable lesson for later on in life or maybe setting up for an irrevocable backlash.
Before we hit the hay, I thanked Jesus for his hospitality, and gave him 3 bottles of wine that I brought from Florida as gifts, one of which he opened to toast with. He served himself and I a glass of Malbec and served Janette, who didn’t want wine, a rock glass of some rare top shelf Venezuelan rum accompanied by a brand ambassador’s history and description. After a long-winded toast he excuses himself to use the bathroom. As soon as he is out of sight, Janette pours the fine rum into the sink. She had pretended to drink it. The terror continues. He has one last chance to kill us but not if we are vigilant.
Heading Back South
The next morning, sure enough, we wake up alive. Before we leave, and as my driver loads our luggage into our carriage, I shoot Jesus with my musket… just in case. Besides, we were crossing the border in a short while so it didn’t really matter what I did.
Our next destination was New York City. I was playing at a bar in Brooklyn called Bar4 in a few hours. I was more nervous about seeing my old friends and family, most of which have never seen me do this one-man loop pedal business. I hadn’t been back to NY in years, and I was happy to see the bar packed with familiar faces, many of whom I was not expecting to see. The show went great, and I think this is where the story telling reaches its end.
One More One-Man Band
On our way back to Florida we stopped at Richmond, VA, Raleigh, NC, and Charleston, SC out of curiosity and spur of the moment decisions, a lax return to make up for our speedy ride up. I must mention this: in Raleigh, we caught Lighting Bolts drummer, Brian Chippendale’s solo project, Black Pus at Kings Barcade which further hammered this one-man band theme into our travels. Black Pus is of the looper variety via rapid-fire drums, fuzzed out vocals, sounds by drum sensors and three Line 6 delays, a ridiculous experience and a fitting way to end this one-man band centered road trip.
If you want to check out more of Boxwood on FTL Collective, stream his song Sarah on our post about Block X Blog Festival in downtown Fort Lauderdale. If you’re a South Florida band with stories from the road to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org