The vision I had for how this particular night was going to play out is not even worth mentioning because what I expected to see or feel or experience doesn’t matter. What matters is what did happen which was sweet and lovely and unique.
I arrived to the Serenity acreage with my two children plus one in tow. My daughter and her friend took off immediately to play among the trees, bridges and hideaways that they know so well for the duration of the night, while my 4 year old son remained by my side, ending up nearly asleep in my arms. It was the first show I have brought my children to for quite sometime. It is worth mentioning this because having them there did mean the night was different than what it could have been. When you are with your children, every experience is coupled with the ever present reality that their needs trump everything else. My son’s need to ask me questions about the music or tell me that he was hungry or thirsty or tired were all real moments that I needed to address in the midst of taking in the show. Even more significantly, my typical routine to stick around afterwards to chat with the artists was put off by my children’s need to go to bed. I was able to return later in the evening, but it left me with much less time.
The crowd was small and the stage was big. A formula that can be challenging for the artist and the audience. But with the acreage brimming with families camping and children running throughout the grounds, the choice to have the show outside instead of in the house was made earlier in the day.
JP Maurice took to the stage first as a three piece band. He was added to the night only recently as he had been with The Folk Road Show at ArtsWells in the days prior and it worked out for them all to play here on the same night as they continued on with their respective tours.
JP Maurice continues to hold a certain level of mystery for me. The fact that the night’s timing didn’t allow for us to sit down and have a chat only continues to fuel this enigmatic perspective I have about him. I wrote a piece on a show I saw him perform at last winter in Kelowna and so many of those same sentiments continue to ring in my head. This show was laced with some of his earlier work like “Mistake” to his more recent releases such as “Poison Heart.” I was pleasantly surprised to hear the song “Pennies” that I was not sure he would play. I have been haunted by the song ever since the first time I heard it performed by David Newberry a few years ago at the Railway Club in Vancouver. He gave JP all the credit of course. Seeing JP perform the song live was inherently special, including the melodic changes he made in the live performance which often happens after an artist develops a deep familiarity with a song and how it feels to sing it. There were moments throughout the show that the songs had almost a Paul Simon circa Graceland era vibe to them, and then would sound entirely fresh in the next breath. There is no doubt JP Maurice has a future anthology of music and unending charisma that will continue to intrigue and interest audiences for years to come. I know I’ll be listening.
For over a week I have been pondering over how to write about The Folk Road Show. Having taken in their performance and then spoken to each of them privately later that evening, I have felt a certain amount of pressure to produce something meaningful. Sometimes the words come immediately, but this time they did not. I have spent the last week at a lake house in the Cariboo, never quite fully sober, with an unending stream of house guests leading to not much sleep at all only to awaken and begin writing this. My memories of that night and these men chased me from my dreams.
Four singer-songwriters, all with their own careers of relative success and notoriety, all with their own personalities and styles, decided to tour as a collective and perform eachother’s songs together on stage. It’s not a new concept, it’s rather nostalgic really, but it felt original and sounded beautiful.
Combining the talents of Dominique Fricot, Benjamin James Caldwell, Olaf Caarls and Pieter van Vliet was a bold and brave concept thought up by Caldwell a few years ago that came to fruition this past winter in Europe. Like many artistic endeavors, they didn’t know how it was going to turn out, but their first go at it on their European tour proved that they had chemistry on and off the stage that connected with audiences. What started out as an idea worked well enough on their first try to plan on doing it again in Canada. Beginning in June, The Folk Road Show performed 40 shows over 46 days between BC and Ontario and solidified what has become a brotherhood of music, adventure, people, and discovery.
Their show at Serenity was one of the last on their Canadian tour. They arrived on our doorstep straight off their weekend at the ArtsWells Festival. Going from thousands of people to a dozen was quite the change of pace. Not only were we a small crowd on a rainy Tuesday night, the show was moved to the outdoor acreage stage which brought with it a vast amount of space to what was an intimate performance. The physical space between the stage and the audience created this chasm of emptiness for them on stage, so much so that when it became dark, the artists couldn’t see any of us and felt as though they were playing to an empty field. What occurred was a dual experience of sorts. Although strange, it forced them to focus more inwardly, strengthening the connection with each other on stage as they performed. As an audience, it was their connection that we felt. There was a sweetness and tenderness that is rare to feel when watching a group of men perform together. The mutual respect they have for one another was clearly evident as they performed new found arrangements of their music, almost re-creating the songs before our eyes.
Observing the roles each of them play on stage and how this continues in their personal relationships was something that took hold. Their collective founder for all intensive purposes is Benjamin James Caldwell, who omits a leadership vibe, speaking to the audience, introducing everyone, telling stories of their travels. In talking to him, you get the sense that this is no longer just a fun idea for him; it is important, it means a great deal, and he is invested in seeing it continue. Benjamin has an ease about him that is intoxicating. It is no surprise that he has befriended countless musicians and people around the world through his travels. Hailing from Australia, he moved to Canada to work at a ski hill only to become a musician. Performing as a duo for years in Broken Down Suitcase with longtime friend Eric Larocque, Caldwell has had his fair share of learning how to compromise and collaborate which has likely served him well in this project. As a man whose home is no more defined than the next town he plays, Benjamin James Caldwell exemplifies what it means to be ‘of the world,’ a drifter among not only cities but entire countries and continents. He belongs to no one and yet everyone, an achievement for an artist to embed oneself in the hearts of many. I for one will not soon forget how his eyes shone in the moonlight as he spoke of his friends, their music, and what dreams may come.
Dominique Fricot was the artist I was most familiar with in terms of his music. Based out of Vancouver BC, this tour was his chance to show off his country to his friends, while in the end he discovered new places and people through being with them. From his spiritual experience on Grand Beach in Winnipeg (“How have they been hiding that place?” gushed Fricot), to living rooms of those opening their homes to the foursome, everything about this tour was new and special. As a solo singer-songwriter, Fricot admitted writing and touring can be lonely, but this experience has been the opposite. The towering tall, dark and handsome Fricot is an undeniable presence on stage. His voice is immediately identifiable with its rich tones and ability to carry as far as it needs to. The performance of his songs “Haunted By Love” and “What’s A Man” were standouts, likely because of my existing familiarity and appreciation for how they had been re-created into something even more stunning than the original versions. Dominique was the wild card in the group who Benjamin invited into the collective mix without him ever meeting either Olaf Caarls or Pieter van Vliet. To get on a plane to Europe with plans to tour and play the following day with some guys you have never met was both brave and trusting of his friend Caldwell. It obviously worked out.
Olaf Caarls from the Netherlands is a subtle yet endearing component. He floats effortlessly in and out of each song, stepping in to enhance a particular piece, and laying low when it is doing just fine. You get the sense that he has a steadfast and even keel type of personality. He isn’t the type to pull the wool over your eyes, but will tell it how it is and be able to move on without much fanfare. In the same breath, he omits a certain softness, almost gentle quality. He is the wallflower with wit, the unassuming artist who can say so much without saying anything at all. To say he sparked my interest is putting it lightly.
The last of the four I spoke with after the show was Pieter van Vliet. Upon reflection, it is likely the brief time spent in conversation with him that has delayed my ability to feel that I could justify any of my experience in writing. Sometimes you come across people who challenge every thought you have, who push you to question and analyze yourself and the world around you. When on stage, both Pieter’s voice and trombone solos were mesmerizing. The depth to his songwriting was evident in the few Port of Call (his recording alias) songs that they performed. When we had what ended up being a 1am conversation, I was drawn in to his thoughtful perspective of their tour, music, and life. As the only artist of the group who had a home and a love waiting for him an ocean away, Pieter was the one with everything to lose and so much to gain. As much as he was awaiting his homecoming with anticipation, he was devouring every moment of being away, soaking up every second and cataloging it in his visual memory and growing photography collection. There is a question that has hung with me since we spoke, “You seem to be really interested in people,” he commented. “How do you feel about humans?” he asked, “What do you think a human’s purpose is?” After a long silence I responded, “I have no idea. I suppose that is what I am trying to figure out.” I suppose it is. Humans are endlessly fascinating in both their uniqueness and similarities. Why I have chosen to invest such effort into the lives of countless touring musicians is linked to the fact that they tend to be human souls that provide an open window for voyeurs like myself to look inside. The four men of The Folk Road Show provided an opportunity to not only see inside their world, but to also reflect upon mine, and for that I am humbled and grateful.
The Folk Road Show’s Canadian Tour has come to an end. After a brief hiatus, the foursome will be reunited once again for their second European Tour beginning on August 27th. Check their facebook page for updates at http://www.facebook.com/thefolkroadshow
JP Maurice can be seen next at Longwoodstock in Nanaimo, BC on Saturday, August 15, 2015. He is also a BC finalist in this year’s Peak Performance Project which is gearing up for its epic annual Bootcamp out at RockRidge Canyon Resort in Princeton, BC on August 27-September 3, 2015. Keep up to date on all of the PPP news at http://www.peakperformanceproject.com and be sure to like JP’s facebook page to hear about upcoming shows and music releases at http://www.facebook.com/Maurice.
JP Maurice and The Folk Road Show performed at Serenity Performing Arts Centre on August 4, 2015.