Drawing Pictures Outside the Lines @axismundifest

Josée Zimanyi takes a break Of course I try to document all of our activities with Voyageur at schools, conferences, festivals, clubs and community appearances here on the blog and add some colourful detail from each location but so much of the most rewarding (but least tangible) parts of the experience come when the spotlight is off - when the character of a place and it's impact on me and the project has its most profound effect. I already alluded to the wonder of simply driving up here to Revelstoke from Vernon for the Axis Mundi Festival but there's a whole lot more that really added to my appreciation of this trip.

I've already written about Revelstoke's favourite resident Noo Yawker, Bob Gardali who volunteered to shepherd me at the meet-and-greets and on to the presentation at RPAC but I really can't say enough about how great it was to hang around with him and share some stories and laughs. Normally, when I'm doing that kind of thing I'm just sort of sitting there with the guitar talking to people and offering it to them to play. This time, Bob was there sharing in the conversation and endlessly picking out bluegrass forms between hand-offs to members of the public. While there are quite a few artists who have played Voyageur for extended periods of time in performance, in rehearsal or at recording sessions, for sheer duration I'm not sure many could top Bob, who was more or less constantly picking during the eight hours we spent together over the course of two days.

Larry Davidson at D'Addario Canada has been such a stalwart supporter of the Six String Nation since the very beginning and I continue to be grateful for all the extra effort he exerts for the benefit of this project and so many Canadian artists. I noticed far too late that I had run out of 6SN guitar picks to present to school kids and artists as souvenirs of their experience and when Larry couldn't personally move the process of replenishing the supply along any faster on the U.S. side he made sure I had other guitar picks and pick holders to hand out - as well as fresh strings and a replacement guitar cable. The man is a prince and his family and his staff in Markham ON are all pretty loveable too.

Larry is also the guy who first cued me to Walk Off the Earth long before they were a hit and suggested I should hook up with them. Of course, when they took off all of a sudden it was that much harder to connect with them but it came together here in Revelstoke so thanks to the band for inviting me into the dressing room after the show and to Hugo & Co. from the festival for setting it all up.

While I was hanging around backstage chatting with Salmon Arm R&B familiars Tori Jewell and her mother Diane I was approached by Kelly and Blu Hopkins - local musicos. On two or three different occasions over the last couple of days the subject of Scott Cook's song "Pass It Along" as one that seems to have been practically written for Voyageur and yet I still hadn't heard it. It's pretty noisy back there but as Blu picks up Voyageur and starts to sing, some fragment of lyric breaks through the din with the help of Blu's deep Stan Rogers-esque vocal and I quickly realize what I'm finally hearing. Scott - next time I'm in Edmonton we must get together. Kelly and Blu - thank you for that.

The nylon pouch I've been carrying around since 2006 to hold my D.I. box and guitar cable had effectively fallen apart a couple of years ago but I continued to struggle with it and make do just because I was too lazy and broke to do anything about it. When I arrived in Revelstoke the main street was closed for the outdoor market and one of the first vendors I saw (after the one with the amazing radishes!) was Trevor Kehler's U.S.E.D. (Unlimited Supplies from Everyone's Discards) booth offering a variety of bags, pouches and backpacks made from recycled car seatbelts. There was nothing on display that quite fit my needs so he offered to head home at day's end and make me the right bag to deliver later on. Problem solved - it's perfect! He actually couldn't deliver the bag himself while we were holding court at the Bakeshop so his friend Marla dropped it off and became an instant fan of the project - and even submitted to a few photos in spite of her intense camera shyness. The technology aversion is understandable given that she's been living off the grid for over a decade and kayaks to work. Thank you Marla and Trevor!

Speaking of the Bakeshop, I can see why Hugo wanted us to plant ourselves there for Saturday and part of Sunday: it's a popular spot. At times there was a line-up out the door but it moved quickly thanks to co-proprietors Josée Zimanyi (pictured) and Kevan McCroy and their staff. Not only did they keep coffees topped up for me and Bob, Josée even made special cookies in honour of our visit and, when she sensed that my voice was starting to give out, made me a perfect hot ginger elixir in a souvenir Modern Bakeshop Café thermo-mug! She also provided me with two of their delectable "Speed Balls" - concoctions of cocoa, peanut butter, honey and various seeds - that will be fortification for the drive to Kelowna I have to begin in about six hours! Thanks for the amazing hospitality.

And what more can I say about festival founder Hugo Rampen, his wife Gail and their whole team? I'm grateful for their ongoing support and belief in the project. This project of theirs is a new one and it's very ambitious - a festival that combines music, lectures, markets and outdoor activities. Unfortunately, the weather was a bit uncooperative but the bones of this AxisMundi thing are really good and I hope it will grow into a big success for them. For the time being, Hugo will have to give up his dumptruck but I'm pretty sure he'd agree it was all worth it.

I also got to see some familiar faces on this trip:
My old friend Popo Murigande (aka Jacques Murigande, aka Mighty Popo) is one of Six String Nation's most stalwart champions. Formerly based in Ottawa, the erstwhile member of the famed African Guitar Summit left his grown daughter to finish her degree at UVIC on her own and returned to his ancestral home of Rwanda to start the KigaliUp Festival and a music school. He and Hugo also go way back and Hugo managed to lure Popo and a group of his students here to take part in the festival and embark on a tour of area schools. I managed to find Popo near the back of the muddy pitch at the top of the Revelstoke ski resort while the rain pelted down and Walk Off the Earth rocked the crowd. It was a soggy but great reunion.

And finally, Severn Cullis-Suzuki was the speaker who followed me at RPAC today. We had met back at the Edge of the World Festival in Tlell, Haida Gwaii back in 2008. She lives there and was getting married that weekend so she had a full schedule of preparations and celebrations but she made time to come out and meet Voyageur and have a portrait taken. We managed to share a few words as I came off stage today and she prepared to go on, which was nice. Later, I saw her checking in at my hotel as I returned from a final coffee with Bob. And as I headed to the bar with my laptop to order a burger and a glass of wine and start work on this blog, there she was all dressed up for a hike and getting final trail directions from the desk staff. Boy did I feel like a sloth. But hey, I'm doing this for you, dear reader!

Thanks again to Revelstoke and all at Axis Mundi - here's to a promising start!

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Day 2, Revelstoke @axismundifest

Andy & Dominique The Modern Bakeshop and Café is normally closed on Sundays but they stayed open today as one of the AxisMundi Festival downtown sites, which meant another meet and greet opportunity at our perch in the front window. I arrived early and was already set up by the time my new pal Bob Gardali showed up and we resumed our steady conversation from yesterday. Neither of us is short of a few stories so it was another extremely agreeable morning with people coming through to meet Voyageur and get a quick tour or various snippets of story or take a turn playing - though it was a much shorter schedule today since we had to head out at noon to get set up at the Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre - a recent addition to the local high school.

Mariam Manley's official title at RPAC is Theatre Manager. So, not surprisingly, she greeted us upon arrival and showed us into the venue. At that point she became Technical Director and grip - got the screen down, visuals checked, mics rigged, sound checked and everything. Then she became emcee and introduced me for the presentation!

Soon after he invited me to come up to Revelstoke for the festival a few months ago, Festival Director Hugo Rampen suggested to me that the "performance pocket" of my presentation be filled by Dominique Fraissard - one of a seemingly endless number of Australian transplants in the region. He had previously met Voyageur at the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival back in 2009 but this would be his first opportunity to perform with it and do so in the context of the full presentation. Generously, he chose to share that opportunity with a fellow Aussie, Andy Gordon - aka "Uncle Jorfy". Andy started off on Voyageur and Dominique added vocal harmonies to a gorgeous version of the traditional "Wild Mountain Thyme". Dominique continued with the piece Hugo had suggested: "The Cream" - a loop-pedal and FX pedal tour de force with brilliant lyrics. Sadly, the version linked here is not on Voyageur but you can use your imagination.

Thanks to both musicians and to everyone who came out and offered their support at RPAC!

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Revelatory Experiences

BobGardali Had the first spatters of rain this trip as I left Vernon in the early morning - aiming to hit Revelstoke by 9:00am. I could easily have extended that drive time by a couple of hours pulling off to marvel at the sheer beauty of it - though one of the most beautiful stretches was watching the seemingly endless freight train weave under the highway through the mountain passes as I drove.

To tell the truth, I wasn't quite clear what was expected of me upon arrival. When I let my old friend Hugo Rampen know I was coming to Vernon, he invited me to come up the road and be part of the inaugural edition of his brand new Axis Mundi Festival. He has me slotted in to give the presentation tomorrow but for today he just penciled me in to hang out with Voyageur at the Modern Bakeshop and Cafe and just talk to people. And he recruited a volunteer to hang with me. Quite honestly, the idea of hanging out at a café for five hours with a volunteer and no particular agenda as "programming" struck me as a little bit odd and potentially uncomfortable. It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable experiences I've had in a long while and the time just flew by. My volunteer was a self-proclaimed "guitar nut" named Bob Gardali (pictured). Bob is a native Long Islander who landed in Revelstoke in 1972 after a stint in Quebec and ended up working as a conductor on the CPR and never left. Like so many New Yorkers, there's a kind of pleasure taken in language and he's still got most of his lon-guyland drawl, which made him extra fun to talk to. We talked guitars, music, politics, travel, economics, photography and more for what ended up at six hours - taking time to chat and take pictures with the various folks who came by to see what we were up to (and there were quite a few folks who already knew about Voyageur and came up to get a closer look) while Bob more or less constantly picked out bluegrass riffs on the guitar and got a real feel for the instrument and its innate character. Man, what a terrific and entertaining guy to spend a day with. I'm looking forward to doing it again tomorrow - though on a shorter schedule as we'll head off to the Performing Arts Centre around noon to get set for the presentation.

Special thanks to the staff at the Bakeshop who kept us caffeinated and even baked special cookies for the occasion! See you tomorrow.

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Farewell for now, Vernon

NixonWenger Well, it was quite an amazing week in Vernon, Armstrong, Enderby, Lumby and Coldstream. I'm very grateful to everyone at the Community Foundation of the North Okanagan - most especially Dave Fletcher who drove the initiative - and all the participating schools: Fulton, Seaton, Fortune, PVSS, VSS, Bloom and Kalamalka for demonstrating such great talent and making me feel so welcome. I feel like we really made an impact during this visit and that Voyageur has a great home away from home in the North Okanagan. Special thanks in that regard also to Vernon Secondary principal Malcolm Reid who was our prime advocate among the principals and helped the stars align. None of this would have been possible without the support of CFNO's sponsors for this series: Nixon-Wenger LLP and the local offices of KPMG and REMAX so a very special thanks to them. Following the dinner presentation Thursday night, Nixon-Wenger announced a $25K donation to the CFNO and asked if I'd swing by the office before the end of the day on Friday to share the guitar with the staff and partners who couldn't make it to the dinner and get a few photos. There's a great story behind the two photographers who came in to do that, which I'll share when they send me copies to share here. For now, this is one I took on my phone and it will have to do until I get those. Val Trevis, the firm's office manager (partially obscured, second from the right in the middle row) was responsible for organizing the meet and greet and found me as I was wrapping up my final meal in town (at the Naked Pig BBQ) and invited me to join her and her friends at their table for a nightcap. It was a great group and I especially enjoyed a long conversation with Tim and Rosemary - friends in from Whitehorse who were familiar with all of the Yukon contributors to Voyageur. Thanks also to my pals Corky McMechan and Destanne Norris for a delightful dinner at the Bamboo Beach Fusion Bistro and for coming out to the school presentation at Kalamalka. Thanks to Triumph Coffee for the morning cortados and to whoever grew the biggest, sweetest Honeycrisp apple I've ever had. I understand there is a plan afoot to bring me back with my photographer Doug for a more robust public show at some point and I can safely say that we'd be utterly delighted to return to Vernon. Until then, thank you Vernon and hey Revelstoke, I'm on my way!

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Kiki the Eco Elf and @ShawnaCaspi

Kiki the Eco Elf Friend of the Nation Shawna Caspi had seen one of my posts from here in Vernon and connected to say that I while I was in town I should check in with her friend Tanya Liscombe. So I reached out on Facebook and got a very enthusiastic reply and an offer of a home cooked lunch if I could come to her house for a visit and an interview. After a week in the hotel, it sounded like just the ticket.

Now, I mentioned in an earlier post that I'd been quite enthusiastic about the Village Cheese Shop up the road in Armstrong. And in one way I had perhaps overly enthusiastic. There was this big hunk of 13 year old Cheddar at a very good price so I bought it and put it in the tiny fridge in my hotel room. But with the other more modest pieces I'd bought of the Mt. Ida and Jurassic cheeses, there was no way I was ever going to get into it by the end of the week, let alone finish it. So I offered to bring it to Tanya's as a lunch contribution. This turned out to be a remarkably appropriate hostess gift as Tanya was born and raised in Balderson ON - home of perhaps our finest cheddars. However, she eventually got the travel bug and started heading west - eventually ending up working in Jasper AB for 10 years and, after so more world travels, found herself in Vernon. She's a jazz singer, an opera singer, an artist and.... well, you see, she did warn me that she'd be interviewing me in character. The GPS guided me to the address - a very new, very beige subdivision straight out of "Edward Scissorhands". So imagine the look of a row of very blank new detached homes with Kiki the Eco Elf (pictured) standing on the front steps waving hello!

After joining Tanya and her partner - a much less colourful but equally delightful New Zealander named Justin Turpin - for a delicious bowl of spicy Thai coconut soup and, of course, some of the 13-year old Cheddar, we repaired to the living room to record the interview with Kiki. She'd already written a song in honour of Voyageur's visit and it will be part of the interview segment when it's all cut together. I will share that on Facebook and Twitter once it's up and ready to go. As a parting gift she gave me a few CDs - a couple by Tanya and one by Kiki. I was going to listen to them on my drive up to Revelstoke tomorrow and will still do that with the Tanya CDs but as I was returning to the hotel I encountered a young mother with three girls in tow, one of whom was having a bit of a meltdown. I figured a Kiki the Eco Elf might be just the thing to cheer her up (or at least distract her somewhat) and I gave that one away. It seemed to do the trick!

Thank you Tanya and Justin (and Kiki) for a super-fun afternoon on my last day in Vernon!

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Beyond the Beach

Jared Thomas Brian I may have mentioned that the swimming pool at the hotel proved inadequate for swimming laps (very small and irregularly shaped) and the aquatic centre just a block from the hotel is undergoing annual maintenance. So someone said: "You know, you could just swim in the lake". Sounded like a great idea and it seemed that Kalamalka Lake was likely to be a bit warmer than Lake Okanagan so I drove down, parked and made my way to the beach. The only other person there was a guy in hip waders with a metal detector sweeping the shallows for treasure. After displacing about a thousand seagulls on the beach I made my way onto the charming but ancient pier and walked to the end. Signs indicated it wasn't deep enough to dive but ladders down to the water were conveniently provided. Got rid of the shirt and shoes (I wore my trunks out) and started down the ladder. The water below looked pretty weedy and full of tiny fish. Not ideal, really, but I figured if I'd come this far I'd at least have to take a dip. So I let myself fall backward off one of the lower rungs and splashed about for a minute before deciding it was probably enough. That's when I noticed that the rungs of the ladder didn't extend below the surface. Getting out might prove to be a challenge. Especially since the surface of the ladder was simply painted metal - not textured wood or plastic - so it was extra slippery. It took me long enough to get a little worried but I eventually hauled myself out and headed back towards the car. That's when I noticed the sign advising that swimming was not advised due to high bacterial levels. Later, a friend told me that some people had been infected with some kind of burrowing waterborne mite that caused rashes for a good 5 days.
Luckily, I seemed to have emerged none the worse for wear with no signs of after effects! I got back in the car and decided to explore a little further down past the beach and soon recognized the street name of the final school on this week's tour so I figured I'd do a little reconnaissance and drove by to suss out parking etc. That was a few days ago so today I got to put my knowledge into action for our final school presentation at Kalamalka Secondary School.

Principal Don Balcombe served a very civilized morning coffee in his office when we arrived and I learned a little bit about him and his route back to this school from which he graduated in 1984. There was a great shot of the whole graduating class on the steps of the Vernon Courthouse (where I had my own photo taken later in the day) nestled amongst some awesome education quotes and he was great to talk to. Then we headed down to the gym to set up for the presentation. Aside from the great response from students and staff, I was especially pleased that my old friend Corky McMechan and his new friend Destanne Norris (a former Kalamalka parent and talented painter) were able to attend as well. Performances were by students Jared Bobryk (pictured, left) and Thomas McIsaac and teacher Brian Monteith, who played Daniel Lanois's "The Maker".

Thanks to Don, Ian, Spencer and the rest of the staff and students at Kalamalka for making my time in North Okanagan end on such a perfect note. And thanks once more to Dave Fletcher from the Community Foundation of North Okanagan for being along for the ride and making it all possible.

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Thinking about the Future in Vernon @CommFdnsCanada @CodGoneWild

Vernon Mayor Akbal Mund After working on a series of roundtable events about Canada's forthcoming 150th birthday co-sponsored by the Community Foundations of Canada a few years ago, CFC's Ian Bird and Anne-Marie McElrone asked if I might tag on a presentation to that year's annual gathering in Winnipeg as part of the series. It was easy to say yes since the goals of the Community Foundations seem to align very nicely with those of the Six String Nation. My appearance in Winnipeg lead to a couple of conference bookings through the National Speakers Bureau but, just as importantly, it lead to a long conversation with George Hall and Erin Vogt from the Community Foundation of Lethbridge and Southwestern Alberta. Over the course of a year or so, we developed a plan together whereby the Foundation would coordinate and fund a series of school presentations in the region - making the Six String Nation program available to schools who might not otherwise be able to afford to bring it in on their own and without taxing the organizational capacity of the schools to coordinate such a series on their own. The results were great for me, for the CFLSA and for all the schools and communities involved and George immediately began championing it as a way for local foundations to both extend their reach and increase their visibility in the communities they serve. Dave Fletcher at the Community Foundation of North Okanagan was the first to adopt George's model and bring a similar series of presentations to Vernon, Armstrong, Enderby, Lumby and Coldstream BC - all under the CFNO purview. Last night was our chance to share the success of the week with the CFNO community at their annual fundraiser, conveniently located in the hotel where I'm staying!

Naturally, sponsors and donors to the Foundation were in attendance as were various local officials - including Vernon Mayor Akbar Mund (pictured) who added his unofficial portrait to our series with Canadian mayors! After a week presenting to high schools, it was a good chance for me to do a version of the presentation that's a little more relaxed in terms of time - seeing as I'm not up against ringing bells, lunch hours and school bus arrivals and I really fell into the storytelling of it all. I still can't believe how emotional I get at points during the presentation even after all this time.

At the preceding dinner, I was seated next to the evening's guitar player, Andrew Mercer of the local group Cod Gone Wild. It turns out that Andrew is a transplanted Newfoundlander (kind of a Cod Gone West, I guess you could say) from Conception Bay - home of the Red Ochre on Voyageur's pick guard - and knew so many of my friends (musical and otherwise) in St. John's. So it was only natural that he included the classic "Sonny's Dream" by Ron Hynes in his short set. I also thought it was brilliant the way the choice of player really emphasized the breadth of Canada as expressed throughout the presentation. He's a terrific guitar player and singer and he and his band are doing very nicely bringing a touch of the east coast to the Okanagan.

Thanks to Dave Fletcher, Leanne Hammond, Janice Mori, Herb Wong and the rest of the CFNO board and staff in attendance last night.
Thanks also to Greg Miller for great sound and AV support and the staff at the Best Western Plus Vernon.
And a special thanks to Nixon-Wenger LLP, Vernon REMAX and KPMG for their support of both last night's event and of this CFNO initiative. I think we made a terrific impact with all the participating schools and the wider community beyond and we couldn't have done so without your help.

Now, off to my final official event in Vernon - near the site of this week's earlier swim!

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Blooming in Lumby

the Charles Bloom S.S. WolfPack We lingered pretty late at VSS in the morning - talking, taking pictures, signing books, etc. but we had plenty of time to make it up to Lumby BC for our appearance at Charles Bloom Secondary School and - with any luck - grab a little lunch on the way. But then on top of the lingering there was some roadwork going on and we got stuck behind a couple of slow moving vehicles so lunch was looking a little more unlikely. Luckily, Lumby is a very small BC mountain town (I was half expecting to see Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny waiting for the school bus!) so you can't really miss Ida's Bakery & Deli at the main corner in town and I managed to grab a delicious Cornish Pasty for fortification just in time!

Entering Lumby, I had the familiar feeling one gets in so many resource-dependent towns in Canada where the sector is in decline due to "global business forces" - almost like a fighter who has taken a few hits and is a bit bloodied but is fiercely determined to come off the ropes and win another round. That fierce quality is captured in the mural covering the walls in Bloom's gymnasium (pictured) where we did today's presentation. The performances were a little bit gentler - with student Jack Hesketh covering Eric Clapton and teacher Leon Kopy ramping things up at the end with The Proclaimers's "500 Miles".

Special thanks to Principal Bryan Out and Vice Principal Gus Busenius for helping get things set up and to Dave Fletcher from the Community Foundation of North Okanagan for riding shotgun.

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Seeing the Future @vernonsecondary

Mike, Shaughnessy, Nathan I spend a lot of time in schools and a lot of time I'll hear people talking about how "the children are our future". I mean, on one hand it's invariably true but the cliché of it makes it hard to say myself. And then sometimes you encounter a school where you feel like it's kind of firing on all cylinders and the promise of the phrase isn't so much as a cliché as....well... a promise.
That was certainly true for today's presentation at Vernon Secondary School as a thousand students absorbed today's presentation and responded to their teacher and classmates bringing Voyageur to life. But VSS offered another glimpse of the future in the sense that ..... OMG, it's like this building is from the future! It's a brand new building and generous with light and space in a way that looks like it was made by some utopian architect from the 23rd century. Beautiful.

The presentation went wonderfully - best tech of the whole tour so far and a vocal performance that provided the biggest surprise:
Teacher Mike Allen (pictured, left) was first up in the performance pocket and ran through a couple of Canuck faves before launching into Chip Taylor's "Angel of the Morning" - a classic. Mid song, Mike's son Nathan (pictured, right) pops out of the audience and on to the mic with an awesome impression that turned the song instantly into Shaggy's "Angel. Awesome. After that, student Shaughnessy Barker (pictured, centre) delivered a very powerful rendition of a song by Adele. She commented at the top that Mike and Nathan would be a tough act to follow but she more than met the challenge.

Special thanks to principal Malcolm Reid who was a champion for this tour as a whole and a very warm host on his home turf, and all the other great staff and students at VSS.
Thanks once again to Dave Fletcher from the Community Foundation of North Okanagan for roadie-ing!

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A Pleasant AND Cheesy visit to Armstrong

Principal Abbas El Gazzar Of course, I'm here in prime BC wine country at the moment. Perhaps that's what prompted me to ask at the front desk at the hotel if there was a place in town to get some very fine cheese, should I find myself able to pair the two one evening (or two). The answer was a disappointing "not really here in Vernon" followed quickly by the more promising "but about 20 minutes away in Armstrong you'll find the Village Cheese Shop". How fortunate that my visit to Pleasant Valley Secondary School today took me right past the Shop! Now, I'm not 100% clear on the relationship between Armstrong Cheese, which occupies much of the fridge space with some excellent aged cheddars next to some more questionable offerings, and Terroir Cheese, which is run out of the adjacent dairy and sells in the store. Len Marriott is a former dairy farmer turned lawyer turned cheesemaker who is dedicated to capturing the taste of the Okanagan terroir in his products - from the washed-rind Mt. Ida to the vegetable ash seamed Jurassic made with milk from Okanagan cows eating Okanagan hay.

So cheese was my enticing appetizer in Armstrong but the real meal was at PVSS. Yet again, the musicianship for the performance part of the presentation went above and beyond. What was originally proposed as a couple of acoustic songs from teachers Brenden Majerech and Geoff Austin morphed into a performance by a hastily assembled but eminently capable combo featuring new student Dean Strobel playing Voyageur. Dean did something for their second song (a Black Keys tune) that I wish more students felt comfortable doing. He ran it through his amp with some serious overdrive distortion on it and let loose with a solo. It sounded fantastic! Always nice to hear Voyageur put through some different paces.

The afternoon was brought to a close with some very thoughtful (and very kind) words about the quest to explore the multiple facets of Canadian identity from principal Abbas El Gazzar (pictured), who was a most excellent host and shared my enthusiasm for the local fromagerie. Nothing cheesy about that!

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