Past, Present, Future

Christan Vegh Multiple generations of Canadians are rightly proud of the "golden age" of Canada's music legacy and its contribution to the international scene. I cannot tell you how many people – young and old, when presented with the opportunity to play Canada's most iconic guitar – have chosen to play Helpless or Hallelujah or The Canadian Railroad Trilogy or Closer to the Heart (or really anything by Neil or Gordon or Joni or Leonard or Stompin' Tom – I know there is even no need here to use last names for these iconic Canadian artists). And if only I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me: "Has (Neil, Gordon, Joni, Tom, Randy, Bruce) played this guitar?". In three out of those six, the answer is yes. And I'm damned proud to have put it the hands of such accomplished and beloved artists.

Bruce Cockburn played Voyageur in a very intimate performance backstage at the Winnipeg Folk Festival in 2006;
Stompin' Tom Connors played Bud the Spud on it at a listening party for his final record at his house – his wife having pointed out to him that the fretboard was made from JR's Bar in Charlottetown, a venue they both knew well;
and Gordon Lightfoot strummed a few chords on the occasion of his 70th birthday party at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.
I've come tantalizingly close to getting it into Joni's, Leonard's and Randy's hands too.
Shortly after Voyageur made its debut in 2006, I received word from Joni Mitchell's management that she had heard about the project and was intrigued to meet the guitar if I could possibly meet in Los Angeles in a brief window she had in her schedule. Having no money for such a trip myself, I figured I would try to organize something through the Canadian Consulate in L.A. and put together a proposal for a reception at the consulate where we might put Joni and Voyageur together, followed by a more public celebration of all the amazing Canadian talent in L.A. at a suitable venue where Voyageur might get passed from musician to musician. I was advised by the Canadian Consulate that I would be welcome to use their space for the reception, provided that I footed the bill for catering, decor, invitations, valet parking and so on. That was just way out of my league so the opportunity slipped away.
Through an intermediary, Leonard Cohen expressed a willingness to participate in a video I had proposed to be shot at the legendary Fairmont Bagel Bakery in his neighborhood in Montreal but we could not get a broadcaster to back the production.
I encountered Randy Bachman in the green room backstage at Winterlude in Ottawa in 2009, where we were both part of the evening program. I took the Voyageur over to where he was sitting and pointed out some of the significant materials (making special note of the abundance of spalted oak from Winnipeg that occupies the lion's share of the guitar's real estate) and mentioned that his personal guitar tech and luthier Nicole Alosinac had done some important work on Voyageur when it was having its first growing pains in the summer of 2006. For some reason, Randy seemed unimpressed and expressed no interest in holding or playing the guitar (though several of his bandmates did come by the Chateau Laurier to have their official portraits taken with great enthusiasm.
Neil Young has proved most elusive of all. I have never been able to get through to Neil's notoriously well-armoured management and – while I was honored that a group from Dawson City asked if they could include the opportunity to play Voyageur as just one part of a package of enticements meant to lure Neil to the Yukon – nothing ever came of that effort.

But here's the thing:
As proud and happy as I would be for any of those artists to take a turn with Voyageur – as have so many hundreds of Canadian musicians and so many thousands of other Canadians – I don't consider the fact that they haven't played the guitar to be any kind of serious omission to the project. And that's partly because I profoundly believe that we are presently in a Golden Age of Canadian songwriting. I almost cannot believe that I've had the extraordinary good fortune to have had Ron Sexsmith, Serena Ryder, Stephen Fearing, Ariana Gillis, John K. Samson, Selena Martin, Kevin Breit, Amelia Curran, Jim Bryson, Arianne Moffatt, Jimmy Bowskill, Carolyn Mark, Justin Lacroix, Kyrie Kristmanson, K'naan, Amy Millan, Justin Rutledge, Tanya Tagaq, Don Ross, Lorrie Matheson, Mae Moore, Wayne Lavallee, Laura Bird, Ron Hynes, August Suggitt, Marc Merilainen, Sandy Scofield, Tom Wilson, Aselin Debison, Paul O'Brien, Ndidi Onukwulu, Tony McManus, Cindy Doire, Lindy Vopnfjord, Kurt Swinghammer, Little Miss Higgins, Andy Stochansky, Leela Gilday, Charlie A'Court, Blair Packham, Lynn Miles, Donné Roberts, the Hidden Cameras, the Great Lake Swimmers, Digging Roots, Elliot Brood, La Volée de Castors, Genticorum, the African Guitar Summit, Eagle and Hawk and countless other musicians and composers from every part of the country bring their voice to this guitar. I confess that it frustrates me that during school presentations, student players no more than 16 years old still default to playing Helpless or The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. It's nothing against those songs but I sometimes want to scream:
"Why are you not aching to play something by The Weakerthans or Christine Fellows?"

I'm writing this today, of course, because over the past few days I've received several messages spurred by concern for the health and well-being of Joni Mitchell. Honestly, I share that concern and hope that Joni has many more years of composing and playing ahead of her – and with any luck we'll finally have a chance to share with her this guitar that we'd be so honored to hear her play even in the most private of settings. But I'm also writing this today because in the midst of those messages, I got an email from Ken Vegh, who had his portrait taken with Voyageur and his wife and son during our photo sessions following our concert presentations with the Windsor Symphony Orchestra a couple of years ago. His son, Christian Vegh (pictured, above), was already an accomplished guitarist when he stuck around for a few solo portraits and took the opportunity to play Voyageur a little. Ken wrote to tell me that Christian is now fronting his own band and will be touring the festival circuit starting in B.C. later this month and that he's also received a scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. I wanted to share this because – as much as I love the musicians who defined Canada to the world 40 and 50 years ago – I'm perhaps even more in love with the current generation of musicians and songwriters working so hard (and under such challenging conditions in terms of support for the arts in Canada, governmentally, educationally and commercially) to tell our story as it exists today and those working so hard to be at the forefront of the next generation of music artists who will show the world the depth of talent in this country in the next 50 years. The Six String Nation project is for all of you because the pieces from which it is made not only reflect the past but offer an opportunity to define the future and that is the work of all artists. I salute you all. And get well Joni.

Portrait, as always, by Doug Nicholson.

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Federated Cooperatives: All Together Now

Christopher Robin BirdIt was a real thrill to be able to share the Six String Nation story at the 86th AGM of the Federated Co-operatives Ltd. tonight in Saskatoon. Apart from the fact that that famous CO-OP logo is a persistent feature of the Canadian prairie landscape, I feel the FCL and the 6SN share a commitment to the idea that – especially in the Canadian context – we accomplish so much more when we work together. In most parts of Canada, that's not simply an ideological choice; rather, it is borne out of necessity in a place characterized by big challenges and small markets. And I was proud to remind the audience that a couple of antecedents to the western co-ops are reflected in Voyageur's construction: the Doucet House on the grounds of the Farmer's Bank of Rustico PEI and the famed Hoito Finnish Restaurant in Thunder Bay ON - run as a co-op since its founding in 1918.

As a complete aside, this was the smoothest large dinner service at one of these kinds of events I've ever seen. Every conference that tries to sit down and have staff deliver massive trays of salads and entrees to every table needs to try this way more efficient system of sending people a few tables at a time to a special room with multiple rows of every course laid out for self service. Dinner was served in no time.

Anyway, amidst all this wonderful hospitality and fellow feeling, the presentation goes tremendously well. But the sweetest part of it is that one of the co-operative members from Uclulet BC, Christopher Robin Bird, is the person who will play Voyageur in the performance pocket at the end of the presentation. He has arrived in Saskatoon coming off a flu with a sore throat and all the rest of it. He had volunteered to be the player without knowing what guitar he'd be playing. When he found it would be Voyageur he applied all his energy to doing a great performance on that stage. He had known about the project and couldn't believe this was his chance to actually play it. To the assembly he gave the gift of a couple of songs: one of his own composition and one by Stan Rogers. Additionally, to me he gave some other gifts from Uclulet – including a local cook book and a lovely found object: a glass ball Japanese fishing net float that had washed onto his local shores. Thanks for the music and the presents, Chris!

It was a long line up for portraits following the presentation. As always, Doug Nicholson did an amazing job making everyone feel comfortable and getting some fantastic shots that I'll be posting just as soon as they're all processed. We especially need to thank our amazing portrait station volunteers Daniel Jungwirth and Alexandra Stang (from Macklin!) who really kept things ticking along and let me concentrate on signing books and talking to people.

Thanks so much to conference coordinator Donna Tetrault, the rest of my Federated Co-operatives Ltd. hosts and all the members in attendance. Thanks also to TCU Place technical director Richard Heineke and his team for making everything run so smoothly.

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Proactive Provost @CanaltaHotels

Cade, Karen, AlissaKelsie Valliere and I had firmed up details of my presentations at the Macklin School about a month ago and it was clear I'd need to come in the day before in order to be ready for the first class of the morning. So I asked for a recommendation of a place to stay and she recommended the Canalta Hotel just across the provincial border in Provost AB (also crossing a timezone, as I later discovered!). Fine. I looked it up online and made an e-booking. About half an our after getting my confirmation I got another email from Canalta – this one a personal message from GM Leila Grobel saying they'd seen my reservation come in and wondered if I might be free to do a presentation in Provost! How cool is that? Time was going to be tight as I had to get back to Saskatoon to get Doug from the airport and get checked in for tomorrow's presentation for the Federated Cooperatives AGM while accounting for that time change but we figured there'd be time to do a small gathering in a conference room on Saturday morning. If they provided robes at this hotel I could conceivably have wandered down and done it that way! Lucky for everyone involved there are no robes so I simply got dressed, went down and had a couple of complimentary hardboiled eggs and some coffee and got set up in the meeting room.

To be honest, I didn't know what to expect. I'd seen some colour photocopied posters around and they'd put 40 chairs in the small meeting room on the ground floor and were laying out some coffee and donuts in the lobby but there was no indication as to how many people might come out on a very cold and grey Saturday morning.

As I was setting up the projector and sound, a guy in coveralls wandered past and asked if I played golf. His name was James McCrimmon and he was on his way to a pipeline job in the area somewhere but quickly produced a little aluminum divot fixer and tee repair that he'd invented called the ReTee. We talked about his business strategy for a while (which includes a possible appearance on the Dragon's Den - he's already done the audition) and then (since he'd shown me his) I offered to show him my invention. He wanted a picture with Voyageur and he shed the coveralls in about 2 seconds for a more casual fleece look. As we were talking, my three musicians for the "performance pocket" came in: (pictured left to right) Cade Scheck, Karen Wagner and Alissa McLaren. We all ambled out to the lobby to greet people and by the time we all drifted back to the meeting room it was full. I can't say enough how much I love this experience of talking about this project to a room full of friendly and curious strangers and hearing (and having them hear) local folks bringing Voyageur to life. It was a perfect way to spend the morning.

Thanks again to Leila and her staff (hey Jimmy!) and to the Canalta Hotels group for welcoming this opportunity. A very special thanks also to the Bodo Archaeological Society who supported this event. Bodo is a community between Macklin and Provost and they host camps in the summer where young people both kids and adults can come and do a proper archaeological dig and get their hands dirty doing real science – check out the link!

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Generations of Talent in @MacklinArts

Katie & Kiera So, there were three presentations at the Macklin School today. The first you've read about – the new format I'm trying out on the K-6 students. In the afternoon it was the remainder of the school – grades 7-12. And the evening presentation – still in the school gym – was a small group of family members and friends from the school community.

The constant among the three was the appearance in the "performance pocket" of Katie Lauinger and Kiera Heintz. They sang together and traded off playing the guitar. They played versions of the same pop medley each time and what was really amazing was to see the way they grew into the performance over the course of the day. Although I tried to convince them to stand in the morning, they preferred to sit in chairs behind their music stand. That shyness extended to the microphones and they kept well back. Their voices got a bit lost in the mix – overpowered by the guitar and some of the occasional feedback that can creep in where you're too far off a hot mic and the room starts to articulate its own frequencies. For the second performance I tried to convince them to use a stool instead but they stuck to the chairs. However, they were on mic and they were much more sure of the vocals so it was a better performance. For the evening show, they trimmed their song a bit to accommodate the two other performers and I convinced them to stand instead of sit. We balanced the volume of the guitar a bit and the vocals were really strong and clear. And that improvement in performance all happened in one day. Imagine what they can do with some rehearsal time and a few more audiences!

The other performers were terrific as well: young Olivia Golden got things started. The guitar was about as big as her and yet she managed to hit her chords and not drop her guitar pick (I also hear she will get to brag at home that she pulled it off after her brother bowed out on the chance to play!); the more seasoned performer who closed things out was Don McIntyre – a very capable picking-style guitarist who performed an instrumental of his own composition. We ended up having a fascinating conversation before the show began. He's a guy who has got a lot of perspective and has scaled his work back a bit to spend more time with his family and his guitar – to the extent that he's been recording an album for eventual release. Until then, I'm glad we got to hear him in the Macklin school gym!

I thought my own performance hit a nice groove for this last show today as well but the most pleasing thing about the evening was the chance to just hang out and chat with people afterwards. I'm telling you, nothing would make me happier than to spend a whole lot more time visiting communities across the country and sharing this story. I'm certainly grateful for the times I do get these invitations and would welcome countless others.

For today, I'm especially grateful to Kelsie Valliere and her colleagues at the Macklin Arts Council who put in so much work to make this such a great day. It was a memorable one for me and I hope for the students and folks in the community who joined us for the presentations. I'm also grateful for the Caesar salad the school served me at lunch and the pizza that the Arts Council brought in for the evening show but I think the real plan is to do what Kelsie suggested and come back to Macklin when the World Bunnock Championships are on – that's when all the traditional German food that has deep roots in the community starts to come out of the woodwork. See you then, Macklin!

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New Blocks on the Kids in Macklin

Macklin Jr students Kelsie Valliere works for the local credit union in Macklin SK – west of Saskatoon a few minutes from the provincial border with Alberta. As a delegate for last May's Credit Union Central of Canada Conference in Charlottetown had seen my presentation there and thought it would be a good thing to bring to her community one day. When she heard I was coming to Saskatchewan she put on her other hat as a volunteer with the Macklin Arts Council and sprang into action galvanizing support from the Council and the local school so here I am sitting in the empty gymnasium having just completed my first presentation of the day with two more ahead.

Quite rightly, Kelsie wanted to include the whole school community. While I have presented to groups of very young kids on a few occasions, I always feel like my presentation is a bit lost on them and tend to steer principals to inviting students about grade 5 and up. But today's first presentation was to be for kids in grades K-6 and I took this as an opportunity to really think about how I might customize the presentation for the younger kids.

The presentation really is about how Voyageur is a living metaphor for a diverse and inclusive concept of nation building, culture and identity. Typically, I start with that abstract idea and make it manifest in an exploration of the guitar's construction and travels. Taking my cue from the idea of "building" culture and identity, for this younger group I started with a building material they're all familiar with: Lego (or insert generic studded plastic brick alternative here). That allowed me to talk about building representations out of something familiar and then transition into talking about Voyageur as a construction made out of individual "bricks" – each one with it's own story. It still needs some work, I think, but in general I felt way more comfortable for the first part of the presentation today using this metaphor so I think I'll continue down this track.

Senior students Kiera Heinz and Katie Lauinger sang and played in the performance pocket of the presentation this morning and will reprise that role this afternoon so you'll meet them properly then. In the meantime, the picture above is of some of the grade 6 students who hung around after the presentation to get a close up look at the guitar and case and ask a few questions.

Thanks again to Kelsie Valliere for her valiant efforts to bring us to her community, to principal Eldon Germann and all the staff and students at Macklin School who have been so welcoming.

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On the Air @CFCRSaskatoon

Jay and Peter It seems ages since we've been anything but over Saskatchewan (I believe Ness Creek was our last festival experience in SK) so when I was invited to speak this weekend to the 86th AGM of the Federated Cooperatives I decided to plan my travel a couple of days early and see some friends.

Gillian Snider was one of the first connections to the Canadian music scene I ever knew personally. She was one of my sister's best friends growing up on our street (Neil McQuade, whose dad was one half of Long & McQuade, lived half way between us and Gillian: he was the other). Her mother was one of the Allan Sisters, who sang on the Tommy Hunter Show. Though following a much more circuitous route through a Masters degree in Philosophy, Gillian did follow in her family footsteps and is an established singer and musician in Saskatoon's thriving scene. By coincidence, I arrived on the day of the CD release party for her one of her bands, The Whiskey Jerks. Gillian set up an interview for me at Saskatoon's super hip community station CFCR and sent her guitar player Peter Abonyi to play Voyageur during the session. That's Peter standing in the picture and CFCR station manager Jay Allan, who conducted the interview.

Gillian was still conducting soundcheck while we were doing the interview but came over to the station afterwards and we got caught up as we took a little trip to – where else – Long & McQuade to rent the D.I. I forgot to bring with me. I guess that really is full circle!

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The Marrocco Up the Street

Marrocco-Merton Sound Recording class I've been living in my neighborhood for 22+ years so I've passed by Bishop Marrocco / Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School untold number of times coming to and from the environs of Dundas West Station. Heck, if you've read this blog even a little bit over the years you'll know how many times I've posted from Hugh's Room, which is practically right across the street. A few years ago, a new logo went up on the building that announced it as a school with a special focus on the Arts. And I remember thinking when I first saw that sign: They really should think about having me come and do the presentation one day.. Today was that day.

The special Arts logo is linked to the school's participation in the Specialist High Skills Major program, a province-wide initiative which offers students enhanced learning opportunities to direct their studies toward a particular career - in this case a career in the arts. So it wasn't a full school assembly that gathered in their well-appointed auditorium today, but a group of about 180 students from the program across several grades. I have to say that it's a brave thing to consider a career in the arts – given that the realities of the Canadian economy and the political climate for artists is not especially... comfortable. There is reference to those challenges in my presentation so as much as I hope the audience was inspired by the project, I hope they also noticed the caution signs embedded in the presentation.

It is astonishing to me every single time how the story of the Golden Spruce seems to connect with so many audiences, no matter the age or origin or income or location. Somehow, regardless of the fact that it's about a tree, it seems to tap into a deep well of humanity in everyone. The hush I feel in the room when the slide showing the fallen Kiidk'yaas comes up is palpable and I'm honored to have any connection at all to this remarkable story.

As bright as today's students were, they seemed to be shy in equal measure so we had more difficulty than usual in attracting student players for the "performance pocket" but teacher Sean McClare filled in ably and bravely with a tune about Rhonda and references to a Honda. I know what you're thinking: he did a Beach Boys cover? No! It was an original and very funny to boot.

After the presentation, I made my way to the Sound Recording program lab where a smaller group of students (pictured above) came to hang out and chat and take turns with Voyageur. There were also some excellent vocal performances and a group performance that were really great.

Thanks to Heather Corriveau and Bill Heffernan for making this presentation happen. Thanks to student Jose Vizinho for getting all the tech up and working. Thanks to my special guests Sally Lee, John Beebe, Fei Tang, Tom Metuzals and Daveed Flexer for making the trip and thanks to all the staff and students at Marrocco/Merton for closing the neighborhood circle!

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New Images for a New Year

Photo by Curtis Wehrfritz The first official photographer of the Six String Nation was Sandor Fizli. Sandor was based in Halifax-Dartmouth back in 2005 and I'd seen his photo of my guitar-maker, George Rizsanyi, in the Globe and Mail and got in touch to see if he would shoot all of Voyageur's constituent materials as they came in to the workshop and various phases of the construction process. Sandor accompanied us to Parliament Hill for the big debut in 2006 and took some great shots there in tandem with Doug Nicholson who has been the official photographer for the Nation ever since (with a few guest appearances by Jim Panou). At this point, Doug has shot somewhere in the vicinity of 150,000 portrait images featuring Voyageur with 15,000+ different people in every province and territory of Canada and at a session in Orta San Giulio, Italy. Add to that a similar or greater number of candid and performance images and you're looking at a unique relationship between photographer and subject closing in on half a million photos. I'm not sure even William Wegman's Weimaraners have that many shots!

As much as I never tire of looking at Doug's beautiful images – and as much as I look forward to some upcoming photo sessions at events with Doug (looking at you Saskatoon!), I've always wondered about having other artists interpret Voyageur in their own visual medium. I have a fantasy about a gallery exhibition featuring images of the guitar or representing the ideas of the Six String Nation by some of my favorite painters, for example. A recent encounter with an old friend in Parkdale lead to what I hope will be the beginning of the revelation of a whole new side of Voyageur and I couldn't be more pleased with the results.

I first met Curtis Wehrfritz back in the early '80s when I was a DJ at CKLN-FM in Toronto and Curtis was a student at what was then OCA (now OCADU, the Ontario College of Art and Design University). Our connection was music and Curtis was studying sculpture at school but he drifted into filmmaking and before too long had established himself as a unique voice in the fledgling world of music videos, making videos with artists like Holly Cole, Crowded House, Blue Rodeo and (perhaps most famously) Leonard Cohen, whose video for "Closing Time" won Curtis a Juno Award. He's also made some great commercials, a feature film and a number of shorts....but as much as the commercial work keeps him up to date with the latest digital video gear, his passion has taken him back in time to a much more hands-on, much more artisanal process of image making.

Back in the fall, I bumped into Curtis while we were both out doing errands on Queen St. – we seem to bump into each other about once every couple of years just for good measure. Over coffee, we commiserated about life in the arts in Canada and Curtis told me about the work that was really firing his imagination. It revolves around what Curtis calls "photography 2.0" (though perhaps it's closer to version 1.2), wet-plate collodion photography, invented in 1851 as a quicker and more stable advance over the earlier Daguerrotype process. Curtis's studio includes camera boxes and lenses dating back to that time and working with them seems so at odds with our instant-image-obsessed culture. But that was part of the appeal of doing this series of photos. Not only does the technology capture light in a particular way, but the vagaries of the process of the wet-plate preparation means that the image capturing medium contains its own artifacts that reveal themselves in the developing stage. One of the things that really struck me as Curtis and I talked about what we might do, was that he saw these collodion photos as having a kind of layered character – almost holographic. He talked about the photos as being a bit like reliquaries from a dream state. That (if you'll pardon the pun) really struck a chord with me because in many ways Voyageur functions in a similar way. While it appears to be a guitar on its surface, it is also a layered collection of stories that reveal themselves depending on where it is and who's playing it – as subject to the random particulars of the situation as photosensitive particles in the emulsion on the collodion plate.

We had a rough idea of what we might do and then one day in late November the stars aligned a little earlier than we thought they would and I went down to Curtis' home studio (it's just a few blocks away) in a converted dairy from the turn-of-the-last-century Parkdale. Curtis had set us up to do a series of photos themed to his "As Above So Below" series, which I thought fit perfectly with what Voyageur brought to the party. Curtis captured four exposures on a couple of different sized plates. Each one has its own imperfections and its own mysteries and I love them all. When I left the studio they were still in the drying stage so I haven't yet seen them in their finished, varnished form but I can't wait! You can see scans of all four images in our Flickr Gallery here.

We haven't yet discussed what exactly is going to happen with all of these beautiful plates but Curtis has kindly offered me one or two. I'm thinking that the smallest format plate might work well mounted on Voyageur's Calton case but I'm going to need some expert advice before we embark on that phase. In the meantime, I want to thank Curtis for the profound honour of doing these wonderful images of Voyageur and beginning the expansion of this project's visual legacy. I hope everyone will love these images as much as I do.

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Sound Familiar? A Nod from @CBCThisIsThat

This Is That's "Unity Shovel" It's a bit of a dream to be spoofed, parodied, roasted, imitated, etc. It marks a kind of arrival. It can be uncomfortable watching James Franco (or whoever) sitting there taking the most brutal insults from the others on the dais but you realize they have submitted to it because, having arrived on that stage, they know there is a toll to be paid – and who better to pay it to than your friends and colleagues who will one day switch roles with you and suffer your ribbing as the price of success.

So, first of all, I'd like to thank the producers of CBC Radio's This Is That in Edmonton, who have "honoured" Voyageur by spoofing it in a piece that airs again tomorrow at 11:00am nationwide on CBC Radio One. If you don't know the show, that will serve you well if you listen for the first time tomorrow. It was the brightest spark in the 2011 crop of summer replacement shows and got picked up for the regular schedule a year later. In a style that will be familiar to fans of The Onion, This Is That (conveniently un-acronym-able in polite company) mimics perfectly the earnest style of generations of CBC weekend magazine shows. It can be painfully funny until you get too familiar with the formula and begin to recognize the cast of voices too readily – which is why it pays to be a newbie. The segment focuses on a guy named George Bainbridge and the realization of his dream – an object made from fragments of Canadiana brought together in an effort to overcome the challenge of connecting us all across Canada (sound familiar?): the Unity Shovel (though, oddly, they seem to have fashioned a spade rather than a snow shovel – what's that about?)

At the risk of looking a gift-gag in the mouth (wait a minute...that doesn't sound right) I do want to register a small objection:
There is a suggestion in the spoof that the project was funded by taxpayer dollars (1.5 million of them in the web headline, 150,000 of them in the audio). Now, I don't know about their fictional shovel but the Six String Nation guitar, Voyageur, was not so fortunate. And in spite of having amazing adventures and being played by amazing musicians and connecting with tens of thousands of amazing Canadians (many of them also snow shovelers, presumably) in every province and territory of Canada, it continues to not be supported by tax dollars. In fact, it still faces some pretty steep challenges just to keep going. When James Franco takes a few on the chin for our entertainment, he's dressed in his formal-wear just like his friends/tormentors. CBC played a huge role in putting the Six String Nation project in a very precarious position – one that we struggle with every day to overcome. In retrospect, I'm glad that CBC Television took its hooks out of Six String Nation because I was increasingly afraid that what they might have made of it would have been the kind of show that This Is That does such a brilliant job of satirizing. I'm lucky that the people who encounter Voyageur at festival, conference, community and school presentations recognize it as something richer, deeper, more personal and more fun than that. I just wish we had the luxury of being stable enough as a project to receive This Is That's roasting with as much grace and good humour as it deserves – even if that means renting a tux because I certainly can't afford to buy one.

If you can't tune in to the whole show tomorrow, you can check out the Unity Shovel bit here. And be sure to check out my Twitter feed @SixStringNation to see a picture of This Is That producer Chris Kelly with Voyageur taken at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival back in 2006.
Thanks (really) to Chris, Pat Kelly and Peter Oldring.

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Head in the Game @TeamNext

Bruny Surin and Kimberly Hyacinthe As I said in my post about the Sport Leadership Conference earlier this month in Ottawa, I think there is a real resonance between artists and amateur athletes – especially in Canada: both depend on a combination of individual talent and teamwork to deliver the product to audiences, both try to connect those audiences to something within themselves and something bigger than themselves, and both are supremely underfunded.
The similarities were not lost on Ashley LaBrie, director of operations for AthletesCAN – an organization that supports amateur athletes in all their off-the-field challenges, from connecting them to available funds to advocating on their behalf at the provincial, national and international level. She extended an invitation to come down to a dinner at the Westin Harbour Castle in Toronto capping a day of activities for PanAm and ParaPan hopefuls participating in CIBC Team Next – a three-year bursary and mentorship program for promising athletes.

I went down with Voyageur and delivered an abridged version of the presentation to 50+ athletes and their mentors. It was a chance to continue the conversation with Stephanie Dixon we'd begun the week before at SportLeadership, to meet the wonderful and energetic Olympic Gold Medal triathlete Simon Whitfield and to share Voyageur with a group of people all prepared to do great things for Canada. Two of them did great things for Voyageur by playing a little for the gathering following the presentation: up and coming triathlete Andrew Yorke played a little Neil Young while 2012 Paralympian wheelchair racer Josh Cassidy (coincidentally celebrating a birthday that night) favored us with some Radiohead.

Photographer Ahren Cadieux was set up to take some photos of the group and we managed to get just about everyone – including the legendary 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist Bruny Surin, pictured above motivating his mentee, sprinter Kimberly Hyacinthe.

Thanks to Ahren and Ashley, to all of the #CIBCTeamNext participants and to Andrew Greenlaw and his CIBC Team Next team for their support of these athletes.
Thanks also to Wojtek for the audio-visual in the room.

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