Roots on the Rails didn't just HAPPEN! It was the brainchild of a true Renaissance Man named Charlie Hunter.
Charlie is an accomplished artist, a writer, a former Music Manager. One of the performers that he worked closely with was Fred Eaglesmith. You can "google" Charlie to read all of his background and accomplishments. It is staggering at how diverse and productive his life has been.
With Fred and other musicians, he decided to put together a music festival in 2000 called Roots on the River in Bellis Falls, Vermont. It was highly successful.
The conversation shifted to using the Canadian railroad to travel with Fred and others although at that point Charlie had no idea how to charter a train. He persisted and through the advice of his friend, Gary, was able to connect with the right people to make that happen.
The first Roots on the Rails took place in 2003 traveling from Toronto to Vancouver. It too was successful. There have been 33 successful trips by rail, by boat and by bus, I believe. One of the trips was to the Polar bears. It would have been a joy to have experienced that!
Charlie besides being so talented is also exceedingly capable of putting together a fantastic team of people who behind the scenes make these trips work. Sarah Overdon is "El Capitanese", Elsabe Kloppers is the Naturalist who gives darn good programs along with playing a fine violin! Add to that Gary, Dan and Joe Ray - you've got the people who "grease the grooves" for both the passengers and the musicians. I watched them perform magic over a seven day period!
Then, of course the other "people" who made this a supremely fun event are the singers/songwriters/musicians/artists. I really don't know which name to use as they are all of this and more. Each is so unique in his own way. Peter Case is the Hippie of the group. He said one of the funniest lines of the whole trip. Well, I thought so! He throws out one-liners while he is ostensibly tuning his guitar. The first night at McCabe's he said, "How many songs have I sung? Five or six? Remember its about quality not quantity. However I've been looking for a quantity motel all my life". Honestly, I nearly fell off the chair at his dry wit and humor. THAT was just one of a jillion of things he said that were either funny or thought provoking.
I've never heard a finer harmonica player. I've always loved harmonica music and grew up listening to Jimmy Reed in south Louisiana among others. Peter just blew the roof off each time with his guitar playing, singing and harmonica playing.
The fun of having private concerts on the train was a delight! If lines were flubbed, or a comment needed to be made or someone wanted to hear a song, it was relaxed, laid back and a joy to behold.
Above is Peter Case, Rick Shea, Dave Alvin playing on "his train" along with hard to see Chris Smither.
A better shot. A funny story. I totally embarrassed myself the morning after this performance. I had only seen Dave in sunglasses, a baseball cap and a light denim shirt. As I came into breakfast, there was a man standing there dressed that way who appeared to be the same height as Dave. I touched his arm, I said, "I so enjoyed your performance last night. It was just wonderful" He to his credit just said, "Thank you very much". Then I looked down at his lanyard that had his name and it was not Dave Alvin. Inwardly I chuckled wondering what in the world that man was thinking..........
Later in the trip, I had a chance to sit and talk with Dave Alvin. It was a revelation to know the depth and breadth of his career along with his music. (By the way, Dave, if you happen to read this, thanks for the thoughtful comment on the last day. It meant a lot to me)
Rick Shea was a wonderful surprise with his own songs, his way of delivering them along with his calm demeanor at all times. He accompanies Dave but also has his own cd's and performs solo. Pure enjoyment.
Then there were Open Mic times. I didn't go to any but I did happen to walk in when Elsabe and Gary were playing hauntingly beautiful music of violin and guitar. How sweet!
These are some of the people. Those travelers that I met from Norway, England, Alaska, Canada, and of course the USA made me feel so welcome. Their enthusiasm and openness was a welcome way to share the experience.
I hope I've made some new friends!