Last year on September 24, I jumped on a journey that would take me and my music around the world for six months.
From my concert in London at the O2 arena opening for Mr. Jason Mraz in front of 12,000 punters to Western Australia’s outback town called Katanging where I performed inside a town hall for 50 elderly smiling faces. From a cold winter’s night in the heart of Amsterdam singing inside a majestic 400-year-old church to the 109-degree heat of the Tamworth Country Music festival in New South Wales. From a warm cozy concert inside a home in Belgium to a cold wet evening performance inside a packed nightclub in Melbourne. I performed inside a school bus and inside a 100-year-old circus tent, inside theatres and outside at a shopping center. I sang in a monastery located close to the German border to a rowdy roadhouse in Queensland. The extremes are extreme, which is why my Australian agent’s company is called Extreme Touring.
So upon my return back to sleepy town San Diego I’m asked, “How was it?” and by some I’m asked, “Did you make money?”
I will disclose the facts and the myths, the highs and the lows in these pages of my journal. I will share privately that I am a creature of habit. To be able to tour you must be comfortable to stand in the unknown or learn how to stand there. Night after night it’s a different town, a different venue, a different hotel and bed, and the list of unknowns go on and on and on. It takes my fragile constitution a few weeks to be calm in the mist of so much uncertainty. Walking into a historic town hall with 500 people listening and the very next night performing in a rundown pub where I can’t get the management to turn off the TV sets.
So maybe I’ll pick one weekend of shows out of the six months of weekends.
After zigzagging from Australia through Europe I landed back in Australia to perform at some of their summer festivals including the legendary Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland. This was to be my ninth tour of duty down under.
On this tour I had the good fortune to become friends with some incredible musicians, including Australia’s country music family, Bill Chambers and his son and daughter Nash and Kasey, along with her gifted songwriter husband Shane Nicolson. I had met the iconic Australian songwriter Mr. Bill Chambers briefly in Melbourne at the Corner Hotel while I was on tour in the spring of 2005. That memorable evening Kasey and Shane were releasing their first album together called Rattling Bones. Their concert was as timeless and soulful as their debut record.I listened to this beautifully crafted album over and over, discovering that is was produced and recorded by Kasey’s brother Nash.
Fast forward to this year’s Australian Country Music Festival in Tamworth. I’m sitting at a concert in a packed room listening to Mr. Bill Chambers pour his heart out on stage wearing a pair of dusty ol’ cowboy boots, which. legend has it, once belonged to the mysterious country-rock singer Gram Parsons.
A mutual songwriter friend, Kevin Bennett (who I toured Australia with back in 2006), had urged Bill to invite me on stage to sing a song. Mr. Chambers kindly obliged with a disclaimer to his audience. “I don’t know what this guy Gregory Page sounds like but let’s give him a kind listen.” Immediately after I riffled through my song “The Greatest Love of All” Bill jumped up on stage as the crowd was applauding and insisted that I belt out another one, then with his swingin’ roots country band, complete with Bill playing lap steel guitar, we tore through the Hank Williams classic “Lost Highway” together.
It all seems like a dream now thinking back on that special weekend.
During that weekend I scored a front row ticket to the Australian Country Music Awards. I sat next to 90-year-old songwriter Geoff Mack, who wrote the classic tune “I’ve Been Everywhere,” coved by Johnny Cash and Hank Snow. Mr. Mack told me about his 90-year-old songwriter friend who lived in Los Angeles; Mr. Hal David had passed away not that long ago. At the awards ceremony I was excited to discover that Kasey and Shane were performing an original song from their new album called Wreck and Ruin. Seeing Mr. Geoff Mack receive his Lifetime Achievement Award and listening to Kasey and Shane were the two highlights for me that evening. The rest of the night was mostly pop country bands (my spell check corrected “pop” as “poop,” which is actually more suited for this music). At one point during the ceremony some rock ‘n’ roll tight jeans-wearing baseball cap-sporting hunk of an Aussie cowpuncher tore the ass out of a slick hit song, complete with choreographed pole-dancing half-naked cowgirls bumping and grinding to a heavy metal county drum beat. I looked at Geoff Mack sitting beside me; he looked bewildered and confused. I leaned over to him and said in his ear, “‘You’ve been everywhere, man; now you’re in hell, man.” He laughed and told his wife sitting next to him what I had said.
I’ve never set foot in Nashville and here I was in the heart Australia’s country music world. I was the tall dark stranger in town. I walked down Peel Street past the hundreds of buskers, their portable PAs bleeding into their fellow buskers’ performances. From future country music children stars to elderly musicians still selling their music on cassette tape. It was comical and inspirational as it was dark and quite sad.
My observational research and fact-finding mission at a country music festival was simply that when I heard real Australian songs sung from the heartland, like the music of Bill Chambers and Chad Morgan I felt alive and inspired. But when I heard Aussie singers trying to sound American with a Texas drawl, it left me feeling confused and nauseous.
Tamworth on average was 100 degrees each day but it did not stop me from people watching for hours while sipping on an iced mint tea. I noticed that some Australians sure enjoy playing dress up like an American cowboy. I also came to the conclusion that I prefer an Akubra hat to a Stetson.
On my second day there bad news struck as the accommodations where I was to stay for the rest of my time there fell through. I found myself in a cab with my friend and agent, Milan, driving around looking for a vacant hotel room. Everything had been booked up for months, even miles outside of town there was no place to stay. We both became nervous after it became apparent that there was literally nowhere that had a room for us in Tamworth. The cab driver who was also calling people he knew finally said, “Hey, mates, I have place in town you can stay at, it’s my place and you guys can stay there, no worries.” Milan and I were overjoyed and moved into Glen, the cab driver’s, home for the rest of our stay. Sunday afternoon I was given my own 45-minute show at the same place where Bill had me on stage a few days earlier. The place was packed and Glen came and stood in the back. Half way through my show I told the audience about my accommodations dilemma and that the cab driver invited me to stay at this place. I pointed to Glen at the back and everyone cheered; he never had to buy another drink for the rest of the show. As I bid farewell to my new friends I had made there and took a final walk down Peel Street as the buskers were packing up their PA systems and their pipe dreams I felt happy to know that a place on earth exists like this. A place where songs and people collide for ten days. Where beer and more beer are sweat out of all who come to hear and sing country music. Maybe I’m ready to stomach a trip to Nashville but when I go I’ll play dress up as an Australian cowboy.