Sunday, April 19, 2009

National Lampoon's Tin Pan Vacation - Part 1

Editor's Note: This is part one of a two-part blog entry chronicling the dysfunctional family adventures. Part One includes The Tin Pan South Festival; Part Two will include debaucherous tales from Cape Coral, FL, and can be found HERE.

I have a dysfunctional family. And I know that all families are dysfunctional in their own unique ways, and that it takes a certain amount of dysfunction in order for a family to be able to function in the day-to-day grind of modern life, but still... My family is ridiculously dysfunctional. And nowhere is that dysfunction more apparent then when we attempt to go on vacation together.

The mishaps and disasters of vacations gone wrong are accumulated in the McCallum family lore in the same way that other families collect fridge magnets or key chains from the places they've visited, and they run the gamut from moderately inconveniencing to outright calamity: the car breaking down and leaving us stranded in some place we'd rather not be (this seemed to happen on every vacation throughout the 80's); the new family dog snapping and biting my sister; camping through tornadoes; having my aunt back the car over my baby sister's car seat while my baby sister was strapped into that car seat; my brother falling into the fire; my dad almost drowning; the family motorhome catching fire on the outskirts of Detroit... You get the picture.

They're the things that happen when you spend a lot of time together with the people you love, and I wouldn't change it for the world. Because really, what the hell would I have to write about if not for my family?

It is with this mindset, then, that my family embarked upon our most recent vacation: Nashville, TN for Tin Pan South, and Cape Coral, FL for some fun in the sun.


This particular adventure began on a sad note, as the McEwen family (my sister's boyfriend's family) lost a legend in Ken McEwen. I attended the funeral Friday morning with my Aunt Vicki, and it was a beautiful and fitting tribute. It's never easy to lose a loved one, but having such a close group of family and friends certainly helps to ease the pain. My sister sang a gut-wrenching rendition of Amazing Grace (it is such a cliche to say so, but there literally wasn't a dry eye in that church), and Blake delivered a beautiful speech on behalf of the Grandchildren, the highlight of which was Blaker explaining how his grandfather taught him how to back up a trailer (something I will never be able to master), and Blake describing his grandfather drinking beer from a wine glass by simply stating: "That was how he rolled". Fantastic stuff.

After returning back to Toronto in the afternoon, I basically just sat around and waited for Ronnie and my cousin, Little Buddy, to pick me up. The plan was to pick up the minivan we had rented (from the conveniently located airport location), then pick up TVB and Jessica (my brother and cousin's significant others) from their respective workplaces, then come back to my place to drop off my brother's car, and then venture out on our 12-hour drive to Nashville... This particular tasklist involved crisscrossing the City of Toronto 3 times... Did I mention that it was 4:30 on a Friday afternoon and that it was pissing rain? The term "clusterfuck" really doesn't do this scenario justice.

By the time we actually got out of Toronto, it was after 7:00 pm and I wanted to kill myself. But we were driving the Cadillac of Minivans, we were hopped up on fast food and caffeine, and a week's worth of fun in the sun awaited us, so the vibes were relatively top-notch.

What can you say about a 12-hour drive through the dead of night that hasn't already been said? We stopped at the Windsor Duty Free to load up on Grey Goose and Diet Bud, and then Ronnie took us into Ohio, which is where I took over somewhere around midnight. After Ronnie and Little Buddy indulged in a few neat Grey Gooses from the bottle, we eventually settled into a pretty solid rhythm, with Jess on her iPhone, Ronnie and TVB asleep in the back, and Little Buddy... well, keeping me awake in shotgun. If there's one thing my cousin is good at, it is verbal jousting. To steal a phrase from Springsteen's '78 tour, we had a lengthy discussion about my cousin's vocation, which involved a eureka moment where he admitted: "You know what? I really don't know what the fuck I'm talking about!", which led to a week's worth of "fact-or-fiction" postulations. All in all, a highly productive exchange of late night repartee.

With the mist rising off the rolling Kentucky hills in the early dawn, Little Buddy and I began speaking in unrhymed iambic pentameter as we commented on the beauty of the setting we found ouselves in. An hour later, our GPS machine went on the fritz at the exact moment we needed it, meaning that we were essentially left to our own devices to try to find my sister's place (I'd never been there before). After a quick phone call to my parents, we pulled into 1837 Loney Ave. just after 7:30 on Saturday morning. Unlike our previous all-night drives to The Volunteer State, there was neither cold beer nor a DVD-player full of porn awaiting us upon arrival. I guess my Mom and The Money Shot just have differing ideas of what hospitality is supposed to entail. Hey, I don't judge. But Mom, seriously... next time? Beer and porn. You can't mess with tradition.

(My parents had gone down to Nashville the week before for Tin Pan South, and when my sister and Blake had flown back to Guelph for the funeral, my parents had remained in town to attend the festival and to take care of Bubba the dog. Lisa was flying in Saturday morning for her show that night; Blake would be getting into town Sunday.)

After having been awake for more than 24 hours, I was more than ready for a mid-morning siesta, which I happily took, being awoken a mere 7 times by my parents coming in and out of the bedroom for God only knows what reason. I eventually gave up on the whole absurd notion of peaceful respite around noon, and joined what was quickly taking on the appearance of a party in my sister's front yard (on the drive down from Toronto, it was snowing as we came through London; in Nashville the following afternoon, it was sunny and 75 degrees). Tossing around the pigskin, sipping on a few Diet Buds, playing with The Money Shot's new son Aiden... We eventually went for lunch and to stock up on liquid provisions (The Money Shot took me to J. Barleycorn's where I was able to get my hands on some Dogfish Head Midas Touch {one of the finest beers I have ever had the pleasure of tasting}, Raison D'Etre, and the 90 Minute IPA. In all honesty, if live near an outlet that has these beers, you're doing yourself a true disservice by not imbibing. Read this article, and I defy you not to try the Palo Santo Marron. Diet Buds will be a thing of the past. I was also able to score a jar of moonshine and a bottle of Russell's Reserve, which I would highly recommend to Bourbon lovers the world over), before returning to Loney Ave.

Let me just tell you that if you've driven all night and followed it up with 3 hours worth of oft-interrupted sleep, and then you begin to drink Bourbon and beer weighing in at 9% in the Tennessee sunshine, it doesn't take long for you to become intoxicated. We had the tunes blaring in the front yard, and eventually wandered over to the neighbours' house to sit at their picnic table they have set up on the front lawn (gotta love Tennessee). We offered Gerry and his wife some beer (they politely declined the Dogfish in favour of a few diet Buds), after which we began talking about travelling. I shit you not, the following conversation ensued:

Gerry: "Y'all 're from Canada... So I guess y'all must do some travellin', huh?"
Me: "Yeah. I actually just got back from Peru..."
Gerry: "Peru, huh?...Yeah, I used to travel all the time with my job... This one time I went to Michigan..."
Gerry's Wife: "Ya know? I just don't understand why people travel... Did you know that there are places in the world where it's NIGHT TIME right now? I mean...Why the hell would you ever want to go somewhere where it's NIGHT TIME right now...? That's just crazy..."

Again: you gotta love Tennessee.

But Gerry and his wife were true sweethearts, and it was great to sit at that picnic table on their front lawn in the fading afternoon sunshine, drinking beers and learning about just how different people can be.

Before we knew it, it was time to pile into the Cadillac of Minivans, road rockets in tow, and to head off to my sister's gig at The Listening Room. To say that the ride over was a little stressful for my sister would be an understatement (a van-full of drunken idiots yelling directions and spilling beer as she drove to her show at which we would surely make complete asshats of ourselves by uttering inappropriate comments at inopportune times...), but we eventually got the The Listening Room in time to scoop the reserved seats that were very obviously not reserved for the likes of us... As a wise man once taught me: walk in like you own the place and nobody will say boo... And yes, it often helps if you are drunk.

Tin Pan South is one of those music festivals; like South by Southwest and The New Orleans Jazz Festival; that I've been dying to get to for quite some time. The venues are always intimate, the talent is top-notch (my parents saw an acoustic set by Hanson the night before... Yeah, that Hanson), and there's that feeling of industry hipster cool surrounding every event that never gets old. And The Round at The Listening Room was no exception on this night.

Lisa McCallum; Michael Logen; Michelle Wright; and Lauren Lucas. There was literally more talent on the stage than anybody knew what to do with.

Some of the supreme highlights included Lisa's renditions of Chip On Her Shoulder, Simple, and Better (I would be lying if I said I didn't have a lump in my throat for the closer). Michael Logen did a beautiful song about his Grandmother (Ocean Floor). Michelle Wright is a Canadian Country Legend, and her presence on stage never ceases to amaze. She truly is the consumate professional. And Lauren Lucas absolutely dominated her guitar, and did a rockin' little tune entitled I'm Ready For A Ring (to which my sister responded, in a fitting piece of foreshadowing: "Amen, sister").

And of course, throughout the set, the beverages kept flowing, meaning that by the time it was all said and done, Ronnie and I were talking fantasy hockey with The Moffatts (a couple of great guys and, by all accounts, phenomenally talented songwriters), and I was carrying around my sister's guitar case in an attempt to impress women... An act not dissimlar to walking around Hollywood and telling people that you're an aspiring actor: in other words, impressing exactly nobody.

From The Listening Room, it was off to 12th and Porter to catch a round which included one of the greatest living songwriters and favourite, Lori McKenna. Again, drunk and acting like I owned the place, I was able to convince one of the people working the door that this particular web-based forum constituted a legitimate media outlet, meaning that I was allowed in the door before anyone else. Much to my delight, then, when I walked into the bar and found Lori up on stage, doing her soundcheck. I said "Hello", she called for security, and the rest, as they say, is history... OK, she didn't really call for security, but she probably wanted to, wondering, as I was, how this idiot managed to creep his way into her soundcheck.

In any event, I grabbed the best barstool in the joint and began ordering White Lightning's and Velvet Elvis's like they were going out of style while awaiting the arrival of the rest of my drunken coterie... When the great unwashed were finally granted access, the place filled up almost instantly, as you might well expect.

This particular round included Lori McKenna; Grammy Award winner Chris Tompkins (Country Song of The Year for Before He Cheats); Liz Rose; and Jesse Walker. You'll have to forgive me if my memory is a little hazy on this one, but here is what I recall from this particular show:

Snapping a shot of the greatest photobomb in the history of mankind; Little Buddy and Jess not getting into the show and instead deciding to go barhopping on Broadway; being told to shhhhh on multiple occasions; having Ronnie and TVB not willing to shhhhh-themselves and instead choosing to go back to the Cadillac of Minivans for a wee nap; inducing a variety of Electrical Storms and variations on the form for anyone within 50 feet of me; buying Jagerbombs for the bartenders because I was "on vacation"; answering the question: "Tell me what this tastes like" with "That tastes just like a VELVET ELVIS" to the shock and amusement of everyone involved; being absolutely blown away by Lori McKenna; laughing my ass off at Tompkins' raucous piano version of Before He Cheats; having my sister and Steph request Make Every Word Hurt; Lori McKenna playing a heartbreaking version of Make Every Word Hurt; at the conclusion of Make Every Word Hurt, having my sister turn to me with tears in her eyes, saying "I cried through that entire song", the announcing of which apparently roused my dad from his momentary slumber as he announced "I slept through that entire song... what just happened?"; buying Lori McKenna a drink and having her accept it, thereby completing one of my lifelong dreams; talking to Lori McKenna after the show and telling her that she was on my Mount Rushmore of Songwriters along with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Waits (still undecided as for whom this was a bigger highlight: her or me); inviting Chris Tompkins back to my sister's place for the "Afterparty" (I term which I clearly use quite liberally); having Chris Tompkins accept on a condition that I'm not at liberty to print; asking for my bar tab and almost having an aneurism upon seeing the total...

Yes, it was one of those nights.

We all piled into the Cadillac of Minivans, and I honestly have no idea how we got home. One can only assume that my saint of a mother was behind the wheel. My dad had left the bar sometime before us, and we found him in the back seat of the van eating sunflower seeds, treating the apholstered floor like it was a little league dugout. By the time we got back to the house, Chris Tompkins was wailing away on my sister's upright piano in one of the most prolific displays of ivory tickling these eyes had ever seen. We would shout out a song, and he would play it. The absolute highlight/lowlight was the following rendition of Thunder Road, which was essentially note perfect on the piano, but bastardized by my family in a way that will probably see us spending eternity in a very warm place:

I can't believe that I messed up the words. The terrible singing voice I can live with. In fact, I take a certain masochistic pride in the disparity between my horrific pipes and the angelic ones of my sister. But screwing up the lyrics to one of the 10 greatest songs ever written is simply indefensible. I blame it on the Velvet Elvi.

I don't even recall what happened after that. I think I fell asleep on the couch with Bubba licking my face. By all accounts, it was the perfect conclusion to a perfect conclusion to Tin Pan South.


Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

AMAZING! If my own budding relationship with Kathleen Edwards wasn't going so well I'd be insanely jealous of your new flame Lori Mckenna.

Anonymous said...

so Lisa is the singer in the family? you dont say


Anonymous said...

Great recap... looking forward to part deux


Anonymous said...

Amazing, simply amazing. Can't wait for the next version of the McCallum's hit Nashvegas.

The infamous "Money Shot"