It’s called ‘a world tour’, this thing of ours. Grand-sounding. Over the top for Canadians to say about themselves. And there isn’t much agreement about the scale or range that makes up a ‘world’ jaunt. One thing’s more certain than not, though: small places don’t usually qualify for world tour inclusion. If you’re on a world tour, you go to those places that have those ‘I--whatever the place is’ t shirts everywhere. You go to places whose names, even in short form, even in a couple of letters, prompt torrents of association, the kinds of places where if you can make it there you can make it anywhere.

Nights of Grief and Mystery couldn’t take the top-heaviness of those places. Once in a while, yes – I like them – but much more often than not we head for places not nearly so sure of themselves. People in these places don’t have it easy, it turns out. They’re buffeted by the tempt and the taunt and the tease of  the Big Time, just like everyone. But the Big Time’s a thousand important, dismissive miles away. So the Big Time’s piped in: Netflix, HBO, Spotify, all of it, to every corner of the 5G world, 24/7. If it’s on the screen, it can seem more real than any real thing that appears at the local rec centre, live, in person.

Ninety-five percent of touring, working artists are up against the numbers, and the metrics, and the bottom line, and the disillusion in the hinterlands. A half-filled small town hall is a heartbreak. Of course it is. And not just for the bottom line. For the redemption of notoriety. For the artists, yes, but for their supporters, too, and their families, and the local organizers, and their standing in their town.

You’ve got to decide what you’re doing out here. We’ve decided. We’re writing love letters to these places. Not get well cards, not ‘thinking of you’ notes. Honest to God pleas for them to work for a better day. And we do it one night at a time, two hours a night, on these small main streets.
And then, every once in a while, things like this happen. The show last night in St. Andrews – lots of saints out here – was unexpectedly raucous and fervent and devout, small scaled and big of heart. Fifteen minutes after the curtain I step into the rec centre foyer – unfavourably phosphorescent –  to sign a few books, and it looks like all folks are still there, talking, taking in the Grief and Mystery aftermath together. They look at me like I’ve descended from somewhere else, and then we break that spell, and have some time together. Then we break down the stage gear, pack it in the van, and drive an hour’s worth of highway miles in the rain to get close to the ferry. We roll into an Econo Lodge on the edge of St. John, New Brunswick at minutes to midnight, with maybe six hours of sleep ahead before the wheels go up. In case it’s been a while since you toured: these places contribute more than their fair share to local landfill mayhem. Everything but the sheets and towels seems to be a one-use post-covid mindless disposal horror show. I genuinely writhe at the prospect of staying in them, bottom line-friendly though they may be.

Down to the ghastly breakfast options this morning, to find that the owners have made proper washable kitchen utensils and bowls available for people like me still too sensitive to handle the throwaways. Maybe they’ll soon risk it all and do away with the choice, and everything will be usable again.

Stephen Jenkinson
Founder of Orphan Wisdom