Art And Music Is The Only Thing That Dictators Can’t Stop - Ramy Essam

Expect the unexpected and the rewards will be plentiful! Highlights from our February travels.

There is nothing normal about a twenty day road trip to Atlantic Canada that ends with seven days in Kanas City MO. Put it this way I don't think you will find a travel agent selling packages of eight flights in February, spanning three weeks in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI, Labrador, Newfoundland and Kansas City. Throw in a handful of car rentals, gear rentals and no more than a day in each place outside of Kansas City and you got yourself a recipe for a ridiculous amount of exhaustion.

Now of course our venture was one of purpose and I found myself saying to all audiences no matter how big or small, “The three of us travelled thousands of kilometres to be here tonight, far from the familiar comforts of home and the ones we love most. So there’s gotta be a purpose to us being here tonight!” I would share this to add entertainment value and to be truthful, because I have a need for people to understand the reality of our situation. 


My wife and I have a twenty month old daughter, who communicates though gibberish and emotional disposition. Communicating why daddy is going away for a while can't be done, I’m just gone. For the most part she got stoked for FaceTime with Dada, that would end with reluctant goodbyes. No meltdowns really until my return, when the processing of my absence began to occur. She shows it through not letting me out her sight, constant hugs, latching on to me, grabbing my hand to take me around the house, putting off bedtime with activities to keep me engaged and beside her. The most heartbreaking being middle of the night crying saying Dada while doing so. She sleeps in the bed with us, so this was done while looking me in the eyes and throwing herself on top of me. I can’t explain the heartache that is triggered in me to witness such an honest display of emotion and I want nothing more than to take the pain away. Needless to say I am happily spending every second possible with her and working at night. Let’s throw on my incredibly exhausted wife, because a little one that age needs extra momma comfort when I am gone and to be engaged constantly on account of her daily amazement with life in general. I have only love and gratitude for the abundance of love I receive from them both.

I understand it’s an intimate look into this Bear’s life and it is a part of what we do. When we play, write, record we are giving the entirety of our lives to audiences. When we are away from our loved ones the folks we play for and meet get the best parts of ourselves, while our biggest supporters tend to our children, pups and homes. If I didn't believe there was a bigger purpose to all of these life altering choices affecting the lives of so many, I wouldn't be wasting my time, cant afford to. If I wasn't committed to a Purposeful Pursuit of Passion, I wouldn't be a present and happy father, husband, brother, son, and man. Time here is short and I want to influence the world around me with kindness and art. Theres is no wistful hope within me, just a driving force to create the success I desire, so this all turns into a life of our families having the choice to join us on these interesting adventures. It’s as our Fox says from time to time, we are out there working towards and fulfilling our dreams, not theirs, which is the ultimate display of love and support in my opinion. Especially from the lack of certainty and consistency that comes along with a life in music. So let's recap the experience rich February we just had.


Atlantic Canada was full of memorable shows, some of the most passionate people came out to support, evident from meeting and talking with them post show. There’s no doubt that we were received extremely well and can’t wait to go back. Newfoundland in particular, there is a sense of appreciation of making the journey over and I would akin the province to life on Vancouver Island. It feels like a different world over there. A very definite culture exists and a love for music is at the forefront for sure. Artists I want to mention The Fortunate Ones, The Once and Amelia Curran all hail from Newfoundland. We kept seeing posters for the Fortunate Ones during our time in Saskatchewan as they were doing a similar tour to ours. They came to our show at the Ship in St John’s, just a joy to get to know them. That prompted me to check out their work and was easily moved by their blend of anthemic folk drenched in beautiful harmonies. Amelia we had met in Nashville and she showed up to a press engagement we were filming. She was stuffing envelopes full of informational materials and t shirts for a mental healthcare awareness project called It’s Mental.

First watched her last year in Nashville during Americana Fest and now at this point I’m a huge fan, a beautiful wordsmith, such a lovely unexpected surprise to meet her on a personal level. I shared a story with her of how my daughter loves bananas, she calls them nana’s and her song Somebody Somewhere with the chorus containing a bunch of Na Na’s, was the first song she ever sang along to. She said it made her day and it made mine for the simple fact of feeling closer to home by sharing a cute story of our munchkin. The Once just kept coming up in conversation during our Newfoundland shows, on account of the similar three piece harmonizing emotionally charged music, can’t understand why. I was moved to check out there most recent work, their EP We Win Some We Lose is nothing short of gorgeous from start to finish. Lyrics, harmonies, production a perfect storm of lovely. Coincidentally they would be playing at Folk Alliance the following week. Getting the chance to meet the artists before or after listening to their work allows me to connect so much more to their creations, a valuable experience I didn't realize until this tour.


Part of the unexpected on this trip was wholeheartedly the entire Folk Alliance International festival and conference. We knew nothing about it outside of road folklore from other artists and industry folks. As a whole the prominent tone from all certainly had the tinge of current American affairs. I was reminded of the origins of folk music, steeped in highlighting injustice and prompting change with love as the fuel. So grateful for all the speakers and messages shred about the power of music and the human heart. 

Our dear friends from Saint John NB, who we saw while in Saint John, were showcasing at Folk Alliance as well. John and Lisa of Tomato Tomato have become like family whenever we have the opportunity to reconnect. Running around the site, hanging out and seeing their faces was a much needed comfort after weeks of harsh winter and travelling every day. Folk Alliance is primarily a large showcasing event for talent buyers to fill their seasons of entertainment and the bulk of performances happen in hotel rooms spanning three floors. Each floor is turned into a dorm like setting, gig posters cover every inch of the walls and every room has artists performing while refreshments flow freely. I’m happy to say the Canadian presence was immense, starting with an empowering speech from Bruce Cockburn which I put online here. Bruce's Speech


We showcased for Freedom Folkers and much love to Music Ontario who asked us to perform their showcase from our performance in Nashville…blush and thank you! The bulk of our showcases were presented by BreakoutWest, a confederation of Music BC, Alberta Music, Sask Music and Manitoba Music. Lindsay and her crew just made us feel so welcome and at home in an otherwise insane scenario. Essentially you fork over a ton of dough for the possible opportunity of acquiring work, so you gotta bust your ass outside of performances to in make your presence known. For the point of life that we three are at and with a new record to promote, we gave our all and walked away fulfilled with many lovely opportunities on the horizon. 


Notable performances to mention and artists to check out, our friends Tomato Tomato, they have a batch of new material that you will hear I’m sure because once laid down it is that good. Good songs always find a home. The are a husband and wife duo, John rocks the flattop box and Lisa is a one lady percussive army, washboard, kick drum, tin cans and a voice like an angel. Again HARMONIES, saying this a lot, I love harmonies and their voices together only adds to the charm of stage show.  

After listening to The Once non stop for a week, their performance elevated my love for their art. A wonderful stage show, a beautiful blend of comedy, heartfelt messages and stories…like another band I know wink! Met up with one of the members and experienced a hilarious exchange peppered with Newfoundland talk. 

We share the same publisher with Terra Lightfoot, her blend of soulful blues is such a joy to experience, she does things with a guitar I will never and she is hilarious to hang out with.  

Ken Stead and Erin Kay brought tears to my eyes, road weary when I watched them, their songs and voices together is pure magic, that day I needed the words the were sharing, so thankful. I told them to give up the solo careers and just become the duo the need to be, it’s the thing to do these days, strength in numbers and who doesn't love harmony rich songs. Couple of the best singers I’ve heard in a long time and from my hometown of Edmonton. William Prince from Winnipeg has a bassy baritone voice that is hypnotic and equally matched by his thoughtful words and delivery.


Also a cat out of Saskatchewan, Joel who goes by the stage name Poor Nameless Boy, has stage attire that may make you question whats about to happen and then he opens his mouth with his beautiful blend melancholy folk, heartfelt words, sombre melodies and you accept every piece of what he is laying down. 

Although we’ve done many investment type events over the last year and half, monetary wise they don't offer much for the immediate and at the same time have a human experience value you can’t put a price on. Meeting and sharing stories with folks doing the same thing as you are is comforting in a way of knowing you're not alone in your struggles and desires. Especially when it comes to being away from your family and your kids. I need to meet folks like this so when I go home I know it can be done, that there is sacrifice and you do it with purpose. I don't care what it looks like, I just know I want my family with me all the time. Music isn't a job you apply for, have set hours and a salary, although bitter/sweet it requires a different path that will test every level of your commitment. At the end of the day music is one of the most powerful, valuable and communicative creative mediums. It can empower masses to fight for freedom, it can make your most loneliest moment feel bearable, and it can remind you of all you have and love. I want to be a part of the beauty in this life that inspires change through love and understanding. 

aaron bethune