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Outlaw Country Cruise 6 features legends, liquor and lots of Bill Kirchen

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It’s good to be back but it was better to be away for the past week on Outlaw Country Cruise 6 for  a good week of stories, live music and the occasional bouts of weirdness.

Waco Brothers bassist Alan Doughty on the pool deck, March 2. Photo by Richard Amery


It was a shock to return to Alberta where everyone seems to be in more of a hurry, more stressed out and angrier than usual, after a week of a self-imposed news and social media blackout, drunk on a boat in the middle of the Caribbean, where peace, love happiness, camaraderie and communing over great music is the general order of the day.


The Norwegian pearl docked in Belize. Photo by Richard Amery

It was just nice to take a break from Covid, convoys and the Ukraine and people bellyaching about all of that and more on social media. Though the stateroom televisions had three news stations available, I made a point of avoiding them, in between shows, tuning in to repeats of Jack Black’s “Nacho Libre” and a couple documentaries about Mojo Nixon, the Beat Farmers and Asleep at the Wheel and a really cool film Grand Theft Parsons, a highly fictionalized account of  road manager Phil Kaufman stealing and cremating his best friend Gram Parsons body in the desert. Steve Earle interviewed Kaufman himself with the Emmylou Harris hot band a little later in the cruise.


 The Outlaw Country Cruise has become my one big annual escape and treat to myself. And as usual, the music  is what makes everything worthwhile from the Covid tests to the hassles of travelling by plane in the twenty-first century. I’m officially off duty, it is still an adjustment to not have to cover shows, though I end up writing about  them anyway.


 It’s a chance to see bands who barely ever make it to Canada, let alone Alberta, and in some cases the last chance to see them at all.


Since Outlaw Cruise 5, headliner Kris Kristofferson, the Georgia Satellites’ Dan Baird and The Bottle Rockets’ Brian Henneman all decided to retire from the business. Their shows on the last boat were their last official performances.

 This year, UNBEPA or Unlimited Beverages packages were included in the price of the cruise, so it got pretty drunk out so I made a point of leaving my camera in my stateroom while I gained my sea legs.


Steve Earle kicking off Outlaw Country Cruise 6. Photo by Richard Amery

 After we went though the extensive boarding procedure including Covid tests in Miami, and everybody got settled in, found their sea legs and communed with old cruising buddies, the first night was off the hook. As usual Steve Earle  kicked everything off on the pool deck in the first big bash of the boat. He’s released three  albums in as many years including a tribute to his son Justin Townes Earle, and was wearing a Justin Townes Earle T-shirt, but  he kept his first show  to a greatest  hits show, so we heard all the classics, from “Guitar Town” to Copperhead Road,” after which I had to eat, luckily right around the corner from the pool deck.


 These cruises have always been fanatical about cleanliness. I usually get a kick out of the entrance to the dining room  where a girl with a sanitizer bottle is always stationed, laughing “Washy, washy, happy happy,” but they weren’t doing that this year. The staff seemed to be on edge a little more than usual, still insisting we sanitize before entering the dining room and grabbing a piece of pizza or burger to go or sitting down for a cornucopia of delicious food.


 While there was no “washy, washy, happy happy,” the staff gleefully added coffee themed lyrics as they sang popular hits while pouring slightly hungover outlaws their morning coffee.


 Though we were all required to be vaccinated and take a negative covid test before boarding, masks were supposed to be worn throughout the cruise, but few were, though one of the gifts we all received was a cool luchador style mask to go with this year’s luchador theme.


That aside it was all about the music.

 Almost every band I signed up to see were playing on the same night, usually competing with each other, but I jumped between the upper level of the pool deck where American Aquarium were playing  their laid back mid-tempo country rock music, mostly from their new CD “Lamentations, and the Spinnaker theatre, where Asleep At the Wheel were holding court for their first show of the week.


 Asleep at the Wheel were fantastic as I expected, so the theatre was packed. It was tough to  get a sight line around all the dancers and drinkers. Ray Benson is the consummate frontman. He grinned as he juggled during a few of his band members’ solos on a variety of western swing hits including lots of Bob Wills

A howler monkey on Monkey Island, Belize. Photo by Richard Amery, who Asleep At the Wheel have been happily re-popularizing since forming in the early ’70s.


 They had a relentless rhythm and an unstoppable horns section.

 Shinyribs  had their first show in the Stardust, the main theatre on the first night. That was one show where I really missed having my camera. Frontman Kevin Russell did a fine soft shoe, belting out soulful country and jazz tinged music with a mile  wide smile.

San Diego alt country band Beat Farmers also played their first show of the cruise in the atrium on the first night. They played a tight set, had fantastic multi-part vocal harmonies and even had a few sweet harmonized guitar solos as they played a lot of the songs from  their “Pursuit of Happiness album.”


The next day had a lot of highlights. One I was really looking forward to was a Salute to Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, one of the first cosmic country/ hippy country bands to emerge in the late ’60s, lead by Bill Kirchen who was everywhere, playing his own own shows, or leading a  jam on Bakersfield country music or just popping up on stage to jam with pretty much everybody else on the boat. I lost track of how many times I heard “Seeds and Stems,” but the “outlaws” on board enjoyed it.


The Commander Cody Tribute was many of several shows featuring guest appearances form the other performers on the boat and showcased Kirchen’s prodigious skill on the Telecaster. He played his spectacular jam on  “Hot Rod Lincoln” which  incorporates pretty much every well known guitar hook from  the mid twentieth century from Johnny Cash to the Sex Pistols. I got to hear him play that numerous times and was left with my jaw on the floor every time.


RV expo, AG expo and Home and Garden Show postponed by three weeks due to Covid restrictions

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Exhibition Park is postponing three major events for a few weeks due to Covid 19 restrictions.

The Southern Alberta RV Expo has been rescheduled to Feb. 25 – March 6, 2021 from the original date of Feb. 4-14.
AG-Expo and Northern American Seed Fair has been postponed to March 17-19, 2021 from the original date of Feb. 24 – 26.
 And Mike Warkentin. Photo by Richard Amerythe Southern Alberta Home & Garden Show will now take place April 7-10, 2021 from the original date of  March 17-20.

 “ So many of these local businesses rely on these shows every year, so we’ve giving them as much opportunity to adjust,” said Mike Warkentin, Chief Operating Officer of Lethbridge & District Exhibition, estimating the postponement will affect approximately 600 local businesses.


Here's to the best of a bad year: Good riddance 2020

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This year has been the best year of my life. I was in three plays, had three art shows, went back to school and the Allied Arts Council presented me with the Mayors Award for Individual Excellence, as L.A.Uncovered playing  Halloween at Pop’s Pub South. Photo By Richard Amery Beat celebrated 10 years of supporting and covering Lethbridge’s amazing arts and entertainment scene.

 Wait a minute, that was last year. Thanks to Covid 19, 2020 has been an apocalyptic, puritanical nightmare where there’s no singing, dancing or live music or entertainment allowed, where live music venues, theatres, art galleries, restaurants and bars were forced to close for “ the greater good.”

And just like in the Greek myth of Sisyphus who was forced to push a rock up a mountain  as a punishment for trying to cheat death, only to have it roll back to the bottom and force him to do it all over again for eternity,  just when it looked like things were under control in September and things cautiously started to open up again and it might look like things would get back to normal, the second spike hit and, as predicted, things got a lot worse.

I’m not a medical, epidemiology or virology expert, but every graduate of Facebook university has become one. Perhaps spouting and repeating conspiracy theories helps them cope. We have all been doing our best just to survive a year that has seemed to last forever. Before you share something you saw on Facebook or Youtube, or get after someone who has a different opinion about how to deal with unprecedented times, just remember people have their own agendas. Someone, somewhere is making money off not only your fear but your paranoia. It sure isn’t me. It's been exhausting being inundated by it all.

I knew 2020 was going tPeter and the Wolved playing behind pexiglass. Photo by Richard Ameryo be a challenge. I went back to school as planned in January, but had to postpone it to take care of some serious family issues. I continued singing lessons and even had my first audition for New West Theatre’s production of Dear Johnny Deere. I didn’t get the part but it was worth it for the experience.

I missed auditions for Shakespeare’s in the Park’s Merry Wives of Windsor as I went on the Outlaw Country Cruise from Miami to the Florida Keys to Jamaica and back at the end of February. For my live music fix of the year, I saw Steve Earle, the Waco Brothers, the Mavericks, Supersuckers, Bottle Rockets and NRBQ and got back just as everything was shutting down because of Covid. I got to fulfill a long term dream of overcoming my stage fright to play Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Stolen Horses” on stage in front of people in the same venue as Ray Wylie Hubbard, who was on the boat, but wasn’t in the audience as he was preparing for his show right after the jam. He actually got a request for “Stolen Horses,” though he said he couldn’t remember how to play it. And that was the highlight of a year that was a big bag of suck.

 The rest of the year was spent taking care of my dad, taking care of his business, getting him settled into his new place, hiking in the coulees, reading a lot and doing a few much neglected home improvement projects.
 This is where it is most important to count blessings. Covid has been devastating senior’s residences all over the country. Thanks to the efforts of the staff and some strict health precautions, my dad’s residence has thankfully been Covid free, knock on wood. So has my aunt‘s residence. I’ve also been relatively healthy and so have my friends and family.
 A lot of people took the opportunity of forced downtime and CERB payments to re-evaluate their lives and come up with their second acts. I didn’t. I probably should have, but we all cope in our own ways.

 To quote Ray Wylie Hubbard “ The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, I have really good days.”

When it looks like the world is falling apart, people turn to art. Just think of all the music you listened to during the lockdown and the TV and movies you binge watched. None of that would have been possible without artists.

Artists are resilient. They have to be at the best of times. This year they were forced to use all their creative muscles and adapt like they never have had to adapt before.
 Local artists like Gabe Thaine opted to do regular online performances throughout the summer. Pop up concerts were popular all over the city when the weather was nice. Michael Bernard  Fitzgerald opened his “Greenbriar” tent  tour in Lethbridge, playing a late announced show at  a farm outside of town, which almost immediately sold out. Country star Gord Bamford had to pivot after cancelling his massive Rednek arena tour. He opted to do a smaller drive-in tour in July , where people could watch he and his band play their many hits from the comfort of their vehicles. The tour was designed to raise money for mental health organizations in all his tour stops. Their Exhibition Park show raised money for Woods Homes and Lethbridge and District Family Services.

 A lot of other artists took advantage of downtime to create new music. Starpainter, Brenna Lowrie, Skinny Dyck, Taylor Ackerman’s Global Acid Reset, Corb Lund and Dark Wrangler were among numerous local bands who released new music during the pandemic. Those were just the ones I heard. Local punk band Berserker also has a new CD out, but I haven’t had a chance to hear it yet.


Farmer's market returns to Exhibition park this weekend

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Farmer’s Markets return to Exhibition Park this  Saturday, May 23. But there are a lot of rules that need to be followed to ensure patrons’ safety from Covid.
The Market will run in the North Pavilion 9 a.m. to  2 p.m. every Saturday. It will expand to the main pavilion
 Priority access is offered to seniors and people with disabilities from 9 -9:30 a.m.

“As we continue to navigate and adjust to the new normal, we are excited to be able to serve our community, while supporting local producers and exhibitors through the 50th anniversary of the Farmers’ Market at Exhibition Park.

We know that many people are concerned about food availability and accessing it in a safe manner. As such, we are making every effort to be adaptive and responsive during this time. As always, our top priority is creating an environment in which our guests, exhibitors and employees are safe. We continue to work closely with our local contacts at Alberta Health Services, the Alberta Farmers Market Association, Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Response and are committed to remaining up to date on any COVID 19 announcements from the Government of Alberta as they relate to any aspect of the delivery of the Farmers’ Market.


Kindred spirits and six toed cats on Outlaw Country Cruise 5

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I have been MIA for the past week on a much needed vacation cruising with kindred spirits from all over the world, but mostly from the U.S.. The Outlaw Country Cruise, sponsored by Sirius XM’s  Outlaw country, is an excellent opportunity to visit places I’ve never been and see some of my favouriThe Waco Brothers on the Outlaw Country Cruise. Photo by Richard Ameryte bands who never play here. As Texan born/ New York based songwriter Outlaw Country host Steve  “Copperhead Road,” “Someday” Earle noted, “ When you’re from New York, it does not suck to be on a cruise ship in January. The same goes for being from Lethbridge.

While I missed auditions for Shakespeare in the Park’s summer production of the Merry Wives of Windsor, One Bad Son and Eamon McGrath’s ’s return to Lethbridge, I did not miss the latest bout of snow, cold and wind, though I returned in time for the next bout of all of them. I also did not miss people complaining about the latest health scare, Trump, Trudeau and traffic. The Outlaw Country Cruise is literally a departure from all that.

 This year, we departed from Miami en route to the Florida Keys to Jamaica and back from Jan. 29-  Feb. 3 and it was fabulous. In addition to non-stop music on board, there were day trips to war correspondent and renown author Ernest Hemingway’s house in the Florida Keys, a former naval base that has been repurposed into expensive condominiums. I saw Hemingway’s study where he wrote “A Farewell To Arms” and “Old Man And the Sea. Six toed cats, the descendants of Hemingway’s original pets wove their way through the legs of hordes of tourists crammed into Hemingway’s rooms, listening to a bellicose guide relate a well rehearsed diatribe about Hemingway’s life and wives. A six toed cat at Ernest Hemingway’s house. Photo by Richard Amery

The cats even crawled onto Hemingway’s bed to get their bellies scratched by adoring tourists.
 I also got to visit Jamaica, particularly reggae legend Bob Marley’s home. His home town of Nine Mile has become a tourist trap with residents eager to sell trinkets, T-shirts, pot brownies and some of the most massive bombers I’ve ever seen to tourists eager to take in a slice of reggae and music history in the land of homegrown fun. You can photograph everything except the inside of the mausoleums of Marley who died at 37 of melanoma cancer and his younger brother who was killed by police in Miami in 1990 and a separate mausoleum for his mother, who are all buried on site next to a tiny chapel.

I had to do it. It’s so important to take some time to disengage, set the brain to neutral and just enjoy the ride instead of being overwhelmed by the trials and tribulations.
I listen to bands even hipsters have never heard of, so it is just cool to share a knowing grin with somebody else wearing a Govt. Mule T-shirt.

As usual, I return home with a bag full of new music discovered on the boat including new bands, familiar faces with new bands and people I haven’t heard of — yet. I found a great band call the Yayhoos featuring Dan Baird of the Georgia Satellites. Baird also played bass with Jason and the Scorchers’ Warner Hodges this trip and fronts Dan Baird and Homemade Sin which also features Hodges and who were on the boat last year as well as with his band.

Elizabeth Cook on the Outlaw Country Cruise. Photo by Richard Amery
  I found another great band called the Waco Brothers, who add more of a Celtic feel to country rock music and still remind me of Edmonton punks the Raygun Cowboys. As a bonus , they feature the coolest, most groovingest bassist I’ve ever seen. And Jesse Malin, who was in a band called D Generation in the late ’90s opening for Green Day. Now he’s gone country—ish.

I had to pick up an old Bottle Rockets live CD and a new Supersuckers CD and Jason Ringenberg’s new solo Cd. You can hear them all on my radio shows on CKXU  Disco Sucks Punkin Old School, Wednesdays from 10 a.m.- midnight and Saturday night’s Hotrock blues Beat 8-10 p.m.

I love seeing these new bands as much as I love hearing the Mavericks, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Bottle Rockets, Robbie Fulks and other cats I  signed up to see.

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