Interview with: Lucas Hicks from SappyFest

Guys. I can’t even handle my excitement.


SappyFest 9 is just around the corner. On August 1st everyone will gather on Bridge Street in Sackville for another full weekend of your favourite music.

The Constantines, Rae Spoon, Cousins, Mike Feuerstack, Julie Doiron … It’s old home week.

I interviewed Lucas Hicks, the new Creative Director at SappyFest. Check it out!

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Hey Lucas! Tell me about yourself and what you do

I’m an original Sackville local. I’ve been here for my whole 20 years.
I help co-founders and ex-festival directors, Paul Henderson and Jon Claytor, run a pub in town called Thunder & Lightning.
I’m also organizing myself to start a booking agency here on the East Coast.

This past year was rough, tell me about it.

It was rough, but we pulled through thanks to our dear supporters.
After last year’s festival there was a deficit of about 15k. Paul and Jon came up with the idea to create a coffee table book highlighting the last eight years of the festival. They both had decided it was going to be their last festival before it happened but stuck around to raise the money and create the book, SappyForever. It’s a tremendous piece of work. We pre-sold over 250 copies and set out on a tour from Halifax to Toronto to throw shows and deliver the books. It was a huge success and meant a lot to all of us. It helped strengthen the organization. Paul and Jon both still play a really important role and there’s a bigger and better board of directors.

What is your relationship with SappyFest?

What are some of your favourite memories of the festival?

I found out about the festival 6 years ago when I was in middle school. Shotgun Jimmie came to play a few songs for my class and told us all about the festival. I emailed Paul, the director at the time, and insisted that I get involved somehow. It’s always primarily been a 19+ event due to liquor laws in New Brunswick, but they created a great youth volunteer position that allowed me to help out and still get cultured. I stuck pretty close to him after that, he’s taught me a lot.

The SappyFest lineup this year is like a family reunion.

What should I be looking forward to?

I’m really excited to have all the classic Sappy artists together: Michael Feuerstack (ex-Snailhouse), Julie Doiron, Shotgun & Jaybird. It’s going to be really special.
There’s also some amazing bands that are pretty fresh and haven’t played the festival yet like Ought, Freelove Fenner, and Dusted. It’s a great mix.

If someone is new to SappyFest

What should they know going in? How can you ever really prepare?

Don’t prepare too much. It’s an amazing environment and an even better community.

What is a typical day like for you?

I’m in the office by 9 responding to emails and making sure all the day to day stuff is running smoothly. I take care of the programming, production, and artist relations so there’s always something to do.

and what’s your dream day like?

Listening to all the Pavement records in order and strolling downtown for ice cream, which basically happens weekly. I’m pretty lucky.

What’s next?

Things have been really busy with the festival just a month away. Planning for next year pretty much starts immediately after So it stays busy but is much less stressful. I’ll hopefully be able to focus my time into starting the booking agency up.

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Thanks, Lucas!

Weekend passes for SappyFest are on sale here. They’re still looking for volunteers and billets – find more info on that by clicking either word.

Here’s the SappyFest schedule:

(you should click it so you can actually read it)

I’ll see you there.

An event you should be attending: Photo workshops with Allie Beckwith

I met Allie back in 2012 when I invited her on a whim to take part in #SaintJohnCut3. I loved her photographs from the shoot and since then have been in awe of her fast and awesome success.

In just a few short years (while finishing up her studies) she has shot at New York Fashion Week, been published on the Italian Vogue website and has shot for the blog And I Was Like.

Next week Allie is holding a photo workshop where she’ll have everything laid out for you – the venue, the model, the backdrop and the assistance. You show up with your camera and she’ll guide you through the process of a fashion shoot. The next night you’ll gather at UNBSJ and she’ll critique your portfolio and your shots from the night before.

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I asked Allie about an instance when she was able to have one on one time with a photographer and how that benefited her and her photography career….

A few months ago I had an 1h long phone call with Fashion Photographer, Chris Nicholls. He is a photographer based in Toronto and works a lot with FLARE Magazine. He has photographed Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry & Lorde and so many more. He really gave me a lot of confidence in my shooting. He told me his story of how his career evolved over the years and the steps he had to take to get where he is today. He was really encouraging and told me that I was already ahead of where he was at 20 years old, so that really gave me perspective to where I stand and gave me a lot of valuable advice moving forward. 


I was also able to chat with Allie about what kind of advice she’ll be giving when looking through your existing portfolios, whether you’re a model or a photographer…

When reviewing a model’s portfolio I look for how many shoots they have under their belt, if they are experienced, if they have diversity, if there are photos without makeup so I can see if they have potential to what I’d like to turn them into, if they can hold some looks better than others, etc. 
The advice I would give to models is to show as much range as possible, I like working with a model that is really confident in all the situations I face her with, and also be creative with posing, it excites photographers like me reviewing a models book when she has unique posing. 
While when reviewing a photographer’s portfolio I am looking at lighting, concept, location, retouching, post processing, the image as a whole, not so much the models features.
For photographers, I would say stick with one theme, if it’s fashion keep it fashion, if it’s weddings, keep it weddings. It’s tough reviewing a portfolio that has fine art, to new born, to event photography, to sports, etc. You want to show your strongest field. 

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For more info on the workshops click here.

As of June 27th there are only 2 spots left – so don’t delay!



A contest you should be entering: Brunswick Square’s Summer Style Contest

I like to consider myself a pretty knowledgeable person. I might not be able to tell you who sings a certain song or who the main character is in a movie… but ask me who designed a certain dress or pair of sunglasses and I’m ON IT.

Brunswick Square is holding a contest that, I’m sure, was made for me.

Brunswick Square

Use your fashion sense and guess which Brunswick Square store styled each outfit currently on display on the 3rd level, next to Baubles.

I stopped by yesterday to check out the scene and snapped a few photos…





Do you think you know? I have my guesses.

Drop by Brunswick Square and fill out a ballot. You could win… wait for it… a $500 shopping spree. That could buy a lot of summer style.



Follow Brunswick Square on Twitter and Facebook below:

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Interview with: Scott Thomas + an event you should be attending

It took me so long to finally get my act together and attend an Improve show at the Saint John Theatre Company, hosted by the Improvisation Corporation. It was REALLY FUNNY.

I think I was nervous at first to attend because I’m not into the “make fun of the audience” style of comedy. This wasn’t like that! They ask for volunteers to tell a story from their day or week and they add to it. It’s funny.


This Friday is the “Season Finale” featuring my friends, Bad People, as their musical guest.

I think you should add this to your calendar. I’ll see you there.

In the meantime, enjoy this interview with Scott Thomas, funny guy and great actor!

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Hi Scott, tell me about yourself and what you do?

I’m a dad and an academic advisor at UNBSj and also a local theatre devotee. Ive been heavily involved in theatre performance and production for over 20 years now and my journeys on the stage have taken me to all sorts of places – but eventually back to my home town. Ive been working with the SJ Theatre Co for 10 years now and have operated my own improvisational comedy group (Improv Corp) for about 8 years.

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How did you get started in theatre?

Probably doing skits around campfires at summer camp – its a tough environment – a set with live fire and an audience more interested in making out than laughing. High School theatre at St Macs really gave me the bug and just enough success to develop an ego. Later after giving up theatre forever after Bob Doherty didn’t cast me in his production of Little Shop of Horrors, I rediscovered theatre while at university. Those early theatre days in Halifax stripped the ego away and had me working as background set painter, tech crew, chorus, writer and whatever other parts I could scrape together. Over time I managed to find my way to working with some very talented and sensible people who gave me an excellent grounding in theatre performance and production. Over time opportunities came to work around the maritimes including a very fun 2 year stint with TNB.

How did you get started in Theatre in Saint John?

I arrived back in SJ like most people – unexpectedly – and began to seek out local theatre. I was initially going to avoid the SJ Theatre Co as I hadn’t heard very good things – but when they put out a call to do Guys and Dolls (my favourite musical of all time) I had to jump at the opportunity. Bob Doherty was the director and this time he did cast me in the leading role. Working with the company has been a great experience ever since.

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When did Comedy enter the picture… specifically improv?

I have always been a comedy junkie. Growing up it was Monty Python, SCTV, Abbott and Costello, the Marx Bros, Bill Cosby, Steve Martin, Bob Newhart – you named it, I wanted to listen to it. But it was at the Halifax Fringe festival in the summer of 1992 that I saw the format I really wanted to take on. A group by the name of Scriptwrecked featuring local Halifax celebs Jamie Bradley and the late Bill Forbes did an entire show of improvised comedy. It was brilliant. I took every workshop and training session I could find, but it wasn’t until the early 2000’s when I was settled down and had a group of like minded people around me who were equally interested in performing improv comedy. They had previously tried the format with a local group called the Comedy Knights and we relaunched the group under my direction and called ourselves Improvisation Corporation. We’ve been going for close to a decade now and have evolved through differing formats, locations and cast members – but somehow we march on.

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Tell me about Cheese Monkey Box Pirate?

How did that get started?

CMBP is our monthly improv show at the BMO Theatre on Princess St. While rehearsing for our live shows, we would often have to shout out random words to one another as inspiration. As improvisors know, there are some words and names that just keep coming back again and again no mater how random you think things are – for example – it is very common for people to use the name JOHNSON in shows. “Mr. Johnson I have your review here….” For us, the words CHEESE, MONKEY, BOX or PIRATE kept coming up again and again. So we said we would just get it out of the way by naming the show those words. Its our current series name – but that too could change – past shows have been called Potato Salad, Funzai, Comedy Night in SJ and The Maple Leaf Queens Comedy Buffet – who knows what it will be next year?

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What can an audience member expect at a CMBP show?

We do scenic long form improv based on tales told to us by our guest stars – usually a local celeb or musician. Once we have their story we used it like a shopping list an explore the ideas and characters in a variety of short improvised scenes. Sometimes they are connected other times not – you never know. What an audience can expect is the unexpected – which is often a funny take on relatable situations. Its a fun night – we have a bar, its a cabaret party atmosphere and it’s free to get in the doors – all we ask is that you “Pay what you can” when we put out out bucket of truth. Al of our CMBP proceeds support the SJ Theatre company and we’ve already had success with helping them get new chairs and tech equipment for our current space the BMO Theatre.

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Thanks, Scott!

See you Friday!

Facebook event (( here ))

#30before30 – Here we are


It’s May 28th… approximately 141 days since my very first OnRamp class at Fundy CrossFit and 148 days since going cold turkey on spaghetti for every meal, cutting out “bagels as lunch” and omitting “extra cheese” from everything I consume.

My goal in January was to lose 30 pounds before my 30th birthday. Tomorrow is my birthday and I’m happy to report….

*looks up HTML for blinking, scrolling, flashing text*

I did it everybody! I’m 30 pounds lighter and 100x happier!

Eating Well

From years of experience, It’s very clear to me that going to the gym and being active is only 40% of the battle toward looking and feeling better. The remaining 60% is fuelling your body with what it needs and avoiding and cutting down on what it doesn’t.

I tried my best to count points for the first few months of the year. Once I got the hang of it, I found I didn’t really need all of the crap that I did before. I snacked on a lot of Special K crackers, salsa and apple sauce.

Being Active

I was reminded last night that my original plan for #30before30 was to try a bunch of activities. I would spend a month doing yoga, try my hand at boxing, take up running or cycling or skating…

The only activity I managed to do (other than CF) was a few extra walks here and there! I didn’t expect to become as addicted as I did (and am) to CrossFit.


I’m SO GLAD I stuck it out.

When people ask me “oh my goodness how do you do CrossFit? – It’s so hard!”, I try to get across to them – it WAS hard. Now I want it to be harder. I can’t wait for it to be harder. When a workout isn’t that bad, I’m bummed I didn’t add on 5 more pounds. Or when I’m not panting and sweating and wanting a good nap on the gym floor, I think “yeah, I could have pushed harder in the last 2 minutes”.

CrossFit isn’t about beating the person beside you (believe me, I’ve done too many WODs beside Rob Pearson), it’s about beating yourself and the last time you did it.

Since January – I can successfully do a string of real pushups, dead-lift over 110 pounds and jerk 65 pounds over my head. My clean is up to 75 pounds and my box jump is just shy of 16 inches. I feel like I’m winning.

Don’t get me wrong, there were absolutely times when I was losing.

I went 8 weeks straight without improving at all on my back squat. I actually asked if it was possible that “squats just weren’t for me”.

There was also a workout that I still have nightmares over – 150 wall balls for time. I finished that WOD a good 6 minutes after everyone else. A good time for this benchmark workout is around 6 minutes if you do the wall balls unbroken. I was 15 minutes. I actually cried. During the workout. Not a joke. Gillian Goldie finished the workout with me by doing 20 ADDITIONAL wall balls beside me to cheer me on.

I’m so thankful for her and the entire CrossFit community. I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) have made it to my goal without their encouragement.

GAH. Sorry. I’m a sap.


Thanks Adam Kierstead (for buying healthy groceries & also cooking them all for me), Gillian Goldie (for doing extra wall balls and cheering me on all the time), Greg Pattman (for believing I COULD actually do a squat and then high-fiving me when I (14 weeks later) finally nailed it), Cory Brown (for telling me try on a pair of jeans that didn’t fit me and then following up when he knew they would) and Jen Constantine (who I overheard saying I was faster at burpees. Thanks. That put me on cloud nine for weeks).

Here’s to 30 more pounds! (and a lot less CrossFit talk on!)

An Event You Should Be Attending + Interview With: Elaine Shannon

I love when people make things happen in Saint John.

Adriano Silva, Nelson Hum, Kyle Willis ans Gary Stackhouse (plus many, many others) star in the second full length film from Let Em Laugh Productions.

The opening is this weekend (plus another in June) at the Saint John Theater Company BMO Rehearsal Hall. Friday and Saturday is sold out – but there are still tickets available for June 4th and 5th! You can pick up your tickets here: TICKETS

I hope you enjoy the interview below with Elaine Shannon, Producer of the Divorce.

Hi Elaine! Tell me about yourself and what you do!

Besides being a Mom to three busy teens and married to a Marine Engineer I am the Producer and Host of Simply Zen for the Bell Aliant Community One Network. This 30 minute bi-weekly show is how I give back to my community. Every episode touches on an aspect of wellness and it highlights many of the amazing people in our community that are also of service to others to promote wellness. I am so inspired by the guests.

In addition to the TV show I am wrapping production of the Divorce Movie, an independent feature length film that was produced in and around Saint John with a total of 20 locations and over 100 people in cast/crew in a time frame of just under 5 months to film. We have now almost completed post production and will be screening the film May 23/24 June 4/5 at the Saint John Theatre Company to friends and family. We will be submitting the film to film festivals in the next few weeks. From TIFF to Sundance and the Atlantic Film Festival and many niche comedy festivals.

I am also part of the Production team for the Movie Owl River Runners that was chosen as one of the films for the Indiecan10K Challenge. We have 8 months to produce a film with only 10k that we have to raise in an indiegogo campaign. There are 7 films in the challenge from across Canada.

These projects I am currently working on are like a dream to me. I get to use my organizational and project management skills in a creative environment with amazing people…and I get to work with my family on all of my projects.

Tell me about the film – what’s it about?

It is a road trip movie with four main cast and their adventures on a guys weekend to help their buddy take his mind off the divorce.

“The Divorce” Official Trailer #1 from Let Em Laugh Productions on Vimeo.

What is your role in The Divorce film?

My role in the movie is Producer, Production Manager and so many more titles…it is a volunteer project so we are all wearing many hats.

The film opening is this weekend at the Saint John Theatre Company BMO Theatre

What can the audience expect?

We are actually having 4 screenings of the film May 23/24 June 4/5 at the Saint John Theatre Company. The 23rd/24th is sold out. These screenings will help us through feedback from the audience on any changes that we need to do before the festival applications go out and it is also to help raise much needed funds to cover the costs for audio. All of the movie expenses have been covered out of pocket by Rob Parsons the writer/director however the audio is around $5000 and that is something that we need help with financially.

What’s next?

I never really know the answer to that question.
What I do know is it will be fun, it will involve amazing talented people and I will be LIVING life to the fullest and mostly following the breadcrumbs.

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Follow along with the Let Em Laugh Crew and Elaine on Twitter here:

Interview with: James Mullinger

I think meeting Judith Mackin may have been the turning point in my Saint John love-affair-of-a-life. Since meeting Judith, I have welcomed so many great people into my circle of friends that love Saint John as much as I do.

Imagine my surprise when I started following James Mullinger on Twitter and Instagram. Who is this stranger that seems to love Saint John as much as I do? and… (*shocker*) … how can I meet this guy? OF COURSE – it’s not a few weeks later and I’m invited to a meet and greet with James and Pam to welcome them to Saint John – newly arrived from London, England.

Since meeting the Mullingers, my eyes have also been opened to the comedy scene in Saint John. A thing – I’m ashamed to admit – I knew nothing about. Now I’m adding “Comedy Show” to my calendar on the regular.

I hope you enjoy the interview with James Mullinger, new Rothesay resident!

Living the Dream at the Barrel’s Head

Hi James! Tell me about yourself and what you do.

I’m 36 years old and I’m a stand up comedian and writer. I spent 14 years working for GQ magazine in London and almost 10 years as a comedian on the UK comedy circuit. I now live in Rothesay, New Brunswick. Which also happens to be my favourite place on the planet. I have an office at home where I work as GQ’s Comedy Editor and I travel all over the world telling jokes. I am also the Senior Vice President of Richwater Films North American office, who are the leading independent producer of British crime thrillers.

You, your wife Pam and your small children recently made the move across the ocean.

How did that come about?

The short answer is that we wanted a better life. And there is nowhere better than New Brunswick. In my last job I had to spend a lot of time in New York and LA. As a comedian I travel the world. But I can honestly say I have never seen a view more beautiful than across the Kennebecasis River, which is right in front of my new home.

Don’t get me wrong, London is a wonderful and amazing place to visit. But when you have lived there for almost two decades as we did and have two young children it just doesn’t make sense. We had a good life there but my wife travelled a lot for work and I was on the road constantly. We never saw each other and were spending a fortune on childcare. Most depressingly we did not see enough of our son Hunter. So when our second son River was born we knew we needed a change. My wife is from the Kingston Peninsula and had the happiest childhood imaginable. I wanted that for my children.

How did you and your wife meet?

We met 14 years ago when she worked for Vanity Fair magazine. It was my first day at GQ and a mutual friend who was working with her introduced us. Every year since we visited Saint John and spent time with her amazing family who are in Fredericton, Sussex, Saint John and the Kingston Peninsula. I love them all very much and always felt sad when we had to leave. Beautiful people in a beautiful place.

I had a life that some would envy. Parties in glamourous places, photo shoots with supermodels on sunny beaches, interviewing famous people, crap like that. But I was always jealous of my wife’s family and the amazing life they have here.

We knew we needed a change. We debated New York. We debated a suburb of New York. We debated Toronto. I was keen on LA. But ultimately why not come to the most beautiful place in the world with the most lovely people in the world? So one day I suggested we move here. More than a year of heartache and hassle, here we are.

It took a lot of work to get here. Telling my family and our friends was heartbreaking. Dealing with dodgy shipping companies to get our treasured possessions here, the insanely difficult process for me to come and work here and we had a very disappointing experience with our realtor here in Rothesay so the last six months have been rather traumatic. It’s been a very rough ride but we are here now and it’s all been worth it. Not a day goes by without me waking up and realising how lucky we are to live here.

Not only is this the most picture-esque place in the world, it has everything and more that you could want from a city. An amazing theatre, cool bars like Happinez, the best interiors shop I have ever visited (Judith Mackin’s Tuck Studio) and politicians that really care. I honestly feel like the people running Saint John love the city and love the people. That is unique. I have been lucky or unlucky enough to meet and, in some cases interview, lots of politicians in my life: one American President, four British prime ministers, two London mayors so my bullshit detector is pretty good. Mayor Mel Norton is the real deal. A decent, honest, hardworking man who cares about people. And unlike almost all of the politicians I have met, he has charm and style too.

With the exception of our truly terrible realtor experience (which I will happily share with anyone who is interested on what to avoid), every single person we have met and dealt with here has been a joy. In England it is very rare that you get good service. And any time we had work done in our house it was hell. A full-on total nightmare – shoddy workmanship, theft, damage, you name it. Our house in Rothesay is currently being worked on by Dave Walker of Wham Design (who was brought to us by the incredible Judith Mackin who is doing wonders with our interior design) and I have honestly never met a more professional or talented contractor in my life. Dave and his team are actually making the process pleasurable, which I never thought was possible.

Tell me about how you got your start in journalism and comedy?

Well, a lot of this forms part of my Living The Canadian Dream show but to summarize, I spent my childhood as a massive movie buff. I have been collecting movie memorabilia since I was 11 years old, a hobby encouraged and supported by my parents. I used to make my own film fanzines using a typewriter and pictures cut out of other magazines and photos I took of my VHS tapes. I was obsessed with trashy B-movies like The Toxic Avenger and devoted a fanzine to that. I never thought I would be lucky enough to work for a magazine but after securing an internship at GQ I worked my arse off and they offered me a job. I stayed there until a few months ago when I moved here.

At 11 years old, I went to an English boarding school where I was bullied quite badly. We weren’t allowed to see our parents very often (once a month at most) and were not allowed to watch movies except for once a week on movie night. I used to seek solace in comedy tapes, sitting in my room listening to recordings of Steve Martin, Woody Allen, Bill Hicks and English comics like Ben Elton, Mel Smith, Rowan Atkinson. I just loved the art form. As a child who could barely muster the confidence to speak to a girl, I couldn’t understand how these amazing people could be on stage so calm and at ease and on top of that make people laugh. It became a dream to do this but I never thought I would ever be able to get on a stage and speak.

In my mid-twenties I had something of a quarter life crisis after being turned down for a promotion at GQ. I decided I had to try my hand at stand up. I remember the exact moment I made the decision and bizarrely it was here in Saint John. It was New Years Eve 2004 and I was in Steamers enjoying Dinner Theatre with my wife and her parents Barry and Wilhelmina. I was depressed with my life in London, with what I was doing. I looked at these talented young people performing and admired them but was also jealous of them. Whatever they were doing during the day in their day jobs, there they were at night – stars of the stage. Wowing and entertaining us. I decided there and then that 2005 would be the year I did my first open spot. Thanks to my best friend Julian Tuddenham who made us do it, we started in May 2005. He was and is the funniest person I have ever met but gave up doing stand up. I think he hates people too much. Which is fair enough. He is currently writing a script, which I cannot wait to read. It will probably be about how much he hates people.

I still collect movie memorabilia and especially VHS videotapes. My happiest memories as a child are of me scouring a video shop in Maidenhead called Video 83. I still love the musky smell from a video box. It takes me back. I am lucky that my parents encouraged this pursuit, very lucky.

What is the comedy scene like in the London area?

How different/similar is it from the comedy scene here?

Well, there is no doubt that there is a comedy boom right now in the UK but it’s essentially a Ponzi scheme. A dozen or so stand ups at the top are making tens of millions due to arena shows and appearing on every TV show going. The club comics are suffering because clubs keep closing due to the public choosing to spend their hard earned cash on arena shows.

I did alright because as well as doing clubs and universities, I made my own work – toured my own shows and promoted them myself. No agent, no tour manager, no PR. So the shows were exactly as I wanted them and I didn’t have to pay most of the money to someone else.

Now, I had heard from Canadian comics that things were much worse here in Canada. That the comedy circuit is dead. I beg to differ because you just have to make your own work, do it yourself. Don’t just sit back and wait for an agent to do it. I have found as much stand up work in the three months I’ve been here as I did in the UK. Possibly more. And moving to Canada has brought me many opportunities I would no have had in England. In March I opened for one of my favourite American comedians Orny Adams in Edmonton doing seven shows in five nights. I would never have got that opportunity if I was still in England. I am travelling all over Canada doing Yuk Yuks gigs and all over summer I am doing a show in a vineyard. Yes, a vineyard. Talk about living the dream.

And let’s not forget, Canada has the greatest comedy event in the world in Montreal every July. Just For Laughs is simply the most wonderful celebration of comedy. Forget Edinburgh, which is designed to bankrupt comedians and has no filter on it, Montreal is the best of the best while also championing new talent. I love that festival, there is nothing else like it.

Before we met, I had no idea that there was this huge comedy scene here in NB.

but I see that every week you’re working – playing clubs, theatres, bars, pubs, vineyards.

How come I didn’t know all of this was going on until you got here?

Very good question. I don’t know. But to be honest I have been surprised how much comedy there is here and how many brilliant up and coming comics there are here. I was aware of a handful before I moved. Neal Mundle and Lloyd Ravn are two of my favourite comics and are from Moncton and Sussex respectively. And Shane Ogden is a powerhouse of a stand up, hugely respected all over Canada, based in Grand-Bay Westfield and he along with Lloyd have done so much for comedy here. Shane has for five years been organising stand up shows eight times a year featuring the best headliners the world has to offer. Lots of people are certainly aware of him and what he does because his shows are always sold out why don’t more people know about them? It’s odd that these shows don’t get much press coverage.

In other places that I perform a lot (i.e. LA, New York and London) comedy is taken very seriously. Shows are reviewed by the local papers, they have sections devoted to comedy listings. It is strange to me that you don’t have that here.

Obviously I wish there was a Yuk Yuks here, the closest ones are Halifax and St John’s (both of which I am playing in August) which are amazing clubs. Yuk Yuks is a real seal of quality when it comes to stand up and Mark Breslin is a genius but I just wish there was one here in New Brunswick. The market is clearly there. Tickets are selling very fast for my solo show at the Imperial Theatre, which has over 800 seats. Shane’s shows always sell out with more than 300 people packed in. Comedy is big here. And it’s getting bigger. I have edited a comedy issue for British GQ for the past three years. Prior to that GQ had very little comedy on its pages. Now it has a whole issue devoted to it. I wish that the Maritimes media would do the same and devote more coverage to comedy. Then more comedians would come here and more clubs could open.

As we know this is a beautiful place, it is also a great place to do comedy. That’s why I’m here. I spoke with Jerry Seinfeld shortly after his show at the Harbour Station. He loved it, said the audience were exceptionally smart and that he would definitely come back. Let’s celebrate comedy a bit more, highlight the incredible array of homegrown talent here and make Saint John and New Brunswick a real comedy destination for all stand ups. There is such a deep pool of talent here, it’s amazing. Ask me to name you ten stand ups that I would recommend who live in the Maritimes.

OK, recommend ten stand ups that you…

… (Said straight away with no pauses) Jimmy Mackinley. Debra Steeves, Glen K Amo. Darren Elmore. Shane Ogden. Clint Gardiner. Lloyd Ravn. Neal Mundle. Martin Saulnier. Scott Campangna. Trevor Muxworthy. Marcel Richard.

I think that’s twelve.

Well there you go. And there are loads more. I went to Trevor Muxworthy’s gig at Wilser’s Room in Fredericton with my wife’s cousins a few months back and we honestly pissed ourselves laughing non stop all night – it was one of the consistently brilliant nights of comedy I’d seen in ages. About ten acts. All from Fredericton.

There are very few other places that I could name you ten brilliant stand ups other than LA, New York and London. In short, the Maritimes is crawling with awesome stand ups. And yet, here’s you Barb, a very culturally aware and intelligent person who loves going out, had no idea this was all here. Clearly something is very wrong. Why are people not aware of this incredible thing that is happening here right under their noses?

Who are your favourite comedians in the world?

My favourite American comic of all time is Jerry Seinfeld. My favourite British comic is Frank Skinner. I love Katherine Ryan who is a Canadian comic, not very well known here but a huge star in the UK. She is one of my all time favourites – profound and profoundly filthy. And she somehow skilfully weaves feminism into her set as well. Genius. I also love Chris Rock, Doug Stanhope, Carly Smallman, Scott Capurro, Orny Adams, Adam Bloom, Derek Seguin, Allyson June Smith, Tony Law, Andrew Doyle. I admire all comedians, I like most, but those are the ones I love that I can think of right now.

Tell me about “Living the (Canadian) Dream”

(and your upcoming show(s))

It’s a show I toured all over the UK and am doing in Montreal for a week in June. It’s a show I worked very hard on and audiences seem to like it. With other tours I have had the occasional bad show. Every night performing this was a joy. I am very proud of it and I hope everyone at the Imperial likes it. It is all about the notion of Living The Dream and how some of my childhood dreams came true and I messed them up. The aim of the show is to make the audience laugh at my misfortune and leave feeling happy that they aren’t as much of a loser as me. Previous shows I turned were darker, this one has dark moments but is ultimately uplifting and joyful. The first half of the show however will be all new material about my life in New Brunswick. Why we came, who we’ve met, my observations on Saint John and Canada as a whole and anecdotes and funny stories about things that have happened. I pride myself on the fact that the butt of every joke in my shows is me. I don’t like bullying in comedy. I won’t be doing lazy jokes targeting people, or groups of people. The show may be crude at times but the victim is always me. People pay to come out and have a good time and they don’t want to feel uncomfortable or offended. So I am the target of all my jokes. No one else gets abused. Is it the best stand up comedy show you are going to see this year? Not for me to say. But lots of people have told me it is!

Do you still get nervous?

I don’t get nervous as such but I do get, how can I put this, apprehensive. I want the gigs to go well. And I work hard on every facet of the performance and stage persona to make it work perfectly. It sounds pretentious but is a fine art and one slip up on stage because of something you say or do, and you lose the crowd, then it’s all over. So because I take all of this so seriously, I do become obsessive about ensuring the gigs go well. Sometimes this can be nerves, panic, whatever. I may spend a lot of time in the bathroom before particularly big shows. But it is all healthy. It means I care. I take the responsibility very seriously that a lot of good people have paid their hard earned money to laugh and have a good night. This is not something I take lightly so I want the gigs to go well.

When was the last time you were really nervous?

I know that nerves are not my friend so I do try and fight them. But equally you don’t want to appear too cocky on stage either because that can be a turn off for audiences. Last time I felt properly nervous was on 10th March performing for 3,600 people at London’s Hammersmith Apollo. It was a charity gig I had organized for a women’s charity named Eaves. The show was celebrating the third annual GQ comedy issue, which I had worked on. It was 11 of the best comedians in the world… and me. The most people I had performed to prior to that was 800. So that is a hell of a leap and I was, to be honest, shitting myself. But equally I had been nervous my entire career that an opportunity like this might never happen which is a far worse feeling. My dream had always been to play that room. The same room I have seen Chris Rock, Frank Skinner, Louis CK. I never thought I would get the chance to play that room and I did. So that’s what I told myself as I stood behind that curtain about to face 3,600 people. I sought advice from a British comic named Romesh Ranganathan who is one of the best comics and he had done the same venue for a TV gig a few months before. He said when you walk out and do one joke and get the laugh, it just becomes like any other gig and the nerves subside. And that was exactly what happened. It was just what I needed to hear and it helped me immensely.

What’s next for you?

More of the same I hope. I am loving life here in New Brunswick. As I say, I honestly believe it to be the most beautiful place in the world. I hope I never stop appreciating how lucky we are to live here. I guess what is next is to spread the word the word about this wonderful comedy scene in New Brunswick. Get the word out. Because a lot of the stand ups I have mentioned are planning moves to Toronto so they can get more work. That is a real shame. We should be celebrating their work here so that Saint John, Fredericton, Moncton, Sussex don’t lose all their comedy talent to bloody Toronto. So that’s my main mission really: to keep these talented people here by ensuring everyone here knows that this scene is happening. And get people out of their armchairs, away from watching reality shows and into venues like The Somerset, The 3 Mile, The Saint John Theatre Company, Wilser’s Room, Dunham’s Run and others to see live stand up. After all, even though we live in the greatest place in the world, we could all use a good laugh sometimes right?

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Awesome. Thanks James. This was a really great time. I loved chatting with you about your move to Saint John. Thanks again.

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James will be performing throughout the summer at Dunham’s Run Winery (see his Facebook page for Details) and is doing his critically acclaimed solo show at the Imperial Theatre on 9th October. Tickets here

You can check out additional dates on his website.

Follow him on twitter:

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**All photos submitted save for the sweet selfie <3

Jason’s Guide To The 16-Hour Drive Between Saint John and Toronto – Part 3

Here is Part 3 – the final chapter – of the 16 hour drive guide by Jason Ogden – lead singer of Penny Blacks.

Penny Blacks has a string of shows lined up over the next few weeks – SPECIFICALLYthis THURSDAY at Taco Pica with Alex Keleher. Check out their bandcamp page for dates.

Thanks, Jason, for these posts. I’ve never done the drive – but maybe I’ll do it for the plentiful cheese curd varieties.

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My Guide To The 16-Hour Drive Between Saint John and Toronto

I’ve done this a few times now

Part 3
By Jason Ogden

Seventh-Inning Stretch

Of course, it’s always a good idea to stop and stretch your legs, exorcise the caffeinated demon from your pea-sized bladder, or just check out a roadside attraction. I like to take the concept of flash fiction and slam poetry and apply it to other endeavors. I am a great slam tourist. I can be out of the car, on foot and taking in the targeted view or attraction and back in the car accelerating up the on-ramp in a remarkably efficient amount of time. (Note: I was going to use the term “flash tourist” here, but that’s an entirely different means of breaking up the road monotony and a subject for a lengthy paper of its own). Here are some of the noteworthy things I have found en route, or relatively close:

To me, the most boring portion of this trip has always been the stretch between Fredericton and Edmundston. No disrespect to the !really long covered bridge! or the !potato chip factory!, but it’s just all so… familiar. Thankfully, things get more interesting once you cross over into Quebec. There is the aforementioned fromagerie, of course. And not long after that comes the abandoned motel.

As the 185 winds through Saint-Louis-Du-Ha! Ha!, you’ll likely feel the foreboding presence of the Motel Francoeur long before you see it up on the hill to your right. The first thing you’ll notice is the long, flat, stone-cobbled bunker with the word “BAR” embossed on its green door. The plaza of rooms stretches out to its right, attached to its tavern head by the distressed neck of the dining room and office. This place looks like it may have been born in the ‘60s, but experienced its heyday in the ‘70s before it stopped giving a damn about trivial things like appearance, relevance and appeal. I drove by the Francoeur many times before I determined it was fully out of commission and made a detour to find my way there. The actual route to get to the Francoeur is not difficult to find. I leave that to you so that you may experience the thrill of the chase on your own, and also to distance myself from your eventual trial.

It was not until I drove right up to the Francoeur that I realized just how run down the place really is. It is a paradox in that it is so accessible yet appears relatively untouched. People often look at my photos and ask why I didn’t grab some of the mod furniture or fixtures. The simple answer is that because it appears that no one else did. And because I do not want to tangle with the spectral remnants of a sleazy francophone motel. I have seen The Shining many, many times. I don’t need those kinds of flashbacks, man.

I love modern ruins, though, and the temptation to Scooby Doo this place was too great to resist. Plus, iPhones practically beg you to take advantage of these situations with their promiscuous little cameras. The Francoeur delivers on many levels – a dining room that still has all the tables and chairs set as if awaiting the next morning’s breakfast service; beds still in their frames, shower curtains still hung, furniture right out of Mad Men – from vinyl chairs assembled around a spectacularly retro television to conical lampshades set over a kidney-shaped end table surrounded by swivel loungers. In fact, the most modern accoutrements at the Francoeur are probably the spider webs and mold.



Of course, I am not advocating that you venture onto the property and poke around. The place is something to see just from the road. I was very careful in my exploration, but some of the floors were most definitely on the verge of caving in. The floor of the office building had done so entirely, as well as part of the roof. In my defense as an urban explorer I will say that I saw not one “No Trespassing” sign, and almost every door in the joint was open. Not to mention that there was a modern house adjacent to the parking lot that was obviously inhabited. I was there for a good half hour and no one came running out yelling “sortez!”

As far as actual, operating motels go on this trip – the kind where you can spend the night and not be stressed by the threat of spiders, mold and the potential of the floor caving in (effectively ruling out the above motel and the entire Motel 6 chain) – I’ll get to that in a bit.

For now, a few more distractions:

After Rivière-du-Loup, as Route 185 becomes Route 85 and eventually Route 20, the view gets pretty terrific. Particularly during this time of the year. This is one of my favourite parts of the drive. The first thing you’ll notice is that suddenly there is no longer just an endless, brown-grey, caterpillar blur of forest to your right. It has given way to an open expanse of field littered with outcroppings of impressive grey rock that is stubbled with shrubbery. Before long, these monoliths disappear in favour of the great expanse of the Saint Lawrence River. Alternately a chilly blue and a tumultuous brown, the river makes for a welcome companion on this stretch of the trip. As you approach La Pocatière, the road sidles up to the banks and an inviting stretch of trail, boardwalks and foot bridges appears, carrying with it runners, cyclists and other interesting things that are blissfully not trees. Once you start seeing these things, keep your eye out for an exit that takes you down to a little riverfront park. It’s a great place to stop to take a little walk, check your texts or perform that baptism you’ve been putting off. If it’s coffee time, or you are in need of a fuel top-up, there is a Tim Hortons and a gas station on the other side of the highway overpass. One of the next two exits also has a pretty great river view with a little footbridge and boardwalk. I think I like this one better, because it’s usually far less trafficked and has a beautiful lonely feel to it.

There is a giant apple along the 401 in Colborne, Ontario that could house both New Brunswick’s blueberry and potato man. Not to worry though – A quick chop from Nackawic’s axe will put us right back on the “giant produce” map.

There are many more things I could share. However, I believe that the best part of a drive like this is discovering things on your own. I’m sure many of you have your own favourite spots to stop as well as sights that must be seen. Send ‘em my way. I’m always up for freshening the experience by discovering something new.

Rest Stops and Petrol

Rest stops in the middle of the night are creepy places, there is no two ways about it. We’ve all heard the horror stories. I find that in particular the rest stops in Quebec suffer from a Jekyll and Hyde complex. In the middle of a sunny afternoon you’re all like “Ah, what a lovely little roadside park! Look, grass! Shady trees! A place for the dog to wander! And what’s this? A sandwich truck? Thank you, Lord, for this heavenly oasis among this desolate stretch of oil and gas – soaked concrete!”

Stop in after midnight, however, and it’s just a big dark turnout full of trash, smelling of urine and suddenly any person desperate enough to actually stop there looks like a murderer or pedophile. Including you. To another person, sitting in their car trying to choke down a vending machine Red Bull and Doritos just so they can wake up and get the hell away from this God-forsaken hunting ground for the sub-slime of society’s predators, you are the creep. Even that idyllic family, all clean-cut and wholesome in their khakis and sandals, look deranged and dangerous behind the windshield of their Honda Odyssey. And just why is that guy sitting there, bolt-upright in the passenger seat of a station wagon all by himself for going on 20 minutes? What the fuck is he looking at? Should I really take a nap here? Are these truckers going to “wagon train” me?

Necessary evils for those of us who must drive by night and travel in fear, I’m afraid. When you gotta go, you gotta go. You can rest easy, though, knowing that the Province of Quebec employs an army of rest stop sentries to make sure that you don’t slip in urine or loiter too long inside the kiosk:

Nothing creepy or deranged about this

Once you hit the 401 in Ontario, you are treated to the highwayside mini-malls called On Routes. Located at roughly every 80 km along the 401, On Routes are large, clean, well-lit food courts that are empowered by some mysterious legislation to charge double what you would normally pay for foodstuffs and gasoline. Despite the price-gouging, I find the On Routes to be very convenient, especially when driving in the wee hours of night. The restrooms are usually spotless and plentiful. There are many options for caffeine-laced drinks – hot and cold – as well as healthier fare like fruit, nuts and salad. The free wi-fi has never let me down. The parking lots are huge and also lit well enough that you don’t feel as open to a sneak attack. In fact, the few times I have been forced to catch 40 winks at an On Route, I was more fearful of being told to move along by a security guard than of having some dodeca-nippled, The-Hills-Have-Eyes-looking dude jimmy open my door. And If you’re doing the long haul from New Brunswick, chances are that in the middle of the night, On Route will be your only option for fuel. You just have to suck it up and pay the price at that point, and just be thankful you can get gas at all.

On the subject of gasoline, I have but one tip: Make sure you stop to gas up before you enter the province of Quebec. I find that more often than not gas prices are jacked way up there, even if you make an effort to get off the Trans-Canada to find more competitive rates.

Side note: In Quebec, Irving stations are called Couche-Tard’s. Snicker.


Let’s talk accommodations. The smart thing to do on a 15 or 16-hour drive, of course, is break it up and spend the night somewhere. Over the years, I have had occasion to patronize a number of the establishments along our route in both Quebec and Ontario. The worst place was probably Motel Express in Saint-Antonin. And when I say “the worst” I mean that on a scale balanced on either end by cheap motels that don’t ask questions or bump up the rate when a van load of disheveled, smelly guys in hoodies pull up and haggle over the “best rate” on a single room at 3 a.m. Hospital Grade stayed at Motel Express a couple of times out of sheer exhaustion. I can’t say that Motel Express is downright nasty, and I can’t say that it’s Trump Plaza, either. I think I do the description of Motel Express its best service by telling you that its office is a Petro-Canada station, and that the furniture is a little newer than that at the Motel Francoeur.

My best recommendation for a cheap, clean place to stay is the Econo Lodge in Levis, Quebec. It’s just outside of Quebec City and is pretty close to the halfway mark of the entire drive to Toronto. You can usually get a decent rate if you Hotwire it ahead of time, but if you have to make the call late in the evening, it’s not going to break the bank. Again, it’s no Four Seasons, but the staff is friendly and the free breakfast is interesting. Last time through, I had a muffin that tasted like it was made with cough syrup instead of eggs. And speaking of eggs, who doesn’t want to wake up to this?

the pink stars are falling

Finally, I have to give an honourable mention to the Lion Motel in Long Sault, Ont. Not because it’s a luxury resort or even because it is that far above Motel Express in quality (it’s not), but because my cat and I once crashed there during a crazy, drug-addled road trip that I came to dub “Fur And Loathing in Long Sault.” OK, maybe there were no drugs. But there were some vitamins. And, my cat didn’t go to the bathroom for the whole trip, despite having a litter box at his disposal the entire time. That’s got to alter your brain’s chemical balance. I wish I could travel with facilities like that. On more than one occasion, I found myself eyeing that rectangular pan of relief-rocks on the floor of the passenger side of the car, only to talk myself out of using it by imagining the giant clump I’d have to scoop, most likely leaving very little litter for the cat.

Also noteworthy about this motel – the nightstands had some strange ‘70s-era technological console built right into them. They had all the design subtlety of an eight-track player, and evidently at one time they functioned as some kind of master control for all the “technology” in the room. It’s an odd thought that in 1976 the Lion Motel was on the cutting edge of high-tech hospitality, offering more modern gadgetry than a $200 room in one of the popular chains today. It certainly offered more wood grain and pink cinderblock.

The future is now

This was the first time my cat and I ever shared a motel room. The Lion Motel was his choice. Most likely because of the name.

Dr. Gonzo explores the space

Finally, Your Destination

On one of my more recent trips, my dentist turned me on to a new shortcut that begins just outside of Montreal. During busy times of day, I found it saved me as much as an hour. Late in the evening, it can still save you 40 minutes. It’s called the A-30, and Truck News recently called it “Canada’s greatest new infrastructure development since the Confederation Bridge.” And while it does share one thing in common with the Confederation Bridge – a toll – it’s only a mere $1.50, and you are spared that feeling of your bowels creeping up into your stomach that you get when a bridge surpasses 800 feet. Obviously, the new route does not appear on road signs in explicit terms like “Great New Shortcut!” or “Shorter Route to Toronto,” so as you approach Montreal, you have to keep your eyes peeled for signs that say A-30 West and Exit 98. Or, you could Google-Map it. The last time I checked, though, Google Maps did not recommend the shortcut when asked for directions.

This brings us to the end of the trip. By now, you’re hunched over the steering wheel on the 401 as it hurls you past Ajax and into Toronto. You’re surrounded on all sides by giant missiles of metal and rubber, forced to keep up with the insane pace that they set. A task that may be manageable well enough on its own, but becomes all the more stressful when you’re struggling to hear that lady on your GPS or iPhone and looking for a break in the traffic so you can get over to your collector and /or exit, which is coming up fast.

And, damn it, you just missed it.


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Thanks, Jason!

Remember – Penny Blacks tonight at Taco Pica! Be there!

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Jason’s Guide To The 16-Hour Drive Between Saint John and Toronto – Part 2

Here is Part 2 of the 16 hour drive guide by Jason Ogden – lead singer of Penny Blacks.

Penny Blacks has a string of shows lined up over the next few weeks – SPECIFICALLYthis THURSDAY at Taco Pica with Alex Keleher. Check out their bandcamp page for dates.

Settle in. There’s still one more day!

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My Guide To The 16-Hour Drive Between Saint John and Toronto

I’ve done this a few times now

Part 2
By Jason Ogden

Drive at night

In my opinion, driving after 7 or 8 at night has its advantages. Obviously this is because there is much less traffic. After midnight, you can really cruise and there’s lots of room on those big four lane stretches (driving these multi-lane sections can be pretty tense throughout the day when it’s bumper-to-bumper at high speeds). That being said, the main concern then becomes watching the road and roadside for animals. There are more of them on and around the road at night, so you have to be aware and alert. If you tire easily driving at night, that’s something to take into consideration; I suggest hitting the road at the break of dawn to still be able to get some personal space on the roads.

I think any person who loves to drive will tell you that night driving has it’s own thing goin’ on. It creates a very specific atmosphere and vibe that feels more lonely, cinematic and mysterious. Music sounds different in the car at night. Frequencies seem to adopt a warmer, more golden, full feel. The car is surrounded by darkness save for the movie projected before you by your headlamps. And although the action is at a pace you determine, you’re never sure exactly what might jump into frame to make a guest appearance. It’s that whole sensory-deprivation thing I mentioned earlier. Exterior sounds so present throughout the day have receded. The yellow dashes and streaks disappear under your wheels.The half-seen shapes of trees, buildings and houses are there for a moment, then gone. On a clear night the moon reveals a little more, bathing the landscape in the grey tones of film noir. Driving through cities, the modern towers look like giant, futuristic, sleeping cyborgs . Old brick and stone become the hollow remnants of an apocalyptic event that perhaps only you have survived. And then there is the always comforting sporadic appearance of neon signs. Route 185 between Degelis and Rivière-du-Loup has its share of these.

Ooooh! Colour TV!

Everyone has their favourite night driving music. I like stuff that suits the ambience – sort of dark and atmospheric with some contrasting bright guitar tones. Some of my mainstays are Swervedriver (Raise), Sonic Youth (Daydream Nation), Songs: Ohia (The Lioness), Black Sabbath (Vol. 4), Karate (The Bed Is In The Ocean) and BBNG (II). Another good one is Dirty Projectors’ Slaves’ Graves and Ballads.

Large portions of my life look like this

Be your own entertainment director

If, like me, your main source of music when driving is an iPod, it’s a good idea to have playlists all programmed and ready to go. Don’t be messing about on a multi-lane highway at 100 km/h trying to find that fucking John Legend track. I’m always creating and amending playlists on my iPod for road trips. There’s usually one for chill night driving (My current night driving playlist is called “The City That Never Sleeps”), one that’s intended to get the party started and wake me up should I need a boost (“The Pretzel Wagon Way”) and then there’s one that’s just meant for singing along to at the top of my lungs (inexplicably titled “CatPEE Achieved”).

Chrome wheeled, fuel injected,and steppin’ out over the line

However, there usually comes a point during a long drive where I can’t take any more music. When this happens, one of my favourite things to do is to just aimlessly search the AM and FM dial looking for talk radio. I’ll always try this first. If it fails, then I’ll go the audiobook or podcast route. I’ve discovered a tonne of great programs this way – The Phil Hendrie Show, Coast To Coast AM (Art Bell only, please and thank you), and American Icons to name a few. You can find the strangest, most interesting things scanning the dial at 2 or 3 a.m. in the morning. Sometimes you get the luxury of hearing a whole broadcast, other times the signal fades out after only 20 minutes, never to be found again. I suppose if you have satellite radio, you don’t have to deal with the moody nature of old-fashioned radio waves (but where’s the fun in that?) One time, while on tour with Hospital Grade in the U.S., we locked onto a station that was playing old hard-boiled detective radio plays from the ‘40s and ‘50s. We managed to stay tuned to that one for a couple of hours before it blended into static or sports and disappeared – just one of those amazing treasures you find when playing radio-roulette in the middle of the night.

Audiobooks have also served me increasingly well during these drives. If I can’t find any stimulating talk on the radio, I’ll put on something I’ve downloaded ahead of time. As far as audiobooks go, you really don’t want anything too heavy. Something like Stephen King’s Cell is perfect for driving; not too deep, just the right amount of pulp. A great story. Keeps you awake and engaged without making you think too much. I tend to be picky about what I listen to as far as books go, though. I have this weird part of me that doesn’t want to cheapen experiencing a great book by having it read to me by Balki from Perfect Strangers. Some fun ones I’ve listened to the last few times I made this trip include the first two books in Dean Koontz’ Odd Thomas series, Robert R. McCammon’s Speaks The Nightbird, Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith and Shadowland by Peter Straub.

Podcasts are also a fantastic way to pass the time. If radio roulette fails you for the time being (try again in a half hour), you can always dig into your personal iPod cache. Podcasts are great because most of them are free, and the selection is endless. Some of my favourites are the aforementioned Phil Hendrie Show, Coast to Coast, Here’s The Thing, DNTO, and The Ricky Gervais Show. Like with a good book, I find that an hour or more has passed before I know it with an interesting podcast.

There may come a point where you have had both enough chit-chat and dope beats. You may have to invent ways to keep yourself entertained. I like to choose a vehicle, then follow it. When in another province, my first choice is always one with a license plate from New Brunswick or Nova Scotia – you know, for a bit of the comfort of home. If I don’t see either of those, I just look for someone who looks friendly. Then, it’s on. I don’t necessarily shadow their every move or anything. I just try to keep them in sight until they exit or explode. Note: the vehicles I follow rarely explode. Last spring, I’m pretty sure I was shadowed by a Juggalo in a Honda Civic for a good chunk of the Jean-Lesage. So, don’t judge me. I’m not the only one who plays this game. There’s at least me and a Juggalo.

Grabbing a Faygo at the rest stop, no doubt


I have been known to pack a cooler with cold drinks, sandwiches and snacks. The idea, of course, is to save a bit of time and money. However, by doing this, you are robbing yourself of the chance to partake in one of the most time-honoured and storied traditions of the road trip: heinous but tasty and ultimately regrettable road food. My advice on this subject? Listen to your heart. It will tell you when it’s about to stop.

I have eaten at many of the roadside and exit eateries between Edmundston and Ajax. Some good, some bad. Some very bad. Some seemed good at the time, but then got so bad it became an emergency. I will say this – if you must grab something quick from a truck stop, do not go for something called a “tornado” and for the love of God, DO NOT get a microwavable burrito that calls itself “The Bomb.”

Truck stop food terrorism

Of course, there are always your Subways, McDonalds, Dim Willies, Skobo’s, etc, etc. You know the list as well as I do. If there’s an exit with a plot of land that isn’t actually swamp, then one of these stalwarts are stacking their all-beef patties and funny-smelling bread there. Boring. I’d rather take my chances with the unknown, or at least something a little more interesting. To this end, I have three recommendations. Just three, you ask? Keep in mind we’re talking about major thoroughfares here, and for the sake of time, one can’t always detour 10 kilometres into city centres to hunt down that cute little bistro that serves the most amazing curry lentil soup.

Not long after you enter the province of Quebec (about 50 km outside Edmundston), you will pass through a place called Notre-Dame-Du-Lac. Off the side of the highway to your right, you will see a place called Fromagerie Le Détour. Do you like cheese? Do you like salt? If you do, stop here. At the very least, buy a little snack bag of filoche. It’s sodium-riffic and addictive as hell. If you’re a pro like my friend Sean Boyer who did us the favour of making us stop here on a Hospital Grade tour, you’ll get the fabled “jar of ropey knots.”

You’ll notice they cut out the middleman by simply encasing the tapeworm in cheese

There is a long stretch of the Autoroute Jean-Lesage that I call Tornado Alley. The highway cuts through a great expanse of open wheat fields dotted with silos and farmhouses and has an eerie similarity to the landscape in every horrific, shaky, amateur tornado video you’ve ever seen. If the possibility of an impending detour to Oz whets your appetite, you might want to take exit 220 into Daveluyville. This exit will dump you directly into the parking lot of the La Belle Québécoise restaurant. If you’re hankering for an old-school, stone-and-mortar Quebec chateau restaurant experience and don’t want to deal with the touristy hordes at Le Madrid, this is your joint. The food doesn’t really elevate above that of typical truck stop fare, so don’t expect anything beyond the class of food you would find at a Big Stop. They’ve built the place up on a solid foundation of poutine. And I mean that literally; the building is anchored in a french fry, gravy and cheese curd substructure.

The atmosphere of La Belle Québécoise is definitely worth experiencing once, though. Inside, the atmosphere is positively sepia-toned. I always get a kick out of the posters inside the door advertising the local rock gigs and festivals. And while the waitress may not actually be named Flo, I’m sure it is the Québécoise equivalent.

La Belle Québécoise

Finally, the Amir along Route 20 in St. Hyacinthe has become a regular stop for me. Amir is a chain that offers fairly decent Lebanese fare. It’s vegan friendly and has clean facilities. The portions are generous and the price is cheap; probably too generous for someone who has to get back into a car and drive for eight hours. However, I always seem to be passing by in the general area of dinner time and I am a sucker for the shawarma plate.

This will sit well

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Stay tuned for Part 3 – coming at you tomorrow morning!

Thanks, Jason!

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Jason’s Guide To The 16-Hour Drive Between Saint John and Toronto – Part 1

I can’t imagine getting in my car and hitting the 16 hour road from Saint John to Toronto (or vice versa). Jason Ogden – lead singer of Penny Blacks – does it a lot and has put together a guide for you, the reader, on eats, drinks, hotels and shortcuts.

Penny Blacks has a string of shows lined up over the next few weeks – SPECIFICALLYthis THURSDAY at Taco Pica with Alex Keleher. Check out their bandcamp page for dates.

Settle in.

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My Guide To The 16-Hour Drive Between Saint John and Toronto

I’ve done this a few times now

Part 1
By Jason Ogden

I remember the first time I ever drove through Quebec. I had recently bought my first car – a rapidly aging Ford Tempo – from my dad. With that exhilarating mixture of freedom (my own car – I could go anywhere!) and fear (I’m broke!), my girlfriend and I decided to take a road trip to Montreal. I remember how enthralled I was with the old highways through Quebec; for a young man on his first sojourn beyond the western border of his home province, it was like being in a different country. To my eyes, I may well have been coaxing that miserable Ford through France or Amsterdam. I loved the gothic and majestic look of the road signs, emblazoned with their fleur-de-lis and names that ranged from the mysterious (“Saint-Louis-Du-Ha! Ha!”) to the European-sounding and vaguely romantic (“L’Épiphanie,” “Saint-Basile-le-Grand.”) It seemed to me that even the ancient, broken asphalt looked different, as if in absorbing the years of history and decades of passengers it had its own unique composition and patina.

That first trip ended with a nightmarish breakdown during a torrential rainstorm in Quebec City on the way back to New Brunswick. It hit all the worst-case-scenario checklist points of a bad experience in la belle province. It was late, things were closed; Neither my girlfriend nor I spoke French very well, and it seemed that no one we encountered outside of the AAA operator on the phone spoke English. It was pouring. The entire city was booked solid with a huge convention. We had to leave the Tempo at a closed garage and take a taxi to the only lodging we could find, thanks to the broken English of the tow truck driver. It was 20 kilometres outside of town at a ski resort that was technically closed for the season. Because we spent the last of our cash on the taxi, we had to hitchhike back to Quebec the next morning.

I’ve since had several more harrowing experiences on the road between the 401 and NB-2 W, including losing a vehicle all together just outside of Fredericton and snapping a tendon in my neck on the 401 outside of Kingston, Ontario.

I’ve done the drive many ways. I’ve tried shortcuts of my own deduction as well as suggestions from others. I’ve travelled through the U.S. for a change of pace (the Vermont portion of the drive is especially picturesque). One time I made the trip with my cat. Another time, feeling particularly adventurous, I drove down the other side of the Saint Lawrence River only to discover that the only way across to the New Brunswick side was via a ferry that was done operating until the next morning. I got to experience that particular lovely drive twice that day. It was worth it, though, because I saw a giant robot made out of scrap metal.

Riding Shotgun

You would think that these experiences would sour me on the trip. You would think that just the thought of another eight or 16 hours on that treacherous, boring and sleep-inducing conflagration of blacktop would be enough to send me under my blankets into a fetal position with a notepad, trying to calculate how to get money for a plane ticket. But the strange thing is, it doesn’t. Stranger still, I find myself looking forward to it as the day I am to leave approaches.

Why? There are different reasons, I suppose. When I am with a band in a van, it’s the camaraderie; the group-think; the shared joy and pain in road food and junky snacks; the in-jokes and anecdotes that are either created or repeated (and repeated, and repeated). And of course, pulling into port and playing music together. Travelling on my own, headed east, I suppose I am looking forward to seeing my friends and family. Headed west, I am eager to see my girlfriend and my cat, as well as sleep in my own bed.

Vannie: A multi-person selfie taken in a van

But in both directions, I simply look forward to the drive.

Yes, the drive.

I like to think of my car on these trips as a combination sensory-deprivation chamber / time machine. It’s an office; a rehearsal studio; a think tank of the highest order. The open road is an inspiration and a muse second only to lost love. You’d be surprised how much a person can get done barrelling down the highway at 120 km/h, windows down, screaming along with Keith Morris or crooning along with Dean Martin.

It’s not for everybody. I realize that. I’ve spent my share of time in vehicles with people who begin to show signs of cracking after only a few hours. The windows go up and down, the radio dial gets rolled nearly off its axis, sleep is attempted and failed, and the jimmy legs – oh God, the jimmy legs. These folks are usually on their smart phones Hotwiring the nearest hotel by the time the sun starts to ebb. And then there’s the smokers. Egad. Don’t get me started on the smokers. I have the world’s smallest bladder, but nature only calls me a quarter of the time that carcinogens call some smokers.

But hey, maybe you are primed for a road trip. Maybe you’ve got that itch. Summer is coming after all – the season of festivals, concerts, camping, family gatherings and amateur drug runs. A season that takes a back seat only to autumn for prime long-distance driving, in my opinion. Whether you are headed to Toronto, or perhaps a little further to the Muskoka region to get your nature on – or maybe you’re headed in the opposite direction from Etobicoke to Saint John because you’re stalking Jesse Vergen – let me share a little bit of what I have learned from my days and nights on the Trans Canada Highway and its tributaries. For the sake of this article, I’m traveling East to West, but you know, it’s reversible.

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Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 – coming at you Wednesday and Thursday!

Thanks, Jason!

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