The Longest Road Show doesn’t need any extra selling points, as it stars three of Canada’s finest singer/songwriters mixing and mingling their material over the course of an evening while accompanied by an impeccable “house” rhythm section.
Still, props to tour convenor Terra Lightfoot for quietly striking a blow for gender parity in the music industry and keeping the whole enterprise — co-headlined by Toronto country force Lindi Ortega and Winnipeg folk-popster Alexa “Begonia” Dirks — completely female, all the way through the crew. The band includes beloved bassist-about-town Anna Ruddick and drummer (and sometime transgender activist) Michelle Josef.
This shouldn’t be a novelty in 2019, of course, which is why Lightfoot has chosen not to overly publicize the quiet gender politics of the production. But the Hamilton-born guitar slinger is a pal and she’s been talking about doing this for awhile now so I managed to get her, Dirks and Ortega to talk about some of this stuff between tour dates in Kitchener and Ottawa earlier this week.
The Longest Road show wraps up its five-city jaunt in Toronto at the Phoenix on Saturday, Feb. 9.
I know you’re not making a big deal out of the “girl gang” nature of this tour — nor should you have to, as no one makes a big deal out of the “boy gang” nature of almost every other tour — but why was it important for you all to do something like this?
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Lightfoot: I think the Longest Road Show is important because it calls attention to the many talented women working in the industry. I wanted to snag all the people I had seen out on the road — all of us are road warriors — and I just wanted to see what the road looked like if we were driving it together. Somehow it feels very powerful, even just loading into hotels, getting coffee together. There are nine of us travelling together and many more openers and guests in each city. There’s an energy within this crew that doesn’t exist anywhere else. I feel like we shouldn’t have anything to prove and yet somehow we’re still asked to prove ourselves, daily, in our industry in terms of being “good for a girl” or in terms of people passively questioning our knowledge about our own workplace … This is for every woman who has ever been questioned about what she’s capable of or what she knows.
And? Do tell how it’s been so far. You’re into it now.
Lightfoot: We played Kitchener last night. I would say it was transcendent in terms of how we all bonded up there. The harmonies sank into one another, the rhythms and melodies blended with an energy we couldn’t mimic at the rehearsals. We connected on a level that I didn’t expect was possible since we’d never played together, but I think the new energy of playing together brings out the possibility for all kinds of beautiful details that, say, most normal touring bands would have ironed out or thrown away as time wore on … Today we’re on the icy road to Ottawa with Anna’s beautiful baby Leni in tow and her mom has come along to be the “tour nanny.” It’s been really special to have the baby with us. I feel like she is part of the reason we’re doing this: so that whatever she chooses to do as she grows older will be normal. It won’t be special if she’s on a tour with all women.
Begonia: The first show last night felt pretty amazing. It’s hard to translate exactly how special these shows are without sounding like we’re trying to sell something, but I truly feel like we are doing something unlike anything I’ve been a part of before. Terra is the mastermind here and when she first asked me to be a part of this I was nervous, but I’m so happy I ended up saying yes to what feels like a beautiful and honestly unique tour adventure. All these women are so beyond talented and strong and I feel lucky to get to get to create this bond with all of them.
What’s the one major advantage to touring completely “man-free”? Surely you all must miss being talked down to from time to time …
Lightfoot: We definitely miss it. We’ve tried to get Jim Cuddy to come and sing the high harmonies on a couple things, too, but he hasn’t texted me back yet.
Ortega: Touring with men you sometimes lose that nurturing aspect you need on tour when you’re having a bad day or a panic attack or just feeling down on yourself. Men usually don’t deal well with emotion and so, as a woman surrounded by men, you kind of take on their mantra of “suck it up, tough it out.” But there’s such a benefit to actually talking about feelings; it helps you actually deal with issues instead of bottle them up. Women also have a particular way of rallying around you and supporting you in struggle that is so uplifting. This group has a lot of kindness and warmth, and it’s very nice to be in the midst of it.
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What particular chemistry do the three of you share that made you want to hit the road with them in the first place?
Lightfoot: I think this was actually a very big “ask” for Begonia and Lindi. They didn’t know what to say when I asked them to ditch their bands and come on the road not only without their tried and true players to back them, but with a band of new people they had never met. Being on the road isn’t just about music, either. It’s about personalities and, after years on the road, it’s like you’re married to your band. They’re letting other people take their songs and make the parts their own … Each person in this show took huge leaps to participate and I cannot understate that.
Now that this short run has tested the waters, do you have any plans to take this thing Canada-wide?
Lightfoot: Absolutely. I have good feelings about taking this show across the country. People were asking me about it as I toured out west in January.