Once we made it to Punta Gorda Belize, we didn’t really leave. Save for a few day trips to some local waterfalls (Some were for fun, some were to bathe and do Laundry because the water was, for some reason, scarce in Downtown PG). The music scene was alive and well in town and I planned to capitalize. My second show, was with a well established band in town who call themselves “Mincho Vibes” on December 30th, 4 days after returning to town.
Mincho had gone without a guitarist for a little while so it was pretty sweet to see the 6-string pickers were in demand. Preggo, the keyboardist and leader of the band tracked me down on Front street with a proposed gig opportunity in a village just 5 miles out of town. He said it might be 4 hours of playing the local favourites which include selections from the genres of Reggae, Punta, and Cumbia, among other more regional flavours. It included free drink and food for the night. What an Honor! I’d seen these guys perform the last few years around town and they were professionals Their lead singer goes by the name of Fancy Foot, he’s well conditioned to dance and sing the night away with a style influenced by Michael Jackson among others.
So on the night of the show, I was to follow the band out in my truck, with the gear in the back, but for whatever reason the band’s ride didn’t show and before too long everyone was piling into the truck. Rock n’ Roll, we had Maria, myself, and Fancy Foot in the front, along with some gear, and tucked into our make-shift bedroom of a back was Preggo, and more equipment. As we drove through town we saw another musician leaning up against the fish market. “Stop Here” Fancy ordered. “Hey Moses! You comin’?” He was the drummer and a pretty good bassist as well, without hesitation he jumped in the back with Preggo.
I often thought what would have happened if we didn’t run into Moses by chance. No drummer/bassist? No worries, the band was here. We rode out to the gig, which was already set up for us, Roadside in someones backyard. It was a Teacher’s retirement party. There was a crowd of all sorts, family members, former coworkers, a table full of nun’s who did not much care for the boozing drinking band up front. But it was a good time.
I only brought one pick and lost it before the show began. Shoot. I switched over to a Belizean Nickel because finger picking just wouldn’t have been loud enough. Well time soon told that I should have rather used a Belizean Nickel as 4 hours soon turned into 8, and by that time my fingers were bleeding, there was blood spattered across the guitar, and a couple of broken strings. I remember almost convincing myself to unplug and call it quits but the show ended shortly after I was beginning to think I couldn’t go on anymore. And I was only playing guitar! Fancy Foot had jumped up, down, swayed and spun all while singing late into the night. But sure enough, we got fed, and watered.
At the end of the night, Preggo mentioned if he owes me anything, to let him know. That must have meant the pay check, but I’d heard from California Doug that usually means $10BZD ($5USD). I’ve also learned during my time there that the money is somewhat fought for, and as a Canadian on Vacation, it keeps the tension levels low if you just bow out of the money-related situations. Otherwise you’ll get local musicians and owners black-listing you, or whatever. I’m just here to have fun… But 8 hours and bloody hands, playing songs I don’t really know, often muting myself and pretending to play along… It wasn’t even that fun. I was extremely grateful for the opportunity but never really played another show with Mincho Vibes. Aside from being on the same bill every once in a while.
From there, After one show with Shushae and the Boys, and another with Mincho, it was time to host my own. Jolie Blue & The Smoking Anacondas that’s the band which had my heart and soul. I went down to the Central Club on Front St. as I’ve done many times before and asked Oscar about a show. I hope the reader knows by now that Oscar’s priorities in life place music somewhere right near the top, maybe just under his Wife Mayra, and adopted Mayan babies. He was enthused and told me to “Just get it done”
So I followed the procedure I’d done a few times in the past, I made a poster for the show on Photoshop, printed copies off at the Library and posted them around town. Handing them out to whomever I saw walking by. The funny thing about Belize is if you’re on a poster, you must be famous. Giving ourselves about 3 days to promote before the show I was sitting outside the Central one afternoon when this woman approaches me.
“Excuse me… are you the man on the poster? Jolie Blue?”
Why Yes I am
“That’s amazing! I love music, I’m going to come to the show! I told my friends and they’re all coming too!”
Excellent. The word had gotten ‘round. I suppose the fresh blood in town was also a key selling point. A town that loves music but only has limited bands in the area welcomed the idea with enthusiasm.
And the show went off without a hitch! Before I’d even woken up for the day, Oscar had all the equipment, complete with a strobe light set up. Oscar had billed a few other well established musicians onto the night, and the bar patio was full, and overflowing on to the streets. There were many Belizeans, all the favourite old Ex-pats, and a number of new faces all taking in the show. Dougie and Allen (The smoking Anaconda’s) played to perfection even after being introduced to a plethora of new songs in the last few days. One of the songs I made sure to play at every Jolie Blue show was Stompin’ Tom’s Good Old Hockey Game. That was enough to have to passerby’s from Canada come and introduce themselves after the show. It’s a funny song to play down there… The Canadians all know and love it. The Americans don’t know it, but get it pretty quick, and the Belizean don’t know it or get it. But I do believe, as a follower of Stompin’ Tom Connors that it’s my duty to play that song whenever I happen to have a listening audience… Perhaps an Evangelical move for the idealism of Identifiably Canadian Music.
From there, The shows Continued, I played several more Jolie Blue shows at Oscars, some big, some small. I found myself gravitating towards smaller acoustic shows, as the Belizeans get so into a big loud show, You often have to be adamant about not getting the microphone hijacked, or keeping them off the drums. Infact, during my Farewell show at the Central, for my first song I went with Ian Tyson’s Four Strong Winds. A slower ballad to try and diffuse the energy (sounds strange now that I think back)… And in that song alone I had to wave away 3 different people trying to hop on the drums to “spice things up a bit”. That’s the Belizean way, they just want it bigger, and louder all the time. I get that mentality and we partied our way through many shows at The Green Fence, and The Central Club, but some of my favourite nights consisted of pulling together just a few friends with traditional tastes, singing folk songs, completely unplugged. There are several European ex-pats there as well, who would enlighten the table with traditional folk songs of their land. One woman named Lynne (from Britain I believe) could play the spoons like no one i’ve seen before. And happened to know a lot of Ian Tyson Songs… so for the sake of the people who really dug a quieter show, the unplugged sets soon became my favourite…
After 2 months of playing and generally hanging around Southern Belize, it was soon time to head back to Canada. The truck was in Good Shape and Katelyn’s wedding was a mere 20 days away. But the Gig’s just kept getting bigger and bigger. It was Punta Gorda Day in late January where the band played on the big stage at an all day festival, and by now I was getting antsy to get on the move. Not for any other reason then I get bored in one place too long.
But there was one last show on the Horizon. February 6th was Bob Marley (and Ryley’s) birthday. So February 3rd was Bob Marley Fest in Placencia, a resort town 2 hours north. I’d decided to stick around as this would be the bands biggest gig to date… It included Free Hotel, Free Food/Drink, and a pay check. We spent the week practicing Bob’s songs and by Gig time, we weren’t exactly ready but we were pretty good at winging it.
We rolled into Placencia late morning, under the impression we were playing at 1PM… As soon as we heard it was actually 9pm, I quit drinking as I was on pace to be fully rockin’ by 4 or 5. Well unfortunately our Singer Allen had a case of something, maybe nerves, maybe the flu, but he lost his voice half way through the set, things kind of fell apart and we were struggling to sound professional. I pretty much played the set facing Doug the Bass Player just to figure out the notes to each song.
Now Placencia, more than others, is a town with mucho Canadians, so I did make sure, during one of our quiet moments on stage trying to figure shit out, to break into the first few verses of the Good Old Hockey Game. And I’m pleased to report it got a pretty good applause from the Canucks in town.
The show was good enough. The band did get paid, including my first ever pay check for playing music anywhere… and the Very next day, Maria and I said goodbye to everyone and took off on a 20 day tour through Mexico and the USA, killing time, playing music, and waiting for the snow to melt.
We made it home just in time for Katelyn’s wedding, and a foot of snow.
God Love Ya, Canada.