It’s not often you have a tour that you don’t want to come home from. Usually you’re ragged, tired of other beds, tired of other people, tired of Tim Horton’s, sick of cars and sound guys and asking for the wifi password. Sick to death. But not this tour. We spent two weeks opening shows across the prairies for the living legend, Buffy Saint-Marie. We all knew a little of her music before the tour started. Some of our parents were big fans, some of us had caught her incredible set at folk festivals along the way. We knew it would be a good tour. We didn’t really know it would be unforgettable.
The first show was in Winnipeg, sold out, energetic. We hadn’t seen Buffy or her band yet and were excited to catch them after our set. They took the stage and right away we noticed three things- Buffy may be 73 but you’d be hard-pressed to peg her much over 45, the way she owns the stage in 4-inch heeled boots and skinny jeans; each member of her band looked like they could individually take our entire band in a bar fight- these were not small guys, but man, did they gel as musicians; and the last thing we knew right away- this was not going to be a folk show.
We all became instant Buffy fans that night. We already knew some of the bigger tunes, like Universal Soldier and Up Where We Belong, but other anthems were soon impressed into our brains and the soles of our awkward dancing feet- Darling Don’t Cry, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, Starwalker. Usually after a couple times seeing the same band on tour you start retiring to your dressing room and the flask.. Not only did we never miss a chance to catch most of Buffy’s set from the wings, we even got her albums and started playing them in the car, rocking out to the same tunes we had just been rocking out to the night before. Now that’s love.
Meanwhile, we were getting to know the band. Michel the drummer and Leroy the bass player joined us for a whisky night in a hotel room in Swift Current. A dour security guard with a sad, dangling flashlight tried to break up our fun at 2am, but we weren’t having it. We spent several nights carousing with these guys, hearing their stories of Buffy and Manitoba and the road, and sharing our less interesting tales of running out of gas in Lloydminster and how cool Brendan’s mom is to us.
About five shows into the tour, two amazing things happened. One- the guys talked to Buffy and she asked us to join her onstage for her tune Country Girl. Two- they asked us to smudge with them before the show. If you don’t know what that is, then only feel kinda dumb- I only kinda knew. It’s a prayer ritual involving the burning of sweet-grass, breathing, meditation and prayer, a very sacred rite. We were floored and honoured when Michel asked us to join their smudge before the Saskatoon show. Michel prayed in Ojibway, Buffy in Cree. We breathed the sweet-grass smoke with them, arms around each other, giving thanks and feeling the glow of new friendships forming. Afterward, in the dressing room, every Fugitive was silent and reflective. We decided later that we needed a prayer ritual that involved more than just standing in a circle and simultaneously slapping each other’s faces and giggling, which had been our tradition for the last two nights.
We danced in the wings during Buffy’s last songs in Moose Jaw, sad that it was the last time now, happy to have a tour we didn’t want to end. It’s a rare thing. We won’t forget it.