Welcome to Bands Abroad, where traveling local acts enlighten us about their experiences on and off stage in far-flung places.

Our trip to Canada started getting planned the moment we met (trumpet player) Clay’s Canadian friend, Angie, at High Water Festival. She liked our set and ended up inviting us up to Canada for the North by Northeast music festival in Toronto. Fast forward about a month: we had gotten all the details sorted out, found our passports, got rid of our stash, and made sure we were routed through Niagara Falls. We left from New York City in the early morning (11:30 a.m.) on Tuesday, June 12.

I was driving as we got to the border security checkpoint, where a short, stocky Canadian man sternly asked me 15 questions, rapid fire. “Why are you coming to Canada?” and “Who are you staying with?” and “For how long?” and so on. After the questions, he opened our van up, told Clay to take his sunglasses off (to see his pretty eyes, presumably), and then went back in the booth. After looking through our passports (and not stamping them, WTF?) he looked at me and smiled while saying “Sore-E about all that, here you are,” as he handed us popsicles with Justin Trudeau’s face on them. No, I’m serious. (JK)

After getting over the border we had two immediate plans; go see Niagara Falls, and get poutine. The first indicator that we were in a different country was that all the speed limits were in kilometers per hour, which I never figured out. As we pulled up to the parking attendant at Niagara Falls, I realized that we didn’t have any Canadian money, and I told the woman, “Sorry, we just got here from America.” Everyone in the van scolded me by saying, “This is America, too!” and I quickly learned to refer to where we’re from as “The States.” The lady took our “money from the States” and we headed to see Niagara Falls. Postcard views awaited us, complete with double rainbows and an old-looking ferry that brought people in red ponchos under the falls. What amazed me was how this dividing line between countries was so enormous, and that Canada had the obvious better view — the first of many Canadian victories over the U.S. that I noticed. After taking some photos and trying to make it look like the rainbows were coming out of our mouths, we headed toward the poutine, and started the first of what would become our “Routine Poutine” stops. We chose “Smoke’s Poutinerie,” as recommended by Clay.

What came next was one of the greatest things I’ve ever tasted. Nothing about poutine is good for you, but it was so good for my soul. It’s very simple, just crunchy French fries, gravy, cheese curds, and a bit of guilt. So damn good. As it started to get dark, we realized the next plus for Canada: it was the middle of June and it was kind of cold. We continued on to stay with another Canadian friend we had made from High Water, Arielle. With her sister Manu, she let us stay in their apartment the whole time we were there.

The soundtrack playing through most of our Canadian adventures were our other buddies who had made it possible for the trip to happen, the Elwins. The band was kind enough to add us on to their NXNE showcase, which we ended up selling out! We played a great show with Merival, David Monks, and Goodbye Honolulu and even got a nice review in the local press. The venue was a lot like the Royal American, and everyone, from the crowd to the bands to the staff, were incredibly nice. In fact, the entire time we were in Canada, none of us experienced anyone who was even close to being smug, irritable, or rude. And I’m sorry (wink), but the thing about Canadians being apologetic is absolutely true.

The rest of the days were spent going to see the Elwins at a festival, where they absolutely tore it up (and yeah we ate poutine there, too), a trip to another music festival where we drank 100 different beers for free (thanks, Angie), then a surreal trip to Toronto Island, where we went to a nude beach. Not surprisingly, everyone you never wanted to see naked was, and totally just hanging out! The water was freezing, we all got sunburnt, and the next day, we returned to the U.S. pretty bummed out. After being in the land of free health care, musician grants, poutine, and a hugely multicultural city of people who aren’t afraid to apologize, we were pretty embarrassed to be returning to a country that had just been accused of separating small children from their parents at the border.

“Don’t like it? Then leave!” I can already hear people typing quickly in the comment section. OK, maybe we will.

P.S. After finally getting past the very aggressive U.S. border agents, Kevin laughed and said “Damn, I forgot I had these weed gummies!”

Love Best of Charleston?

Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.