Back on the river
Canadian duo hits the water instead of the road, touring down the Sacramento River
The ubiquitous van has reigned for decades as the preferred method of transportation for touring bands, but there are rare exceptions. K Records mastermind Calvin Johnson, for example, has taken to touring by Amtrak the last few years, and an increasing number of green-minded troubadours—including locals MaMuse—have completed significant road trips on bicycles.
But TWIN, a self-described hypno-folk duo hailing from Winnipeg, Canada, may have one up on everyone. For the past five years, the band has toured extensively across North America by river, powered only by the current and their paddles.
TWIN consists of guitarist David Fort and violinist Brooklyn Samson, and Fort said the idea of touring Huckleberry Finn-style came while playing with his other band, the more electrified Absent Sound. “We were riding in our vegetable-oil-powered bus, heading to New York,” Fort recalled, “and I was just looking at a map. I noticed how all the rivers flowed together and coincided, and it was kind of like one of those light bulbs going off in the head type moments.
“I grew up canoeing, and teaching canoeing, in northern Manitoba,” he continued. “My whole life I’ve been drawn to water for various reasons, and it seems to be a pretty natural bonding point for humanity.”
Fort said he sat on the idea for a few years before he started pushing to make it happen. Five years ago, TWIN embarked on its first “Music Armada” adventure on the Assiniboine River in western Canada. The band has repeated that trip every year since, as well as like treks along the Mississippi, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Sturgeon-Saskatchewan rivers.
TWIN extends an open invitation to other traveling artists to join each Armada. On one of the early trips down the Assiniboine, the fleet peaked with five boats. The band sees traveling by river as more than just a way to reduce its carbon footprint, but also to promote ideas of seed-sharing, protecting and healing waterways and building communities at each landing.
Fort said that, musically, TWIN “wears many hats.” For example, on the band’s recently completed third trip down the Mississippi, TWIN primarily played family-friendly folk songs for crowds filled with children, but Fort said their more radical material blends well with folk-punk bands like those in the Los Angeles-based Tochtli Collective and Minneapolis’ Pachow Kabang, the latter with whom TWIN recently recorded a split EP.
When they play tonight (Thursday, Oct. 30) at 1078 Gallery, Fort and Samson will have just completed the first leg of their second annual trip down the Sacramento from Redding, with the final destination being the Bay Area. The duo last made the journey in May and June of 2013.
“We went to the river today and it’s significantly lower than it was last year,” said Fort, who was in Redding making preparations at the time of the interview. “That might make the paddling a little easier in some parts, but we might be scraping the bottom a lot more.
“As far as weather goes, I think we might get rained on a little more, but that’s the idea. Last year we had to get off the river some days by noon because it was so incredibly hot. One day it was so bad we even got boils on our hands. It was literally like being cooked, so I think we’re happy to trade a little bit too much sun for a little bit too much rain.”
On the last Sacramento sojourn, the band made it as far as Rio Vista before taking to land for the remainder of the trip: “We thought we could paddle to Oakland, but [we] have a pretty small boat,” he said, describing TWIN’s current craft as a well-patched, homemade, 16-foot fiberglass canoe. “When we got to the water past that, it was just too big for us to get into.
“Unless you’re really experienced, and have a bigger boat, I definitely would recommend not paddling into the bay.”
Fort tried to arrange a sailboat to deliver TWIN the rest of the way this time around, with no luck. After Rio Vista they’ll complete the trip as they did last year, by using BART.
Bays filled with barges and big swells excepted, Fort said TWIN’s mode of travel is fairly safe. “I always say I don’t think it’s any more dangerous than going on the freeway.”