If you ever want to experience a true microcosm of rural Ontario farm life, you must go to the International Plowing Match. (I’m not sure why it’s called ‘international’ – it’s always held in southern Ontario but in a different place each year.)
This year it is in Elora, which is close to home for me, and they ask me to write a special commemorative song for the occasion.
The match and exhibition is on a pretty farm just outside the village, and the tent city that is created for the occasion covers many acres. It’s a truly impressive and endless collection of booths and displays promoting everything you never wanted to know about farm machinery and agriculture.
Since farming is a rapidly vanishing lifestyle in Ontario, it IS nice to see the last vestiges of a proud heritage gathered, all in matching rubber boots and John Deere baseball caps. (Was John Deere a baseball player?)
On opening day, they put me on the dignitaries platform with all the local politicians and my fellow veteran of the special occasion performance, Don Harron, as his venerable Charlie Farquarson character. Under the hot sun we watch the opening parade; tractors, combines, vintage autos and the “Queen of the Furrow” troop by. (I claimed in my song that she was a centerfold for “Plowboy Magazine.” Ha ha.)
After an eternity of speeches, I sing my song, which oddly enough is interrupted by a woman with a megaphone who shouts out a long anti-abortion rant. All of us being polite country folk, we patiently wait for her to finish – much to her surprise and, I think, disappointment; I think she was hoping to be dragged reluctantly off – then I finish up and give way to Charlie, who starts with the same joke I had made about Plowboy Magazine and wonders why it seems like a tough crowd.
For the rest of the fair, I’ve brought along two good musical friends on fiddle and guitar, and we give performances throughout the day. It’s pretty tough competition though – our tent is just a few yards away from the top crowd-pleaser of the event: the “Bobcat Square Dancing.”
Bobcats are those small rubber-tired front-end loader tractors. With a real square-dance caller, eight of them gather in couples on a muddy field and they dip and dive and doh-see-doh together. It’s absurdly beautiful to watch. They even get their loaders, or hands, all up in a bunch together and touch blades at the end of their grand promenade. It’s tough to beat an act like that with folk songs.
Our shows go well, except after a while they take a rather odd turn. I have carefully prepared a nice selection of rural-type material to perform, and, if I do say so myself, I thought we sounded pretty good. However, the crowds that gathered have really only come to hear my new instant hit called, eloquently, “The Song From the Plowing Match.”
We were asked to start every set with it, and then the audience kept clamouring for it over and over.
By the end of the day we were pretty well just singing one long song.
The sound man even taped our performance and insisted on playing the song repeatedly while we were NOT onstage playing it live.
A local radio station had set up a remote studio on the grounds, and they asked me if I could do a short interview after one of the sets. I didn’t have much time between appearances, so they agreed to pick me up backstage and drive me to the studio.
I leave the band in charge of packing up the gear, and I am met by a cheery farmer on a tractor who invites me to climb on. (The tractor, silly!) He proceeds to race through the laneways of the tent city, dodging gopher holes and fair patrons laden with yardsticks, pails, pamphlets, and other freebie paraphernalia they have scored on their rounds.
We bounce up and down pretty violently, going a lot faster than I guessed a tractor could go.
“We have to get you there three minutes before the news starts for your interview!” my limo driver shouts back to me.
We round a corner, and I see two giant speaker towers off in the distance. I can hear Shania Twain blasting out at top volume.
She finishes her last chord and the announcer says, “Now, folks, we have a special treat! James Gordon is here in person to chat with us! (Not that country fans would have a clue who I was.) Problem was, he had decided to start the interview without me since I was running a bit late, and he could see the tractor in the distance. I hear him ask me a really long, drawn out question after he welcomes me to the show, though I still have a few hundred yards of hard driving ahead of me. He rambles on. I can’t really make out what he is saying, but my driver pulls up just outside the sound booth; a microphone is hurled in my general direction. I gasp for breath, and hear something like “Fantastic, wouldn’t you agree James?” “Why, sure” I say. “Great to be here, and may I add what a great Plowing Match it is this year!” From the host’s quizzical look, I gathered that this is precisely what he had said when I answered “Why, sure.” “Thanks, James, great to have you aboard, now it’s time for the news!”
I walk back to the stage this time, and on the way I meet the former Reeve of Minto township, alive and well, who is the subject of our next tale.