Canadian country-roots musician Mike Plume has found the surest path to patriotism — living in another country.
From his vantage point in Nashville, where Plume now resides with his California-raised wife and daughter, the New Brunswick native can objectively see that the northern land he left behind is pretty great.
All it took to get him waving the Maple Leaf flag was hearing Barack Obama jeeringly being compared to a Canadian socialist during the last U.S. election campaign.
“I didn’t even know Canadians were socialists. But I was insulted — so by that token, I guess I’m a socialist,” says the wry Plume, who will perform Friday at the Ivan Daines Country Music Picknic, north of Innisfail, along with a long line-up of other musicians.
More recently, Plume was appalled by the rib-kicking Canada’s health care system is taking from right-wing extremists who are mouth-frothingly mad about Obama’s attempts to reform the private U.S. health system and make it more inclusive.
Canada’s medicare system may not be perfect, says the musician, but at least sick people aren’t losing their shirts and homes over hospital bills.
“They’re making it seem like Canada’s a bad place . . . I think they’re scared of anything that’s government run, because they think the next step is becoming a Communist — or worse, a Canadian.”
Plume moved south of the border three years ago because his wife, a music therapist, got a job at the Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville. But he talks like it might be time to move north again.
“This isn’t a bad town,” insists Plume, who likes the States well enough — especially since his own American friends are a fairly open-minded lot, unlike the more extreme callers to right-wing radio talk shows.
“But there are times when I get homesick and I could really use a Tim Hortons coffee.”
It was in that melancholy mindset that he wrote the title track to his eighth and latest album, called 8:30 Newfoundland (This is Our Home), which is already at No. 19 on the CMT chart.
Canadians of a certain age will get the reference to the CBC’s habit during the 1970s and ‘80s of promoting shows as running at 8 p.m. in the rest of Canada, but 8:30 p.m. in Newfoundland. “I always thought that would be a great title for a record,” says Plume, with a chuckle.
The song takes listeners on a nostalgic road trip, from Prince Edward Island to the Queen Charlotte Islands, and from the Arctic tundra to the Great Lake waters.
“It’s a song about rolling fields of wheat,” says the musician. “It basically says, whether it’s east or west that we roam, this is our home.
“It’s a very, very patriotic song about a great country — and I couldn’t have written it if I were living in downtown Edmonton.”
Plume gets back to Canada fairly regularly, though. He just spent part of the summer teaching music at a youth camp in southern Ontario, where his wife and daughter flew to on weekends, so the whole family could enjoy together-time in a beautiful, natural setting.
Plume, who first launched his career in Bonnyville, Alta., will next tour to his old stompin’ ground of Western Canada.
He thinks playing at the Daines Country Music Picknic will be interesting, because he’s never entertained at a Canadian horse training event before — the Daines event is the first-ever Canadian championship.
The four-day event also includes cowboy poetry readings on Thursday evening, and Saturday night entertainment by musicians Bill Bourne, J.D. Bixby, R. Harlan Smith, Chris Nielsen, and dozens of others.
Since Plume’s eclectic kind of country music draws from such diverse influences as Bob Dylan, The Tragically Hip and Alan Jackson, he isn’t sure how much of it can be classified as “today’s” country. (He once told an interviewer, “if you squint and stand far away, we come across as a country band . . . We are certainly left and centre, though.”)
He jokingly adds that the Daines event will be a litmus test. “If we get booed off stage, well, I guess, it didn’t work. But I will do my absolute best to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
The 33rd Annual Ivan Daines and Friends Music Picknic weekend runs Thursday to Sunday at the Daines Ranch, 6 km north of Innisfail. Ticket prices, which were lowered in light of the tougher economy, are $15 per day or $55 for a four-day pass ($10 per day or $20 for a pass for youths 11 to 17) from the Daines Western Shop (403) 227-2636, or Ticketmaster.