It’s one thing to play drums on a regular stage. It’s a whole other story to play drums on something that can move from city to city.
Josh Trager is the drummer of Sam Roberts Band, who spent a chilly holiday season performing across Canada on the CP (Canadian Pacific Railway) Holiday Train.
What were the accommodations like? Where was the stage? Josh recounts the details of this cool gig, as well as the night he realized the train was haunted.
It’s called the CP Holiday Train – which is sort of self explanatory – combined with a fundraiser and food drive for local food banks. We live on the train, travel across the country during the holiday season, and perform in one of the cars that has been converted into a stage. That stage opens up on one or both sides, depending on where the audience is. Once the train stopped at each venue, we’d play for a local audience, which would consist of families that often spanned 3 generations.
The drums are set up on day one, and bolted down on a revolving riser for the remainder of the tour. Several times a day, we would perform 20-35 minute sets consisting of holiday classics as well as our own music as we’d travel through some of Canada’s most beautiful towns.
We had to choose 5-10 holiday songs to learn and arrange to suit our band’s vibe. No easy task since there are so many great songs! We got a big kick out of playing that music, especially because it evokes such a joyful reaction from the children in the audience…but once Santa makes an appearance, all bets are off!
We were selected. The Holiday Train has a long-standing history of inviting mainstream Canadian artists to be a part of it. It’s been going since the early ‘90s, I believe.
Prior to boarding, I was a little concerned with just exactly how one lives on a train, day in, day out. But it turned out to be wonderful and a lot of fun. We did two separate legs, and during the first one the rooms were quite luxurious, complete with a full ensuite bathroom. We also had top tier catering provided by CP’s in-house chefs. The second leg had us on a much older and somewhat scarier/slightly haunted train, but we were traveling through the Rocky Mountains and that alone was one of the most beautiful and enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had.
Aside from playing in freezing temperatures and doing it multiple times throughout the day, on occasion the train was stopped at a bit of an angle. This made it incredibly difficult to maintain balance. Needless to say, this definitely posed a problem during sections of songs where both feet would be playing busier parts. I compensated by literally trying to center myself as best I could.
On the second leg of the tour, we traveled and performed through the Rocky Mountains. It was gorgeous, but the train they used was from 1916 and was most definitely haunted. There was an actual murder back in the ‘30s where the chef allegedly caught his wife in bed with another man and shot them…or at least this is what I was told. Anyway, it was said to have happened in my stateroom. On the first day, right after the first performance, I returned to my room and it was locked…but I had definitely left it unlocked with the key inside the room. There was no valid or logical explanation, other than a ghost or spirit was hoping to make its presence known. For the rest of the tour, I slept with the lights on…
Josh Trager is one of Canada’s most prominent drummers, best known as a member of the platinum selling Sam Roberts Band. He has also appeared on numerous stages and recordings with many great artists, most notably members of Barenaked Ladies, Jack Bruce (Cream), Uli Roth (Scorpions), Neil Osborne (54-40), Sarah McLachlan, Randy Bachman, Sass Jordan, Ian Thornley, Kim Churchill, James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins), See Spot Run, Torquil Campbell (Stars), and Jonas (supporting a 2004 Van Halen tour). Josh plays Yamaha Drums, Sabian Cymbals, Evans Drumheads, and Regal Tip drumsticks. He is also a contributor to Canadian Musician, DRUM!, MD blogs and Drumeo.
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