Three years ago, I attended the Stan Rogers Folk Festival for the first time, and it marked the beginning of a tradition for me, so much so that the campground where I stayed (Seabreeze Campground, in Canso, Nova Scotia, free plug…) is holding a permanent reservation in my name until or unless I do something to change that (like not showing up, for instance, as if that’s going to happen…). Anyway, that first year marked my initial awareness of an East Coast Canadian band called the Sons of Maxwell. Comprised of a duo of brothers (Don and Dave Carroll), who began singing together while in college, and a handful of backup musicians, they made some of the finest music of the festival, with tight harmonies, memorable tunes and thoughtful lyrics. Their songs are drawn from the songbooks of the best Canadian tunesmiths (Ian Tyson, Stan Rogers, and Gordon Lightfoot, to name a few), as well as a fine selection of clever and well-crafted originals. Because of the easy-going atmosphere of Stanfest, audience members routinely have quite a bit of access to the performers; during a chat with Don Carroll, I discovered that the band’s name was derived from their father, whose given name is Maxwell. Don was, and presumably still is, an affable soul, quick with a grin, and happy to autograph a Sons of Maxwell CD (or, as he said at the time, “a t-shirt, or a Tim Horton’s receipt, or pretty much anything else you might shove in front of me”).
The pair, well regarded in Eastern Canada, didn’t make too much of a splash in the rest of the world until July 2009, at which point they released a song, with accompanying video, about an unfortunate experience they had had the previous summer while flying between shows. The song was called “United Breaks Guitars” (the title referring to the offending airline and Dave Carroll’s ill-fated instrument). Undoubtedly you have heard of this, but until last week it had entirely eluded me. While waiting for the newly-painted back bumper to be installed on my Civic, a result of a minor rear-end encounter late last month, the body shop rep and I started to chat about music. I mentioned that I play a Taylor guitar, and he said, “Oh, then you must know the Sons of Maxwell tune about the Taylor, right?” When I responded in the negative, he gave me a knowing “aha” look, pulled up YouTube on his computer, and pressed “Play”. In case you haven’t heard it, you need to, ’cause it’s hilarious; here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=united+breaks+guitars&aq=f
The airline’s negligence, and then its adamant refusal to take responsibility, might have seemed bad luck at the time, but since the incident, the careers of the Carroll brothers have, you might say, taken off. The YouTube video, a hit from its inception, now has had more than nine million views. That’s nine, followed by six zeroes. Throw in major media coverage (including CNN’s Wolf Blitzer), a message of support (and an offer of a replacement guitar) from Taylor Guitars honcho Bob Taylor, and a slew of YouTube imitators (“Northwest Breaks Dulcimers”, etc.), and UBG began to take on a life of its own. Two more United-themed ditties followed, United Breaks Guitars Song Two, on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-UoERHaSQg , and Song Three, which you can hear at www.davecarrollmusic.com/song3 .
On the feelgood front, four days after the release of the video on YouTube, United Airlines stock took a 10% hit on the stock exchange, costing shareholders a whopping $180 million, according to the London Times (via Wikipedia). That should have made them sit up and take notice.
One last note: as there have been nine million (and counting) views of UBG on YouTube, this is likely to be one of those times where I am not the, um, first boxcar across the bridge. I’m okay with that; it will make me happy even if only one or two of you get turned on to something you might otherwise have missed.