We weren't feeling too optimistic about our first gig on this eastern 'tourette' -- Don was getting a cold, his injured hand was still bothering him, our host had been saying things like "I hope somebody comes" and "you can put CDs out on the table, but people don't buy CDs here", we were crabby after two days in the car together and not enough sleep, we were woefully under-rehearsed, due to numerous pressures on our time pre-departure, and the fact that while it's easy to catch up on work at the computer in the car, it's not so easy to practise lap slide and cello in the car (nor is it likely legal). We figured we'd just put a brave face forward, visit some friends and call it a glorified rehearsal. We were, thankfully, mistaken.
As we pulled in, Kathryn was watching out the bay window for us -- meaning she obviously saw us drive too far and double back. Oops... Kathryn is an old friend from Alyssa's Cannington days -- an avid folkie and a United Church minister. She'd actually been brave enough to hire Alyssa on several occasions to replace the church organist on summer vacations for services in "her" churches in Wilfrid and Eudora. (Considering Alyssa had quit piano lessons after a crash-course in Grade 6 for university entrance, we can only hope that God is forgiving... or at least has a sense of humour.) She'd transferred out to lead the parish in Clifton, NB a little over three years ago -- we visited her and hubby Roger on our way home from NS shortly after they'd moved, and given an impromptu house concert for the choir after their rehearsal. Since then, we'd all said we should play there again, but the timing had never worked out. This time, though, the timing worked perfectly, and we were invited to be part of Central United Church's 50th anniversary celebrations. Still, Kathryn was nervous about attendance, as she thought the community's tastes ran more in the country side, and she wasn't sure if they'd come out for some unknown Ontario folkies. She was, thankfully, mistaken.
We pulled in to the manse and sat down for a cup of tea with Kathryn and Roger, shaking off some of the stress of the road. This is not, mind you, a typical manse -- there are Buddhas everywhere, as well as First Nations, Celtic, Norse and other sacred symbols and art. Roger, the Buddhist, has probably been a source of much perplexity to this small town parish, but he still leads the church choir, and they seem to have gotten used to the concept. :-) Both have such a sense of openness and curiosity, it's not difficult to see how they ended up together -- but it must have taken some adjustment for a very traditional community to wrap their heads around the idea. The congregation really seems to have embraced Kathryn and Roger, though, so good on them.
We finish our tea as Gordon and Kay arrive -- Gordon is the church's sound person, and Kay is in the choir. They help us load things into the church and get set up for sound check -- which Gordon leads, assisted by Joanne and observed by Muriel. We opt to keep it simple, with a nice juicy condenser mic in the middle, and a vocal mic each, just to boost the lyrics up a bit when needed. Gordon says he's never had to do sound for this type of ensemble before, but the entire set-up and sound check takes only a half hour. Gordon and Kay come back to the house with us, where Roger is busy in the kitchen, preparing a light dinner for us. It smells fantastic!
The six of us sit down to poached salmon, a delicious quinoa dish, salad and warm bread -- and lots of fun conversation. Sure beats road food. :-) The church choir has prepared two songs of welcome to us to start out the concert -- Don asks if everyone thinks they might want to join us on a song, Kay thinks they'd be up for it, Kathryn's not so sure, but everyone agrees we might as well ask them! They head next door for the choir warm-up, and we do our own warm up and get changed before heading over.
Don brings his guitar down to the last bit of the choir practise, prepared for rejection but that was, thankfully, mistaken. :-) The choir is super-enthusiastic about singing along, and I can hear their voices coming up through the floor -- a joyful noise, indeed.
The church starts to fill up -- we got over 70 people by the end of it, much more than anyone was expecting -- and, contrary to Kathryn and Roger's warnings, they aren't all hiding in the back pews. There are also many people from outside the church who have seen the newspaper article and posters, and thought they'd give us a try. We are grateful to anyone who takes a chance on new music (especially ours!).
The choir files in, and begins with a song about the area, written by a local woman whose name I'm afraid I've lost, accompanied on piano. The second song is about the women of Baie Chaleur (which we're looking out on), accompanied by Joanne on guitar, and some other music on Roger's laptop. Unfortunately, there's a technical glitch, and while the audience can hear the recorded music, it isn't being fed back to the choir, and their voices get very very quiet, hoping to find their way back to the beat of the recording. The technical error is corrected, and they start again, this time with the choir being able to hear their accompaniment -- their voices are much stronger and their faces less strained on this second version. :-) A great job, and a lovely welcome -- we're already having a wonderful night!
We started our first set, and any doubts that the folks wouldn't "get" our rootsy music were quickly dispelled. Don asked during one introduction whether folks were interested in hearing the stories behind the songs -- heads bobbed everywhere, they wanted to know it all. We were home. :-)
A very quick stretch break, where we were warned half the audience would probably leave -- but very few did. We commented to each other how much fun we were having, and what a great community feel there was. Rather than disapproving comments from some of the older churchy folks, they were most enthusiastic, and even the apparent great-grannies stuck around.
The second set began with the choir joining us for Don's song "Oh So Much Pavement" -- another fabulous job. If only we'd had more foresight and time to bring them in on more songs!
After the concert, the UCW had prepared a reception -- and folks stayed to chat and nibble for quite a long time. We got many comments about how the concert felt like the old coffee houses, and one woman seemed positively thrilled when I told here they were starting to make a comeback in other parts of the country. And once again, we were pleasantly surprised when the CD table was surrounded by folks who wanted to take us home -- one woman even grabbed a handful of our postcards, to give to her brother and other friends who she wanted to tell about us. We were asked many times when we'd be coming back -- we feel loved. :-)
After packing up, we headed back to Kathryn and Roger's with Gordon and Kay for a glass of wine (or three) and more fun conversation. Kay and Gordon are both Clifton natives, with many generations ahead of them, so have lots of knowledge about the area, which was interesting to learn. They managed to pry themselves off home around midnight, and the rest of us kept chattering away. Around 1:00, Kathryn said it was time for bed -- but we still didn't actually make it there until about 2:00. Not such a big deal for we night-owls, especially with the time change, but I have a feeling the other four aren't used to such crazy bed-times! (Surprisingly, we weren't the ones keeping the conversations going, though.)
We all fell into comas (a very comfy futon -- Don didn't move once before morning, which is unusual for him) with big smiles on our faces.
In the morning, Roger demonstrated his electronic bagpipes for Don (he assured me it wasn't a hint to get out of bed, but I don't entirely believe him...), and then we had breakfast and yet more conversation. (One woman from the audience called to tell us how much she had enjoyed our concert -- warmed the cockles of our heart, it did!) We could have probably gone on for several more days, but there's a niece and nephew waiting patiently for us in Halifax, so we bid our adieu-s and frapped la rue. It's been a bit drizzly today, some places downright rainy, but the fall colours have been gorgeous, and we managed to avoid any close encounters with moose.
In a week where we've been busy, stressed, and perhaps a little on the cranky-pants side, this was EXACTLY the type of gig we needed -- the kind that reminds us why we've ditched stability for a life in music, and why we haul ourselves across the country to share it. Sharing our ideas with others, learning others' ideas and seeing how they all fit together. Music, religion, philosophy, science, tradition, integration, it all weaves together. Friends, community, communion. Music, love, wine, conversation and some really good food. What more could we want out of life?
Musically and movedly and moving rapidly toward Halifax,
Lyss & Don