Carry it on

When my daughter asked, many months ago, if we would like to go with her and her partner to a Buffy Ste. Marie concert at Massey Hall at the end of November, we responded with a resounding yes. Buffy’s music, coupled with her decades of political activism, has long been an inspiration and promised a perfect evening. Oh so foolishly, we thought we’d be well past any pandemic concerns by then. We decided to turn it into a family affair, so added tickets for our other offspring. Out of an abundance of caution, we also bought ticket insurance, just in case something pandemic-related came up that meant we couldn’t go.

Complicated transportation arrangements were made to accommodate various work schedules and the fact that we would be coming from three different locations. Cat, rabbit and kid care were all sorted out. Some people wisely booked the following morning off work.

And then the well laid plans of women – because that’s who does the organizing in our family – went out the window. A few weeks before the show, one person decided they were not comfortable being in a large crowd of strangers. We sold her ticket to a friend who was only too happy to be included.

A few days before the show, with Kingston’s case count soaring through the roof, we decided to check the insurance policy lest we be unwelcome visitors to Massey Hall. No joy there – it seemed the insurance would only pay out if we were pretty close to death and had a doctor’s certificate to prove it. There’s some money I won’t waste another time.

The day of the event, a child in my daughter’s partner‘s kindergarten class tested positive for the virus, so she had to self-isolate while she waited for her test results. This ruled my partner out of the game, as well. We tried to hawk the two tickets, but couldn’t find anyone available on such short notice.

We are circling

The show would go on, even if our numbers were somewhat depleted. And what a wonderful show it was. While we imagined that the wait time to get into the theatre would be long, as everyone’s proof of vaccine, ID and tickets were inspected, the line moved along steadily and quickly. We had great seats, with two spares where we could stack our coats.

The minute the lights dimmed and we all began to clap, I realized how much I had missed that sound. My partner and I have watched a lot of excellent online concerts over the past almost two years, but the sound of four hands clapping had always been a bit on the thin side. The reverberating noise of more than 4,000 clapping hands was, itself, music to my ears.

The Sadies provided an enthusiastic and energetic opening set, but it was when Buffy and her band took to the stage that we all rose to our feet, clapping, shouting, and it must be admitted, perhaps crying a little bit too.

Politics and love

Buffy Ste. Marie, now 80 years old, has been writing and playing music since the early 1960s. Her anti-war anthem “The Universal Solder” appeared on her first album in 1964, and it carried as much meaning and importance when we heard her sing it at Massey Hall as it did in the midst of the Vietnam War.

She gave us some of everything: songs we knew and didn’t know, and more than a few that begged us to stand up and move with the music. We heard “Up Where We Belong,” the song that garnered her an Academy Award in 1983; the first to go to an Indigenous person. There were love songs and kids’ songs.

There were plenty of political songs in the mix, decrying the greed, violence and racism of capitalism and calling out for change, from “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee” to “The War Racket:”

“Ooh you’re slick/You investors in hate . . . You billionaire bullies/You’re a globalized curse/You put war on the masses while you clean out the purse. . . You profit on war/There’s less money in peace.”

There was lots of anger, as was only right, but there was also love and hope in what Buffy shared during her almost two-hour energy- and wisdom-packed show.

“We Are Circling” reminds us of the importance of community:

“We are circling/Circling together/We are singing/singing our heart song/This is family, this is unity/This is celebration, this is sacred.”

“Carry It On” demands that we engage:

“Hold your head up/Lift the top of your mind/Put your eyes on the Earth/Lift your heart to your own home planet/What do you see?/What is your attitude/Are you here to improve it or damn it/Look right now and you will see/We’re only here by the skin of our teeth as it is/So take heart and take care of your link with life and/Oh carry it on. . . .”

She sent us out into the night with “Starwalker,” and I know I wasn’t the only one who felt like it might just be possible to walk among the stars, building community and a better world for those yet to come.

Thank you, Buffy, not just for a great evening of music but for helping me find some much-needed hope.

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