Live music!

There really is nothing like live music to restore the soul. BC (before COVID), music festivals and concerts large and small were a regular part of my partner’s and my lives. Happily, our children inherited not just our love of live music but similar tastes, so we have often included one or more of them in these events.

As I wrote at times during the pandemic, the loss of live music was hard on my soul. We bought tickets to as many live online shows as we could. In some cases, this allowed us to see performers we never would have been able to see in person. We didn’t have to travel, we always had front row seats, and we could hum along or get up and dance without having to worry about bothering anyone else. Those artists who gave so much of themselves made a very tough time a little bit easier, and I thank them for that.

But it just wasn’t the same as live music. When, during a small window of being allowed to gather in large numbers, we went to a Buffy Ste Marie concert in Toronto, I felt alive in a way I hadn’t for quite some time. As I wrote at the time:

“The minute the lights dimmed and we all began to clap, I realized how much I had missed that sound. . . .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.”

No brooding here

My life over the past several months has been difficult: challenging work, friends and family members dealing with serious illnesses and death, trying to figure out the economics of retirement. . . .  So, when my daughter – a major Elliott Brood fan– asked if my partner and I would like to go with her to what would be her third show of theirs in as many weeks, I quickly said yes, knowing that an evening of good live music would lift me out of my doldrums.

I was right. It was a fantastic event with an enthusiastic and tight performance by the band in a perfect venue: Base 31, a former airbase near Picton. We enjoyed a bite to eat in the Pilot’s Lounge before the show, and brought our drinks and dessert (donuts still warm from the fryer!) into the show space. With a mixture of seating options, the Sergeant’s Mess holds somewhere between 100 and 150 people, with space for those so moved to dance. Even I was on my feet dancing by the last few songs.

A balm to the soul

I first encountered Allison Russell a few years ago when she and her partner – the musical duo Birds of Chicago – played at a small music festival in rural Ohio. My partner and I were both blown away by their performance. Since then, Russell has struck out on her own, and we’ve been trying to see her a bit closer to home for some time. We had tickets for her performance at the Ottawa Folk Festival last fall, but I had COVID, so that didn’t happen.

We saw her in Kingston this week. Her earlier Toronto performance on this tour had been so highly praised by Toronto Star reviewer Nick Krewen that I worried I’d be disappointed:

“Allison Russell let the music wash through her body, air her laundry and cleanse her soul in what turned out to be a musically unforgettable International Women’s Day . . . Russell, barefoot, attired in a light green evening gown and hair worn in a ponytail, raised her arms and sang and danced defiantly, with the confidence of someone who has confronted her demons, addressed them and consigned them to the past, utilizing her music as a catalyst for healing.”

I need not have been concerned. Along with her talented all-woman band, Russell gave a powerful performance. She sang, she danced, she played the clarinet and banjo; all brilliantly. Kingston audiences are not, in my experience, known for our willingness to let go at musical events, tending to sit very still in our seats no matter how rousing the performance. Such was not the case the other night – early on in the show, people moved to the sides and back of the theatre to dance along with Russell, many of them staying there for the rest of the show.

She introduced her Grammy-award winning song “Eve Was Black,” by sharing the story of the violence to which her step-father subjected her for 10 years when she was a child, reminding us that no one in the world – including him – is a monster and that only through love will we change the world, exhorting the audience to do just that. This was the theme of the night: the planet and all of its inhabitants are in a very bad way, but we have the power to change that, if we work collectively and offer love without reserve.

Above all, the music was phenomenal and is still filling my head, but I also left the show having captured some of her unreserved defiance and joy as well as her hope for the possibility of a better future. As she sang in her encore:

La haine est enterree/L’heure des miracles est nee/L’amour est eternelles/Courage mes beaux, mes belles/So it is yours to sing/My child/My wild brightling/With the love born in the cradle of time/Requiem/Requiem/The question is not if/It was always when.

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