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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Phoenix Riting! – August 24th, 2023

After six months of slowly building anticipation and preparation, the Hornby Festival is over. What an incredible trip it has been! Because of her mother’s passing, Festival Artistic Director Deirdre Atkinson was sadly unable to attend the final evening of the Festival, which happened to be the night I was opening. This was disappointing on a few levels, but Andrea Rutz did a fabulous job of standing in for Deirdre at the last minute and everything went perfectly smoothly. How unfortunate and sad! I met Granny Wendy several times; she was unfailingly gracious and kind. My deepest condolences to her family for their loss.


If, like me, you’ve never done it, let me walk you what it was like to perform at a festival like this. I had purchased an early bird pass, then learned that one of my perks was to get in free to all events. This was a sweet surprise! Of course, I was swiftly reimbursed. At shows, I said to the gatekeepers, “I’m on the list,” and they waved me in. Cool!


On Saturday, I showed up at the allotted time for sound check. They were still busy with the headline band, who had a lot of instruments and mics. Some band members were still straggling in from the ferry. And there he was! Alpha Yaya Diallo, Guinea-born Canadian icon, multiple Juno-winner and, at 78, looking much as he did twentyish years ago, when we last saw him at this Festival. Alpha and his band tinkled, thumped, tapped and twanged through soundcheck until all were satisfied. Then it was my turn to warble and plunk for Adrian Dolan and crew, which took no time at all for me and my guitar.


Soundcheck over at nearly six, I rushed home to get ready. While my entourage of family and friends joined the lineup, I swept past like a rockstar. I was ushered into a private green room, a spacious tent hung with bright draperies, comfily furnished and set with charcuterie-style snacks. I did the warmup taught by Angel and Denis at Blues Camp, then gazed out the open door at the trees, fields and sea. It was a perfect evening. Warm, not too hot, and the light was glorious.


I have performed quite a lot over time, but my venues have been small: cafes, local street festivals, open mics and the like. I busked one summer on the streets and parks of Nanaimo. I had a regularly monthly gig at a cafe in downtown Courtenay for a couple of years. I’ve performed as part of biggish variety shows, a song here or there. I once sang a capella to a hall full of people.


This was a whole new level of experience as a performer. To start, the sound quality on stage matters–a whole lot. A bad sound experience can make or break a show. Too much background noise, poor balance, inadequate monitors, a negligent sound person, all can change the pleasure of playing into painful stress.


Not on the Festival stage! The sound up there was so good. I could hear every nuance of both vocal and guitar, crystal clear, due to professional equipment and a brilliant sound crew headed by the incredible Adrian Dolan. Big kudos and wow to them! Another factor critical to the quality of a performance is the amount of energy generated by the quality attention focused on you. Attention bestows power. We say we ‘pay attention’ because attention has real value; it’s a form of currency. Playing for a receptive crowd is like being lifted in the water, the water flows and sweeps you along effortlessly.


I lost myself thusly in my first three songs, swept up by magic of crystalline sound and the uplifting force of quality attention.


It was over far too soon. I want to do it. more! I need to more practice managing that kind attention. When it was over, according to one friend, I rushed off the stage without taking time to acknowledge the applause. Tsk!


I have two shows coming up at Lerena Vineyard, which, though a very different scale from the Festival, is in my comfort zone! You’ll find me there on August 22nd and 29th, from 5:30 to 7:30. I mean to do this wherever and as much I can. If Alpha at 78 is any example, playing lots of music will keep me young and springy!


I did go to several shows and saw the local openers. They were all so good! I feel proud and honoured to be included among them. Jeff Rabena has a beautifully resonant baritone voice–explaining the mystery of how far down the beach he can be heard talking. As for Bex, this woman is a phenomenon, in a class of her own. It was a real treat to hear her original songs again. I was so touched and charmed by the original songs and skillful silver-and-gold harmonies of mother-daughter duo Schuyler Whitman and Alexandria Matthews. Each opener was different and all beautiful. I was sorry to miss Gord Bateman & Dana Inglis, and also Greg Madill, who gave me his new CD for my radio show.


That’s not even mentioning the headliners! Except for Alpha, I left after the first set of all the shows. It was a bit of a blur. Another year I will likely go to more events, but this year, I needed space. Now that it’s over, I am still floating. I hope never to land, though I naturally will.


Radio show note: The new mixer seems to be working at the CHFR radio studio. But it’s still peak summer! It’s hot in there and I am crazy busy. At this point, I will probably wait for the first week of September to restart the Songwriter Circle and the Album Hours. I have appreciated the break but I’m looking forward to being back in the studio.


That’s what I think! What do you think? email me at phoenixonhornby@gmail.com

Author: TIG

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