I actually wrote this on Sunday, March 15th but didn't hit 'post' until today. You may see why...
I think I am safe to say that Barton and I have been frequent concert-goers and over the years have seen many, many performances. It’s funny though, because as we enjoyed our concert-date-night-out last night, we were trying to figure out the last time we had actually been to a concert TOGETHER. It seems as though we don't remember attending a concert with each other since we drove down to Portland to see The Tragically Hip play in a tiny theatre. Apparently that was so long ago that we can't even remember if we were married yet at the time! (Vic... Mike... help with that answer?) For whatever reason (hmmm, kids?) we have been attending solo for many a year.
It was in early December that I bought our tickets as a Christmas present for two well-seasoned bands; Spirit of the West, 26 years old and one of Barton's favourites, who were opening for Great Big Sea, whom we both enjoy, still playing together at the ripe age of 16. At the time it seemed like AGES away and once the gift was given, it just kind of floated in and out of our thoughts. A few weeks ago we realized that it was coming up soon and were re-excited because we just don't get out that often!! However, over the course of the past 4 days or so it slipped my mind again.
The tragedy off our coast is known, I'm sure, to most by now and the effect it has had on our community and province has been quite staggering. Though we didn’t know any of the passengers personally, so many people around us did. It seems as though every person we know from here knew someone on-board or has been affected very heavily through family and friends. A few good friends of ours are grieving the losses of friends, co-workers and other family members. A great tragedy involving 18 people from a relatively small province has a web of affect that spreads so far; hundreds upon hundreds of people are instantly involved. This morning I read that two of the people on board were from BC and close to my hometown, so now a whole new community and group of people have been brought in.
We are not Newfoundlanders and never will be. In fact, we have been told that even if we stay forever, our grandkids may not even be considered Newfoundlanders! ;) However, we have been a part of this community now for almost 5 years and it didn't take long to learn why it is that way. This province is very tightly knit; families are large and close. When one needs, another provides. When one hurts, they all hurt and neighbours will stop and do anything for another if the need arises. Before Barton and I left to come to Newfoundland for interviews, someone asked us if we had a place to stay. When we said we hadn't yet, they told us just to knock on someone's door and ask. At the time, that seemed like a kind of joke... I now realize it totally wasn't. We were welcomed, helped, befriended and quite literally when we knocked on someone's door, we got a BBQ and a beer! This community and province now surround us.
When a community of people like this is rocked by a horrific incident, there is a deep sense of sadness no matter where you go. And yet, there's a survival mode that kicks in, a sense of support and uplifting within the entire province. Plus, the support that has come in from around globe has been quite incredible.
The idea of a happy and exciting event such as a concert seemed hardly realistic. Who would think to do something so fun? How could something like that still carry on? (In fact, it almost didn't considering none of their gear made it across the ferry!)
A stadium seems like a cocoon at the best of times - a little bubble of people gathered for a mutual interest within a larger, bustling world. Last night it seemed like we were in this weird, joyful cocoon, separated, but still within, a tree of sorrow. As we drove there, we both wondered how either band would handle this situation. With the helicopter crash being only two days previous and there was new, painful news being reported that day we knew they would definitely address it somehow, especially considering Great Big Sea are locals.
We enjoyed the concert over a sea of green - only in this province do we actually celebrate "St Paddy's Day Weekend". It's like a 5 day party! We haven't quite learned to remember that yet, but luckily each of us had inadvertently worn green (see? maybe it's starting to sink in?)
Spirit of the West was on first and Barton was really excited, even though he’s seen them umpteen times. What a great break from the constant studying and exam pressure he’s had! (His own cocoon!) I’ve never seen Spirit of the West perform but they're fantastic live. Lead singer John Mann reminisced that the first time they ever played in St John's was in 1989 and they were welcomed to Bannerman Park "from Canada!" Mid-way through their performance they expressed their condolences for a province they love and dedicated a song in the honour and memory of those lost that week.
"I found my coat
Had trouble with the sleeves
We lifted your box
And bent at the knees
Know what tears the most?
It's the disregard for your holy ghost
You left the world, the world kept going..."
(Rights of Man)
Unfortunately, as is the wont of opening bands, they seemed to be over quite quickly (though of course not without a crowd-rousing "Home For a Rest") and Barton was true to form by scurrying his way through the crowd on the floor to secure himself a set list to add to his collection.
The short break after SOTW ended with the lights going down - which of course brings on the screams – and Great Big Sea came on-stage and Sean McCann took the mic...
"For 500 years we Newfoundlanders have been taking from the sea. Two days ago, She took back..."
They sang "England" in dedication. Immediately following the song the lights went out and they left the stage. After a moment of darkness, they returned and the concert began. It was extremely tactful. It was a lovely way to separate the two events and it almost gave permission for everyone to enjoy themselves from there on. Considering how many of their songs are about death, the ocean or the two combined it seemed a necessary and respectful line to draw. How else could you later sing about “The night that Paddy Murphy Died” and still have fun?
"Should we find Fortune's Favour
And be spared from the gale
We will live off honest labour
With our hearts as big as sails
But if I should die don't bury me
Or leave me to the sea
Please send my bones back to my home
Where my spirit can be free"
I don't think I will ever hear this song the same again.
As always (my third time seeing them) Great Big Sea didn't disappoint. They are crazy talented and even if you're a so-so fan, the concerts will always be worth it. I always marvel at their ability to swap around instruments, or sing harmony a cappella in a place like that and still sound good. The stadium is small enough that no matter where you sit, your seats are great and the back 1/4 of the floor space was left open, which lent itself nicely to a group of boys who spent most of the concert jigging and forming their own little 7-boy mosh-pit. A few couples had a dance and a few drunkies staggered through. I love Newfoundlanders because they can have such a good time without being idiots, except for the "F*$^ British Columbia" buddies cursing Spirit of the West behind us, but they didn't last long! It was one of those nice evenings where sometimes you just sit back and watch the scene, and sometimes you just have to get up and dance. We missed the kids because they would have loved it. Riley had been to see GBS before and had a great time; the boys would have been very inspired! Maybe next time... 'cause you know they'll be back!
Just when we thought it wouldn't happen - though we hoped it would! - GBS welcomed SOTW back on stage to join them in Old Black Rum. It was a quite a group! Unfortunately SOTW didn't know the lyrics but they somehow held their own on their instruments and what John lacked in lyric, he definitely made up for in dance and energy!
So, that was our date night, a juxtaposition of emotions. It made me realize two things - I miss going to concerts regularly and it's always okay to take a break from real life.
(Oh! And just as I fell asleep last night I thought of Aerosmith... yes, I could crack a joke about that but I will refrain... We had the tickets a few years ago, we were in Montreal and as is the habit of Aerosmith in Canada – they cancelled. So we were very close to seeing a concert within the past 10 years together!)
A long time ago, we did a story on GBS and Charro got great photos – check it out here:
Great Big Sea at the Arts and Culture Centre