redreamings & rememberings
~ 6 minute read
The Regina Folk Festival announced their line-up. I’m very happy to tell you that I’m part of the weekend and I’m over the moon about sharing the bill with a wealth of incredible artists.
The last time I played RFF was in 2010. It was a formative experience in my career.
[cue music] The year was 2010. The future was mine…
When my best buddy Jeremy Sauer moved to the interior of British Columbia in April of 2010 my trio suddenly became a duo. It was Elizabeth Curry and me – an artistic upheaval, but one we were approaching with optimism. I was wrapping up working as a lighting tech and was prepared to embark on a new career path. In service of this, Beth and I had to completely recreate a setlist that relied heavily on Jeremy’s piano playing and instead embrace whatever I could reasonably mash out of my guitar. We were doing it, but it was an adjustment.
To my total surprise, my application to play Regina Folk Festival came back as successful. That single booking put us into intense rehearsals. I didn’t have an album. I hadn’t toured. I was in disbelief, but I recognized the opportunity.
Once our schedule for the weekend was determined Beth and I saw that we were being set up for success.
Our teaser set on the main stage was scheduled between John Prine and Sarah Harmer. We had three songs to play after John Prine. JOHN PRINE, Y’ALL. I was so nervous that I couldn’t even watch his performance. Instead I stood in the shipping container that held the other musicians’ gear to keep calm while he played. I’m not proud or happy about it, but/and/also it was a necessary choice to keep my head.
Beth and I had prepared heavily for this main stage moment. In the week previous to our teaser performance we had gotten together everyday to play our three songs at the precise time that we’d do it for real. On the Thursday before the festival started we’d even tried to talk the site’s security guard into letting us on the stage so we could rehearse on the very spot. She declined our plea. We settled for playing our songs for her at the backstage gate.
I’m telling you. We were focused.
I have only a few clear memories of that wee stage: The crew worked noisily behind us to turn John Prine’s set up into Sarah Harmer’s. A blast of feedback sounded when my mic turned on. The light from the tech booth hit us flat in the face with its intensity. The wind came up and I thought, “This will make my hair look great”.
The two days that followed were sweaty and busy and perfect. I hung out with the super chill Emily Wells. I partied with the horn section from Calexico. I dueted “Wayfaring Stranger” with Justin Rutledge on a workshop stage.
By the time we were scheduled for our 45 minute concert on Sunday afternoon, Beth and I had been trotted out in four separate performances and were in a groove. We played our first few songs of that concert and I watched the lawn before us fill up with people – first the shady spots under the trees and then the brightly lit areas I classify as sunburn zones.
It was blissful.
The weekend would culminate with Sunday’s big finale. I had been asked to close the festival by singing “Summertime” with Little Miss Higgins and Patrick Watson. I’d agreed because it was another excellent opportunity, but I was super intimidated by the company I was sharing. And I was afraid we wouldn’t run the song in advance. I’m not good at winging it. I like to rehearse (a lot).
When Jolene (aka Little Miss Higgins) invited me to a practice session my anxieties were not quelled… what if I bombed it and she thought I was a super loser? I didn’t know how to harmonize. I forsaw lameness in my future. She’d toured with k.d. lang in Europe and this was my first festival ever. The stench Imposter Syndrome was upon me.
The time eventually came for Jolene to lead me to the rehearsal spot. It was her friend’s VW bus that was parked behind some government buildings. There was a whole vibe going on. Dancing. Strings of lights. Folding chairs. Records playing. I had a drink. I listened to the albums. I relaxed a bit. Jolene and her band eventually pulled out their instruments and played “Summertime”.
My nerves returned and I had the immediate and distinct sense that I was putting her off with my anxiety. She could smell my fear. Or could just plainly see the discomfort written all over my face. She and Foy started the song and I tried to just listen and figure out where to come in and not ruin everything.
When I did start to sing, an angel blessed my pitiful soul with mercy and grace. I joined Jolene in a harmony. And it sounded GOOD.
I remember catching her eye and seeing the surprise. I remember trying to keep it together. We ended the song and she was visibly happy with how it went. Praise be! I relaxed and enjoyed the party a little more.
Eventually I went back to the festival grounds in time to see Patrick Watson. I was a big fan. He was playing in the second last slot, right before Buffy Sainte-Marie. It was the last date on a massive two year tour for his album, Wooden Arms. He was popping champagne and reveling in joy and giving little regard for the length of time he had been allotted in the schedule. By the time they shut him down and Buffy was on, the finale was off. Instead of “Summertime”, Buffy would close the night. Artists, volunteers and staff would join her on stage. I was off the hook.
Buffy was incredible of course, and as we filed on for the finale I ran into Patrick Watson in the melée. I put both my hands on his shoulders and told him how excellent his set was and how much I loved Wooden Arms. We walked on the stage together, sang with Buffy in a big group and headed off stage with everyone else. Jolene happened to run by and yelled at us,
“We’re doing ‘Summertime’ at the Cenotaph!”
Patrick followed me and we weaved through the crowd towards the centre of the park to catch up Jolene and the band. We reached the Cenotaph and gathered ourselves into a rag tag arrangement. We started to play and gathered the concert goers exiting the park into a beautiful cluster. In totally impromptu fashion we performed a concert of “Summertime”, Jolene’s song “Bargain Shop Panties” then some songs literally made up on the spot thanks to Patrick’s joyful conducting.
It was magic.
It was unforgettable.
In many ways, this festival is like coming home.
Buffy Sainte-Marie and all.
All photos by Michael Bell.