If there was any question about our collective appetite for live music during COVID’s cultural cancellations, it was answered on a chilly evening on the first day of September, underneath a starry sky at Butchart Gardens.
The concert lawns were crammed with hundreds of spectators enjoying local Celtic-folk band Black Angus giving us an eclectic mix of Leonard Cohen, Tom Paxton, Dougie MacLean, the familiar and the unfamiliar, covers and originals.
It was fantastic to park Spotify for awhile and listen to the real thing. Guitars and bass and drums and fiddles. And laughter and standing ovations and stories and a song written by Leonard Cohen’s son Adam that was both haunting and reminiscent of the poetic father.
There were few masks. Little evidence of this major disruption to our lives. Onstage were resilient performers who had been freed from COVID captivity again, free to play their hearts out.
Butchart has given us Friday and Saturday concerts throughout this summer. Normally the outdoor concert stage goes seven nights a week, but last year it was dark altogether. Next summer, we can hope they will be back to a full program – and fireworks.
The concerts this year have been jammed with spectators. The Bills, mainstays for years, said they had never seen such a large crowd in front of them. And got energy from the audience.
We got to see Barney Bentall, Shari Ulrich and Tom Taylor play their lyrical masterpieces, and Ulrich got a loud cheer when introducing her song Canada. “This is part of my one-woman campaign to reclaim our flag,” she said, and though some Americans bused in from the cruise ships may have wondered what she was talking about, the locals and the visiting Canadians surely knew, and agreed.
I hope we never take live music for granted again, and get out and support performers at larger festivals and smaller venues, like the Empourium coffee shop in Brentwood Bay which brings in excellent musicians and opens its doors for open mic nights, which are hugely enjoyable.
We have a superb music scene here on Vancouver Island, one we should cherish and nurture and support.
Over on the other side of the country they are about to relaunch the Celtic Colours festival on Cape Breton, which has large and tiny concerts in the towns and villages and takes over the communities for a month. Most of the concerts routinely sell out.
We have our festivals here too, from Courtenay to Duncan to Rifflandia. coming up mid-month and headlined by Lorde and featuring more than 150 performances in 20 venues. Now that’s a festival. Well done to all the organizers for getting all these acts together, up and down the Island.
So thank you for the music, whether you’re a big name or busking outside a liquor store.
It’s great to have you back. And to sing along some. Again.
Ian Haysom is consulting editor for CHEK Media.