Went to see Matt Andersen and Mike Stevens play at Hugh's Room last night, dropped a hundred bucks and had a marvelous time. Total blast. Am paying the price this morning though for the bottle of wine Grace and I shared. But I have a new Andersen CD on the stereo so that's OK. I feel like a teenager, I actually got his autograph on my CD! Hoo-wee!
I had wanted to see Matt in Lunenburg before I left Nova Scotia, but it just didn't work out. I checked his website and sure enough he was playing Toronto, but last night was the one and only night, and after that no hope of crossing paths with him for many months. So I hooked up with Grace, one of the Dog Ladies, and we booked a table at Hugh's Room for dinner and the show. It's a great venue, seats around 200 people mostly at tables, and every table is a good table---good views and good sound. Grace looked around the room and noted the wide mix of ages, opined that that was a good sign. Gotta be good to attract that kind of audience.
I'd never heard Mike before, he's a harmonica player with many years behind him of The Grand Ol' Opry (Nashville) and touring Innu and Innuit communities of Canada's north. It shows in his music, a unique mix of many styles. He talked about his experiences on tour and some of the work he is doing bringing music to northern communities as an alternative to drug use among youth.
I have never heard a harmonica "speak" before, but Mike makes his harmonicas speak. You can hear the words coming out of the harmonica! His harmonica said: "Grew up in Sarnia/From Sarnia still/If the air don't get ya/Then the fries will", or words to that effect. Mike's from Sarnia.
Matt is Matt, fabulous voice and virtuoso guitar playing, and an engaging personal style on stage. He bantered with Mike and with the audience, and used his long curly hair like another instrument. He'd swing his head so his hair whipped around like a halo. When Matt sings the blues it pierces your soul. He doesn't just sing the words, he IS the blues. He did one song about returning troops that hit hard. And of course his signature rendition of She Takes The Sunshine. I first heard him sing that two years ago at Deep Roots in Wolfville, and it literally choked me up and brought tears to my eyes. This time he has polished his rendition some, and in the process lost some of the emotional rawness, but it was still a great performance.
Grace and I arrived early to eat dinner before the performance. The format at Hugh's Room is they want you to come early if you want dinner so they can get you fed and the dishes cleared in time for the show. So you have lots of time to eat and chat before the music. Grace and I don't really know each other that well, we met a few times last winter at Dog Lady get-togethers, so this was a chance to get to know each other. We ordered Concert Specials from the menu, and a bottle of a good red wine.
Grace's background is Japanese Canadian, her ancestors settled in the Steveston area of British Columbia. During World War II her parents' family was split up because some of them had been sent back to Japan for school, so they had to stay in Japan while the rest of the family was interned---like most Japanese in Canada at the time---in camps in the interior of BC. They would have lost everything during that time, and most of them did not return to Steveston after the war because their old community was gone.
After the war Grace's parents came to Toronto, where she was born and grew up. We shared experiences of growing up in Toronto, of travelling to other parts of the world and coming back here, realizing what a great place it was right here. We remembered going to the 'Ex' as kids, the Royal Winter Fair, the AGO and the Grange Park behind, the Superdog show (well of course! We're Dog Ladies!).
We both get a big kick out of travelling on the streetcar, on Queen, Dundas or College, and being surrounded by the sights and sounds of people from all over the globe riding the same streetcar. It's a magical experience, it makes you feel like a real Citizen of the World, being surrounded by all those ordinary people from everywhere, settled and jostling up against each other in this very international city. I don't want to call it "cosmopolitan", that somehow implies something sophisticated and this is not. Toronto certainly can do sophisticated, but it also has a real down-on-the-ground regular-folks international feel as well.
That bottle of wine disappeared pretty darn quick.
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