Monday, March 5, 2012


I’ve regularly expressed frustration over being stuck in my rural community, a ferry ride away from civilization. To reiterate, I love my mountain and ocean view and the town that is three miles away has many postcard images, particularly in the quaint harbour; however, I feel very much alone. The FOR SALE sign has blurred into the landscape, much like all the Post-its bordering my computer at work. Seems the term of my stay remains excruciatingly indefinite.

And yet there are swells of contentment, one of which came this weekend. On Saturday night, I picked up a friend and we drove thirty miles down the coast to a former colleague’s house. Fifty of us gathered for a private house concert performed by Juno-winning Canadian recording artist Barney Bentall. Now, at first mention, that might be a sad statement about Canadian music. A nationally known musician with a string of hit records in the 1980s and 1990s is strumming his guitar in someone’s living room?! Better than a casino, I say. And much better than rehab or reality show apprenticeship.

This is the second concert I’ve attended in this intimate venue, the first featuring an accomplished blues singer/guitarist in January. It’s a wonderful setup. Folks mingle over wine and appies, first set, more socializing, second set, then linger or leave. The performance is in a spacious living room where rows of chairs replace cleared out furniture. As the room has cathedral ceilings, a row of chairs also lines the balcony.

Although I’d YouTubed Barney Bentall the night before and pulled out my Gin Palace CD, I did not recognize the man as he stepped up to begin the concert. The big hair days were lost to a receding hairline and he’d wisely gone for an appealing close-shaven look. Perhaps Barney is not the photogenic sort, as he looked taller, fitter and more attractive than any of his old publicity shots. (It seems that he’d gone for a Bob Dylan/Tom Cochrane/Bruce Springsteen image in the past—clear musical influences, but never legitimate style setters.) I’ll admit to a flash of groupie lust which immediately subsided as he mentioned his wife and seven grandchildren. Seven?! While many aging rockers look worn and leathery (hello, Steven Tyler), Barney ascribed to the Sting way of life.

This was not the dreary performance of a musician wearily singing tired songs of yore. No, even the oldies sounded fresh. Stripped down, his unplugged performance allowed more focus on the lyrics and highlighted the in sync musicianship between Barney and multi-talented instrumentalist Eric Reid. Barney played many new songs he planned to record in pending studio sessions and, with all the new music plus other projects he has going on, he’d sometimes consult with Eric on keys and opening bars. He explained that his head was bursting with new musical ideas and, based on the songs played, Barney still has the creative spark to truly matter to listeners.

Barney chatted freely between songs. The connections to our coastal community quickly became apparent. Much of his music was recorded on an island I can see from my living room window, a location accessed by water taxi from the town harbour. He even met his wife on that island. He talked of bike rides on roads we travel regularly, mentioned a hotel in town and one of his newer songs gave a shout out to one of the bays in the area. Seems I was meant to attend this event. While the music entertained, the connections to the land and water reaffirmed that I live in a setting that can be a creative spark.

After the concert, I bought a greatest hits CD, dropping my money in an envelope left on a table in the hallway. Why have someone handling transactions when we could adhere to the honor system? Holding my CD, I caught up with some acquaintances and Barney Bentall approached. “Can I sign that for you?” he offered. How often does the artist approach the fan? He autographed and stuck around for some small talk before I headed out. Turns out he now lives on another island I can see from my home. The signing and quick chat capped off a perfect evening. If the paint begins to fade on the sign in my front yard and frustration rises, I have a soundtrack to ground me again while I wait out the interlude before the next stage in my life.

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