Sunday, April 8, 2018
I arrived in Saskatchewan yesterday morning. The 5:30 a.m. flight to Toronto necessitated rising at 3:30 to get over to Trudeau Airport in time. Despite the early waking hour, I was glad I did. The lineup for security was the longest I have ever seen anywhere in 20 years of touring. Lots of people fleeing Montreal's endless winter.
I was off to tour in Saskatchewan, which I have often thought of as a cousin to my home province of New Brunswick. A slightly overlooked place, beautiful, and where the living is good, people are united in community and, generally, pretty happy. I remember reading a few years ago that in some index of Canadian happiness, New Brunswickers were on top. Less pressure? More balanced view of life? Whatever the reasons, the result of the poll made sense to me. And I thought the same of Saskatchewan. This is how I romanticize these places at times, aware that life on the ground is more complex of course.
My morning news check was shocking. The Humboldt Broncos Junior A hockey team bus had been T-boned by a semi near Tisdale, SK, on the way to a playoff game. Fourteen of 29 passengers were dead. Many of them young players on the team. It was unthinkable. I sat on the plane trying to come to grips with this and with the idea of giving a performance in Saskatoon that night, the day after the tragedy.
It was a smooth flight, one in which I was also able to start reading a manuscript of a friend's book about God. I was thrilled to find a gifted writer telling his fascinating life story -- a life that was largely driven but a curiosity around the possible existence of a all-powerful being. He wanted to know if God existed and set out to find out. I want to get to the end as I am still unsure myself.
The reading was comforting in some ways in light of the bad news. I, and many others across the country, was searching for some meaning in the face of something so senseless.
Landed. I got my gear rented for the tour at the local Long and McQuaid's store, where they gave amazing service. I took a Taylor 314 and a 25-pound (or heavier I swear) Gold Tone banjo that will almost go in tune. The 314 is like butter. I have never rented a guitar to tour, but my Blueberry is a little fragile and I thought with two flights and in light of recent Facebook posts from friends with badly damaged instruments and my overall desire to limit baggage, this made sense. And that guitar sounded amazing. It helped that my first show's host, Jeff Montgomery, an incredibly generous and energetic friend and member of the Saskatoon Blues Society, lent me a Bose sound post system for the gig. I was kitted out right.
Throughout the day (and still today) my thoughts were consumed with the Humboldt team. I played a lot of hockey during my youth and even play occasionally now. Traveled all over, and still do of course. The randomness of this, and the scope of the suffering among the families and friends and community hit me hard as it did so many. And for some reason I kept thinking of who was at fault. How did it happen at a fairly remote intersection with not much traffic? I'm sure we will find out as time goes on.
There was a full audience at Amigos' back room. Hearts were heavy but the group was animated and enjoying supper before the show. I was nervous. More than usual. When that is the case, it is better to get on stage and play. When I did, the room was warm. They sang with me on Pumping Love and we were together. Things We Didn't Choose was dedicated to the families. No gesture would have been enough and the song fell far short. But we are destined to do that in life, and our measures must be adjusted for some sort of eternal vision--whether that includes a God or not--that allows us to forgive and to continue in the face of tragedy and heartbreak. For me, there seems to be no other way.
Next show is in Grandora tonight. Again, we will sing and think of lost ones and hope that in some ways it makes a difference.