When I started looking back through the photos and posters from our house concert years, the memories came flooding back. What great evenings of music we enjoyed!
As is the case with memories, they don’t always return in chronological order, but often in random “remember when?” moments. In that vein, I’m going to record some of our favourite musician interactions in fairly random order. Even though you’re experiencing our stories for the first time, I hope you will enjoy reading about them as much as I am enjoying reliving them.
Once Ted and I had 2 successful seasons of concerts under our belts, I started to get more daring and ambitious, booking a couple of “extra” larger venue concerts in the auditorium of Milton Bible Church, which had a real stage, sound system, and theatre seating for 150 people. In season 3 we held our first special event, selling all 150 seats for a Gordon Lightfoot tribute night, which really boosted my confidence. If you can imagine, I even contacted Anne Murray’s agent after hearing that she occasionally performed intimate acoustic evenings (barefoot!). Her agent gently but firmly declined the offer to come all the way from Nova Scotia to play for 50 to 150 people.
One of the other performers I really wanted to host was Valdy, an icon in Canadian folk music, with 2 Juno award wins and nominations for 7 more. Unfortunately, his agent, like Anne’s, wasn’t having any of it. I knew that Valdy occasionally performed at small venues, fundraisers, and even schools, but his agent remained uninterested in our house concert series, despite my plan to sell 150 tickets instead of our usual 50, which (if I could manage it) would generate a $3000 performance fee. After pestering his agent via phone and email for about 6 months, I shelved the idea.
Season 4’s first concert in September 2007 was Juno award winner David Bradstreet, whose best-known song, Renaissance (Let’s Dance That Old Dance Once More), was a huge hit for Valdy way back in 1974. After David’s hugely entertaining performance, I casually mentioned that we’d tried without luck to book Valdy, and wouldn’t it have been fun to hear him sing David’s song to the same audience. We both smiled at the thought, and I didn’t think any more about it. The season continued with 4 more concerts, while we simultaneously planned for season 5.
Then, one day in the late spring of 2008, our phone rang. (These were still land line days for us). To the best of my memory, I recall a sudden and very direct greeting: “Rose? It’s Valdemar Horsdal. Wondering if you’d like me to come play for you guys.” Valdemar? Wait….. who? Holy kazoly! VALDY! He was flying from his home on Saltspring Island, British Columbia, to Acton, just north of Milton, to be the headliner at a community fundraiser in October, and several performers who’d played our series – among them David Bradstreet – had told him about a “wonderful little house concert series” in the area and given him my name and number. He was scheduled to perform in Acton on Friday, October 17th, and would be happy to come to us the next day, if we could book him a hotel room to stay in overnight. Usually, our performers stayed in our guest room overnight and for breakfast, but I certainly wasn’t going to begrudge the cost of a night in the Milton Ramada Inn. He wasn’t particularly interested in talking about what he’d get paid, since he was planning to donate it to charity anyway, but he’d have his agent get in touch.
I don’t remember what else we chatted about, but I hung up the phone absolutely energized. Season 5 brochures had already been printed, and much of the season sold; this was a relatively last minute bonus event. I wasn’t even sure whether the church venue was available on that date. Wouldn’t it be devastating if the lack of a venue prevented this from happening? (Obviously, it didn’t, or I wouldn’t have this memory to share.)
It only took a couple of days for Valdy’s agent to be in touch, with a VERY official contract, completely different from the casual email agreements we were used to. The date was confirmed, the $20 per person ticket price, the potential maximum audience size, the performance time and duration, the venue access time for sound check, and a guarantee of $1000 or 100% of ticket sales after expenses (well below the $3000 that his agent turned down more than once). Everything looked great… until I got to the “rider” on the contract:
“Adequate front of house and monitor systems with clean power, 2 graphic EQs, reverb, with a capable mixer, 2 mics on booms – an SM58 and an SM57, 2 DI lines and an AC quad box.” Uh oh. I knew the church had a sound board and microphones. We had only used it once before, when Dave Hadfield’s band performed for us in a benefit concert for the Milton Rotary Club (of which I was a member), since our normal house concerts were always “unplugged”. I had no idea whether the equipment matched the specs in the rider. The church had a young man who ran the system during Sunday music services, but he wasn’t available for October 18th, and they didn’t want just anybody messing around with the equipment.
“For lighting, 3 salmon-gelled specials from 2 sides and above, and color washes as they are available to suit the venue.” What? Salmon coloured gel lights? The church had stage lights, but we were going to need to use whatever they had.
“ A light for the merchandising table.” Phew. Easily done.
“Please be ready for sound check at least an hour and a half prior to show time.” Okay.
“Hospitality: a deli tray, fruits, cheese, veggies, crackers, bottled water & juice for 2 people to be ready prior to sound check.” Absolutely manageable, but who is the second person?
I wasn’t sure I could sign off on all this, but …. by now I had Valdy’s personal email, so I sent him what I now think must have seemed like a panicked set of questions… and got another personal phone call in return, that went something like “That stuff’s just my agent being an agent. I need a stage and a mic. It’d be good if folks can see me. Go ahead and sign it.”
I signed. We emailed all our regular ticket holders and asked them to spread the word. We asked the local paper to give us a bit of free publicity via a community events article. We printed posters and asked local businesses to put them in their windows. We confirmed the wonderful Andrew Strauss, the Barrie area firefighter who had done the sound for Dave Hadfield, to man the sound board. Andrew refused to accept payment beyond a ticket for his wife, even though he’d have a 2 hour drive to come to Milton. And we sold all 150 seats!
October 18, 2008. It’s 5:00 p.m. Ted and I have 4 huge coffee urns readied, a tea station set up, trays of fresh cookies laid out, and the empty merchandise table ready (in the well lit foyer). Andrew has arrived, set up the microphone for voice and guitar, and opened up the sound board. A nice big deli tray is waiting, along with bottled water and juice, exactly as requested. The doors should open at 6:30, and the performance is scheduled to start at 7:00. We’re all set.
Valdy arrives right on time at 5:30. He’s alone, dressed in a red long-sleeved tee shirt, orange suspenders and brown corduroy pants, and seems amazed at the amount of food waiting for him. He grabs a juice and a few nibbles, greets Andrew, opens his guitar case and gets right to the business of sound check. At no point does he examine the mic, speakers, or equalizer to see whether they match the specifications in that rider that had me so scared.
But…. at around 6:15, after changing into his “stage clothes” (a patterned shirt under the suspenders, and a different colour of cords), the lights become a problem. Valdy doesn’t care whether or not they are salmon-coloured gels, but he doesn’t like the way they are angled. Our audience members have started to line up outside the church along Main Street – and 100 plus people on the Main Street of Milton in 2008 constitutes a very unusual crowd. Inside the church, Valdy has discovered a tall utility ladder in the church storage closet and is now between 10 and 12 feet off the ground adjusting pot lights, while Andrew and Ted watch. I explain what’s causing the delay to the the folks lined up at the door. One of our regulars quips loudly to the rest, “Everything’s fine. Valdy’s just getting high.”
Only slightly behind schedule, and with Valdy safely back at ground level in the stage wings, we open the doors, get the audience seated, and enjoy an absolutely entertaining couple of hours together, in the thrall of a master storyteller.