Randy Bachman on Salt Spring

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This is what success can look like.

The skies are covered in cloud. There’s a light rain. It’s the kind of day to stay home on Salt Spring Island and read a book in front of the wood stove. Instead, we’re traveling through the grey afternoon light, through the tunnel of fir trees and arbutus, past the roadside stands that have signs saying free range eggs for sale, some late season flowers in an odd assortment of jars, past trucks loaded with firewood and marked with a scrawled price on a piece of cardboard. A lot of the trees are bare.

The road is slick, has curves in it sharp enough that they need signs to warn people to slow down. By the time we reach the Fulford Hall, the light has disappeared. We thought we were early but the parking lot is full. Cars are parked along the road. We slow to a crawl because people are appearing from behind cars and sauntering across the road.

Inside the hall, we turn in our tickets, get our hands stamped with red ink. I stop to look at a guitar that is being auctioned off. It has been signed by Randy Bachman. There is a bowl of suckers for sale for a dollar apiece. They’ve very cleverly been named Lalipops instead of Lollipops. The play on words is because the evening is a benefit being put on to raise funds for Lali Formaggia, who was seriously injured in a plane crash. She was returning from a backpacking trip when the plane she was on struck a tree shortly after taking off. She survived but had a broken arm and third degree burns on her legs. Randy Bachman has generously agreed to do a one man two hour show similar to his Vinyl Café gig on the CBC. Forty-five friends of Lali have pitched in and volunteered to organize and promote the evening.

Outside the Fulford Hall there is a sign with black letters that advertise the event. Friday night and Saturday night. This is Saturday night and during a break between the two sets, we hear that we are lucky we came tonight. The Friday night crowd wasn’t as lively. This crowd is high energy. People are pouring in the door, their voices up half an octave with excitement, smiling is endemic. Waiting for the concert to begin, people are standing rather than sitting, there is a roar of conversation, people are flowing into and out of the kitchen area with pie and muffins.

A woman climbs on stage. The crowd sits down. She makes a few general comments about the show and introduces the special guest of the evening, Lali Formaggia. Lali has a strong accent, long blond hair and tells us about the plane crashing, her trying to crawl free, her legs being on fire and calling for help. Someone called John came to her rescue and pulled her away from the plane. She was two months in hospital and hasn’t been able to work and won’t be able to work for some time.

Randy Bachman comes in and the room is electric with anticipation and admiration. He has had a house on Salt Spring for a long time now. It’s made of rammed earth, cost millions to build and I know about it not because he is just down the road from JO’s place but because I saw it on a David Suzuki show. Rumour has it that his place is for sale but during the show, he said that he’ll be in Toronto for another year and a half and then he’ll be back in his garden on Salt Spring. You could feel a sense of relief. His being here makes people feel good.

There are people who are natural story tellers, who know how to engage an audience, who know where the emotional content of their narrative lies. Bachman has had a lifetime of learning to be the best of Canada’s story tellers. His stories about growing up in Winnipeg, playing locally, making repeated efforts to gain an audience, the crazy events that happen, the results of which are unplanned and unpredictable, touch an audience because they’re stories everyone can relate to. Yes, he may be more talented than any individual audience member, but he’s been subject to the crazy whims of fate and the vagaries of luck and circumstance. Like all of us in our own way. What isn’t in the stories is how he became a successful businessman in spite of being in a tough business where lying and deceit are the norm, where nearly everyone is out for himself and there is nothing bigger than the egos of the participants and yet has managed to keep a reputation for integrity. Somehow, through all the years of dealing with bar owners, concert promoters, producers, technicians, audiences, he’s managed to keep something of that enthusiastic beginner on the way to becoming The Guess Who and BTO (Bachman Turner Overdrive).

The audience is older. The average age is probably around sixty. There’s a lot of white hair and bald domes. There are some younger people and people with young children but the tickets are 55.00. It would be pretty steep for twenty somethings with two kids.

The audience is hungry to hear the stories about the songs they danced to when they were young. It is a night of entertainment and revelation. People are swept along as Bachman explains that he and the other band members had green cards that allowed them to work in the USA but that when they were going to Texas to play they were warned to turn around because those green cards also meant they could be drafted. That event resulted in the song American Woman and when Bachman explained that the song sold millions before radio stations figured out it was an anti-war song and that the American Woman wasn’t a rejected lover but the Statue of Liberty, that grey haired audience laughed with delight for they’d been around for the Vietnam War. No one had to give them a history lesson. They’d been there.

During the break between the two sets, a fellow got up and made the point of telling us that no money was being skimmed. That every cent collected would go to Lali. Then there were the draws for signed Randy Bachman posters. When we first arrived, after I’d found a seat, I’d gone back to buy three tickets on the guitar and the posters. Didn’t win so as we were leaving JO bought a poster for twenty dollars. Because she grew up in Winnipeg, Bachman has a musical place in the teenage heart of her youth.

The audience did a great ooohhhmmmm for a friend of Lali’s who spoke for a couple of minutes and thanked Bachman. It was a supreme Salt Spring moment. When the audience was asked to help out with a couple of songs, it did so with enthusiasm.

At the end, the audience stood up to applaud. That has become a meaningless, annoying habit Canadian audiences have got into. However, on this night, it was well deserved.

On the way back over the winding road, I smiled a lot. It had been a memorable night. I now knew the surprising impulse that replaced “white collar worker” with “taking care of business”. I knew about the pizza deliveryman who looked like Fidel Castro who went on to become a brilliantly successful musician. I woke up smiling the next morning. In spite of the clouds and the rain.

I’d watched a community come out to support one of its own who needed help. I’d watched a famous person who doesn’t need to help anyone, help someone who needed help. I saw some of the forty-five volunteers and the audience members who bought tickets, Lali pops and posters, who came together for a good cause. It used to be called being a community.

After my grandmother died at age thirty-two, my grandfather was bankrupt. My grandmother had been ill and needed private nursing for four years. All his savings had gone for housekeepers and nurses. He was a carpenter and, in the winter, he went fishing on Lake Winnipeg. They had four children. The community in Gimli, Manitoba, gathered together and held a fund raiser for him. Those are the community values we sometimes talk about with nostalgia. However, I felt as I sat in the audience listening to Randy Bachman, that there are places where those community values still exist.

Waiting For The Ferry

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When I lived in Gimli, Manitoba, I splashed through spring, swam through summer, danced through fall with the swirling leaves and skated through winter. The seasons were everything. They were anticipated, enjoyed, never mind the wet days of April, the sunburn of July, the first cold winds and frozen puddles of October, the blizzards and frigid temperatures of January and February.

When I agreed to come to the West Coast, little did I know those rhythms, those spring days when the temperature rose to zero and it felt so warm after the winter that we strode down the muddy streets with our jackets wide open, would disappear from my life. In place of spruce trees, poplar and paper birch, there’d be massive firs and Garry Oaks and arbutus.

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In place of wild raspberries and high bush cranberries and saskatoons, we’d pick blackberries on the roadsides. In place of pickerel fillets fried to a golden brown, pickerel cheeks served in sweet and sour sauce, baked whitefish, smoked goldeye, we seek out salmon, pink and red, halibut and cod. In foraging in the forest, we’d not risk frostbite or freezing to death but dying of hypothermia because of wet and wind. In place of Lake Winnipeg, there’d be the Pacific Ocean and, instead of the shimmering eastern shore of the lake, we’d have the lights of Port Angeles.

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Manitoba was all about highways, threading themselves to Winnipeg, to Brandon, to Ontario, north to Dauphin and The Pas, south to North Dakota. Here, life is all about ferries. We make our plans by ferry schedules. The ferry leaves Swartz Bay on the odd hour. The ferry leaves Fulford Harbour at ten minutes the even hour. Our trips to Vancouver are laid out like military strategies. Catch the seven o’clock at Swartz Bay, arrive at Tswassen at 8:45, arrive in downtown Vancouver at 10:00, constantly keep in mind the last two sailing times back to Victoria. A night sleeping in the car at the terminal is not a happy night. It’s that or a motel room somewhere reasonably close.

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The rhythm of our lives are the rhythm of the ferries. It is not wise to arrive at the ferry terminal, any ferry terminal, at the last moment. It often means a two hour wait for the next ferry. Of course, you’ll be first in line.

My favorite ferry terminals are at Fulford Harbour and Vesuvius. Both have small communities where you can do a little tourist shopping and get a good cup of coffee.

Recently, I had over an hour’s wait at Fulford. Welcome to the life of the West Coast Icelanders.

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Spinning, Weaving, 40 years on Salt Spring

This past weekend, I attended The 40th Anniversary of the founding of the  Weaver‘s and Spinner‘s Guild Exhibit and Sale at the Art Spring Gallery on Salt Spring Island.   They have done the exhibit and sale on a yearly basis for the past three years. There were two galleries. One gallery held the regular show and sale of fine textiles, clothing, and yarns.

The second held an art show. When I entered the gallery that held the Eye For Colour show, my viking genes caused me to immediately go to this paired piece by Valrie Short (weaver) and Karen Dakin (potter).  Val‘s  weaving is based on traditional viking/celtic design and colours and Karen Dakin‘s Viking rabbit in a helmet with horns made me smile. It was the kind of piece I‘d love to see at the Icelandic National League convention in Seattle this coming spring.

 

The Eye for Colour show was first held in 2006. This is its third time and the first time they have expanded the invitation to include artists other than painters. What a good decision that was. The marrying of the different arts with weaving was often surprising, always beautiful.

Mary E. Paddon, Yarns by Deerhaven

In the past the work of guild members was only paired with paintings. This year it was paired with artists from other guilds and featured pottery, basket weaving, painting and glasswork. For each piece of fabric there was a complimentary piece of art shown with it. One pairing was a painting of Christmas roses (white hellebores) by Victoria Olchowechi with a touch of pink matched with a white sweater spun and knitted by Susan Asatill. Part of the power of art is that it can, through association, stir both memory and imagination. These two pieces, classy, sophisticated, made an image of my mother spring up, for the moment I saw them, I knew that these were the two pieces that would have caught her attention, drawn her to stand in front of them and call my father to come and look.

There was a happy personal quality about this show that can be captured, perhaps, by some written comments by the artists attached to their products. For example, one note by Susan Astill said, “Fleece was Salt Spring fleece, produced by a sheep named Joan, a Cheviot.“ Donna Vanderwekken had a note on an exquisite blanket saying that her goal was, “To use only yarns I had dyed last summer. Indigo for different shades of blue. Dahlia petals for yellow, Bronze Fennel for lime green. Apple bark for rust.“ It is this personal quality, the connection between the producers of the art, the art and the viewer that was delightful.

Many of the local artists were present and available. There was both a spinning and a weaving demonstration.

Spinning, knitting and weaving in Canada are considered women’s arts and from my observation of the visitors to the show, it is still mostly women who are interested. During the time I was at the show, there were only two other men. However, my Icelandic background, and my interest in Icelandic history and culture brought me to the show. For those with little or no knowledge of Iceland, the connection between a spinning, knitting and weaving show on Salt Spring Island and Iceland will be quite obscure. Icelanders, living through centuries in a hostile climate that allowed no crop except grass, survived because of their sheep. The sheep provided meat, milk and wool. The other domestic animal was the milk cow but sheep are much more economical and provide a better return in a climate where there was no guarantee that even grass would grow well when icebergs filled the bays and the ground froze in summer. It was sheep that provided wool for warm clothes.

In the 1800’s a number of British travellers went to Iceland. One of those was Richard Burton. He wrote a book called Ultima Thule (1874) in which he said, “The principal occupation of the women is spinning yarn during the summer, and knitting and weaving in winter. A rude loom fixed and upstanding, not a little like that of ancient Egypt and of modern Central Africa, and worked…by both sexes, stands in every farm. A good hand can weave three yards a day. The Vaðmal…much resembles the tweeled cloth or frieze worn by the Leith fishermen.

“There is only one kind of Wadmal generally worn, but in most parts of the island, and especially in the east, there are finer qualities used for “store-clothes” and woman’s attire. The Ormadúkr is worked like a drill, the Einskepta like twill. It is sold by the ell,or two Danish feet (=2 3/8 English feet).

“The usual colours are grey, black, light-blue, and muret….It is excellent stuff, durable, and, after a fashion, waterproof.“

Knitting was so critical to survival that it started early with some accounts describing children being taught to knit at age four and, by age eight, required to knit two sets of fishermen‘s mittens a week.

According to Consul Crowe‘s report of 1870-71, in 1869, there were 76,816 pairs of stockings produced and 55,601 one fingered mittens.

Nowadays, in the Icelandic North American community, many homes proudly display spindles and spinning wheels but these, once necessities, are now sentimental family treasures.

It was with this background that I came to the Weaver‘s and Spinner‘s Guild show, with a mind filled with images of fishermen‘s mittens, stockings, fine and coarse wadmal, with images of  my great aunt sitting at her spinning wheel in her Icelandic costume. I brought with me a range of patterns and colours in my memory, a way of thinking about these arts.

Of course, the weavers of today don‘t labour in turf and lava huts with tiny windows covered with animal membranes. Today, the process has been made somewhat easier than it was in Iceland simply because it is done in well-lit, warm, comfortable surroundings. The knitter, spinner, weaver still must know about a great deal more than these processes. She has to know about sheep, about the characteristics of their wool, how to prepare it, and the use of dyes. For example, a weaver, buying wool “right from the sheep“ will have to wash and card or comb it for spinning and, in so doing, may lose up to fifty percent in weight in dirt and grease.

In Iceland, there is just one breed of sheep. But in North America the weaver or knitter can choose wool from many different sheep and they all  have different characteristics. For example, wool from a Romney will have less grease than Merinos and Corriedales. With a Romney, a spinner may only lose 30%. It was obvious in talking to Mary E. Paddon that weaving isn’t just a job or a task but a passion for she was able to tell me all about dying, spinning, weaving, wool, sheep, and the history of it all. Along with demonstrating spinning, she also had a piece in the Eye For Colour show.

The pieces on display vied with each other for my attention. One pairing, a painting of peaches (Libby Jutras) with a handwoven blanket (Donna Vanderwekken) reflecting the colours in the painting brought me back three times to look at it.

Pat Davidson didn‘t have anything in the Eye For Colour show, but she had pieces in the regular show. My favorite piece of the moment of hers is a tea towel that a friend of mine bought a few days ago and now adorns a family cedar chest. I found this tea towel quite extraordinary because it made me realize something that I once knew but had forgotten. That is that even the humblest items in our homes can be things of beauty.

Photo by J.O.M. Pat’s hand woven tea towel.

Icelanders plucked wool (Icelandic sheep naturally shed their wool and when it was loose, it could be pulled off)  to trade for necessities, they knitted and wove such long hours that it is said they used little sticks called wake picks to  hold open their eyelids. They wove wadmal they could trade for nails, for horseshoes, for rice, for grain to make bread. The goal was not beauty but quantity, utility, durability. They knitted and wove so they  might eat and be clothed. However, the need for beauty always exists and from all this knitting the traditional Icelandic patterns developed, the Lopapeysa was created and stylish Icelandic designs appeared. I wondered, as I stood and admired the weaving and the knitting at this Salt Spring show, what all those Icelanders would have thought of the beautiful items on display.

The 40th Anniversary of The Weaver’s and Spinners Guild Exhibit and Sale is about the talented people who belong to the guild, the people who raise the sheep, who prepare the wool. But it is also a tribute to all those who have come before, before the creation of the Spinning Jenny, the creation of artificial fabrics, all those like my great great grandmother and her mother and her mother before her.

Spun and woven and knit, wool clothed the world. In recent times, artificial fabrics replaced wool and made clothing more affordable. Lost, though, was the community connection, the relationship between the producer of the wool, the spinner, the knitter, the weaver and the people who bought the yarn or cloth and made the clothes. We no longer can say this fine blanket came from a sheep called Jenny, was spun by Mary, was woven by Susan.

The Weavers in the Eye For Colour show have taken what was a common, humble task and from it, created beauty and, in so doing, have paid tribute to all those weavers of the past.

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday Market: Salt Spring Island

When many people think of Salt Spring Island, they think, automatically, of the ferry ride over, the passing islands, the chance of seeing a pod of killer whales, the funky coffee

shops when they get off the ferry at Fulford Harbour.

However, for many people, Salt Spring Island is synonomous with the Saturday market in Ganges. The island is home for a lot of highly talented, accomplished people who have a passion for excellence and come Saturday, they gather to set up their booths, set out their products and, in so doing, create a brilliant palette of local colour.

High quality food is always for sale. Locally made cheeses, local fish, a wide variety of market produce, baked goods for all tastes (including gluten free), chocolate treats, preserves, honey, various vinegars. There are arts, crafts, musical instruments, jewelry and more.

In spite of the cost ($30.00+) of the ferry, people come from far and near. Add in the cost of gas and a hop over from Vancouver Island can be a bit pricey. It doesn’t matter. People love going to the Salt Spring market. Like me, they are fed up with shopping malls. When I drive every year from Victoria to Manitoba and back, I have no desire to go to any shopping mall. Why bother? They all have the same stores, the same products. Sure, if you are a nervous traveller, afraid of anything but what you are used to, malls are great. You can spend all day in an environment that is just like home. In that case, why bother going anywhere?

Local markets, when well run, give a view of the community, provide an opportunity to meet local people, offer products that are unique. They have about them a sense both of authenticity and festival.

I don’t know about you but I’m fed up, more than fed up, with every product I go to buy in a mall coming from China. Canada, our country, great country, talented people, overwhelmed by mass marketing. If it costs a bit more, I don’t care. I want to buy Canadian. I want to buy local. I want to know the people who produce the food I eat and the products I use.

I want to support entrepeneurs such as this young charmer with her home made purses for the big sum of $2.00.

Her mother got her two friends into the next picture. They were there, she said, for moral support.  Where else would you meet three such charming young ladies? Where else would you get to support the work and initiative of young Canadians like this?

Local birdhouses are made with local wood and draw local characters. People watching at a local market is half the fun of being there.

How about buying a steel guitar? Locally made.

If you have a local market, support it. Go there, meet the talented people in your community. Be part of the community. Buy directly from your neighbours who tilled the soil, crafted the wood, threw the clay, made the product. No one except Canadians are working for the welfare of Canada. Everyone else is taking care of their own interests. If we don’t support Canada and Canadians, no one will.