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Tag: Stanstead

Kids are, as always, free and welcome

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We began hosting concerts in our home because we live in a small town (3,000 people) about two hours away from the closest large music venues (e.g., Montreal QC or Burlington VT) and we wanted our twin teenaged daughters to be able to experience top-quality live music in an audience-friendly acoustically-sound environment.

So we embarked on this adventure and applied to be one of the host houses for the Canadian Home Routes program. We were accepted – as one of only three homes in Quebec. Our original commitment included hosting six artists or groups of artists.

The original formula included the artists staying in our home after each show – however we re-invented that idea in favour of ‘spreading the wealth’ in our economically-rugged town. Artists who perform at our home stay in local inns where the owners have agreed to provide discounted rates in order to further promote the house concert project.

By leveraging the whole community we created an ecosystem to support/be supported by the Stanstead House Concerts Network – SHCN. We learned to leverage the heck out of social media in order to take advantage of multiple marketing ‘channels’ – and to ensure we found efficient means of getting information to people who would actually pay attention to our updates.

Shows start at 7:30 pm and consist of two sets. A typical concert winds up (for the audience) at 9:30 pm. We picked a starting time which suits the needs of our audience – many of whom travel more than 60 miles each way to attend these concerts. We want to ensure they can get home safely at a decent hour.

Ticket prices are $20 for adults, $10 for teens – and kids are, as always, free and welcome. And there are several solid reasons for making our concerts a kid-friendly experience:

  • We want to turn kids on to the power of music to broaden their horizons and fire their imaginations;
  • We know how tough it can be to find a sitter (did I mention we have twins?);
  • We know how underserved kids are as an audience for live events – kids want to be able to sit up front and be treated with respect;
  • Kids bring older people with them – parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts – and other adults;
  • Kids talk to kids via social media and good old-fashioned word-of-mouth; and
  • Kids will come back when they’re older kids and young adults and adults.

We’ve learned that people value live micro-venue musical experiences much more than in the recent past. Interestingly, so do the artists – who each reflect on the honesty injected into a performance space where each concert is a truly interactive experience. Artists talk to audience members – they become raconteurs. Audience members chat with artists and share their inspirations, their musical memories – and occasionally their sense of loss soothed through a specific melody.

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When Christine Campbell & Blake Johnson (blues & roots singer/songwriters out of Nova Scotia) held court in our livingroom, a young member of the audience – wearing a Metallica t-shirt – shyly asked Christine if she could play Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Immigrant Song’ to lead off her second set. As it turns out, Christine Campbell grew up listening to Led Zep and her cover of The Immigrant Song was spell-blindingly beautiful. Goosebumps all around. Another favourite moment – a young man with a love of harmonica asked his mom to go home to get his harp so The Cumberland Brothers (bluegrass duo out of British Columbia) could autograph it – which they did while posing for pics together in the kitchen between sets.

We precede each concert with a dinner. These have been grand potluck gatherings and the addition of culinary chaos to the mix seems to appeal to the concept of engaging as many of the artists’ and audience members’ senses as possible. So it’s not only the music. It’s the show. It’s the kitchen. It’s the whole unlikely experience.

We have learned people are never too busy to go to a show they really want to see. And they want to experience these concerts.

Where kids, as always, are free & welcome.

Be well. Practice big medicine.

Hal

PS. You can listen to a CBC Radio feature story about our house concerts by clicking on this link.

Giving voice

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When we moved out here to Stanstead, the century old house we moved into held the unlikely key to a treasure. It came in the form of a broken-down third-rate department-store guitar with five intact strings and a slightly warped neck.

Sophie, our eleven-year-old daughter, adopted the guitar as her own. A family friend added a sixth string and tuned it by ear.

And Sophie took her guitar to her bedroom and taught herself how to play. She used her iPod to download how-to videos from the internet.

Sophie loved the music of Taylor Swift. So she armed herself with chord charts and lyric sheets. And she practiced ceaselessly.

And slowly the sounds became songs.

She entered the town’s talent show with a friend and together they captured second prize after singing a beautiful version of ‘Our Song.’ They went back the next year and won first prize with ‘Mean.’

Almost two years after she first picked up that old guitar Sophie and I made our pilgrimage to Steve’s Music in Montreal where she chose a Big Baby Taylor.

And then she went back up to her room with her new guitar and practiced every evening. We must have heard ‘Love Story’ and ‘Red’ a hundred times. We became serious Taylor Swift fans.

She sang ‘Teardrops On My Guitar’ in her first appearance at her high school followed by ‘Last Christmas’ and ‘Santa Baby’ at the holiday show.

Sophie sang ‘Love Story’ at her grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration in a restaurant at Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont. It was an amazing few minutes and when she was done even the folks at other tables applauded loudly.

We were primed for the release of ‘1989’ long before the latest Taylor Swift album was released. Almost immediately, Sophie was working her way through the new songs – capturing their essence while singing and playing guitar.

And now, almost five years since we moved into this old house, sixteen-year-old Sophie is practicing ‘Style’ on a regular basis and I count myself among the legion of loyal Taylor Swift fans.

In my case, I give thanks for her ability to help Sophie find her voice – and for providing continual inspiration to keep making sweet sounds with her guitar.

Be well. Practice big medicine.

Hal

PS: Big Medicine is my nod of respect to a First Nations expression that, roughly translated, means the right people working together at the right time will be Big Medicine. I’ve been saying ‘Be well. Practice big medicine’ for as long as I can remember. It is my own very personal version of ‘Sawu Bona’, the Zulu greeting which means ‘I see you’… I see all of you, I see your good works, I see the difference you are making in the world.

Vital signs

SignsBack in October, I dropped the Bad’Baru off for an oil change and a couple of NASCAR-style body patches at the Garage Generale Stanstead.

I loved the place. It was like Cheers! with grease.

Everyone really did know your name. There were always folks sitting in the office. Some of them were actually clients. Most were just visiting – sharing a story, sipping a coffee. Kim and his family played the roles of barista, chief mechanic and concierge.

When I came back in the afternoon to fetch the Baru, I noticed it was parked out on the apron minus the requested patchwork.

Inside the second bay there was a middle-aged Honda Accord with Maryland plates and its guts spilled out onto two rolling tables brought up close to the engine compartment. Kim and his crew were elbow-deep working in-tight to replace the water pump.

“Did the oil on the Subaru, Hal. We’ll have to do the patches next week. These folks broke down on 55 just outside of town and they’re a long way from home. Gonna try and get them on the road southbound before sunset.”

Standing in the other bay were two older gentlemen. One looked familiar.

“Zack stopped to see if they needed help. Tow truck driver wanted to haul the car up to a dealer in Magog. Zack told him to bring it over here. Good thing. Looks like the last dealer they visited didn’t put the engine back together with all the required parts.”

I asked the other man what part of Maryland was home. He started to describe the state as a map until I gently interrupted with “I used to live in Cockeysville.”

He smiled. “We’re from Bowie. My name is George. My wife and I have been coming up to Canada every year since we honeymooned at Expo 67 in Montreal. We’ve been married 46 years.”

“When we broke down on the highway, I didn’t know what to think. We were a long way from home. Then Zack stopped and we came here. He took us out for a tour of the town. We went for coffee. We visited the Haskell Library, the granite quarry, and that road where the houses on one side of the street are in Quebec and just across the road they’re in Vermont.”

“Canusa Avenue.”

“Yes. Canusa Avenue. In all the years we’ve crossed this border we’ve never stopped in this little town. And here we are – brought here by fate and the kindness of strangers.”

“Well, George, you’re in good hands. I best be getting home to continue working in the garden as promised. It was a pleasure meeting you. Safe travels for the rest of your journey.”

“It was good meeting you, Hal. We’ll see you again the next time we’re up this way. I’ll ask Zack to drop you a line to let you know we got home safe. Seems like the kind of place where folks worry about such things.”

Indeed, George, indeed.

In the months since then, Kim closed the garage to focus on spending time with his family. The garage office irregulars of the office stay in touch with nods, waves, and social media – but it’s just not the same. Almost as if the heart of our little town skipped a beat.

Thanks for your consideration.

Be well. Practice big medicine.

Hal

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