Gord Downie has them screaming for more at Jackson-Triggs!
Rob Richardson (founder of
Marquis Entertainment) describes to me the heavy-duty logistics of producing Railway Children in Toronto, transporting a huge train engine across the pond.
Tonight, his task seems easier, staging the
Jackson-Triggs Twilight in the Vineyard music series in Niagara-on-the-Lake for the past 11 seasons. "I just need to get Gord on stage, and then I can sip some wine."
Gord Downie, Canada's foremost tragically hip rock musician and lyricist, who arrives at the jammed amphitheatre in a golf cart. Fans applaud loudly and scream as they do all night with, "I love you Gord!" Downie playfully interacts, suggesting, "You don't even know me!"
What we do know is that he is a master wordsmith; in fact, his deep, resonant voice has a remarkable range, but it's the lyrics that excite the fans, particularly women who sway and thrust arms in the air and shout, "Do me Gord!"
With one leg perched across the other's knee, Downie taps a beat in the air and wearing a straw hat and a black vest, sips wine with a "Salut!" Everyone raises their goblets in Simon-says fashion.
He is remarkably glib, beginning
The Hard Canadian and suddenly stopping and re-starting by suggesting, "Hey, if you start it wrong, it's better to start over again, isn't it? There's no shame." I think of Afghanistan and Iraq and other mistakes and Downie's remarkable eloquence along with an earnest easiness and honesty about himself.
Tonight, he is backed by two capable members of the
Country of Miracles on keyboards and guitar. He has dabbled in poetry, movies and TV, the poetry reflected in his songs. From Goodnight Josephine, "maybe we're born lost, born to persevere, honey I'd walk into your painting, until I'd reappeared, a speck of comet-tail dust, a blue-green northern light, flickering just, in your eyes' deepest ravines." From
Vancouver Divorce, we get bare bone anguish with, "What the hell is this? You said, 'It's art, just fuc#in' mirror it'. Where did we go wrong? If not here, where do we belong?" And in
Trick Rider singing as a parent about his "wild child," there are extra-long pauses with head held low. We wait anxiously for him to resurface, and the
War Child auction tonight, of his autographed guitar, takes on heightened meaning, the money raised to assist children whose lives have been devastated by war.
Downie's roots are humble. He is 47, born, raised and schooled in the Kingston area. With
The Hip since 1983, he released 12 studio albums, two live albums, and 46 singles. They received numerous awards, including 14 Junos as well as induction into the
Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
The Tragically Hip once rivalled international super-groups like U2 in Canadian popularity. Like most Canadian kids, Downie, played hockey and his lyrics reflect hard core Canadiana with references to lofty pines and black flies. When he belts out, "I left your house this morning about a quarter after nine, Coulda been the Willie Nelson, coulda been the wine, When I left your house this morning, It was a little after nine, It was in Bobcaygeon I saw the constellations, Reveal themselves one star at a time," the audience jumps up and cheers wildly.
Rob Richardson, a Niagara native and Brock grad, tells me that fans attend this Vineyard series from "Niagara and Toronto, of course, but they come from as far away as Australia. It's the combination of open-air, vineyard and sipping wine while listening to first-class music." The 2011 season features Sam Roberts, Chantal Krevaizuk, Jann Arden, Gord Downie and upcoming Colin James (July 30 & 31), Serena Ryder (August 6), Spirit of the West (August 13), Joel Plaskett (August 20), Women Fully Clothed (August 27), Hawksley Workman & Kathleen Edwards (September 3), and Johannes Linstead (September 4).