Traditions are great things to look forward to or reflect upon.
In the mid-1980’s I began hosting a barbecue exclusively for musicians and their spouses on the Sunday of the Labour Day weekend. It began as a small eclectic collection of singers and players I was managing, promoting, or ran light shows for. (I had the largest light show in the Valley and was kept busy working with a plethora of characters).
I picked that Sunday for the inaugural first bash with no idea that I was about to begin a tradition enjoyed still. Quite simply, it happened on that date because it was the only day a number of bands were not booked. So, on a rocky little beach in Okanagan Centre about two dozen artists arrived with their instruments and beach chairs and we partied until the sun went down. If I remember correct we were still partying when the sun came back up again. (Like I said – this was a LONG time ago).
The event took a sabbatical for a few years while I ventured off to Vancouver Island for newspaper work but once returned to Kelowna I renewed it. For the last decade my new house has played host and with a large backyard provides a great setting for such frivolity.
Year after year the party gained more or new musicians and with it more friends and family members. Some years the crowd was huge, sometimes not. This year Tez and I figure about 110 folks came and went throughout the day.
For weeks Tez and I plan and shop and prepare for the event providing the food and ambiance. This year Tez literally did the amazing – especially with the yard work as I was forced indoors due to the smoke and heat. In addition a handful of dear friends also helped with the prep work including Les, Curtis, Jim, Gary, Jess, Pauline, Val, Fred and others. We are humbled by their help.
Without question three things stand out for me this year. The music has always been fabulous but this year was over the top. I should have known such would be the case when I scanned the list of who was showing up, but I was not prepared for how great a night it was.
How can a day and night of music not be amazing when things kick off with the Cruzeros reuniting as your opening act? Barry Mathers, Curtis Tulman and Gary Smyth were joined on stage by legendary local garden guru Don Burnett on drums – and the crowd was in its glory. Harmonies and vocals were stunning and musicianship over the top. It proved a great venue reminder why Tulman was named the Canadian Country Music Association’s Special Instrumentalist of the Year three times for his harmonica skills. Like wine, I am convinced Mather’s voice gets even better as time ticks by.
Before the garden groupies had a chance to stop drooling though western Canada’s best party band the Zamboni Brothers hit the stage. The dynamic Graham Schofield, Ken Heatherington, and Murray Holmes soared through one great tune after another with amazing vocals and musicianship not to mention hilarious monologue. What a tremendous trio of trouble.
In addition dear friends Danny Thiessen, Rick Girard, and the mother-daughter team of Deb Stone and Kirsten Anheliger took turns on the stage sharing their skills with all of our guests. Deb and Kirsten’s version of Me ad Bobby Magee will remain in my brain for years. Stunning.
I am not sure which gave me more pleasure – listening to the musicians or watching my friends looking spellbound while listening. Regardless, suffice to say it was the finest day of music in my backyard in many years if not forever. How lucky are we?
The second highlight for me was having my only sister, Sylvia, and her husband Keith join the bash. Sylvia resides in Manitoba and had never been to one of my barbecues so it was wonderful to have her meet so many of my friends. Seven years older than I Sylvia left home when I was just 11 so we hardly know one another really. For her to meet 100 of our friends in one day I am sure was a bit overwhelming but I got a kick out of watching her react to them.
Most rewarding though was simply to sit back (thanks to Jim Ripley and Les Thompson for flipping burgers) and watch all our varied associates meet each other and mingle. Old friends re-connecting, new friendships established; I grinned with recognition that my world has been blessed by so many and now they were forming their own bonds.
Later in the evening I found a quiet moment when I walked into my front yard, vacant of any bodies, and sat for a minute on the front step. As the sounds of laughter and music filtered out to me from the backyard I sat back and smiled knowing that for one more day my world was wonderful and that indeed life is good.
The tear rolling down my cheek was one of thanks not sorrow.