Gord Downie: A Musician’s Perspective

Posted in general on August 26, 2016 by BarCode

First of all, let’s just go ahead and address the fact that its been nearly six years to the day since I’ve posted anything on the BarCode Blog. The reason is simple; when you write for a living, the last thing you want to do when you get home is continue to compose.

When I left my creative writing job at Blackburn Radio, Inc. in June of 2013, I promised myself that once we were settled back in Brantford, I’d resume activity with my virtual pen.

Several months ago (more like ’18-24 months ago’), I suddenly (more like ‘slowly’) realized that I had yet to follow through on my personal promise and began searching for a suitable subject on which to make my triumphant return, but to no avail.

This past weekend, the Tragically Hip and Gord Downie specifically, provided some much-needed inspiration for not only myself, but an entire generation of bloggers.

If you’re Canadian, you undoubtedly know the story, but please bear with me as I bring any potential international readers quickly up to speed.

For the better part of three decades, the Hip, along with Barenaked Ladies and Blue Rodeo, have been one of, if not the most beloved band in Canada, enjoying the same longevity, but more popularity.

Last December, lead singer and poet Gord Downie was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of incurable brain cancer, which often claims its victims in less than 12 months. The official announcement came on May 24th of this year.

Rather than cancel the already booked Man Machine Poem tour, Downie and the band embraced the challenge and following his going public regarding the cancer, announced that this cross-Canada venture would be their last.

Starting in Victoria, British Columbia, the trek also included 3 nights in Toronto and came to an emotional close on Saturday evening in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario.

It was televised live on the CBC, for which the network was praised, as they not only interupted expensive Olympic coverage, but went completely commercial-free for the 3 hour duration of the concert, which as everyone knows, is a huge loss in advertising revenue.

There are hundreds of online articles dedicated to the band’s bravery, live coverage, cultural and national significance, tributes, etc. and so forth, but that’s not the point of this particular piece.

Truth be told, I have never really considered myself much of a Hip fan. I do enjoy a number of their hits – ‘New Orleans is Sinking’, ‘Fifty Mission Cap’, ’38 Years Old’, ‘At the Hundredth Meridian’, ‘Wheat Kings’, plus a handful of others.

My favourite is ‘Bobcaygeon’, which we have played live for years.

Just because I’m not a superfan, doesn’t mean I cannot appreciate the band, Gord or his battle on another level. I have watched with despair and sadness over the last few months as the news broke, the tickets sold and the crowds came.

My intial reaction was the same as everyone else – utter shock.

Once that wore off (to some degree), I began contemplating the much bigger picture, perhaps from a slightly different angle than the general public.

Not only does this talented individual have to say goodbye to his wife and children, extended family and friends, but also to his bandmates and a musical legacy that he helped to create.

As a band founder and leader myself, that’s a hard pill to swallow.

I’ll do my best to illustrate my point.

Most of us have an extracurricular activity that we enjoy and excel at, whether it’s dramatic or visual arts, music, crafts, cooking or sports – something that has been your mainstay through not only the good times, but the bad as well. If you’re one of the fortunate few, maybe your interest has even translated into a part-time or full-time career.

Now imagine being forced to abandon your passion prematurely at a time when there is still so much you wish to do with it. Portraits you wish to paint. Songs you wish to write. Recipes you wish to create.

You get the idea.

Last week BarCode celebrated its 13th anniversary and while we have accomplished more than I could have ever dreamed during that time, I feel that we are only part of the way through our journey and there’s still much left to experience.

I will reiterate that I have never really considered myself much of a fan, but it is the afore-mentioned perspective, coupled with the strength to rally together for one last tour – a proper farewell – that has earned my everlasting admiration and respect.

When it comes time for our final bow, I only hope that we leave the stage with as much consideration and respect as the Tragically Hip.

God speed and much love, Gord.

‘I’ve got to go. It’s been a pleasure doing business with you.’

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3 shows in 24 hours

Posted in past shows on August 31, 2010 by BarCode

What?  That’s it?  Summer’s over?

Here we are under a week to go until Labour Day and a quick visit to our website made me realize that I haven’t posted a blog about any of our July or August shows.  I’ll stick with July in this post and do a separate entry for August later.

The month started off on a busy note with BarCode appearing for a second time at Cliff and Theresa Pellizzari’s 20th Annual Canada Day BBQ on July 2nd.  We were first invited to gig in front of this great crowd last year, who are all about live music and appreciate what it is we do.  Many of their friends have become friends of ours and come out to our shows on a regular basis.

The food and company were excellent, the weather was more than cooperative and the fireworks display was dazzling!

The highlight of the month came in the form of the following weekend, which inspired the title of this post.  In just over 24 hours we performed at 3 different venues, returning to McLauchlin House on July 9th, sweating it out in the sun on the afternoon of July 10th at the 1st Annual Summertime Streetfest on Grand River St. North in Downtown Paris and finishing it off that evening with rousing finale at the Liquid Lounge.

First, McLauchlin House.  Our return to the stage that we have called home for 7 years came about pretty quickly. New owners Lisa Bate and Ken Stefan ) who also own Lexton’s Tap & Grill  on King George Road) contacted us to help them get some people back in the doors, having  taken over the bar just a few weeks ago.

We were happy to oblige, as we hadn’t played this venue for over 10 months, gigging there only twice when it briefly went by the moniker of Steve-o’s Bar & Grill.  In the crowd that night were a ton of familiar faces (many of who we hadn’t seen since our last show at this spot), plus the former owner, staff and customers of Norm’s Pub, who hadn’t been there since the closing night of Norm’s on June 30th, 2006.

The night was exactly what I’d hoped it’d be, with plenty of laughs, dancing and sociables.

Onto the 1st Annual Summertime Streetfest.  Our appearance here was booked through the Paris BIA and based on a recommendation from Hairy Mulligan frontman David Griffin.   Mulligan was originally requested, but given that the band is currently on hiatus, Dave was quick to pass along the opportunity to BarCode.

The afternoon was a real scorcher as we set up in the shade on Grand River St. North, directly across from one of Les’ favourite spots, the Brown Dog Coffee Shoppe.  We’d stopped in there prior to going on in the hopes of setting up an acoustic show on their exquisite patio, which boasts a  panoramic and picturesque view of the Grand River.

We were well-received by the folks volunteering from the Paris BIA as well as many local passersby, plus we managed to get rid of a handful of business cards.  Here’s hoping we see some new business!

And last but not least, onto the Liquid Lounge.  We had taken our gear down in Paris, paused for a beer and headed straight to ‘the Lounge’ to avoid having to set up our gear right before the show.  Of course by this point, set up seemed to take no time at all and the PA was EQed just the way we like it.

The night was the epitome of a hot n’ sweaty rock n’ roll frenzy, with the audience delivering and responding in the way that we have come to expect from their regulars.  Plastic tambourines a shakin’, drinks a spillin’ and hands a wavin’, we got down and dirty and were tight as could be thanks the weekend’s previous gigs that acted as the most intense warm-up imaginable.

Although it was a wild ride, I don’t think 3 shows in 24 hours will be something we’ll repeat anytime soon.  However, it does look good on the band resume.

RPM Powerfest & Media Weekend

Posted in past shows on July 26, 2010 by BarCode

Well here we are once again; several weeks after the fact, and I’m just getting around to blogging about our weekend at Grand Bend Motorplex.  I do have a viable excuse this time around, as we have been very busy with gigging pretty well straight through the end of June and halfway through July.

On top of being one of the most unique performances we’ve ever given, it also signified the start of our summer season, being the first of six outdoor gigs over the next few months.

We arrived Friday afternoon to our separate locations within Grand Bend; Samantha, myself and our friends to a rented cottage a block off the main drag and five blocks from the beach, Andy and his wife to a nearby hotel and Les and the members of Unanimous Maybe and Team Deadly to the free camping area provided at the Motorplex.

By the time I had touched base with the other guys and headed down to check things out at the track, most of the gear was already set up and we were waiting on the hydro.  After walking around the grounds to check out the competitors and vendors, we settled on watching the trials from the VIP beer gardens.

I had never been to a racetrack before, let alone a drag strip.  I was in for a treat; the stage and beer gardens were right next to the starting line, which is where we spent 90% of our time.   I came prepped with earplugs, knowing it was going to be loud.  Now, I’ve been playing onstage and watching bands for over 10 years, but I had no idea what loud was until the night of Friday, June 25th, 2010.

The noise was deafening and coming from not one, but two sources simultaneously: both the engines and the tires as dragsters, hot rods, motorcycles and even snowmobiles (no tires there,  just treads) bolted down the strip.  Not only were these sights and sounds to behold, but these mechanical masterpieces also put your nostrils to the test with the piercing scent of burnt rubber.

After downing a few beers and watching several trial runs, it was clear that we weren’t going to get our hydro anytime soon, so we parted ways for the evening and set about exploring the town with the few daylight hours that remained.

After a comfortable and air conditioned sleep, I awoke and celebrated the day by cracking open a breakfast beer and relaxing on the porch.  I was on vacation, after all.  Once breakfast was out of the way, those of us at the cottage made our way down to the beach for a swim.  Not a bad way to start a Saturday.

I made my way to the Motorplex in the early afternoon to see where set-up was at, since I had yet to hear from anyone about a meeting time.  I arrived to find most of the main system ready to go with Andy working on getting his kit up.

I hauled my gear into the VIP area and began my set-up, since BarCode would be starting the show.  Now, there’s an interesting little side story that goes along with the next few minutes of our present story…

Several weeks ago after our gig at the Liquid Lounge, I failed to do a dummy check and ended up leaving my canvas bag behind, which contains all of my patch cords, XLR cables, pedals and microphone.   Since we didn’t practice on the Sunday, I failed to notice until I arrived to set-up at our show at the Oxford Circus the following weekend.

I sped over to the Lounge to see if it was still kicking around, but the folks who were working the night of our show did not come in until 10pm that night, so I was S.O.L.  Luckily, Jr. was able to loan me some cables and a mic.  I hopped in Monty and jetted back over a second time on our first set break.  Huzzah!  A hurried inspection under behind some empty beer cases under the counter turned up the missing gig bag.

Good news, or so I thought at the time.

Since we already had the extra mic and cords set up, like an idiot, I didn’t bother to check the ‘little green bag’ to make sure all of its contents were intact.

Flash forward 3 weeks later to Grand Bend.  I open the flap and begin rummaging in there, only to find (technically, not find) that my mic and two XLR cables are missing.  Once again, it was Les to the rescue with extra gear, while I tried to wash the metaphorical egg off of my face with a couple of literal beers.

With everything ready to go, all there was left to do was crank out some tunes and impress the racers and crews that’d began enjoying the roast pig and salads from the ‘hambulance’.  As the last cars made their way down the track, we hit ’em just as hard and just as fast with ‘Too Little Too Late’.

Our setlist was entirely improvised and included some special guests; Jenny Friesen Pomerleau who joined us to sing ‘These Boots Were Made For Walkin’ and Jessica Townson, who played June Carter to my Johnny Cash on  the always popular ‘Jackson’.

The great  thing about BarCode is how we can do a show of even this calibre and completely make up the setlist as we go along; we just have that much material that we’re comfortable with.

As we performed, Richie handed out our business cards, which I may have gone a little overboard with by ordering 1,000 at the printers.  At least I’ve got them if I need them and they now have our website included on the reverse.

Unanimous Maybe took to the stage after us, churning out a set of their fantastic originals, including ‘Who Ordered the Sunshine?’, ‘Sunday Best’ and one or two covers.  There’s such an intense energy about this band, especially when all four come together at the mics to tackle some harmony work.

And completely obliterating any remnants of hearing you may have had left was the awesome Team Deadly, which features both Les and Andy doing what it is they do best (or one of the things) and the unbelievable guitar talents of Red LaForme.   These guys are as tight as tight can get, with Red manipulating the axe in ways other guitarists can only imagine.

And of course, I don’t need to tell you how incredible Les and Andy both are.  These two can easily slip into the groove of any genre of music, make it their own and leave you with the impression that they’ve been playing it for years.  This is one of the reasons it’s such a pleasure sharing the stage with them.

All in all, it was a pretty incredible experience.  The music, the company, the venue and just the overall feeling of being in ‘the Bend’.  It was unfortunate that I had to spend my earnings on replacing my Shure SM58 and a few cables, but a lesson learned.

On the way out of town on Sunday, I stopped at four or five trailer parks and dropped off some business cards with the hopes of securing some shows in the Grand Bend area for the Summer of 2011.

on the road to Grand Bend

Posted in general on June 25, 2010 by BarCode

THIS IS IT!  The weekend we’ve been waiting for since January has finally arrived!

The gear is loaded, the vans are packed and the band is on the road to Grand Bend!  We’re taking over Grand Bend Motorplex for the weekend with a kick ass show featuring BarCode, Unanimous Maybe and Team Deadly, plus a posse made up of our closest family and friends!  It’s going to be an entire weekend of hard rock, horsepower and hotties!

If we can find a wireless connection, we’ll try and keep you up-to-date with what’s going on!  If not, we promise a full report upon our return!

Gotta run… the open road awaits!

BarCode @ Oxford Circus

Posted in past shows on June 22, 2010 by BarCode

Had it been two months already?

When we left the Oxford Circus in April, our June 12th return seemed like a world away.  However, it snuck up on us quickly and we were back before we knew it.  We had a great crowd out to see us, enjoying a pre-show dinner and some drinks.

There were a few special guests in the audience, including a teacher from my days at Ryerson Middle School and some new fans who had seen us the previous weekend at the Liquid Lounge.  They popped in for a drink on a whim and ended up staying the entire evening.  Nice to see folks out two weekends in a row!

Also a pleasure to see Sue, the woman who books us at the O.C. out, even though she wasn’t working.  You don’t find that kind of support at everywhere.

Since the set we had been using was 6 months old, we created a new setlist for this appearance to freshen things up and add in some songs which had been placed on the backburner.  Added back into the rotation were ‘Sitting, Waiting, Wishing’ by Jack Johnson and ‘Get Rhythm’ and ‘Rock Island Line’ by Johnny Cash, among others.

No shows in Brantford now until July 9th, when we return to McLauchlin House for the first time in 10 months!

BarCode @ Liquid Lounge

Posted in past shows on June 19, 2010 by BarCode

It had been nearly four months since our last one night residency at the Liquid Lounge when we took to the stage on Friday, June 4th.  As constant supporters of live music, this room is one of the best in the city by far!  During our first 2 times at the Lounge, we were spoiled with rowdy and wild crowds and standing room only.

But that was during the winter.

I was a little worried going in this time, as we were competing with Brantford Hockeyfest, which drew crowds from all over the city to Lion’s Park in West Brant.  Fortunately enough for us, the evening brought rain, which forced it to end prematurely and enabled the crowd to return to their regularly scheduled Friday night, which was pouring into the local bars and clubs (pun intended).

The stage has changed at the Lounge as well.  They have removed the railings on either side, which enabled us to have a bit more personal space.   It’s no fun playing on top of each other.  We’re tight, but not that tight.

BarCode @ McGonagalls Pub

Posted in past shows on June 16, 2010 by BarCode

A few weeks after the fact, but nevertheless, I  thought I’d take a few moments to comment on our May 29th return to McGonagalls Pub.  It had been a few months since the last time we were at Brantford‘s premier Scottish pub, but we were able to pack ’em in, even seeing a few faces we hadn’t yet seen out to one of our shows in 2010.

Although the setlist hadn’t varied much since our last appearance, we were able to get together the night before and bring together the old Hollies classic, ‘Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)’, as well as throwing out a few numbers not done in awhile, like ‘Last Kiss’ by Frank J. Wilson and the Cavaliers (an old BarCode standard).

It’s the start of patio season and every year that tends to worry me a bit.  If the weather is nice, it’s becomes hard to get people to come inside and stay for an entire night of music.  Luckily, McGonagalls has a small patio at the back and it was cool enough that we were able to have the back door wide open and entertain those inside and out.

Also, a special thanks to George Blahitka for coming out again and filming us!  He seemed to cover all the angles and we can’t wait to check out some of the footage.  Watch for it on the BarCode YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/barcodethebanddotcom.  We hope to put some up soon (with George’s permission, of course).

Since the gig was four weeks ago, that’s about all I can remember for now.  I promise I’ll start posting a lot sooner after shows and give the writing a little more meat.