SLCR #356: Michael Bernard Fitzgerald (September 24, 2020)

Mika and I had dinner in an actual restaurant at the end of June. There were no active COVID cases in the city and we went to a place that already had a good track record for safety. That was nice. And I think that was the first time we’d left the house together since returning from vacation early in March.

Two months later, we went to Nuit Blanche, which reinvented itself this year as a drive-thru event. We waited in a long line of cars to look at art installations, a handful of which didn’t look like screensavers or Winamp visualizers. As far as outings go, this certainly was one. Technically.

We also renewed our mortgage. Even though we were really pleased with the rate, I still don’t think this counts as a fun date night. Besides, it was in the afternoon, we drove to the bank separately, and Mika had to go back to the office once we were done.

But this, this was a concert! The first one since seeing Whitehorse in January! A real one, in person, without having to enter a Zoom password and kick all my other devices off the Wi-Fi! And one entirely unlike anything I’d been to before, because of… all the… you know. Everything. Literally everything.

I bought our tickets back in the middle of June. By then, we’d had several concerts cancelled and others delayed. Some were delayed and THEN cancelled, which is thorough. But this tour was designed for These Uncertain And Unprecedented Times, and I held out hope that it would actually happen.

Let us review the protocols. The concert was to be held at a farm near Regina, but we wouldn’t be told where until the day of the show. It would be in a big tent, semi open air. Tickets were only purchasable in blocks of 4, to be shared amongst the people in your bubble. Capacity was capped at 24 fans – 6 blocks – though 2 of the groups (including ours) only had 2 people. You had to sanitize your hands before entering, and masks were required when not in your seat. Drinks and snacks were available if you ordered beforehand and they’d be waiting at your row (every block got their own row) in sanitized buckets. There was washroom access “for emergency use only,” I’m guessing in the farmhouse. I don’t think anyone needed it. I assume it was sanitized too, but I also assume that in an emergency, you may not care.

Just before lunch, I was emailed directions to Fenek Farms, which is about 15 minutes north of town. I’d never heard of them, but they do hayrides and petting zoo type stuff. As to whether they regularly host touring concerts in the middle of a pandemic, the internet isn’t clear.

As we approached the farm, it was already dark out. I saw some kind of creature skulk across the road and into a ditch – some kind of small mammal. I’ll never know for sure, but I’m just gonna assume it was a cat. Partly because the only other animals we saw were geese in a barn. And partly because there were cats everywhere.

We hung out in the car until around 8:00, while torches were lit to line the pathway to the Greenbriar, which is what you name your big tent when you have to name a big tent. We masked up, sanitized, and found our row with our beverage bucket. I’d treated myself and Mika to two of the finest bottled waters available from, I dunno, probably Superstore or Costco.

Fitzgerald was already sitting at the front of the tent when we arrived. Also in the tent was Jellybean, a black kitten who had zero fear of humans and an intense curiosity about what was transpiring. Fitzgerald, decidedly not a cat person, was nonplussed about this intrusion, though most of the fans were delighted. You know I was delighted. And Jellybean made sure to visit everyone, including spending some time hopping back and forth between my lap and Mika’s.

It was determined, however, that “Jellybean” was not a good name for this kitten, who received a series of new names throughout the evening, including Blackie, Shadow, Nightfall, and Nightshade, the latter seemingly due to Fitzgerald’s inability to remember Nightfall.

There was also a grey cat who patrolled the tent. He (?) was less interested in the humans, but I did get to give him a little scritch as he went past. Fitzgerald had to name that cat too, pausing for a second before settling on… Grey. “I really messed up that cat’s name.” But Grey stuck.

There was one other person there with Fitzgerald – I think her name was Kay, or at least that’s who I ordered our waters from – and she spent a good part of the evening wrangling cats and removing them from the tent. The cats spent a good part of the evening returning in nonchalant defiance.

Songs! There were songs. Not just cats. This tour was to promote Fitzgerald’s new record, Love Valley, which is out this Friday, October 9, 2020. And now I have to finish this thing on time. I’d heard a few of the songs before the show, and was pleased that they were stripped down, a little folkier and more in line with some of his older records. Most of the songs seem to be about buying a farmhouse and moving into it with a lady who will occasionally take her clothes off, but I’d have to hear the whole thing before declaring it a concept album. I did buy a copy of the record when I ordered our waters, but since we were a few weeks out from the release date, I have to wait for it to arrive in the mail.

The farmhouse needs a string of lights along the back porch, this is important.

Everything was acoustic, just MBF and his guitar. Most of what he played was from the new album, though there were a handful of older songs; notably, Care For You and Follow. And there was a cover of Robyn’s Dancing on My Own that was so reworked into Fitzgerald’s style that I didn’t even recognize it at first. Very cool.

Fitzgerald said he wanted to make it more like a house concert, with lots of interaction between songs. It took a bit for everyone to figure out how the night would go – after the first song, he joked “I love the sound of muted applause.” But soon everyone settled in. People were making requests, opening their drinks at appropriate times (mostly while MBF was tuning), talking about their 4Runners, playing with the farm cats.

As ever, his stories were delightful, about the challenges of livestreaming performances from your backyard (ill-timed garbage trucks), or a secret Regina artisan pizza house – literally, a house – that was so exclusive, none of us had heard of it. (I did some googling, and it definitely exists, or at least did as of 2015.) And he talked about playing the folk festival here, and as a fan, I appreciated his unsolicited opinion that Hawksley Workman is a nice guy.

He also told us about performing songs for some sort of project that wouldn’t let him use brand names in songs, so he had to alter the lyrics on the fly. Despite lacking some syllables, “2000 Toyota” became “2000 truck.” “It’s not like Toyota rhymed with anything, it’s just fun to say.” But “2000 truck” is also fun to say and soon became the name of an orange cat who joined the tent. Then there was a second orange cat – a decoy. During the last song, a third orange cat showed up (2000 Truck and two decoys! And Nightshade! And Grey!), Fitzgerald was exasperated, and I was utterly joyous. The songs were great, the stories were funny, the cats were great AND funny. I even got to cuddle 2000 Truck (or a decoy) after unhooking him from Mika’s side after he tried jumping into her lap and didn’t quite make it.

I feel the need to stress that this would have been a great night out even without the cats. They’re just fun to talk about! And to pick up and snuggle and scritch them behind their little ears, who’s a good 2000 Truck, you are, yes you are. But cats aside, this was such a unique and intimate show, perfectly suited to the new tunes.

And I’d better savor it – I don’t see much live music on the horizon. I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable going to normal concerts right now, and the opportunities for creative shows like this one are fading as the weather turns. This was a special, cat-laden night, but I don’t know how many people could make something like this possible. MBF said that he decided to undertake the tour after realizing it was something he’d want to do even without the pandemic. You can see his passion for the idea in the ridiculous amount of effort it requires. The tent takes 3 hours to set up and 3 hours to tear down. Fitzgerald was towing it from town to town himself, on a 48-date cross-Canada tour. Even just the logistics of booking venues – how does one make arrangements with 48 farms? And while ticket prices were up a little from his usual shows, they weren’t extravagant, so he could only be making so much money playing to 24 people a night. That’s a ton of work for little immediate reward. I mean, I’m sure playing shows is rewarding in itself, but food and shelter are good too.

UPCOMING CONCERTS THAT SURE, WE CAN PRETEND WILL HAPPEN AS SCHEDULED
• Saints & Sinners Tour: Headstones, Moist, The Tea Party, & Big Wreck (January 25)
• Joel Plaskett w/Mo Kenney (September 18)

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3 Responses to “SLCR #356: Michael Bernard Fitzgerald (September 24, 2020)”

  1. boppinsblog Says:

    Can I assume Nuit Blanche is a Golden Girls museum?

  2. jprobichaud Says:

    An honest to goodness concert?! Amazing.

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