. : : August 25th, 2020 : : .
Kathleen Edward‘s Total Freedom album came as a bit of a surprise to me.
I mean, I knew she’d started live performances again but these shows seemed sporadic and without much fanfare; I thought them little more than a way for her to pay some favors, pad the pockets, and perhaps even provide a wee bit of ego bolstering.
When clips of her in the studio started showing up on Instagram, I must admit: it still didn’t feel real. It had been too long. She had been too adamant. But then the pre-order page went live.
Test pressings, autographed vinyls, CDs, t-shirts, Quitters Coffee, and all kinds of incentives littered the campaign. There was one in particular that caught my eye, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic…
A private, online concert for a fan and up to 24 friends.
Price tag? A solid grand.
I mean, maybe if I didn’t have rent to pay, groceries to buy, and a newborn baby on the way, I could swing it? … Humph.
What if I could get 24 of my friends to pitch in? Errrr, I’m not even sure I know 24 people, let alone fellow fans.
This very blog, only recently relaunched, hasn’t gathered the traffic and momentum it had at one point to be a viable option to make any kind of gathering work.
But then my eyes caught a Facebook comment on one of her promotional posts. Facebook comments are something I very, very rarely read, especially if they weren’t written by an existing acquaintance. A gentleman far smarter than I posted a comment requesting fans join a Facebook group he was creating for like-minded people who might be interested in splitting the cost. Kizmet!
Of course, there were risks involved. Who was this guy? What would stop him from pocketing all our money and disappearing under the cover of darkness? Would enough fans even find their way to this Facebook group to make it feasible?
I shrugged and figured I’d join the group, see how things progressed, and make a judgement closer to the date.
Now, a quick aside. I’m proud of this little blog.I love that there’s a place where I can write these little journal entries and post recordings I’ve made, and people will read them. People will listen to them. And yes, sometimes people even respond to them.
But I’m prouder still of some of the friendships I’ve made along the way with my site’s visitors. Friendships that continued when the blog went down. Late night conversations, oversharing confessionals, cards at Christmas — the whole nine yards.
Strangers from other parts of the world, sharing their lives like old friends. A reminder that community doesn’t have to end at the top of your street.
I invited one of those friends who I thought might be interested in participating into the Facebook group. Not only did he join, but when enough fans committed the cause and the money collection started, he stealthily paid for my ticket with his thanks for the blog and friendship.
My heart swelled with love and pride. It was one of the greatest acts of kindness I’d ever been on the receiving end in my life. Here we all are, nervous about our murky futures and uncertain finances in the midst of a global pandemic and, without hesitation, the money is put on the table before I even had a chance to log in and notice the collection had begun! I could have exploded into confetti hearts and unicorn streamers right there.
So, within forty-eight hours of the Facebook page going live, it was official. This was happening. A private concert for barely two dozen fans, while thousands of Kathleen’s other fans would have to wait months–maybe even years before concert-going even becomes a thing again.
It wouldn’t be for weeks yet, but the excitement had began to kick in.
Moreover, the fans in the group began to share links, articles, experiences, photos, and more. There were votes for what songs to request, jokes about hiring Jim Bryson to perform an opening set, discussions about Kathleen’s coffee shop and download links to videos, audio recordings and podcasts. Before we knew it, we had begun to knit new community.
Then came the big day.
Ever the procrastinator, it was 7:20 pm the evening of, and being too impatient to wait for a bus, I started the nearly 20-minute walk home from my transfer point after work. “Hmm,” I thought to myself. “Maybe I should create a Zoom account and see if I can start to figure out how this business works?”
In a normal blog post for this site, this is where I’d tell you about how my mobile internet went down, my phone went haywire, the Zoom website was offline and I was unable to create an account, or Google Play removed the app from the Play Store, sending me to search the seedy underground websites hosting questionable APK files.
But this is not a normal blog post.
The same luck that brought us together and erased my financial concerns continued to carry forth. The account setup was quick and easy. I got home, rushed to my PC, and had the same experience downloading the application and setting it up there. I even had the same experience logging into the private video chat room.
There was no drama. No rising action. No perilous choices. No night-altering consequences. Everything just worked the way it should. It was unprecedented.
Moreover, I was even a bit early, and Kathleen was already online, setting up with the group’s organizer and leader. Curious, I tried to remain the fly on the wall and quietly observe. However, Kathleen had other plans: she noticed I logged on, and shouted my name with… Wait, was that with recognition?
I posted a blog entry at the beginning of the Kathleen Edward’s month here at Hater-High that I had met her a few times and gotten to know her well enough that if I popped into her coffee shop, she’d likely squint, raise an eyebrow, and ask if I was that guy… I didn’t think my name was more than a fart in the wind to her, and my computer is without a webcam or microphone to jog her memory. Cool, cool, cool. But maybe she was just excitedly reacting to people–anyone–showing up.
Shortly after, she went offline to confer on set-list choices with Jim Bryson! Yup, not only was perpetual cohort Mr. Bryson there and joining Kathleen to perform a duo show, but the set — originally scheduled to be broadcast from Kathleen’s home, would actually come from Jim’s recording studio, Fixed Hinge Recording.
Professional quality equipment and instruments. Acoustically treated walls and ceilings. We were in for a marvelous treat.
Some twenty minutes later, when most concert-goers had joined the conference, Kathleen and Jim jumped into Asking For Flowers: a personal favorite.
Now, we’ve all seen the memes about Zoom fails, and this night was no exception to the standard.
A straggler joined the call about halfway into the song, and forgot to mute his mic. Completely oblivious that every slight movement cut out the audio for the music and switched it to the sounds of him shuffling and shifting. The chat lit up like Times Square at Christmas, but bless his heart, the fan was enraptured by the performance and much too distracted to waste attention on a thing as mundane as the group chat.
Luckily(?), the interference also affected Kathleen and Jim’s ability to perform: each movement would sharply and unexpectedly interrupt their headphone monitors, breaking their concentration. So after a brief and half-joking chastising post-performance, we were all properly muted and the show would go on.
Until it didn’t, of course. The quality of the Zoom video was unsurprisingly questionably choppy. The audio seemed to cut out every fifteen seconds or so (you could almost set your watch to it), and twice it kicked the duo right out of the call mid-song. It was awkward for pretty much everyone who sat there confused as to whether they were disconnected themselves, and then whether the band would notice and be willing and able to reconnect and resume.
Minor complaints of delivery methods aside, it was a unique and exciting (if somewhat voyeuristic) insight into Kathleen and Jim’s relationship and rehearsal styles. Every now again, they’d almost forget we were there as they bantered back and forth (usually as they dealt with the occasional technical snafu, like Jim’s shoddy patch cables).
The song selection was surprising varied, culled from each of Kathleen’s major releases without the expected emphasis on Total Freedom’s current singles.
Even more exciting than the song selection was the arrangements. Change The Sheets in particular featured quiet picking and different vocal phrasing for the first half of the song or so, perhaps indicating how the track may have sounded during its earliest iterations.
The generous 12-song set, spanning closer to 75-minutes than the promised 60, came to a close with our group’s top-voted request, Copied Keys. I guess she didn’t get the memo, because she seemed a bit caught off-guard by the request — but give them credit: Kathleen and Jim pulled it off as if it was a song they’d played only last week.
Remarkable, given the breadth of material and number of years between regular performances (actually, now that I think back on it, 2 out of 3 of my previous, spontaneous concert requests were honoured and performed excellently and with aplomb, despite the songs being pretty deep cuts).
Then came the meet-and-greet section of the night.
Kathleen called my name again specifically to open the conversation and I, without webcam or microphone, couldn’t respond! I typed away in the chat, but she didn’t see. “Well, maybe you’re not there,” she said. AS IF there’s any place else I’d be. I was remembered! Really, really cool.
Gracefully, another group member was able to convey my salutations to her, but she went on to spend a few minutes chatting with each and every member of the group that had audio and video turned on — and this part was really special. She took the time to ask everyone’s names and where they’re from, and always had a cute and charming story about a time she went through that town on a previous tour, including finding and purchasing her beloved cat, Mr. T, and the side of the road BBQ joint she was at when she got the call to perform on the David Letterman Show.
There was also humourous portions based on Kathleen and Jim not knowing that you could change the backgrounds on your Zoom videos. One person had changed theirs to the Quitters Coffee shop, which confused Kathleen tremendously. We all had a good laugh when another viewer had theirs changed to a (rather posh, fancy-looking) bathroom that Jim mistook for a recently renovated kitchen.
So, you may be wondering where’s the recording?
Well, here’s the thing. It turns out I wasn’t really supposed to record it.
Yeah, okay, I can say that about many of the shows on this blog, I reckon.
The sound also didn’t turn out very good, due to Zoom compression and dropped audio, etc.
Alright, I guess you can say several of my recordings don’t sound very good, if you want to be rude about it.
And, well, this was supposed to be a small, intimate affair for a very select few fans. It wasn’t intended for mass consumption on any scale, and for something so personal between fan and band, it seems perversely invasive to insert others into the experience (even after the fact).
For those reasons, I have to let my words be the monument that commemorates the experience and, although I’ve taken over a weeks’ time for reflection and three days to write this entry, they still don’t seem adequate. I’m not sure any other choices in diction would.
Truth be told, this was something uniquely special, made more so by seven years’ absence, and the overhanging threat of a global pandemic, months worth of isolation, and vast uncertainty toward the future of live music.
But in a time where isolation is encouraged and social distancing expected, it was an unexpected treat to find and make a connection with 24 random people from across the globe with only a love for music and a fondness for a particular Canadian songstress to bring them together. It was even cooler for those fans to be afforded a chance to feel connected to that same singer, if only for a night of music and storytelling of a full-time coffeeshop owner.
It’s a night 25-fans aren’t likely to soon forget.