2 ̶ BLUES FESTIVAL & ART CRAWL
After I arrived at my sister’s place on Sunday, September 18, Grace suggested we attend the last evening of the Wasaga Beach Blues Festival. I leapt at the chance.
First she gave me a quick tour of Collingwood’s waterfront, pointing out where she often kayaked. Then we zipped over to Wasaga Beach, a legendary place I had heard whispers of. In the time it took to click the heels of her ruby red slippers, we arrived.
Wasaga Beach is two places: a community and a shoreline. Darkness was falling, it was getting chilly, but Grace wanted to show me the famous shoreline. As we tried to access the waters of Georgian Bay, we tooled down narrow streets lined with palatial mansions and starter-home shacks, the smallest of which had to be worth a million dollars. Location, you know. No luck. She headed for the Town Centre.
We drove onto the boulevard that skirts the shore, fronted by palaces of entertainment. As the sun shot its bloody rays into our eyeballs, I could see miles and miles of miles and miles of sand. The brochures say there are 14 kilometres of sand, the longest freshwater beach in the world. In full
sunshine on a summer day, I could believe that thousands of tourists thronged this shoreline. That evening there might have been a half dozen strollers within eyeshot.
Grace drove us to the festival venue. We weaved our way through booths, the live music making everything bounce. We pushed through the crowd at the gate and found a vantage
point on the sloping ground. Most of the throng had brought their own chairs. There was a roped-off bar doing very poor business. Everywhere, people were tilting heads back and lifting mysterious vessels to their lips. Grace had supplied us with two thermoses of “tea”, tangy red stuff.
I left Grace to do some exploring. I dodged through the unsteady dancers and prepared to report on the backstage antics and the portable loos. I worked my way up the slope, snapping pictures, and tried to look official when I encountered security patrolling the fence line. I cut across the hillside, through the seated throng, and reported to Grace. Behind us loitered a gang of friendly-looking police officers. At one point they descended to the makeshift dance floor and escorted a gentleman and his thermos back to the gate.
Steadily the darkness fell and the stage grew brighter. The last performance of the evening was Chuck Jackson and The Allstars. The Allstars is the reincarnation of the legendary Canadians blues band, Downchild, launched in 1969 in Toronto. Do not, repeat, NOT let anyone tell you that nothing good has come out of Toronto. These relics onstage were still fantastic. The performers had opportunities to play solos on guitar and harmonica and keyboard and drums and saxophone. Chuck Jackson handled the vocals.
In the windup, Jackson thanked the crowd, mentioned they were celebrating their 47th year on the road, and invited everyone to a downtown pub to carry on.
Grace skipped the trick with the ruby slippers as we drove home at a leisurely pace.
I returned to Collingwood on Saturday, September 24, on my way back from T.O. I spent the afternoon exploring historical stuff (more on that later), and as darkness fell, Grace and I joined the annual Art Crawl.
On our way, I mentioned that I wanted to pick up some of the signature apples of the Collingwood region, Honeycrisp. I wanted to leave early next morning. Grace drove straight to a little country store but it was closed.
The multi-venue event centres on the west end of Hurontario Street in the Heritage Conservation District. The chic thing to do is to crawl (and by crawl, I mean stroll) from venue to venue between 6:00 and 9:00 p.m. Painters, musicians, artisans, actors do their stuff. You walk into a storefront, help yourself to a biscuit, quaff a strange liquid, study the artwork, speak to the artists. You can even buy stuff. On the broad sidewalks are canopied booths. As Grace and I crawled, darkness fell. Live bands entertained everyone within three blocks.
My favourite performer was a street fiddler with a smart tie who played Celtic airs; him I tipped heavily. In a rock shop I scooped up polished stones to take home to Susanne, my other sister. For myself, I bought a thumbstone, my first, and I now use it every day. Grace called me into an art gallery to look at a piece of home: two transports in a snowy scene, one of them ditched. Such a fond memory!
As the evening wore on, we started looking for the battle of the painters, a duel in which a duo had to start with a blank canvas and complete a picture in twenty minutes flat. We discovered one artist hunched over on the pavement, a tight half circle of spectators around him. It wasn’t him. We watched a tableau of costumed performers assisting passers-by to dress up and act out the personalities of recognizable painters like
Van Gogh. They were allowed to keep their ears, though. Then Grace said, I bet that painter competition is over at the Simcoe Street Theatre.
We started down some less well lit streets. The public library, supposedly one of the venues, looked deserted. People were streaming out of the little theatre, so we barged in. In one half-darkened hall, a performer had captivated an audience by making the weirdest sounds with electrical assistance (don’t ask me what I mean). We made our way into an organic food shop cum restaurant. We checked out the vegetables (they did not look very healthy), asked the lady in charge where the painter competition was. She was more than willing to help. As she trolled for information on her computer, she was talking into a phone to her kid. The kid was very insistent that he or she needed her attention. She (the lady) was equally insistent that he or she would have wait till she (the lady) got home. This went on for five or ten minutes. Finally she coughed up the information we needed.
We struck out again for Hurontario Street, and in a side street, found two competing artists. It was the last performance of the evening. A big crowd gave them lots of room to wield their brushes and squeeze their tubes. Grace and I whispered our critiques to each other. I snapped multiple pictures, trying to get both canvases on my screen along with the most dramatic poses of the artists. I probably failed.
The referee called time. The painters stood back. The crowd applauded and moved in for closer inspection. My phone camera chose that time to die. I assure you, though, the paintings were excellent ̶ both completed within a twenty-minute span.
The crowds dispersed. We had missed encounters with at least 80 artists. All day, somewhere, two artists had been completing two 8-foot-square murals. We never saw the acrobatics of the Aerial Silks Youth Team. The Canadian community singing contest finals had occurred somewhere. It was not all a loss, however. I memorized the location of Molly Bloom’s Irish Pub . . . for next time in Collingwood. Maybe James Joyce or his spiritous proxy will drop in.
Grace drove us home. In the morning I planned to drive straight through to the Soo and to Manitouwadge, where our brother, John, lives, arriving in time for supper. It was a crazy plan, and it almost worked. I may tell you about it sometime.
[continued in Chapter 3]