For those of you who don’t know, when I am not playing shows or making records or screwing around on the Internet, I book bands at a club in Calgary called the Marquee Room. It is a small place, not very fancy, but with a really cool vibe, on the 2nd floor of the Uptown, along with 2 arthouse cinemas. The building is an old art-deco hi-rise that I would categorize as in a state of disrepair, with a landlord that doesn’t seem to care too much about it or it’s only tenants – the club and the theatre.
There’s not a lot of money (in case you were wondering) in playing or promoting original live music, but I do the best I can. Most nights you will find a local act or 2 or 3, and the odd band from out East or the West Coast on their way across the country. Chances of more than a handful of people knowing about any of these artists are slim, and with all the options for the entertainment-seeker in our fair city, it is a rough go to even get those in the know out to see the show sometimes.
Some of the bands are not all that great. Most of them are really good, and a select few are unbelievably awesome. What I have found watching as many bands and singers and songwriters as I have from my perch beside the soundboard is this: all of these people believe wholeheartedly in what they are doing, and they always give their best show, the best they can. No-one mails it in. No matter how crappy their day was, or how many (or few) came to hear them, or how in the red they are because of their drive to make their voice heard and to give some songs to whoever will listen, the one thing all of them have in common is their sincerity, whatever form it comes in, and I am grateful to be able to give every one of them a venue for their art.
Once in a blue, blue moon, an artist who (in my mind, at least) should be a household name across the land with their records in every collection coast to coast finds their way onto the Marquee Room stage.
On October 20 of ’09, such an artist came and played. His name is Vic Chesnutt. I was really worried about the show, not from an artistic standpoint (I was giddy like a schooolgirl at the prospect), but from a logistics point of view. See, Vic was in a wheelchair, and our elevator was broken (it still is – one of many reasons why I suspect the landlord doesn’t really give a damn), and the only way we could get him up to the club on the 2nd floor would be to carry him up the main staircase.
How would he take it? Would he be offended? Would be so put off that he’d treat the show as a throwaway (after all, he has played thousands of shows all over the word. Big deal if these idiots can’t treat an artist with respect…)? I had no idea. All I know is that I desperately wanted this show to go off without a hitch – one of the greats was coming!
Well, I shouldn’t have worried. Vic and his band arrived, I welcomed them at the front door and explained the situation. He grinned at me and said, “Well, I ain’t that heavy. Let’s go.” A man who I admired the work of for so many records was so gracious. And humble.
That night, I saw the best show of 2009, hands down. In the running for best show of the decade, even. I’ve seen very few that hold the conviction that I saw displayed on Vic’s face, in his voice, hands, and songs. The band was in top form, and Vic was at what I imagine to be the height of his powers. It was absolutely perfect. Leading up to the show, I revisited all of his albums, and was amazed again at the body of work he had amassed over the years, and stunned that a man of such immense talent had to play our little club. I mean, I was excited that he was playing our little club, but I couldn’t fathom the idea. He should have been playing to thousands.
On Christmas day, 2 months after I saw him play that show – that mind-blowing show – I heard the news that he was gone. I still don’t really know what to say or even think/feel about all that.
This is the first song I ever heard by Vic Chesnutt, which why it is one of my favorites. Humble and gracious, The Gravity of the Situation.
(Click on the Play button beside the song title to launch the music player
or right-click on the link to download it to your computer.)