Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Friday, September 9, 2011

SummersEnd, Day Three - Gentlemen, Superstar Cars, Zero Bears, and a Grand Finale

I admit it. Day three of SummersEnd dawned at about 9 am for me, and I was almost wiped out. I dragged myself out of bed, though, made coffee, and settled in to try to do some work. I wasn't sure what I was going to be doing on day three as a volunteer, but figured I would know soon. I found out pretty quickly when I received a text from Jennifer, lead events co-ordinater from Events Wood Buffalo. She asked if I would be okay to move to driver officially - as she wanted to place George Canyon and his group directly into my hands, and have me dedicated to them for the day.

People, I was so pleased and honoured to be asked. I realized it was a leap of faith. This was their headliner for the night, and they were entrusting a Canadian country music superstar and his group to me. Would I like to do it? I was absolutely delighted to do it, and thrilled to be given the opportunity.

I arrived at MacDonald Island and again found myself in charge of the keys to the monster van and my affectionately nicknamed "superstar car". I headed off to pick up George n' the boys for their sound check, and when I arrived at the hotel I discovered a group of men who were all you would hope them to be - and so much more. Kind, polite, thoughtful, and interesting, they would thank me for driving them before I'd even started my engine. I finally told them to wait until I'd actually done something to thank me, as their gratitude was overwhelming and in my mind quite undeserved. My only disappointment was not being able to find a bear to show them, and I joked that if I found one when they weren't with me that I would tie it down for them to see (well, that was kind of a joke, I liked them all so much I would have momentarily considered it, too).

I spent my day driving George and his camp around - to sound checks and to the hotel, and just in general being there for whatever they might need. I had helped one band member track down his delayed bags the day before, and so he and I had already connected over the frustrations of air travel. The rest of them and I also connected over the day, discussing various topics and again developing running jokes (my hot pink purse came in for some serious discussion by the end of the night, and one band member has a serious career in marketing should he ever give up music, as his description of my bag was better than anything I've ever heard).

When I went to pick up the band for the show I informed their manager that I was going to bring the "superstar car", the Ford Expedition, as I wanted George and the guys to arrive in style. I picked them up at the hotel and was delighted that they were pleased with my choice of vehicle, and I delivered them backstage. That night I was not able to take in George's show as I had to be backstage with the car when he finished, in order to drive him back to the hotel. I did head over to the stage area a bit early, though, where the head of the security detail helped me back the behemoth SUV up against the stage entrance to wait for George (the security officer gave me specific directions, and apologized if I had done this before - my response to him was that I'd never done anything like this in my life, and the more specific he was the better!).

I sat backstage and listened to George sing, watching the Zipper on the midway spin around with our inky black Fort Mac night in the background. At that moment I was, I admit, a bit overwhelmed, but in a good way. I was actually close to tears, so grateful for the opportunity I'd been given that day, and for the opportunities in general in this community. Where else in the country would they hand over to me the keys to a monstrously expensive rental SUV AND personal responsibility for a country superstar and his entourage? Where, but here, in my city? And then, George stopped singing, and stepped into the SUV, and off we drove into that dark night.

Now, I am not going to divulge details of conversations I had with George and his guys, but there is one story I must share, even at the risk of getting into some hot water. It is just such a lovely story, and so representative of who George Canyon is, that I find myself having to tell it. I was driving him back to the hotel, just me in the driver's seat and George in the back. We were wending our way down the back road at MacDonald Island, and people who had just attended the concert were spilling out of the venue, walking downtown and to their next destination. George, in his beautifully deep voice, asked me to roll down the back windows. And then, George Canyon, country star, began to lean out the window and personally thank everyone for coming.

People, you should have heard the voices we left in our wake. At first people would say "oh, you're welcome" - and then it would dawn on them, and I could hear shouts of "hey, that was George Canyon!". I sat there in the driver's seat, grinning as big as I probably ever have, while George Canyon, gentleman, good-hearted country boy, and genuinely good person, made the night for so many in my community. It was something he didn't have to do, and something that would have likely given the head of security fits - and yet he did it because he is just a down-to-earth, wonderful man who truly appreciates his fans. People, he made MY night, too, with that simple, generous, and kind act of true gratitude.

I dropped George at the hotel, ferried the rest of his group back, and ended my night with Jennifer. I had been teasing her earlier about her Hermione Grainger-esque bag, out of which I had seen her pull straightening irons, shoes, fresh clothes, a hand mirror, and a tent (ok, I made that last one up, but I wouldn't have been surprised if she had). Now, though, I told her how much respect I have for Events Wood Buffalo. After this event the respect I had for them originally has grown exponentially. I told her how much I appreciated the opportunities they had given me, and how I think EWB has changed the face of events in this city - and it's true. Now, I still feel awfully bad about that parking ticket I got at the airport ( I arrived late to pick up some crew, found no open spots, and parked the superstar car in a hotel's spot - my bad), but overall I think I served EWB, and Fort Mac, well. I know that Events Wood Buffalo has served this community well, and I look forward to them continuing to do so. Executive director Claude Giroux has now moved on to his next job, but I hope he knows that his swan song of this year's SummersEnd was a grand, grand way to end a fine run in this city.

So, people, there you go. I have a photo of myself and George taken that night during the meet and greet, when Misty Oakes, EWB's Communications Director, signalled me to get into line to get a photo, despite me not having expected to do so. She said I earned it, and yet I think that it was they who earned so much - my respect, and my gratitude. So, to the folks at EWB, staff at MacDonald Island, the other volunteers, the security detail, and the musicians and their bands/crews - I say a heartfelt thank you. You gave this blogger an experience, both personal and professional, that she will never forget. To all of you in Fort Mac I also say thank you - thank you for being a community I was proud to represent, and for showing all these performing artists what an enthusiastic city we are. You know what? I think they will be back some day - and if they are I would be absolutely honoured to once again be their driver, wherever they need me to go. And next time I'm finding George and his boys a bear, too.

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