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

Monday, February 27, 2012

Highway 63 : Death By Idiocy

It's funny, really. I've been in Fort McMurray for a decade and never once called Highway 63 "The Highway of Death". It seems like a ridiculous nickname to me, since most highways with any degree of traffic see some fatalities. The 63 is no different, and sadly in recent years has seen a lot of carnage. But I think it's time to stop blaming the highway, and start laying the blame where it belongs - on the idiocy of those who drive on it.

The twinning, or slow pace thereof, has been a serious issue for some time in Fort Mac. The reality is, though, that twinning will prevent some accidents, and may reduce the severity of others. However, it won't prevent them all - because as long as people drive like morons there will be accidents, and some of them will be fatal.

Just last Friday I travelled the 63 on our way down to Edmonton. My husband, the Intrepid Junior Bloggers, and I piled into the family car and set out early that afternoon. And it wasn't long before we started to see the lunacy that seems epidemic on the 63.

People can argue that speed doesn't kill, and I'm not going to get into that argument. The fact is that there IS a speed limit on the 63, and if you think it's too low then try to get it changed. Don't drive at 140 km per hour and think it's acceptable when it's illegal. It's illegal, AND it's unacceptable. And frankly I'm sick of it.

I'm also sick of aggressive drivers - those who pass four or five vehicles at a stretch, and often coming disturbingly close to oncoming traffic to do so. One miscalculation and you imperil the lives of every single person in every one of those vehicles. And you may not give a damn about your continued existence on this planet, but I care about mine, and about those of my family. I bet every person in those other vehicles feels the same way, too.

Finally, I am very, very tired of company trucks who drive aggressively, speed, and otherwise imperil the lives of others on the 63. On Friday we watched in disgust as four vehicles from a drilling company sped down the highway at what I believe was a speed in excess of 125 km per hour, passing other vehicles as a pack. One vehicle was a flatbed, two were drill rigs, and the last was a pickup truck. And in the case of a collision we all know that often the drivers of those flatbeds and drill rigs can walk away unscathed - but not so the smaller vehicles they collide with. Those others often end up as crosses at the side of the road instead.

So, I've decided I personally have zero tolerance for these kinds of antics. Every single time I encounter a company vehicle speeding or driving aggressively on the 63 I'm going to go public with it. I'm going to put it on Twitter, on my Facebook page, or right here in this blog. If the only way to encourage people to drive with some sense is public shame then that might be the way to go. And I'm hoping others might follow suit, too. You see, those companies are coming up to Fort Mac to work and are making money in our community. They have all sorts of safety standards to adhere to when they do so. But if they forget all those as soon as their truck tires hit the 63 then we have a problem, because they are endangering all of us.

So, OK Drilling Services, I hate to say this but I think your drivers, at least the ones I saw on Friday, are giving your company a black eye. And not only that but I believe they are endangering themselves - and everyone else on the 63. I am here to say they were noticed, and that I sincerely hope you take this opportunity to address this issue with them. I know they aren't the only ones doing this, so don't feel too singled out, because there are others. This is, however, your chance to address it before they start racking up the tickets - and before they are involved in one of those horrific accidents.

Look, people, in the end the highway isn't killing anyone. It's not driving at excessive speeds, ignoring road conditions, and being aggressive. We are. It's time to to stop blaming the road, and start looking at the real problem - us. Only then will we reduce accidents, and stop the deaths. Only then will we stop seeing death by idiocy. You know, when we stop being idiots.

Update, February 29th, 2012

In addition to writing this blog post I also sent an email describing the events of Friday afternoon to the drilling company mentioned in this post. I am pleased to report that today I received a response from the Director of Health, Safety, and Environment for OK Drilling Services. In the response he thanked me for bringing the issue to the attention of the company, and acknowledged that the company relies on community members to inform them of such incidents. He also indicated that the company will be holding a safety meeting and discussing this incident in detail, as well as taking steps to prevent future occurrences. I am both satisfied and gratified with this response, and I sincerely thank OK Drilling Services for giving this issue the attention it deserves. In the future I will continue to contact companies should I see their drivers behaving in a similar manner, and I encourage every single person who travels Highway 63 to do the same. I think it is within our power to improve safety on this highway, and this is just one step in that direction.
McMurray Musings

Thursday, February 23, 2012

winterPLAY Social Media Auction From YMMPodcast & Events Wood Buffalo (Or "Yuuuuup")

I think what I love most about my buddies Toddske and Tito from YMMPodcast is that they are always cooking up something new for the community, whether it's a film night or a social media fundraiser. They just launched their latest adventure, and I'm stealing Toddske's post from the YMMPodcast site to explain it. So, people, show the Boys and Girls Club some of that Fort Mac love, take home an amazing hockey jersey, and have some fun at the same time. Knowing this community as I do I think the sky is the limit on this one - so let the bidding begin!

From YMMPodcast

During our recent HOCKEY SHORTS & PUCK BUNNIES winterPLAY event, we announced that Events Wood Buffalo and the YMM Podcast will be holding a special Social Media Auction in support of the Fort McMurray Boys and Girls Club.

Fort McMurray Boys and Girls Club website
The Boys and Club play a vital role in our community by providing a safe, supportive place where children and youth can experience new opportunities, overcome barriers, build positive relationships and develop confidence and skills for life! This non-profit organization provides After-School Child Development Programs as well as several different types of child care and drop-in programs for ages ranging from infants to toddlers to teens! Their facility, located on Riedel Street, is in need of a new roof; so we, quite literally, want to RAISE THE ROOF for this wonderful organization and give them as much support as possible.
To accomplish this, we’re going to auction off an Edmonton Oilers jersey SIGNED by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins; the 1st overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft!
To bid on this amazing collectable, it’s really quite simple; all you need is Twitter or Facebook and follow the YMM Podcast and Events Wood Buffalo!
Simply tweet your bid by mentioning @ymmpodcast and use the hash-tag #winterPLAY
LIKE the YMM Podcast page and place a bid on the wall
It’s just that easy!
Bidding will start THURSDAY, February 23 2012 at HIGH NOON and run until SUNDAY, February 26 2012 at 6pm. Since we really want to support this great great cause, we are going to open the bidding at $300! Every so often, we will update this blog, as well as our Facebook and Twitter pages, with the current bid so people are in the know.
I’ve always been proud to be a part of the “most giving community in Canada” and in my opinion, the entire world. Not only are you bidding on a chance to own a jersey that is autographed by a hockey player that is being compared to the likes of legends Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky, you are also supporting a tremendous organization that does absolute wonders for the youth in our community.
Big Thanks to Molson Coors for providing Events Wood Buffalo and winterPLAY 2012 with this one-of-a-kind item!

I Get Blog With A Little Help From My Friends

It all began a few weeks ago when I started giving some serious thought to this blog. You might think I always give it serious thought, and I do, but usually in terms of the content and the writing, not how it looks. One day, though, I signed on and looked at the page - and I didn't like what I saw. Drab colours. A photo of Fort Mac in our worst season, the one known as "brown", when everything seems a shade of that colour. It looked lifeless, colourless, without character - and all the things that this community is not. Fort Mac is so full of life and colour and character, and the old blog design didn't reflect that at all - and I wasn't happy.

You see, when I began this blog I figured about a dozen people would read it, and half of them would be my family. I never, not for a moment, expected I would gain any sort of local readership, let alone a national and international one. I never dreamed it would lead to new friendships, paid work writing, and new opportunities of the sort I could have never imagined. And yet this little blog did exactly that, and I decided it needed some TLC. It needed some love. And it needed a redesign.

So, I put out a plea on Twitter, asking if anyone could design a logo for McMurray Musings. I couldn't pay a lot - in fact, I was hoping for free, since this blog makes no money (I will not advertise on the blog or allow it to be sponsored - would you put ads on YOUR baby?). At times it has in fact cost me money to write, buying tickets to events or other things in order to write about them (although I am incredibly grateful that now I am routinely invited to events as media or as a guest, allowing me to keep the blog's financial books relatively balanced). And my plea on Twitter was answered.

There were a couple of comedic answers (you know who you are!) that responded with lovely but pretty unusable crayon drawings. And then Tara Abraham replied, and I knew I had found the person I was looking for. Tara grew up here, but is now attending college on the east coast. She offered to design a logo, free of charge, and her only request was that it could appear in her portfolio. She said she could use the experience, and I needed a new logo - so we quickly moved ahead. I sent her some of the ideas I liked, and she came up with this:

I loved it the second I saw it. Clean, streamlined, green, perfect. The circles, not really having any huge meaning but in my mind tied to the concept of community. The green, reflective of our forests and our northern lights. Simple. And stunning to me.

But then I needed a new photo, too. I like to take photographs, but I am not a photographer. I'm a writer. I was talking to a photographer the other day and she quipped that she is too busy taking photos to keep a blog - and I replied that I am too busy blogging to take photos. So, I put that out there, too, but on Facebook - I needed a photograph that reflected Fort McMurray. A photo that showed who we are, in all our quirkiness. And my friend Matt, someone I met through writing this blog, sent me this:

If you don't recognize it that is the Casselman-Lush Skateboard Park downtown at Borealis Park. Now, I've written about Borealis Park a few times in this blog, about the skate park, about the Justin Slade Youth Foundation that can be found at Borealis, and about an incident in the park almost a year ago that crystallized why I want this city to be a better place - the murder of two young men. Borealis Park has become a place where I often go when I need to sit and think about something I am writing about, or when I am struggling with my feelings on something. It has become a touchstone in my life in this city, and in this blog. The northern lights, of course, are quintessentially northern Canadian. They dance above us year round, and this past summer were perhaps brighter and more vibrant than I've ever seen them in my decade here. So, when Matt sent me this photo I was dumbstruck - because it drew it all together, tied up all those loose ends. The dichotomy between our urban environment and the world of nature. How we are both city and wilderness, how we are both light and dark, and how we are beautiful at both ends of the pendulum swing, our most urban and our most natural. I knew it was the photo for the blog, and Matt so kindly, so generously, allowed me to use it.

So, with my terribly inadequate skills I began the blog redesign, and quickly realized I was in far too deep for my pathetic abilities. It wasn't going right at all, and I was growing panicky. I posted on Facebook and I guess my desperation was obvious - because Matt was there, and offered his help. And when I not only said yes but asked if he would take over - just redesign it entirely because I was lost - he said yes, and then spent hours working on it. And he made it perfect. He made it completely what I envisioned. He took my little blog and made it beautiful (and incidentally this is like handing over your newborn baby or the keys to your new BMW, so you know I must trust Matt implicitly).

I think what I love most about this new look, though, is that it was a collaborative Fort McMurray effort. A young woman who grew up here designed the logo, and a man who also grew up here (and still lives here) provided the photo and the redesign. And then there is me, the one who thought this blog would never really amount to much but completely underestimated the potential and opportunity in this community. I needed help, I asked for it - and people from Fort Mac answered, just as I've come to know they always will. There is something very special about this community and the people you find in it, and that's really, in the end, why I write this blog at all.

So, people, welcome to the NEW McMurray Musings. Different logo, different design, same writer (sorry about that, but I'm not going anywhere). I'm thinking about exploring some new territory with the blog, too, so I'm hoping you'll stick around for some new adventures. Until then, though, I hope you just enjoy the new look - and I hope you love it as much as I do!

My sincere thanks to
Tara Abraham
for designing the beautiful new logo
and to
for both the photo 
and rescuing a blogger in distress! :)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

And Then I Got Down - With John Mann at winterPLAY

Yesterday I wrote about the Intrepid Junior Bloggers, the band Down With Webster, and their encounter with them this past weekend. I'll admit I'm a DWW fan, but that whole thing - the concert, the meet and greet - was really for the Junior Bloggers. Last night, though, I did something for myself. I went to the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts for the latest event at winterPLAY and saw two other Canadian musicians, one relatively new and one a true icon (and someone who has intrigued me for many years). DWW was for the girls - but Steve Bowers and John Mann were just for me, people.

I've been a fan of John Mann for decades. It was literally decades ago when he first appeared as the front man for Spirit of the West. SOTW provided the soundtrack for much of my young adult life, and I have been a fan for all that time. And yes, for many years I did harbour a tiny crush on John, too, with his lovely soulful voice and manic dance moves. Two years ago when Spirit of the West played interPLAY I had the chance to see them live after many years (I had never seen them live before, always just missing their gigs), and meet John. When I heard he was coming back to Fort Mac as part of winterPLAY but as a solo performer I knew I had to go, as I had long suspected a few things about John and wanted to see if I was right.

When I arrived last night I was delighted to see the theatre had been set up as a "nightclub", round tables scattered around the room, a small bar off to the side, and a small stage. I love big concerts, don't get me wrong, but these small intimate performances are truly what make me happy. They are the way you actually get to know the soul of an artist, to see who they are and what makes them tick. I had high hopes for last night - and I was not disappointed.

Steven Bowers, photo credit to Events Wood Buffalo

Opening for John was Steven Bowers, a musician I had not heard of previously but that I think deserves much more notice. Steven is from Newfoundland, and is a singer/songwriter of the very best sort - the sort that follows his own path. He seems like a genuinely humble young man, quiet and reserved, and yet you get the sense that something is simmering under the surface. When he sings all that simmering comes to a slow boil, and you find songs that are soft and gentle and lovely and beautiful. The lyrics are charming, the music is stirring, and the combination is such that you feel you are in the presence of someone who brings authenticity and sincerity to his art. The music is folksy in nature, east coast inspired perhaps, but with a far wider range than simply being from one region. Steven Bowers sings not of the east coast experience but of the human experience, and every song resonated with me. At the end of the evening he kindly gave me one of his CDs, which I can guarantee will enter my playlist on heavy rotation as I mull over those lyrics (the music is wonderful too, of course, but as a writer it's the lyrics that pull me in, keep me coming back, and tattoo themselves onto my brain).

John Mann, photo credit to Events Wood Buffalo

When Steven finished it was time for John Mann to take the stage, and so he did, just him and his guitar. When I said I suspected a few things about John I meant it. I suspected he was deeply intelligent, with a wry sense of humour, a deft way with words, and a soul as big as the twilight sky when it dances with the northern lights. I do so love being proven right, and last night John proved me right and then some. He played several songs, including some of those Spirit of the West songs that have long been favourites of mine (like "Political", "And If Venice is Sinking", and "Save This House"). What was lovely about those songs was hearing the stories behind them - the doomed relationship that inspired "Political", the honeymoon photograph behind "And If Venice is Sinking", and the CBC live-songwriting challenge that led to "Save This House" (and John, about that last one - I'm not sure if you and Geoffrey were assholes or not, but if you were I'd add the word "clever" in front of assholes!). Hearing those classic SOTW songs was incredible, and to hear them sung by John while he played his guitar was magical for me, a fan for so many years. In the end, though, I think it was his other songs that really touched me. You see, John was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, and as creative people do when confronted with something troubling he worked it out through his art, writing songs as he went through the experience of a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

He calls these songs his "cancer anthems", and he wondered if the world is ready for them. I would answer that yes, the world is not only ready but in need of such songs, since this is such a common experience for so many. John told many stories about his cancer journey, and one comment in particular caught me. He spoke about how his favourite moments, his most remembered moments, were the ones where there was laughter. Now, you might not think hospital rooms and oncology wards are exactly the greatest spots for humour, and yet I think that is the place it is most needed, too. And now I will get personal for a moment again so you understand why John's words struck me.

The last few weeks of my dad's life were spent in palliative care in a hospital. I come from a large family, several sisters and their husbands and their children, and, honestly, when we get together we have a tendency to get loud. It tends to take on a party atmosphere wherever we happen to be, and I, being the youngest, often take on the role of family clown. In the final days of my dad's life we would often pack into his room - and we would tell stories, and we would laugh. Sometimes my dad would sleep through it all, and sometimes he would smile along, too weak for much laughter. After one of these sessions, when I realized our raucous laughter could be heard down the halls, I went to the nursing station and told the nurse I hoped we weren't disturbing anyone. I'll never forget her reply. She told me that palliative wards see a lot of things, like tears and regrets and sorrow and pain and suffering. She told me that the one thing they never saw enough of was laughter, and that the laughter of my family made more than just my family smile. She not only reassured me that it was okay, she encouraged me to keep laughing - and we did, almost right to the very end.

And that is what I saw in John Mann last night, too. He's a man who can see the humour in the bleakest situations. He can take a cancer diagnosis and turn it into a series of lovely songs, songs that brought me close to tears as I thought of my father's cancer journey. John sang, too, of his love for his wife and his daughter, and he told stories of their family life, providing a glimpse into the private life behind all those iconic songs he produced over the years (and I will tell you this - writers of any sort, be it songs or books or blogs, are deriving their inspiration somewhere, and often from those closest to them).

At the end of his set John helpfully explained what would happen next - he'd leave the stage, we'd go nuts, and he would come back and do a two-song encore. It's rather nice to just have a performer say "look, we all know the routine, so let's just do this, shall we?" instead of that coy "oh, I'm so reluctant to but if you REALLY want me to I'll do an encore". Again it was an example of that sly sense of humour John harbours, and it delighted the crowd.

John finished with a rousing acoustic version of "Home for a Rest", a song that was sort of my anthem during a trip to England and Ireland last year when my liver wondered why I'd suddenly taken up excessive alcohol consumption (look, when in Rome...), and then, sans guitar, he sang a Robbie Burns poem - and that was that.

Look, people, it was a small crowd last night, and I wish more had been there to experience what I did. It  was like I saw both ends of the Canadian musical spectrum in a matter of days, from Down With Webster rock on Saturday to Steven Bowers' gentle songs and John Mann's heartfelt performance last night. Each experience moved me in a different way, too, with DWW making me dance, Steven Bowers making me reflect and think, and John Mann taking me on a journey that for me began years ago when I began listening to Spirit of the West. Decades ago when John first began with SOTW my dad was still alive, and John's life hadn't been touched by cancer. I spoke to John last night after the show, and found him still to be the handsome, charming man I'd always thought he was. We have both aged over the years, and our lives have changed. He pursued his life with his family and making music, and his music was the soundtrack for many of the things I've done, a touchstone in my life for many, many years. So, even though he and I are strangers our lives intertwined through his music, and last night was quite magical as the man and the music and I were in the same room, and I got to hear the stories behind the songs. It was another amazing experience for me, right here in Fort Mac, right here in the place that has become my home like no other place ever has. I was reminded once again of what an incredible place this world is - and of what an amazing place my community is, too.

I walked out of theatre into freshly fallen snow, got into my car, and hit play on my iPod - and on came Spirit of the West "Save This House". Perfection, people. Perfection.

My sincere thanks to the folks at
Events Wood Buffalo
for another great winterPLAY event,
to Steven Bowers for the music and the CD
and to John Mann -
for all the music over all these years.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Intrepid Junior Bloggers Get Down With Webster

It all began several weeks ago when I heard Down With Webster, that uber-hot Canadian band, was coming back to play another show at MacDonald Island Park. I'd taken the Intrepid Junior Bloggers to see them when they played here during the summer of 2011, and they had had a complete blast. It had, in fact, been the first "real" concert either had ever been to, so it was quite special in their minds. The oldest Junior Blogger had left the concert with a drumstick she caught when it was tossed from the stage, and the younger Junior Blogger left with an appreciation for DWW she hadn't had before. So, when I heard DWW was coming back I knew I would take them again - but this time I was hoping for a little treat for them, too.

You see, after I wrote about DWW last time I received a very nice email from their manager thanking me for the review I did on the concert. I was quite pleased by that email, as it's always nice to know that what you do has been noticed and appreciated. So when I heard DWW was coming back I set some wheels in motion, and did something I rarely do - I asked for a favour.

I'm one of those people who hates asking for anything. If it is offered I am always delighted, but I genuinely hate to ask. I'm also one of those people who will do absolutely anything for their kids, though, and this fell into that category. I summoned up my courage, and fired off two emails - one to the DWW manager, and one to MacDonald Island Park - and I asked if there was any chance that the Junior Bloggers could meet the band.

Mac Island immediately said they would do whatever they could to make it happen, and asked if I would like to attend the show as media (like I said, when asked I am usually delighted to accept, and I did!). They also said they would contact the band's management and ask about the possibility of a meet and greet, so I sat back and waited to see what would happen. I told the Junior Bloggers that it was a possibility, but just that, and not guaranteed. I spent much of my twenties hanging around bands and I knew how things go and the kinds of demands they have on their time, so I knew it might not happen. 

Late last week, though, I got official work from Mac Island - the meet and greet was on. I told the Junior Bloggers and there was much squealing, some hugging, and pronouncements of me being the "best mom/aunt ever". And so, Saturday night, we headed down to the show - and to meet the band.

Thanks to Mix 103.7 for bringing Down With Webster back to Fort Mac!

 The jam-packed line-up we got to avoid!

 Backstage at Mac Island just before meeting DWW -
and with the drumstick from the last show!

Yeah, we just met the band - and they were totally awesome!

 What an empty venue looks like before the crowd arrives...

 Getting our DWW hand signals ready for the show!

Opening act USS Music - awesome band and a new discovery for us!

Right up at the front of the stage - taken by me from the "media pit"

I had commented to the Junior Bloggers that
Bucky looked pretty fine in that white t-shirt he wore
at the last concert - so all three of us were delighted 
when he took the stage in a white t-shirt :)

The above amazing shots were possible due to 
MacDonald Island Park kindly issuing me a media pass, 
meaning I could take photos from the area right
 in front of the stage. At several points band members
 towered right above me on the stage,
 making me realize if they lost their balance 
I'd be crushed!

The above shots were taken from in the audience.
 As you can see it was a lively crowd, dancing, waving,
 and clapping along with every song.
 At the finale, prior to the encore, DWW was joined
on stage by their opening acts OCD and USS, 
which made for some amazing photos!

I'm going to be very honest here for a bit (I know, me being honest, shocking, eh?). The first opening act, OCD, didn't do a thing for me. I actually left for a bit during their performance as their pure rap style just isn't my thing, although the older Junior Blogger loved them, as did the crowd. Now, USS, on the other hand, deeply appealed to both me and the younger Junior Blogger (who has musical tastes that tend towards things like Sex Pistols and Marilyn Manson, much like her mother's eclectic tastes). The older Junior Blogger said some in the crowd were not impressed with USS, but I'm thinking the younger demographic just might not know how to appreciate a band that makes blender smoothies on stage (ever been to a Rush concert and seen the washing machines on stage? Oh, the ridiculous attempts I've heard to explain them - it's called "artistic license" people, not washing the roadies t-shirts during a performance!). And when USS played a snippet of "Wonderwall" by Oasis and pulled out their turntable guitar? Well, they've got me and the younger Junior Blogger for life now.

But after the opening acts it was time for the big show - DWW. I've been following these guys since they played here last summer, and I've been keeping an eye on them on Twitter. What I've discovered is that these young men are constantly touring, playing, recording, and going, going, going. They are the Energizer bunny of Canadian bands. They are hungry for success, they are having a great time, and they are trying to improve every day - and it shows. As I predicted this show was even better than the last time they played here, more tightly honed and refined in sound and stage presence. They played older material, and new material, and they played to an audience that was beyond thrilled and into the realm of ecstatic. These young Canadian men make me proud, people. I have seen bands from Blue Rodeo to Tragically Hip, Rush to Nickelback, climb to the top of the music ladder, and all have something in common - they work damn hard. And so it is with Down With Webster. They work themselves, they work their talents, they work their performances, and they work their audience to perfection. It was an amazing show from start to finish, and the finale when they brought both OCD and USS on stage with them was an absolute triumph. When they left the stage I was stunned to see some kids leaving, but then realized that many of them probably have no idea that when a band finishes their set it doesn't take much convincing to get an encore - and so I told the kids next to me to start making some noise and shouting "encore", which they did. They were rewarded when DWW took the stage again and played not one, not two, but three encore songs, finishing with the quickly-becoming iconic "Your Man".

Now, as for that meet and greet before the show. Well, what I learned is that not only are DWW a hard-working group of guys they are a genuinely sweet group, too. While we waited in line the older Junior Blogger noticed Marty pointing at her in line, and  when it was their turn she was complimented on her rather colourful hair (originally bleached blonde she dyed it deep purple, but it is fading into a most intriguing blend of mauve and grey). This compliment pretty much had her speechless, and they kindly introduced themselves to both Junior Bloggers and took this photo with them:

When it was my turn I went up, shook their hands, introduced myself, and told them I write a blog in town - and was delighted when it appeared that they knew who I was (their manager had told me he planned to have them read the original blog post I wrote about them). We took this photo to memorialize the meeting:

During the concert Bucky from DWW had mentioned coming back to Fort Mac for a vacation. The Intrepid Junior Bloggers and I think this is a great idea, and we'd like to offer our house instead of a hotel. And he can even bring the rest of the guys too. Oh and Bucky? Bring the white t-shirt too, okay? :)

The Intrepid Junior Bloggers and I wish to thank:

- all the security guards, especially Aaron, who was
at the front of the stage and watched out for them

-the mom with a little girl who told my daughter to
 just shove the bigger girls who were getting pushy
(thanks fellow mom for looking out for my kid too!)

-Mix 103.7 for bringing great music to Fort Mac

-MacDonald Island Park for helping to arrange
that meet and greet


super fabulous band Down With Webster for a great show -
and just for being great guys,
 making it a night we will never forget!
You boys ROCK! :)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Chicago is Smokin' Hot - And I Don't Mean The One In Illinois

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you a story of murder,
 greed, corruption, violence,
 exploitation, adultery and treachery. 
All those things we hold near and dear to our hearts..."

I've actually never been to Chicago. I mean Chicago, Illinois. Last night I went to "Chicago, The Musical", right here in Fort McMurray, and it was quite the little escape from winter. It might have been cold outside but the temperature inside Keyano Theatre was sizzling hot, and rose rapidly over the evening as the musical unfolded before a delighted audience. I was the grateful recipient of an opening night ticket thanks to the generousity of a dear friend, and so she and I found ourselves at the theatre last night.

I admit that just like the city I've never seen the full musical Chicago before, either, just snippets of it. I knew it would be funny. I knew it would be full of talent, as we have an abundance of that here in Fort Mac. I didn't know it would be a raucous, slightly raunchy, rollicking joy ride of murder, mayhem, betrayal, infamy, adultery and sheer laughter. But that is what Chicago, presented by the cast and crew of Keyano Theatre, was.

There will probably be a lot of mention made of the skimpy costumes worn, and they were quite dazzling. The young men sans shirts were indeed quite entertaining, and I'm betting the men in the crowd got a bit goggle-eyed over the lingerie-clad women in the cast. But for me the costumes were quite frankly the least interesting thing. What shone was the talent, just as it should, and the costumes were mere backdrops to all of that (charming and enticing backdrops, but backdrops all the same).

Photo credit to Keyano Theatre

From the moment the cast took the stage I was transfixed as the story unrolled before me. It touches on so many facets of human behaviour, from our propensity to cheat to our seemingly unquenchable thirst for fame (even if it is the sort of fame that can lead to a death by hanging). The show is a comedy, of course, but the satire certainly isn't lost in this age of "celebrity" trials where those accused of some horrific crime suddenly appear on the front page of every paper and on the screen of every TV.

Some of the performances were truly astounding, like that of Jenny Price as "Mama" Morton. I believed her character for every single second. As for Amanda Campbell as Velma Kelly and Alexandra Price as her rival for fame Roxie Hart? Once again totally believable in their roles as they duked it out to see who would be the winner in the "murderous celebrity" category, only to be overshadowed when others guilty of more heinous crimes push them out of the limelight. Adam Zacharias as Amos Hart/Mr. Cellophane was very much the woebegone forgotten and invisible man, and Jeff Hoffman as Billy Flynn made that roguish, money-hungry, dapper lawyer all too real. And Mary Sunshine the reporter? Well, I'm not sayin' anything about that character. Go see the show, and be ready to laugh your butt off (and if anyone ever refers to me as "Mary Sunshine" they and I will have words, guaranteed).

Photo credit to Keyano Theatre

Certain song and dance scenes were especially delightful, like "Razzle Dazzle", and the courtroom scene was a complete hoot, particularly the two cast members who were playing the jury and kept quietly changing hats and wigs (leading me to wonder at times what the hell they had on their heads now). The entire ensemble did a wonderful job of singing, acting and dancing, bringing the audience to applause and cheers time and time again. And, at the very end, the entire audience granted the cast and crew a well-deserved and resounding standing ovation.

What I can tell you about Chicago is this - it is sheer fun, pure entertainment, and a gleefully good time. If you look a bit deeper into it you see the satire and you can reflect on how it parallels so much of what we see happening with the concept of celebrity. The joy of it is this, though - you don't need to look deeper. You can enjoy this musical on whatever level you choose, from the fabulous sets to the great laughs to the alluring costumes to the satire. You can just sit there and be entertained as hell, which is what I was. And which I believe the entire audience was, too, judging from their expressions after the show and the comments they made while exiting into the lobby of Keyano Theatre.

 It was opening night, so there was a champagne reception, but the sold-out crowd in the lobby was making me claustrophobic so I grabbed a pot of creme brulee´ (thanks Sawridge, it was awesome!), collected my coat, and hit the road still giggling at the show. I cannot think of a better way to spend a cold winter evening than in sizzling hot Chicago, and until February 25th you can save the plane fare. You can just head to the Keyano Theatre box office, buy some tickets, and settle in for the wildest ride of the 2011/2012 theatre season. Chicago came to Fort McMurray last night, people, and I think it just might be responsible for these unseasonably warm temperatures we are experiencing - because frankly the cast, crew, and entire production were on fire. No wonder all this snow is melting today. Chicago is burning the place down ;)

My sincere thanks AND congratulations
to the cast and crew of 
"Chicago, The Musical".
You are ALL amazing!

Grand Opening of "The Post" - A New Art Gallery in Town!

Last night as part of the winterPLAY schedule of events I was delighted to attend the grand opening of a new venture - a volunteer-run art gallery in the basement space by the Keyano Theatre lobby.  The new gallery is called "The Post", and it is designed to bring art work to Fort McMurray that otherwise we may need to travel to see, as well as showcasing local artists.

Now, if you have lived in Fort Mac as long as I have you might remember that there used to be a gallery in that same space. It has been closed now for some time, and it was sad to see that empty, shuttered space whenever I attended the theatre at Keyano. Last night that quiet spot sprang to life again with an exhibit from two Alberta artists named David Janzen and Julian Forrest, and local residents toasted the new gallery with champagne.

Running an art gallery in this city is a tricky thing, especially when it is volunteer-driven and organized. Volunteer curator/director Connor Buchanon has taken this project on, and I suspect it will flourish in her capable hands, and in a renewed climate of interest in arts and culture in this community. Connor is also responsible for the Wood Buffalo Culture blog, a tremendous place for information regarding arts and culture events in the region (and a resource I refer to often).

The exhibit currently on display is fascinating, with David Janzen's work focusing on space shuttle launches depicted on various surface media, and Julian Forrest's intriguing depictions on the theme of "tension" (I found the coyote paintings most interesting).

The Post is an Events Wood Buffalo initiative, but it is intended to be volunteer-operated. There is a need for volunteers to be present at the gallery during opening times, and there will be opportunities for these volunteers to pursue professional development training in relation to the gallery (as well as receiving gallery training). If this is of interest to you I would encourage you to contact The Post, as it is a chance to get in early on what I suspect will be a grand success in the thriving arts scene in our community.

The Post will also be the spot for the upcoming launch of the latest edition of NorthWord, that regional literary publication near and dear to my heart. The official launch of issue number six, "Sinful", is on February 24th from 5:30-8:30, and is billed as "An Evening of the Arts", a chance to enjoy visual art, music, and literary works. There will be literary readings, wine and cheese, and a chance to meet the NorthWord editors and board. Added to the opportunity to see the new exhibit at The Post it sounds like a wonderful evening indeed.

So, people, we have a new art gallery in town, and it is already hosting things like launches of literary magazines. I've been saying for some time that we are on the cusp of something in this community, not just the leap from small town to urban centre, but I think a renaissance of our arts and culture scene. The grand opening of The Post is simply another bit of evidence I'm adding to the growing pile convincing me of this fact. I encourage you to go and check it out - and I think you'll  be convinced, too.

The hours at "The Post"
are Tues-Fri 5-9 pm, and Sat 10-6.
 It is located at Keyano College, in the space
downstairs from the Keyano Theatre lobby.
The launch of NorthWord Issue 6
"Sinful" is Friday, February 24th,
from 5:30 to 8:30 pm.