In recent months I have had the pleasure of attending a couple of house concerts at the home of my friends Matt and Aileen. I've written about both those concerts, the initial one I attended with Joel Fafard, and the next one with Dave Gunning (a concert that found me in tears on more than one occasion). This time when they announced the concert they had another offer, too. Matt and Aileen asked if I would join them for dinner with the artists prior to the show, and I said yes, of course. Any opportunity to meet someone new, to talk with them, to hear their stories, and to share some of Fort Mac is an opportunity I take, and that's how I found myself at Matt and Aileen's house with Betty Soo and Doug Cox eating coq au vin and drinking red wine.
I arrived at their house and was welcomed as usual by their charming dog Harley, who greets you with happy little barks (barks that come out of a very large dog and that would probably intimidate anyone who didn't realize Harley is a kitten dressed up as a very large canine). I chatted with Matt in the kitchen as he cooked (and my buddy Matt is a mean chef, as evidenced by a fabulous meal). I chatted with Aileen as well, talking about our work and our friends and the recent election. And I met Betty Soo and Doug Cox, performers travelling the circuit with Home Routes, the organization that arranges the schedule for house concert experiences.
House concerts are unusual in many ways, including the location of the concert simply being in someone's home. One of the other unique aspects, though, is that the performers stay in the home where the concert is being performed, meaning that those hosting the concert and the performers themselves have the opportunity to spend time together in informal ways. I was delighted to spend my dinner Thursday night with Matt, Aileen, Betty, and Doug, and as the wine flowed so did the conversation.
Betty is a musician from Texas, and Doug is a musician from BC. They have been performing together now for almost two years, and one of the natural questions was how they met - and it turns out they met at a guitar camp in Alaska where they were both teaching. They discovered common musical interests, and I suspect they also found kindred souls in each other as they "play" off each other so well, both musically and personally. One would need to have that sort of relationship in order to do what Betty and Doug have done, which is to tour together almost constantly, playing all over the world.
The conversation over dinner was quite lively, and stories were shared and jokes were told. I knew pretty quickly that if Betty and Doug were as talented with music as they were with a fast quip that we were in for an entertaining evening - and when the concert began I discovered I was quite right.
Betty plays guitar and sings, and her voice is absolutely lovely, clear and resonant. They play cover songs but also songs that Betty has written, and I think my favourites were in fact the ones she has penned. The lyrics are touching and often funny, and reflect the wry sense of humour I noted in Betty at dinner. Doug plays a mean guitar, providing Betty with a fabulous musical partner, and quite frankly a hilarious comedic sparring partner, too.
Betty and Doug like each other, and you can tell - but they also like to harass each other pretty much constantly, and they have the sardonic, sarcastic, and cynical sense of humour I so appreciate. They can take almost any comment and turn it on a dime, making it into a slightly twisted insult. Between songs they banter and play with words and with each other, Doug making small mischievous faces while Betty has perfected a glare that would wither most people. It's hilarious to witness, and as they joked they are the opposite of hecklers as they will occasionally poke a bit of fun at the audience, too. It's all in good fun, of course, and never unkind, but it's also funny as hell and just adds another dimension to their music. It's music with a comedy schtick, and a well done one, too. The music is fantastic and their songs filled Matt and Aileen's living room, while their jokes hung in the air and provided the laughter that drew the audience together.
I rather wish that I could ride along with Betty and Doug as they travel for Home Routes because I bet some days in their car it is quite the ride indeed. I suspect the banter they show on stage continues in that car, but you can tell this duo has deep personal respect for each other as individuals, as musicians, and as performers. And that is perhaps why their performance is so very heart felt and real, and why the audience responds as they do with laughter and applause and genuine appreciation. Betty and Doug are authentic and sincere, genuine in all they do, and it shows.
The concert was terrific, an experience shared with the performers and the audience, and once again I was so grateful to Matt and Aileen for the chance to be a part of it. This time getting to have dinner with the performers just added another dimension to the experience, a backdrop for the performance they gave on the small stage, and it simply gave me a deeper understanding of Doug and Betty, who they are, and what gives their duo such power. I must admit that towards the end of concert I found myself yawning, not from boredom but rather from sheer exhaustion fuelled by a few weeks of non-stop motion in my life. When the concert ended I said my good byes to Doug and Betty, thanking them for their performance, and to my hosts Matt and Aileen, and then I headed out to my car.
When I got into my car and drove away I thought once again about so many things. I thought about the nature of Doug and Betty's collaboration, and why it worked so well on so many levels (as they say they are not married to each other but like a married couple they spend all their time together, argue, and never have sex). I thought about the joy of friends like Matt and Aileen, people who have become quite important in my life due to their kindnesses towards me and their interest in including me in their lives. And I thought about all the things that happen in this community like house concerts with friends. I thought about the nature of friendship and how in the end that's really what community is all about, the coming together of friends for sarcastic jokes and dinner and some music. And then I drove away and off into the night, into my community of friends.
My sincere and genuine thanks to
Betty Soo and Doug Cox
for a terrific show -
both the music and the comedy!
And my special thanks to
Matt and Aileen
for dinner and the concert -
and their friendship.