By Chad Ingram
Some readers may be aware that I’m a musician, and some may be aware that my friend Tim Tofflemire and I played the Haliburton Highlands Christmas Shindig the weekend before last, our set taking place at Minden’s Dominion Hotel.
I’ve played the Shindig before and I’ve played at the Dominion dozens of times, but none of those times during a global pandemic.
Normally, the Shindig, an annual concert and variety show that is a fundraiser for county-based charity Fuel for Warmth, takes place at a sold-out Northern Lights Pavilion. When emails from organizer and host Mike Jaycock started going out to performers several months ago, it was hoped that maybe the show would be able to take place at the pavilion with social distancing in place, or maybe live-streamed from an empty theatre. When it became clear that would not be able to happen, organizers came up with the concept of live-streaming the show from three locations, which ended up being the Dominion, the Haliburton Highlands Museum and Canoe FM headquarters in Haliburton Village. At one point, it was hoped that maybe at least a small audience could be present at each location, but as the curve of the virus began to worsen again, it became clear that would not be the case either.
I’ve performed a couple of COVID concerts, essentially playing to an empty room, the performance lived-streamed to an invisible audience on the internet, and it’s truly a bizarre experience. Live music is inherently about the connection between audience and performer. You feed off one another, and when it’s right, it’s a collective spiritual experience.
A COVID concert means you are singing and talking to a camera and a spotlight, and while you know that somewhere out there, on the other side, hundreds of people are watching from their homes, you don’t see them, you don’t hear them, and you don’t feel their energy. You finish a song to silence instead of applause, or to hooting and hollering in a crowded, beer-soaked barroom. It’s all very 2020.
That the show went on despite the myriad challenges presented by the pandemic is a testament to the determination and community spirit of the many volunteers involved in its production. This year’s Shindig included some two dozen people working behind the scenes to make it happen despite the logistical hurdles. They are too many to name here, but I would like to say thank you to Nick Russell and Jack Brezina for their behind-the-scenes magic in Minden, to Shawn and Elli Chamberlin at the Dominion Hotel, and to Mike Jaycock and his alter-ego Dame Beatrice for insisting the Shindig go ahead despite everything. It raised a record-setting amount for Fuel for Warmth, more than $41,500, which should help many county residents heat their homes this winter.
One day we’ll again be able to gather together for performances at the pavilion. Until then, take care of each other.