“Spring Fever” concert was a night to remember

On Tuesday, April 24,  a powerhouse array of blues, gospel, and soul performers delivered an evening filled not only with wonderful music, but also heart, soul and compassion. It  was one of the most amazing concerts I’ve attended in a long time and I feel fortunate to have been there.

The Hot Mammas
The event, “Spring Fever”, was the annual fundraiser for the BC Society for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse, offering counselling services and support – something much needed in a culture that still largely stigmatizes male abuse victims, and discourages open expression of feelings and emotions by men generally.

Sobering thoughts, but the concert was anything  but sombre – it was a joyous, raucous celebration, and anyone who missed it really missed out! The sheer melodic and soulful exuberance of the music – under the adroit direction of Bill Sample – lifted everyone’s spirits high.

It kicked off with the cascading three-part harmonies of The Hot Mammas. Then Will Sanders delivered two soulful interpretations of Stevie Wonder classics. Darlene Ketchum’s gently stirring, gospel-tinged original ballad “Catch You If You Fall” was a sheer delight, as was an unstoppable gospel-jazz “You Are My Sunshine ” that started gently then simply soared.  Cayla Brooke served up another catchy original that sounded like a lost Motown classic, as well as a blistering wronged-woman rocker titled “Fool For You.”

Will Sanders
Then, a change of pace. Actress Nicola Cavendish took the stage, and told a disarming tale of wrestling with the daunting script of a very challenging play. It was reassuring to hear this royalty of the Vancouver stage reveal how difficult the process can be even for a seasoned veteran. Then, she read the children’s book in her hand, “Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge” by Mem Fox. As Bill Sample gently tinkled on the keyboard, she just destroyed me with the deceptively simple but deeply emotional story of senior citizens and lost memories regained.

Candus Churchill darn near brought the house down before the break with a powerhouse rendition of “I Will Survive” – the whole room was moving and grooving, and the disco light high above the stage came to life to cap things off with the perfect retro sparkle.

There was so much more – LJ Mounteney’s lilting version (accompanied only by guitarist Ron Thompson) of a favourite tune of mine, “The Waters of March”; wonderful comedy from Bernard Cuffling (a deliciously, hilariously dry reading of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” in the manner of an English professor reading a Romantic poem) and funnyman David C Jones who not only hosted the auction portion of the evening but also delivered a wickedly funny song. 

Marcus Moseley
And then there was Marcus Moseley, a true powerhouse of a gospel / soul singer who delivered an amazing performance – first, the Tracy Chapman song “Behind the Wall”, blended with his own empowering companion piece, “No More”; then a devastating version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that surely brought a tear to the eye of many in the audience.

Just prior to the final featured act, Jim Byrnes, author Jim Mandelin made a big impact with his speech of just a few minutes. He’s someone who suffered abuse as a child, went down a path of violence, gang membership and prison, and ultimately was actually declared dead after a heart attack brought on by his drug-fuelled lifestyle. But he managed to come out the other side intact, and to become a force for good – speaking to a total of thousands of young people with a message of peace, gentleness, and of having the courage to be who you really are, not to hide your feelings or your shame behind a tough-guy mask. It was truly inspiring, and touched on a concept I’ve always been very drawn to, that those who bully, who act with violence or lash out with abuse to others, are usually just in pain themselves which they’re covering up. It’s the ultimate price – paid primarily by those around them of course, but also by themselves – of a toxic and unhealthy form of masculinity. 

David C Jones returned to the stage for the auction / fundraising portion of the evening, and helped make it not only painless but also highly entertaining with his hilarious banter and ad-libbing. In the photo above, he’s in the middle of auctioning off a dinner with actors  Carmen Aguirre and Hiro Kanagawa (seated at right).

Finally, the legendary Jim Byrnes took the stage, and demonstrated why he is such a beloved figure – he told great stories and played and sang with strength, feeling and emotion in that full-throated bluesman’s voice of his. 

When, for the last number, he was joined by a stage-full of members of the Marcus Moseley Chorale and the rest of the evening’s performers, it was a full-on love fest that had everyone swaying along. The perfectly-chosen song was “A Little Help from my Friends”, done in the soulful arrangement made famous by Joe Cocker and with wonderful call-and-response harmonies from the chorus.

At the end of the night, the room felt full of good feelings and warm-heartedness, a combination of the stirring and emotional music, and the sense of vulnerability, sharing and connection that flowed from everyone involved.

If the next year’s event is half as memorable as tonight’s, it will be an unmissable evening. If I were you, I’d mark my calendar now – I know that’s what I’m doing.

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