Okay, this is definitely not a ticket story but I swear it’s so close it almost definitely nearly should kinda count. And off I go…
October 4th, 2003 was the wedding of my good friends Mike Essoudry and Megan Jerome and while I’ve been to some awesome – and I mean awesome – weddings, Mike and Megan’s was the only one that felt like a concert (or at least a variety show), and a really good one at that.
Let’s start with the fact that both the bride and groom are fantastic musicians. Mike and I used to be in the band Bob Loblaw together and he has since become one of the city’s best and busiest drummer/composers, and Megan is a great singer/songwriter/pianist who has long been a mainstay on the Ottawa music scene. They currently play together in a wonderful quartet under the bilingually redundant moniker The Together Ensemble.
Which leads us to the fact that a good many of their friends are also great musicians (ahem…) and they were all on hand to share the moment and their talents.
I have a strange habit of arriving late to weddings and I was a bit late for this one. When I took my seat near the back of the ballroom in the Hunt Club Golf Club the ceremony had already started. Who knows the glories I missed but what I did see of the ceremony included a parade of amazing musicians playing their hearts out for their good friends on their wedding day.
The great, great Rob Frayne played his saxophone…Rob was Ottawa’s top jazz bandleader at the time, having transplanted himself from Toronto a few years earlier. He later went on to have a tragic accident that left his face partially paralyzed but the event only served to prove his astounding musicianship, as Rob almost immediately went back to leading a band – though his only onstage role was playing single notes on a keyboard – and he eventually worked his way back to playing the saxophone. Rob is a really, really inspiring dude…there ought to be a movie.
Anyway, Rob stood in the aisle with his horn and bounced the most astounding music off of the ceiling, pausing occasionally with a tilt of his head that made him look every bit like he was contemplating the enormity of existence before sticking the horn back in his mouth and breaking the echoing silence with more cosmic brilliance.
Another Ottawa sax maestro was there too. Petr Cancurra was always playing with everybody, including a great jazz band with Mike called The Resurrection Quartet. He went on to become music director of the Ottawa Jazz Festival which got him playing with even more people. Heck, he recently recorded an album with one of my favourite guitarists: Charlie Hunter.
But it wasn’t all jazz. There were several amazing gospel singers on hand as well – I think there might have been an entire choir on the guest list. The groom played too, and so did many others. The bride’s brother was a morning-show disc jockey on a local radio station and as much as I loath that sort of thing you’ve never heard a better wedding MC. He was fantastic and I laughed my butt off but the very very best part of the dinner/reception was that whole get-the-bride-and-groom-to-kiss thing.
At the time it was popular to make guests stand up and sing a song in order to make the honoured couple smooch. I assume this tradition was started in an effort to curb the crowd, as it is assumed that for the average wedding guest standing up in a room full of people and singing a song in front of everybody is much more intimidating than simply dinging your wine glass with a spoon. But then, this was not an average wedding crowd.
Oh the music! This was an opportunity for the crowd to shine, a chance to get up and give ‘em your best two minutes and let me tell you, when people got up to sing they sang! A gospel group would get up and Amazing Grace your heart out or a jazz singer would get up and make you think you snuck into a concert for free…it was all so very great.
For my first drink of the night I ordered a beer and asked, “how much?” and the guy answered, “$5.50.” Remember, I’m a barely-working musician so $6 is a lot of money. I started fishing loonies out of my cheap pocket and thinking about how sober I’ll be staying all night when the guy looks up at me.
“What am I thinking?” he says with a laugh that completely changes my evening. “It’s an open bar tonight!” Such magical words.
After dinner Rwandan Afro-rock guitarist The Mighty Popo hosted the remainder of the evening’s entertainment, leading his eight-piece band through an epic drunken dance party, a sonic celebration that featured one sit-in after another, and every one more brilliant than the last. I mean it was good man. Everything was all so, so good.
It isn’t often a wedding is so stacked with entertainment that I felt like I should’ve paid a cover charge, but this was one.