071406 Kathleen Edwards/Luke Doucet/HOLY F*CK/Alejandro Escovedo/Fiery Furnaces, Ottawa, ON

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I’ll tell you what I remember about Kathleen Edwards:

Back in the mid-’90’s I was working at a very awesome and upscale music store called Lauzon Music.  We sold Steinway, Martin, Taylor, Gibson…all the big names.  It was a fairly large shop with a teeny tiny staff; at the time I believe the MI department (ie: everything except pianos*) was just me and the owner’s son Dave.  Anyway, we worked on commission which meant nary a soul walked through the door without getting greeted by one or the other of us.

One day I was sitting at the counter when a lady walked in and gravitated towards our wall of Martin guitars.  That was a good sign; I got up off my stool.  By the time I got to where she was I noticed two things: 1) this lady could really play the guitar and 2) she was rather attractive (a likely carryover from point #1).  I lingered nearby as she pulled and plunked on the strings like a wild thing, all the while maintaining a cool composure like she wasn’t doing anything special at all.  “Nice playing,” I remarked quite honestly, adding: “Sounds a bit like Don Ross.”  Hey, I knew my local heroes.

While she didn’t give me an audible “harrumph” in response to the comparison there was a distinct brow-furrowing.  I quickly changed tack.  “You from around here?” I asked.  “I haven’t seen you in the store before.”

“I just moved back to town,” she told me, still plunking away.  Soon we were deep in conversation and with every passing phrase I was becoming more smitten.  Her name was Kathleen Edwards, and at this point she was utterly unknown as a musician.  

Now, at the time I was out of a long-distance relationship that I was quite hoping to be back in, and my lost love would often call me at work to chat when she had a few spare moments.  My friend and co-worker Dave knew that I was pining for her and just as I was working up the courage to ask out this Kathleen girl I saw Dave approach me with trepidation.  Clearly he could see what was happening over in the Martin guitar section just as clearly as I could read on his face why he was coming over to interrupt.  And I swear I was just about to ask Kathleen out when Dave said, “Um…Todd…there’s a phone call for you…it’s Christine.”

Pavlovian response or genuine, I could do nothing but leap out of my chair and take the call.  When I was done Kathleen was gone.  She came into the shop a few more times over the next few months but the moment had long passed and the timing was never right.  And then she started releasing albums (that to my ears fell well below Kathleen’s musical prowess) that landed her in Rolling Stone magazine and consistently travelled up the Billboard charts, leading to high-profile appearances on television and festival stages throughout North America, all of which culminated in her booking on the MBNA Stage at the Ottawa Bluesfest on July 14th, 2006.  Crazy.

And I’ll tell you what I remember from Kathleen Edwards’ performance that day: nothing.  Though that’s probably because I was so blown away by my first time seeing HOLY F*CK; their 6pm opening set was a shockingly memorable experience that literally left me breathless.  Like, thinking about it now is giving me heart palpitations…for real.  If I were to try and describe it in detail I would probably need to be hospitalized and/or eulogized.  

Oh wait…it might also be the fact that I was quite impressed with my first ever Luke Doucet experience over on the Black Sheep Stage.  I remember that set so well I could tell you what the guy had been wearing.  But here I am out of space.  Which means I can’t tell you much about Alejandro Escovedo’s excellent performance at the fest that day or about Fiery Furnaces either.  Really, I only have room for this final tidbit:

I had noticed a tour bus just outside of the Black Sheep Stage that seemed suspicious.  It said VIP Party Bus or some such thing on the side but you could see in the windows (you can never see in the windows of real VIP tour buses).  Anyway, I ducked away from Luke Doucet’s set to check it out and the door was open so I stepped aboard.  I was immediately overly smiled at and greeted by a bevy of young pretty girls dressed in matching t-shirts and track pants.  Again: very suspicious.  The bus was all booths save a small kitchen and bathroom in the back and there were disco balls and flashing lights everywhere.  I was offered a drink and was handed a Red Bull.  “This all you got?”  “We also have water!”  Sheesh.  Turns out it was some cell phone promotion that drove around trying to start impromptu non-alcoholic tour bus parties.  

Not on my watch.

I asked one of the girls if she was local.  “No, we travel on the bus all over the place, isn’t that cool?” she squealed.  “That depends,” I responded flatly.  I’m sure that I detected a trace of sadness in her twenty-year-old doe-like eyes.

My work on the bus was done but by this time we were halfway down Elgin Street.  The girls looked at me darkly and said they couldn’t turn the bus around so I jumped out and started walking back.  I stopped into Wendy’s for a couple of quick cheeseburgers and got back to Luke Doucet in time to hear him close his set accompanied onstage by a kid that I believe was his niece and together they belted out a Tom Waits number that knocked me dead.

*One time I was in the store all alone when an elderly man walked in the store wearing workboots and a lumber jacket.  He called back to the counter where I sat sleepily strumming and asked if he could try one of the Steinway pianos.  “Sure”, I called back.  “Take your time.”

Being a Steinway dealer a lot of very, very serious piano players stopped into the shop and I regularly heard some astounding players.  This was not one of them.  The guy could play, but he was more of a strummer, if you get what I mean.  Still, bored as I was I sauntered over to strike up a conversation with him.  “These are nice pianos,” he said.  “How big does Steinway make them?” 

I had certainly overheard enough piano sales talk to know the basics.  “The Steinway Concert Grand is nine feet long, tip to tail,” I replied.  “And how much does one of those cost?” he asked.

“A Steinway nine foot is $108,000,” I told him.  I’ll never forget what he said next:

“I’ll take two of them.”  I didn’t even glance to see if he was kidding or not.  I immediately turned tail towards the counter, calling to him over my shoulder, “Come right this way sir, I’ll write you up!”

I had never written a piano invoice so I called the boss who was next door having lunch.  He was back in the store before I finished my first sentence, rushing through the door wiping ketchup from his chin.  This was back in the tech bubble days of Ottawa (then known as Silicon Valley North) and it turns out the customer’s son had just sold his startup company for $140 million and he told his dad to go out and buy himself a nice piano and pick up one for him too.  Also turns out that despite this guy being “my” customer, there was a hitherto unmentioned rule at Lauzon Music that MI dudes didn’t get piano commissions no matter what, which saved me from having to pay taxes on a quick $7,500.  In the end I believe the son bought the two nine-foot pianos and an extra seven-footer specifically for his yacht.  He was thirty-three years old.

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