In the Footsteps of #gorddownie @masseyhall with @thistletownTDSB

Donne Roberts with Voyageur at Massey Hall If you didn't read the last blog - the one about the most recent addition of materials to Voyageur's guitar strap - you'll want to go back and read that, just so you get the full impact of how significant this day was. Not that it wasn't significant enough on its own. It's not every day one gets to perform on the stage of one of the world's great concert halls, Massey Hall - the Grand Old Lady of Shuter Street. First opened in 1894, Massey Hall was declared a National Historic Site on June 15th, 1981, my 19th birthday! It has played host to truly legendary events - from speeches by Sir Winston Churchill and the Dalai Lama, to community events and national ceremonies, to the wedding of Six Nations Olympian Tom Longboat, to concert recordings by Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie (Jazz at Massey Hall, 1953), Neil Young (Live at Massey Hall, 1971), Rush (All the World's A Stage, 1976) and Russell Peters (his Netflix comedy special Almost Famous, 2016). You may also have recognized it as the exterior of the "Rialto" theatre in this year's Academy Award Best Picture, Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water" (the Elgin, just down the street, played the role of the interiors).

Many of those facts you might know from delving into the story of Six String Nation, since a seat from the upper gallery section is part of the project as Voyageur's headstock. I wanted to include Massey Hall in the project because I have always felt close to this building and inspired by it and I know it's a feeling shared with audiences and artists both here at home and from around the world. My last time on stage at Massey Hall was to emcee a concert by the Afro-Cuban All Stars - an offshoot of the Buena Vista Social Club then touring the world with stops everywhere from Carnegie Hall to the Concertgebouw. As I was interviewing bandleader Juan de Marcos Gonzalez before the show, he said: "I can't believe I get to play Massey Hall" with true wonder and reverence in his voice. It's a sentiment echoed by so many artists as they stand on that stage and when they say those words you can feel a wave of warmth coming back to them from an audience that knows exactly what they mean.

And, of course, it's a stage where Gord Downie stood for 9 performances with the Tragically Hip and at least 2 famous guest appearances with other artists during his lifetime - which made it the perfect place to reveal for the first time the additions in his honour made to the strap. The occasion that allowed us to do that this past Wednesday was part of Massey Hall's educational outreach program. Students from Thistletown Collegiate's Specialist High Skills Major track would be spending the day doing a series of variety of activities around the building and program head Vanessa Smith thought the Six String Nation presentation would be a great way to welcome them to the venue. Having not confirmed whether there were any players from among the attending students to handle the "performance pocket" part of the presentation, I made a last minute call to one of Six String Nation's oldest friends, African Guitar Summit alumni Donné Roberts, who re-arranged his day to come in and grace us with a solo version of his hit, "Malembo".

Apart from being glad to make our Gord Downie announcement in such an incredibly special place, I'm extra grateful that we were able to do this at this time. On June 29th and June 30th, the legendary Gordon Lightfoot will play yet another pair of concerts (he usually does a run of shows there every year) before the Hall closes for two years as part of the massive revitalization project currently underway - which includes the building of a condo tower behind the Hall, restoration of the ceiling and stained glass, revamping of the seating, exits and exterior, expansion of the dressing rooms and the addition of two new stages as part of the complex. It's going to be spectacular when it's all done. And I'm putting the Hall on notice: next time I come I want to use the full screen with a veritable gala of musicians involved!

Thanks to Jesse Kumagai, Mima Agozzino, Vanessa Smith and her outreach colleagues, the Massey Hall security and front of house team and Alex Naylor and the whole IATSE Local 58 tech crew who made it all look and sound so good. Thanks also to the Thistletown students - especially @Spyridoula9311 for her enthusiasm, special guests Kim Gill and Mike and Brenda Neuts and, of course, Donné for pinch hitting.

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