The first performance took place in the Bayfield Town Hall where the acoustics were amazing, the crowd keen and the musician a clever storyteller.
Corb Lund of Alberta is billed as a country singer though he describes his eclectic musicality as ‘AgTraj’– Agricultural Tragedy.
The only song I had heard prior to the concert was Truck Got Stuck, a song he claims he must perform every night of his life due to a deal with the devil. It’s catchy little tune but does little to reveal the intelligent, sardonic and playful lyrics that characterized the rest of his set and made me a fan before the night was through.
He drew us in with his rural balladry and comfortable voice, sharing stories of growing up with a veterinarian dad and ranching cattle.
He explained to us Ontario farmers how in Alberta, a popular cash crop is sugar beets. The beets grow to the size of soccer balls and at harvest, the leaves are cut off and discarded in the field. These leaves are an excellent opportunity feed for beef cows so farmers let their herds loose post-harvest. The problem is that some late-sprouting beets, too small for the sugar beet harvest, are left in the field and some cattle get them stuck in their throats. This requiries a veterinarian to come in and basically cut the throat of the strangling animal to save the meat
So he, uh, wrote a song about it.
Ag Traj indeed!
More lighthearted was his other take on cows: ”Everything is better with cows around.” The lyrics to Cows Around was a fun, little ditty. Especially when the crowd yelled “What kind of cows?” To which Corb let loose... “Hereford, Highland, Simmental, West, Black and Maine Anjou, Chianina, Limousine, Shorthorn, Charolais, Watusi Too, Texas Longhorn, Kuri, any roan, Ankoli, Galloway, Red Angus, Brahman, Brangus, Jersey, Guernsey, Holstein, hey!”
So fun! So relatable. Anyone who farms cattle will connect to his wry enthusiasm and just being able to take a light-hearted look at agriculture.
Lund is playful performer, using regional references and common human circumstance to create universal appeal. I imagine with each performance, he is perfecting his craft and cultivating a loyal following.
The second ‘performance’ (though it’s not the right terminology) took place that same evening in the Mac’s Milk parking lot.
Since researching and writing the Homeless in Huron story for this issue of The Rural Voice, I had hoped to connect with a homeless man to ask...well, not sure...but to at least meet a subject of the story material.
I interviewed police, volunteers, shelter organizers, clergy and business owners to talk about homelessness in rural towns. What, though, do the homeless themselves think? What do they need? Would they prefer a permanent shelter? More mental health services? Or, aside from cold winter weather, are do they prefer their wandering lifestyles?
The chance came, unexpectedly returning from the concert when we saw ‘Sam’. hanging out in a parking lot. He was smoking a cigarette, picking up garbage and walking to and fro outside the convenience store.
I needed some chocolate milk so we pulled in and I had a chat with Sam. He was jittery, cold, constantly moving, stories flowing, clever phrases, disjointed thoughts.
He talked about former jobs, the Kennedys, community dynamics, asking little and telling much.
I asked why he wasn’t staying at Huron Out of the Cold at Lakeside United (see story) and he said it was one of those nights he could not sleep.
I wanted to ask more but there are boundaries of conversational respect that apply no matter what the circumstance. There is often conflict between being a reporter and being human.
So we chatted! Since he could not sleep, he said he was using the time to pick up cigarette butts and garbage because he firmly believes that we “should always leave a place better than when we found it.”
Ah! It was an immediate connection to memories of camping trips when my parents would say the same before we left a site. It’s a phrase I’ve used myself to encourage my kids to take a second look before leaving the beach, or a pitstop on the trail, or being guests at someone’s house.
The phrase, coming from a homeless man, was unexpected and somehow elevated for the contrast of his circumstance.
In both situations, I think I had come in with some preconceived notions. I try to be open to every experience though it’s hard to release ingrained assumptions. I thought Corb Lund might be a country music hick focussed on drinking and trucks (of which both were addressed) but who turned out to be a talented troubadour celebrating Canadian culture.
I think I approached Sam with some unease. Uncleanliness is simply unsettling to most people. Yet I found a fellow human espousing a life lesson my parents had ingrained in me from a young age.
You just never know, do you, what gems will come out of someone’s mouth when you listen, learn and celebrate humanity? ◊