Red-eye to Whitby

The Atkins Family at E.A. Fairman

Andrew Watson - a teacher with the Durham District School Board who had played host to the Six String Nation presentation twice in years past - reached out a little while ago to see if I'd be available to come back to his school, Dr. Robert Thornton Public School in Whitby ON (note to teachers, have me back!). As always, I suggested trying to bundle a visit with a neighbouring school so as to get a discounted rate and make the day have greater impact. It didn't take much for him to convince Amy Humphries at nearby E.A. Fairman to get on board since she'd seen my presentation at a recent conference. The only snag was the date and the one that looked like it was going to work for both of them was Monday November 19th. I like Mondays just fine but I had a show at the Port Hardy Civic Centre at the north end of Vancouver Island on the night of the 17th and would need to make the connection through Vancouver on the way home. That could mean only one thing: the dreaded red-eye flight!

I'm glad I took the earlier afternoon flight out of Port Hardy because it gave me a chance to tour the hangar and see Pacific Coastal's fleet of Grumman Goose amphibious aircraft (and even sit in the cockpit of one!) and to make sure an unforeseen delay wouldn't make me miss a flight to Toronto, I opted for the red-eye. Thank goodness for the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge when you've got 8 hours to spend at the airport!

Here's the thing, though - I can't sleep on an airplane. Doesn't matter how long the flight, what time of day or how tired I might be. And that's even having taken a couple of Tylenol and bought myself one of those goofy neck cushions! So it was pure adrenaline (and some coffee) that got me off the plane, through baggage, into a rental car and right into the thick of morning rush-hour across the top of Toronto on the 401 to Whitby.

I apologize to Andrew and the staff and students at Thornton if I wasn't quite at my best but I actually think I managed things not too badly. My presentation software manifested all my exhaustion on my behalf, however, and crashed a couple of times during the presentation - which it's never done before... figures! My last time at Thornton was back on January 16, 2014. On that occasion, for the "performance pocket" song, Andrew was joined by fellow teacher Lee Hruska for a rendition of the Tragically Hip's "Ahead By a Century". For this year's appearance, they "got the band back together" and did the Hip's "Wheat Kings".

From there it was off to meet Amy Humphries and her charges at E.A. Fairman. Amy is new to Fairman so she wasn't sure what kind of talent they might have access to for the "performance pocket". But the moment she asked anybody at the school, they all said: "You need to call the Atkins's". Daughter Shelby Atkins (pictured, right) had been a student at the school and father Mark (left, holding Voyageur - that's mom in the middle for good measure) had long been a willing volunteer any time musical assistance was needed so they stepped up instantly. Mark was already familiar with the Six String Nation project - having seen Voyageur in the hands of several of his musical friends over the years - including the wonderful Greg Godovitz. For the presentation, I had hit my second wind, the students were fantastic, the software only glitched once instead of twice and Mark and Shelby's performance was nothing short of amazing - I really wish there was a way for me to both continue to do my job at these events AND capture recordings of the performance segments. Mark started off with a short (and surprisingly sweet and gentle) instrumental excerpt from Rush's 2112 called "Discovery" before they launched into a gorgeous rendition of Bob Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love". Together they genuinely made Voyageur sing.

Thanks to everyone at Dr. Robert Thornton and E.A. Fairman Public Schools and a special thanks to my Starbucks barista for the extra shots!

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