An Evening with Buffy Sainte-Marie

On the evening of August 7, my boyfriend and I travelled to Stratford for a very special concert, one that I had been looking forward to since the tickets first went on sale last December.

The tickets were a birthday gift from my boyfriend and they were to see a rare, solo performance by Buffy Sainte-Marie at the Avondale United Church. Buffy was performing as part of Stratford Summer Music, and to a sold-out crowd.

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(Photo by Matt Barnes Photography)

This show was the second time that I would see Buffy. I saw her for the first time at Hillside Festival 2016 in Guelph, Ont. where she closed out Sunday night on the main stage.

I’ve been a fan of Buffy for a very long time.

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Buffy Sainte-Marie at Hillside Festival 2016. (Photo by Steph Smith/@vagabond__photography)

The Stratford show was also a part of Buffy’s tour for the promotion of her new album Medicine Songs, which was slated for release on Nov. 10.

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(Photo courtesy of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s website)

Medicine Songs comes on the heels of her 2015 release Power in the Blood and revisits her material from the last 50-plus years of her career with new arrangements and lyrics. The album includes activist songs such as ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying’, ‘Universal Soldier’, ‘Little Wheel, Spin and Spin’, ‘Fallen Angels’, ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee’, ‘Carry It On’, and ‘Star Walker’, to name a few.

It also features two new songs: ‘The War Racket’ (as well as an unplugged version), and ‘You Got to Run (Spirit of the Wind)‘ featuring Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Buffy also wrote two new sections to the Katherine Lee Bates and Samuel Ward classic ‘America the Beautiful’.

“This is a collection of front line songs about unity and resistance – some brand new and some classics – and I want to put them to work. These are songs I’ve been writing for over fifty years, and what troubles people today are still the same damn issues from 30-40-50 years ago: war, oppression, inequity, violence, rankism of all kinds, the pecking order, bullying, racketeering and systemic greed. Some of these songs come from the other side of that: positivity, common sense, romance, equity and enthusiasm for life.”

“I’ve found that a song can be more effective than a 400-page textbook. It’s immediate and replicable, portable and efficient, easy to understand – and sometimes you can dance to it. Effective songs are shared, person-to-person, by artists and friends, as opposed to news stories that are marketed by the fellas who may own the town, the media, the company store and the mine. I hope you use these songs, share them, and that they inspire change and your own voice.”

“It might seem strange that along with the new ones, I re-recorded and updated some of these songs from the past using current technologies and new instrumentations – giving a new life to them from today’s perspective. The thing is, some of these songs were too controversial for radio play when they first came out, so nobody ever heard them, and now is my chance to offer them to new generations of like-minded people dealing with these same concerns. It’s like the play is the same but the actors are new.”

“I really want this collection of songs to be like medicine, to be of some help or encouragement, to maybe do some good. Songs can motivate you and advance your own ideas, encourage and support collaborations and be part of making change globally and at home. They do that for me and I hope this album can be positive and provide thoughts and remedies that rock your world and inspire new ideas of your own.”

Buffy Sainte-Marie on her album Medicine Songs

At her Stratford show, she played so many of my favourites: ‘Cripple Creek’ (with her mouth bow!), ‘It’s My Way’, ‘Little Wheel Spin and Spin’, ‘Cod’ine’, ‘I’m Gonna Be a Country Girl Again’, ‘Sunday Blue’, ‘We Are Circling’, ‘Not the Lovin’ Kind’, ‘Cho Cho Fire’, ‘Farm in the Middle of Nowhere’, and ‘Generation’, to name a few.

She also played ‘Until It’s Time For You To Go’, ‘Darling Don’t Cry’, ‘Universal Soldier’, and ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying’ – songs that give me goosebumps and nearly bring me to tears every time I hear them.

In addition, she performed ‘The War Racket’ (she played it at Hillside as well!). She also performed a spoken word rendition of her song ‘Carry It On’ – similar to her 2016 JUNO Awards performance.

Buffy sounded amazing and sang with so much emotion. She really gave it her all and commanded the stage.

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Buffy Sainte-Marie at Hillside Festival 2016. (Photo by Steph Smith/@vagabond__photography)

At the end of the show, she was gracious enough to do a meet & greet, photos and autographs.

I got the chance to meet her and tell her how much I loved the show and her work. A dream come true!20638039_10155466299257464_4409231807838583900_n20727841_10155470119492464_1390729207449900192_nA very magical, wonderful and special evening – to say the least! One that I will remember forever.

Mercer Hall and Balzac’s, Stratford

After seeing Guys and Dolls, we decided to go out for dinner at Mercer Hall.We had been here once before with a group of friends, the same ones that we went to Keystone Alley with, actually! This time it was really nice to go out as just the two of us and discovering more of what Mercer Hall had to offer.

When we walked in to the restaurant, we were immediately greeted by the host as well as the big sign behind the bar that had the featured beer… Flying Monkeys’ ’12 Minutes to Destiny’ – a hibiscus pale lager that has a delicious deep purple, ruby-like colour. I’m sure you can guess what we had to drink!It was delicious, fruity and crisp. It wasn’t too hoppy, bitter or sweet, it really is a perfect summer beer – I love drinking something that tastes great and refreshing.

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In terms of the menu, there is SO much to choose from; it can be overwhelming to the eyes, and the palate… I had such a hard time choosing because everything sounded so delicious, I could just imagine the flavours!

Mercer Hall’s menu I would describe as being ‘North American with some Asian influence’ – seaweed, rice balls, steam buns, tempura, kimchi sauerkraut, and wasabi mustard are just some of the Asian inspired items and ingredients found on the menu. In addition, the menu also offers quite a few vegetarian dishes, and they’re all pretty unique, too! You really can’t go wrong.

We split a Tempura Plate as an appetizer, which was delicious! The plate consists of seasonal veggies with Ponzu for dipping. I love tempura on veggies, especially yam. Tempura asparagus was interesting, I really liked it! (The plate looks a bit sparse because we couldn’t resist eating some of the tempura as soon as it came to the table – it tastes best hot!)For our mains, my boyfriend got the Tonkatsu Schnitzel on a bun, which came with chili potato slaw, wasabi mustard, pickles and a side of fries. He really said he really liked the breading on the pork, and that it was very flavourful.I got the Stick Beef Bowl, which was sort of like a stir fry. It came with glazed flatiron steak (which was perfect and SO tender), grilled asparagus, and curry peanuts. I really loved the peanuts and parsley with the curry sauce and rice, I had never thought of adding them to my stir fry but I might have to start! Mmm.I just really love the atmosphere at Mercer Hall. The decor is kind of Old World industrial meets country-vintage, with incandescent “Edison bulb” string lights and fixtures, copper tiles on the walls, barrels and soft greys throughout.We were too stuffed for dessert, but we did take a walk over to Balzac’s Coffee Roasters for iced Americanos before heading home. I love Balzac’s so much, we always stop in any time we’re in Stratford.Once we left the café, we could tell it was going to rain… and soon! The wind picked up, the dirt in the streets started flying and the leaves were whipping off of the trees in sheets – we were in for a doozy! At least we were fairly close to the car at this point and made it just as the rain was starting to come down in big, fat droplets.

Have you ever been to the Mercer Hall, or to a Balzac’s location? If so, what is your favourite thing to order, and what should I try next?

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Guys and Dolls, Stratford

Today I went to Stratford to see Guys and Dolls at the Festival Theatre! It was a beautiful day for a show and a walkabout around town.Guys and Dolls is a musical of the ’30s and ’40s, that is set in 1950s New York, where illicit gambling and fast-talking is the norm. Strapped for cash, gambler and crap entrepreneur Nathan Detroit is desperate to get his hands on some cash to secure a venue for his craps event – anybody who is anybody will be there, so the heat is on!

When Detroit runs into high-roller Sky Masterson, he makes Masterson an offer he can’t refuse, one that Detroit thinks is a ‘safe bet’ and will net him some easy cash: Can Masterson take any doll that Detroit names on a date?

Surely not if the ‘doll’ happens to be the strait-laced, level-headed Sgt. Sarah Brown of the Save-a-Soul Mission. But it turns out that it’s hearts that are at stake, and where love’s concerned there’s no telling how the dice will land.

Evan Buliung (centre) as Sky Masterson with members of the company in Guys and Dolls. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Guys and Dolls was vivid and energetic. The singing and dancing were on point. Director and choreographer Donna Feore is sheer talent, as is the company she worked with to make this show possible. I LOVED the opening act of the show, where everything was bustling like it was a busy city street and harbour area. Every scene of the show was exceptional!

Members of the company in Guys and Dolls. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.

The acting was also incredible – the company was full of talent. There is so much to say, but here is a bit about the artists who played some of my favourite characters:

I first encountered the talent of Alexis Gordon (Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls) last fall when she played Anne Egerman in A Little Night Music.

Alexis was great in A Little Night Music where she played a similar role of a straight-laced, naïve young woman – but the character of Sarah Brown was a firecracker just waiting to be lit! It was really nice to see Alexis portray a strong female character, and one that was a more major role. Also of note is Alexis’ singing! She has an incredible voice that you have to hear to believe.

This was my first time encountering the calibre of Blythe Wilson (Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls). She made Miss Adelaide come to life with believable effervescence. I hope I am able to see more of her work!

Alexis Gordon (left) as Sarah Brown and Blythe Wilson as Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.

I also enjoyed the smooth-talking and wise-cracking of both Sean Arbuckle (Nick Detroit in Guys and Dolls) and Evan Buliung (Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls). I also encountered Sean in A Little Night Music where he portrayed the more minor role of Mr. Lindquist.

The duo of Trevor Pratt (portraying Nicely-Nicely Johnson in this performance of Guys and Dolls) and Mark Uhre (Benny Southstreet in Guys and Dolls) were a riot! They’re really an ideal friendship and comic-relief.

My favourite aspects of the show were the signs that could change from black and white to all sorts of neon colours – and with the stage floor looking like a map of the city and the stage background made to look like scaffolding and fire escapes, it all really transported you and made you feel like you were on the mean-streets of New York City.I also loved the costumes, everything was gorgeous, period-appropriate, bright and sparkly. I especially loved Miss Adelaide’s outfits and her Hot Box Club costumes, in particular the one she wore for Bushel and a Peck – it was sparkly and gorgeous; it was exactly what I picture when I think of showgirls, very Gatsby-esque. The ensemble costumes for Take Back Your Mink were also gorgeous, and I loved that dance number!

Blythe Wilson (centre) as Miss Adelaide with members of the company in Guys and Dolls. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Aaaah, there is so much I could say about this show but I think I will leave it here. All I can really say it that if you get a chance to Guys and Dolls in Stratford, GO! It’s on until October 29.

Keystone Alley, Stratford

The other night, my boyfriend and I met up with some friends for dinner at the Keystone Alley in Stratford.Malba Pudding, Keystone Alley in StratfordWe were going out because it has been so long since we’ve all been able to get together, and it was also a chance to celebrate my boyfriend’s acceptance at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland for his PhD, and our friend Drew’s acceptance for his medical residency at a hospital in Calgary.

For all of us, this was our first time checking out Keystone Alley. The menu had so many delicious-looking options, I was unsure if I would be able to decide!Menu at Keystone Alley, StratfordFunnily, most of us actually ended up choosing something off the of the three-course Bistro Menu, which made deciding a lot easier because it listed a couple of options and you just had to make the difficult decision of choosing one of them for each course.Bistro Menu, Keystone AlleyMy boyfriend chose the Smoked Trout for his appetizer, which came with pickled vegetables, horseradish and a caper cream. I chose the Greens – a salad of mixed spring greens, with grapes, almonds, pistachio goat cheese and poppy seed vinaigrette. One word: Perfection.The Greens, Keystone Alley in StratfordFor our main course, we both chose the Ale Braised Beef Brisket, which came in a Forked River beer reduction, with roasted heirloom carrots, Brussels sprouts, crispy polenta. It was Heaven on a plate, seriously!The Beef Brisket, Keystone Alley in StratfordUnsurprisingly, we both chose the same dessert – A South African pudding called ‘Malva’ that is made with apricot jam, cream and butter. It was deliciously spongy and sweet. It was served warm with vanilla ice cream.Malba Pudding, Keystone Alley in StratfordIf you are ever in Stratford and looking for somewhere to go for lunch or dinner, I highly recommend Keystone Alley. In addition to inventive and flavourful food, the restaurant also has a great atmosphere.

Take a walk along the Avon River, see a show at one of of the theatres and then stop for a bite to eat at Keystone Alley. You won’t regret it!