Michael Kaeshammer was riding the tail winds of his European concert tour when the full brunt of the coronavirus pandemic hit.
His five-member ensemble had performed in front of packed jazz clubs and, for those who couldn’t watch him perform live, American Public Television was about to air a one-hour broadcast of a concert that captured some of his dynamic energy and musical inventiveness. Recorded over two nights in Sidney with guests Curtis Salgado, Colin James and Randy Bachman, Boogie on the Blues Highway would supply the soundtrack of his next album.
In March 2020, the irony of that album’s title was about to be fully felt. The whole notion of playing Live In Concert was about to become an illusive dream.
Eight months later, Kaeshammer is emerging from the pandemic cocoon that began when he cut the tour short to return home to Vancouver Island. Apart from a "living room concert" as part of David Foster's Rock for Relief in April, his public presence was largely on mute until he accepted an invitation from the Kay Meek Art Centre to help the West Vancouver theatre gently ease back into live performances on Oct. 14, 15 and 16. The compromise? Only 50 of the theatre’s 500 seats would be filled.
“I don’t care if it’s 500, 50 or five,” he said in a telephone interview in early October. “I love to play and they asked me to do it. I didn’t even think twice about it.
“Everyone’s going through the pandemic in their own way and I think that being there with a positive outlook and playing some music can only help.”
Having a positive outlook has been an integral part of Kaeshammer’s way of coping with a pandemic that stopped life in its tracks. The entertainment industry was particularly hard hit, with theatres, arts venues and concert halls shuttered for months. Performers, and the entourage that supports them, are self-employed, with few of the safety nets that are available to people in other industries.
At first, Kaeshammer just hunkered down, focusing on the immediate demands of the lockdown. Once it became apparent that the stay-at-home directive was not going to be lifted any time soon, “I started doing projects that I always had on the back of my mind but I didn’t have time for or gave priority to. I’ve done them now and I’m glad I did. That’s one of the things the pandemic has changed for me. I might finish a project rather than just think there will be time for it later.”
He’s also gained a new way of thinking about things that had, to a certain extent, become routine. You release and album and go on tour. You develop certain travel requirements and what you’ll need on stage. You prepare for the stresses that may arise when you put a bunch of personalities on the road together.
“Now it all seems completely irrelevant,” he says. “For instance, sometimes a sound check doesn’t go well and people in the band have a short temper because of a lack of sleep. All those things don’t exist any more so, once things come back to normal, you’ll just value that you get to get to do it and share it with someone. The other stuff doesn’t really matter….
“It’s important to see positive things that can come out of this and hopefully it sticks. It’s a tough time to go through and you have to see a silver lining.”
Performing live has always been essential to him. “For me, the audience is part of the band in a way. They are part of the creation of music by making sure there’s a connection. It’s kind of like a conversation. It’s like talking on the phone — I go on stage and get a sense of the audience and what direction it’s going to go.
“You want to share, not just the music but the feeling that you have with a piece. People will have their own interpretation of it, or it will do something to them in a different way depending on what they’re going through in their life or in their day. And that’s the common denominator — why we’re all in the same room. If I know the audience is in the moment, and gets taken away for the time that we’re all together, then I’m a part of that ride. That’s what make it worth it….
“The performance itself is why you [go on tours]. I want to get to know the audience just as much as they get to know me.”
He’s never performed to 50 people dispersed safely throughout a large venue before. It will be an interesting experience, he says. “I can’t just go out there and pretend it’s a show like any other before COVID. That would be like ignoring the elephant in the room. It will be an emotional thing for people on stage and in the audience.”
Martha Perkins is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.