Sunday, September 09, 2007

September 1st, 2007 - Twilight in the Vineyard

Months back, when I got my tickets to see Chantal Kreviazuk open for Five For Fighting, I got word of another concert via her message board, Elements. Apparently she would be playing at the Jackson-Triggs Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake on September 1st.

A Chantal concert at the home of my favorite wine just three days before my birthday? How could I pass that up? Honestly. Tickets were pricier than I'd normally even consider, but they did include dinner and wine, plus I knew the experience itself would be a great one.

Mom decided she'd buy the tickets as my birthday gift. I was ready to buy them and insisted, but she's nearly impossible to sway once her mind has been made up.

Anyway, back to the story.

Yet again, the whole "waking up early" plan completely fell apart as I ended up sleeping until noon. Anyone else seeing a pattern here?

I gave my mind some time to catch up with my body and wake up and then we headed for Jackson-Triggs. We wanted to go early so we would have plenty of time to explore the winery and say hello to Chantal before the show.

The vineyard is only a couple minutes away from our hotel, so Mom and I became suspicious as our short drive down Regional Road 55 continued to grow longer. We began to wonder if had somehow passed it up, despite our actively looking for it. Our suspicions were confirmed when we pulled into a gas station and the attendant told us we had gone too far.

We headed back and arrived in less than a minute. It turns out that the sign with the winery's name on it had been eclipsed by a large trolley-looking bus on its way out of the driveway. Both of us had noticed the bus on our first trip down the road, but the thought of the sign being hidden by it had crossed neither of our minds.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a lovely employee of the winery named Nadia, who ended up kindly helping us out several times over the course of the day.

Me + Grapes = Happy

We took a walk over towards the amphitheater to take a look. As we walked, we met Kathy, a new friend of mine from Elements, and her husband, Sandy. When we reached the top of the amphitheater, we found Kevin, Karen, and Adam were already down on stage doing an early soundcheck.

The amphitheater from afar

After watching the band and chatting for a while with Kathy and Sandy, Mom and I decided to retreat from the sun for a while and wander around inside the main building.

We peeked at the shop and walked through the tasting area and eventually heard music coming from the amphitheater again, so we went back to see Chantal had arrived and joined the band.

We watched as they went through a few songs and fine-tuned everything for the show. I was very intrigued when they started playing an unfamiliar, but beautiful song.

They started letting ticket-holders for the dinner into the amphitheater around 5:30. Inside, I met Elements members Terrence, Deb, and Russell.

The food setup was all inside of a tent. After you went through the line and got your food and wine, you find yourself an empty wine barrel to stand at and use as a table. As Mom and I roamed the tent in search of a barrel, the Elements folks invited us to join them at theirs.

Overall, the food selection wasn't really up my alley, but the bratwurst I had was tasty. The company was great, I enjoyed getting to know everyone and listening to their travel stories and such.

One big happy barrel.

Hanging with Kathy & Sandy

A little after 7:00, Mom and I made our way back to the main building, where we were set to meet up with Chantal. We were helped again by Nadia and also Colin. They led me to a nice modern looking room with a massive window overlooking the vineyard where we all just chatted while waiting for Chantal.

The view from the room

A few minutes passed and Chantal came in, all ready for the show and looking lovely. Time was a bit tight, so we didn't have too much time to visit, but the time we did have was fantastic. She left for the stage and we left for our seats, it was going to be an excellent show.

Just before the show

Our seats were in the center of the back row, but our view was incredible. The layout of the amphitheater was perfect for this show. It was like Blossom here in Ohio, but with a maximum capacity of 500. Enormous stone slabs were laid into the sculpted hillside to separate the seating areas as the slope descended toward the stage. There were no seats on the hillside itself, so guests either had to buy a chair from Jackson-Triggs or bring their own. I always bring my own.

As dusk settled in, Chantal, Karen, Adam, and the recently married Kevin took the stage and went right into Mad About You.

The atmosphere was great, the wine was flowing freely in the audience and on the stage, leaving everyone in a relaxed, happy mood and putting Chantal into an extra chatty mood. Her mother-in-law was in attendance that night, as was Canadian morning TV personality Seamus O'Reagan. Kathy and Sandy described him to me as Canada's Matt Lauer before they scooted over to snap a photo with him.

Thr temperature dropped and the stars twinkled to life above us as the melodies of Ghosts of You, Wayne, and In This Life soared across the countryside.

Now curled up under a couple blankets, my ears perked up as Chantal began talking about the first song she's written for her next album. Seconds later, we became the first audience to hear Halfway Around the World, the beautiful song we heard a snippet of earlier at soundcheck. That song alone has me eagerly awaiting the arrival of that album.

In a surprise turn of events, we were treated to a rare performance of Green Apples after a soon to be married audience member shouted out a request. Chantal explained that she doesn't play the song often because it was written about an ex, but she obliged and after all these years, I got to hear one of my favorite songs played live for the first time.

Yet another pleasant surprise was when she played a cover of the Rolling Stones' Wild Horses for the Elements crowd. I've heard her version of it in the past, but on that night and in that setting, it was more beautiful than ever.

Adam was the target for much harassment throughout the evening, as it turned out to be his birthday. He was brought up to join Chantal at the piano, where she announced his special day to the audience as well as his virginity. That fit the laid back nature of the evening perfectly and got a great laugh. We then all joined in and sang Happy Birthday.

Later on, the teasing continued when Adam misinterpreted a doodle on the setlist and started playing the wrong song. This prompted Chantal to hop up behind the drums with him to poke fun and guide him. She then returned to the piano and he started playing a different, but still incorrect song.

As the show went on, Chantal's chattiness increased and she told about here recent experience with the TV show Who Do You Think You Are? where her heritage was traced back over several generations. Her tale went on (much like this blog entry is) for probably around ten to fifteen minutes and took a humorous turn when Kevin and Karen decided to harass her for her lengthy story by leaving the stage. Adam hung around for several minutes before joining the others, his timing and execution was hilarious.

Karen Graves and Kevin Fox

Tea time

For the encore, they returned to play songs including Feels Like Home, Before You, and finally All I Can Do. At the end, Chantal shouted out her thanks to the winery, the audience, her friends from Elements, and much to our surprise, "Jacob and his Mom."

Moments later, it was her turn to be surprised as winery co-founder Allan Jackson announced that ten percent of the night's profits would be going to War Child Canada.

With that, the show was over, but the experience wasn't.

We made our way back to the main building, where it was announced Chantal would be signing autographs. Mom and I grabbed a bottle of Gew├╝rztraminer to enjoy at the hotel and went in search of our barrel bunch. Upon finding them, Kathy ran up to me, said "Happy Early Birthday", and gave me a setlist they snagged. Closer inspection showed it to be Adam's setlist, the source of amusement earlier in the evening.

Aren't friends grand?

Deb, Terrence, Kathy, Sandy, Russell, and lil ol' me

We all hung out in the chilly open-air corridor, chit chatting and reminiscing about the show while fellow concert-goers said their hellos to Chantal and got their CDs signed.

As the line dwindled, we all went over and joined it, myself pulling up the rear. I did my best to fight my jaw's desire to chatter in the night air as I told Chantal how much I loved the show.

When Kevin appeared, I seemed to catch him off guard when I asked him to sign my copy of his CD. He couldn't believe I was able to find it since apparently his website hasn't been updated in years. eBay saves the day.

Chantal signed my setlist and joined the Elements gang for a group photo, which sadly turned out a bit blurry.

As she got up to leave, I thanked her and we said our goodnights and see-you-tomorrows. Mom and I then headed towards the parking lot with our new friends, where we said our nice-to-meet-yous, thank-yous, and we'll-have-to-meet-up-agains, followed by drive-safelys and another round of goodnights before parting ways.

We navigated the long, dark country roads back to hotel and arrived shortly after midnight. The quiet and the dark were perfect for reflecting on the day and how a concert I expected to be great turned out to be a purely magical experience. I was fully aware I had just witnessed a very special show.

No time was wasted in getting to bed. Both because I needed to warm up and I had to be up early for our Sunday drive to Toronto.

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