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Remember those days when we could venture out with groups of friends, hugging, laughing, and conspiring mere inches away from each other? We gathered with faces uncovered and no caution to throw to the wind, colliding shoulder-to-shoulder before the Heartwood stage as we danced the night away. I know I’m not the only one who breathed a sigh of relief when the doors to the hall reopened in September. And while new restrictions mean that it can’t quite be like “old times” on the surface, the heart of the space (no pun intended) is as strong as ever.

Krueger Band; Photo: Michael McLuhan

After months of isolation and a slow return to civilization, it felt almost surreal walking up those familiar steps last Saturday to see Bryan Leckie and his Krueger Band crew. With the typical COVID precautions in place, a smaller crowd, and a no-dancing rule keeping us glued to our seats and bubbles, the scene was a bit odd at first. But the whole world has taken a strange turn, so what can we expect? Besides, if you’re wandering into one of Leckie’s shows, chances are you have an appreciation for the quirkier side of life.

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The band was as tight and brilliant as ever – no surprise there. Not even the Plexi-glass barriers could interrupt the energy radiating from the stage. The Kreuger core – featuring Leckie on guitar and vocals, Rob McLean on keyboard, Corrie Martindill on vocals, and Beaker Granger on drums – were joined by Roger Williamson on lead guitar and Ron Sellwood on accordion. With such a stellar group of musicians, it was all everyone could do to stay put.

Williamson; Photo: Michael McLuhan

Leckie knew it, too, and teased the audience as he introduced the Kreuger rendition of Woolly Bully Blues. “Here’s a nice dance number, but you’ll have to dance in your minds.” With no rules against grooving in your chair, the room came to life with toes tapping, feet stomping, heads bobbing, and shoulders shimmying. It was a reminder to seek moments of lightness wherever we can.

Mid-evening, Leckie brought out his anticipated special guest, iconic folk musician and author of recent book Acoustic Espionage, Tim Harrison. He, too, had a message of finding joy, even when it seems unlikely. Through compelling guitar and vocals, he played a set that held us captive – and even brought us together for a sing-along. “But you might have to put your masks on,” chuckled Harrison as he led us into the chorus of “To hell with it all, I’ll just fall,” and allowed us a sweet surrender. Gathered in this familiar place during unfamiliar times, there was power in the simple act of joining voices.

Harrison; Photo: Michael McLuhan

The whole evening was a perfect soundtrack of light and dark, sombre and silly. From soul-stirring Kreuger favourites like It Never Rains on the Moon to the jaunty Dracula Love (“Our sincerest apologies,” joked Leckie), the band took us along for a ride and offered up everything we listeners might need. It was that old familiar magic that we’ve felt in that hall before, the type that manifests in intimate places filled with inspiration.

Martindill; Photo: Michael McLuhan

Although the ongoing pandemic means that Heartwood has to run a little bit differently for now, that night only reinforced how necessary this space is within our community. Now, perhaps more than ever, we are seeking connection – to one another, to moments, to music and art and the things that help us find meaning. Through masks and barriers and across distance, each person in the hall was there to share an experience, and it was all the more fulfilling because of that.

Written by Sarah Goldman

Photos by Michael McLuhan