If Canada has a sister venue to Manhattan's venerable Carnegie Hall, it is certainly Massey Hall, the 2,600 capacity Edwardian theatre near the junction of Queen & Yonge streets in Toronto, which has, in its 100+ year history, played host to everyone from jazz greats Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong to a virtually endless list of contemporary Canadian and international pop, folk, rock and country stars.
The facade is of deep red brick: a perfect reflection of southern Ontario architecture and the structure's grandiosity recalls a Masonic Temple as much as a concert venue. Inside, the warmth of old wood and upholstery lends the room the air of an over-sized living room, where you'd be as likely to crack your dusty W.O Mitchell paperback edition of Who Has Seen the Wind as you would be to rock out to Neil Young or The Broken Social Scene.
For us, Massey Hall is as much about the artists we have been lucky enough to share the stage with as it is about our own personal experiences. For some reason, we've always thought of it as a space you must be invited into by an artist who has etched their name permanently into the stage's veneer -- and regardless of your talents or accomplishments, this is a spotlight you must rightfully inherit -- like vampires, we are unable to cross the threshold without such an invitation.
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The first time I stepped onto that stage I was playing guitar in Sarah McLachlan's band, following the release of her groundbreaking "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy". We'd been zig- zagging across Canada and the U.S., hitting theatres like New York's Radio City Music Hall and LA's Wiltern Theatre but it was Massey that made us all quiver.
As Canadians, we are frequently regaled with tales of seminal Neil Young concerts, where he auditioned half-completed renditions of songs that were to eventually comprise the bulk of Harvest, his most beloved album. Today, few of us are not familiar with the live album that resulted from those 1971 concerts ("Live at Massey Hall"). And we are all aware of Gordon Lightfoot's annual pilgrimage to the storied venue; a tradition he has maintained since the 1980s.
I could continue, but suffice it to say that in the psyche of the budding Canadian rockstar, no venue captures the imagination more than Massey Hall; no stage bares the hallmark scratches of more majestic footprints; no dressing room holds the air breathed by more of our heroes.
I first played my own songs there as ringleader for my former band, "Luke Doucet and The White Falcon", while opening for Blue Rodeo, the current gatekeepers and curators of contemporary Canadiana. History will likely anoint Blue Rodeo with the same reverential language as for any Canadian band, as their output has been every bit as defining to us.
I was singing "Rose Coloured Glasses" and "Try" in my head as a teenager, while dragging a toboggan full of frozen Winnipeg Free Press newspapers up and down Walnut Street, before many a sunrise. I suspect most Canadians born after 1960 have similar tales. Blue Rodeo's is an audience of listeners: they collect anecdotes, myths and recollections like hockey cards. To play your songs for such an audience was a great honour.
On March 2, Whitehorse will take Massey Hall's stage for our first ever turn as headliners. Melissa and I will do our best not to dwell on the lingering notes left by Keith Richards, Roy Orbison, Glenn Gould, KD Lang or Bob Dylan as we wind up to cast forth our own hopeful melodies.
We'll stare into the black void for the first two or three songs until we muster the courage to turn our collective gaze toward the eyes of our families, friends and fans who have waited patiently (if unnervingly confidently) for our turn to skate this grand canal.
After the show, once the lights come up and the people have filed out into the chilly Toronto night, Melissa and I will hopefully remember to take a sombre moment alone to savour the aroma of this lily. We'll look skyward towards the arches, the plaster, the ancient moulding and the pillars holding the great immortal shield above our small, decidedly mortal heads.
There will be life after Massey. There will be other, possibly even loftier goals to strive for -- other marathons to run -- yet it is hard to imagine any smelling quite so sweet.