I love the Ark. I love its hallway lined with black-and-white frames of the performers that have graced its stage in years past. I love that it’s run by volunteers who will always help you find the best seat. I love how the stage isn’t roped off or even that tall – if you’re sitting close enough you can kick back and rest your feet on the edge, feeling the vibrations of the band’s sound.
I also love the Toronto band Enter the Haggis. I found them by accident when I was in the 6th grade. I had been going through a strange Irish/Celtic rock music phase and was jamming along to my The Corrs radio station on Pandora when I first heard their song “To the Quick”. There’s something about the Highland bagpipe that is so gorgeous to me. Each note rings clear, louder than anything else surrounding it, and without any vibrato or chance to cover up what the note is. You can’t lie on the bagpipe! And the combination with fiddle and rock guitar is so interesting.
My favorite Haggis songs are “Musicbox” and “To the Quick” — two tracks off of their oldest album from 2005, and two of the few that have no lyrics. Coming to hear them live was a pretty magical way to experience those songs, but was also a great introduction to their more recent work. I could notice a few changes. I love it when bands experiment with their sound – I don’t think any creator deserves to be put in a box where they can’t change.
At the show everyone played a little bit of everything, it seemed. There were vocals and keys and guitar and drums and sometimes, spontaneous battles between the fiddle and harmonica! I sat up close to Craig Downie, who seemed to know how to play basically every music-producing thing on this planet. I do not kid when I say that Craig had his own little *table* with a spread of instruments that he would swap between at will. It was marvelous to watch him go from swinging around a giant set of bagpipes to a tiny little harmonica or piccolo to a moon-shaped tambourine. The band joked that they needed to set up a special “Craig Cam” just to follow his movements.
Craig Downie playing the Great Highland Bagpipe
Just before starting the last song on their set, the frontman turned toward my part of the room and said “This song is dedicated to this pair right here. They’re a mother and daughter, this is their 5th concert of ours in a row that they’ve come to – and they were late to our show tonight because they were getting MATCHING Haggis Head tattoos.” At that the pair both rolled up their sleeves to show the audience proof. It was wild. Someone to their right yelled “That there is COMMITMENT” and we rolled into the final song. Everyone in the audience was clearly there to support the band and to share that excitement with each other, and by the end nobody was standing still.
I hope that more artists find ways to play their music in smaller venues again. Big stadiums have their own kind of magic, but they can’t replicate that feeling of intimacy that comes with being so up close and personal.