By John Swartz
The art and music world has many extraordinary stories. Some of them sound quite crazy, driven by ideas, wants, desires and convictions that to the rest of us sound like the people the stories are about are crazy.
I had another conversation with Robert Kavanagh, who you will recall I wrote about a few weeks ago, about how his self-described mental illness informed his art. This time the conversation was about how that story and the reaction to it by his friends is moving him further on his path to being the artist he wants to be. It’s a fantastical tale about what he plans to have accomplished by the end of this year. Fantastical in the sense of, like most people’s reactions to big ideas, it’s hard for us to see the path forward to achieving the goal because we wouldn’t take that leap of faith.
Many times people can’t grasp how a big idea can be pulled off, especially here in Orillia. The old plan do construct a new Swanmore Hall 22 years ago into an archive and performance space, the idea of rebuilding the former Huronia Regional Centre into a world sized arts mecca are a couple of things which come to mind; others made similar things happen elsewhere, but no one here could imagine it. The Orillia Recreation Centre, creating Orillia Water Light and Power, building Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital are a few that a person, or small group of people, persisted in dragging the ideas into reality.
During the course of this column, some readers might recall I wrote a number of weekend feature stories, interviews, with musicians playing at Casino Rama, and I’ve spoken with many more famous artists over the years; I’ve usually asked about how they got started and among some of those stories are ones told where desire and dreams were the stuff of fairy tales.
“I wanted to be a musician, so I hung out at the recording studio, started being the coffee runner and custodian, moved up to being a tech, then using the console, until I was able to use down time to record my own music and next thing you know I have a career and fame,” the story sometimes goes.
The other one is, “I knew someone, who knew someone and gave them a tape of my songs,” or, “they gave them a video tape of a performance I did and I got cast in this blockbuster movie and haven’t looked back.”
It’s a common, uncommon story. I’ve heard many times of working one’s self into positions to capitalize on them. Sometimes the only reason people succeed is because of those dreams because in the pantheon of music, acting and other arts stories there are those who are equally talented, maybe more talented, who failed and are now accountants. It’s gamble for sure, but you don’t win if you don’t throw the dice.
Such is the case with Robert Kavanagh. He told me a few things resulting from the story published in SUNonline/Orillia that sound familiar, except for the last act.
One is, people don’t often see all of themselves, regardless of how much introspection and perceptive investigation they have done, until it’s in print.
“It was really the conversation we had, I didn’t look at it like that, but it was other people coming to me and it was like, “wow, that is exactly how you are.” I didn’t know,” Robert said. “People are like, “You were never a sales person?” and I was kind of like, “You’re right. I faked it for 20 years.” I was never who I was.”
Enter the commitment part, or committed as artists are so often viewed. Robert has a goal to achieve by year end.
“The ultimate goal for this campaign for the year is to end up in Times Square, on every digital screen in Times Square with me playing my saxophone on Saturday Night Live,” Robert said.
That sounds lofty, impossible many will think, but stranger things have happened in the art world. Part of making it happen is access to people who might help. In this case Robert knows an artist, Krista Kim, who is having her art displayed in Times Square right now. They met at the bar in the Shangri-La Hotel in Toronto.
“I tried to pick her up actually. I was hammered. She went away, I went away. I started to following her on Instagram. She hadn’t done any of this art yet. She is going to show me exactly how she did it.”
The SNL part involves one of Robert’s favourite bands, the 2020 Adult Alternative Album of the Year Juno award winning Half Moon Run (who played Mariposa in 2019). He plans to hire them to play at an exhibit Robert wants to have in New York, and finagle that into a booking to play on SNL – with Robert as a sideman. How he’s going to do that isn’t worked out yet, but again, some musicians have spoken about the break getting on SNL that came out of serendipity.
“I don’t know yet.” Robert said of how it will work. “I’m not threatened by any of it anymore. I‘m doing that and I’m going to continue to talk about it and do the steps until it’s there.”
Robert’s dream of playing on a stage like the one SNL represents is not uncommon. How many of you at one time or other had a vision of playing on the Opera House Stage and it came to be? I know I had it and did it, and others have said they did too. Robert’s vision came through the TV.
“I would sneak out of bed, try to stay up to watch Saturday Night Live and you saw the curly haired, crazy saxophone player play the outro, and that is me, I’m going to do that one day,” he said. Interestingly, that sax player is Lenny Pickett, formerly of Tower of Power who played on most of the band’s Top 100 charting tunes in the early 70s. He had a vision of playing big stages too.
It’s not inconceivable, Half Moon Run does have a Juno and other awards, and they have a tune, Full Circle which was used in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag trailer, so it’s not like American audiences won’t know the band.
The song is relevant because Robert has evolved his art. You will recall he was fascinated he could see faces in just about everything he looked at and painted those faces. Well, it turns out what makes those faces is the subject of Robert’s attention now.
“The faces I discovered are more of a breadcrumb path to the way the universe operates. Doing the faces taught me everything on a molecular level kind looks the same. If you actually look at it there are little circles, they’re loops; everything is a tiny little loop,” Robert said.
“The circles are actually the point. It’s not the faces. The faces were just made up of little circles. I just didn’t have the ability to see the circles until you wrote about it.”
It’s funny how once an idea steals consciousness, one begins to see manifestations of it in other places. It’s kind of like buying a car and all of a sudden you start noticing how many others just like it are on the road. With the Olympics just concluding, the five rings, circles, were seen in many places. The tie in here is a discovery Robert made.
“A hundred years ago, art and music were Olympic sports. It’s crazy,”
In fact, there were competitions for painting, music and literature, sculpture and architecture for more than 35 years, ending with the 1948 Olympics. In the case of this story, it’s just one more clue, though not a strong one to us, on the path saying, you’re on the right track. As others told similar stories, they often speak about seemingly unconnected things and events in their lives that gave them proof of direction.
Robert is beginning his journey as guest artists for the month of March at Peter Street Fine Arts. His art will be up later next week and he’ll have his opening March 10, a Thursday and not the usual Saturday. He chose that date for a reason.
“This is because I had admired this very successful artist in Toronto. His name is Peter Triantos. He’s got an opening on the 10th (which Robert wanted to attend). Instead of going down to check him out, I have my own opening to do on the 10th.”
No doubt many readers are thinking, ‘none of this is going to happen.’ For every person who had a big idea, and every person who says go for it, there are 100 times as many who will scoff and dissuade. But also, there are always people encouraging and for those who succeed it’s those who encouraged, even if it’s only mom, who made the difference, along with a bit of luck, manufactured or otherwise.
One example which turned out as dreamed is that of Gordon Lightfoot. He wanted to be a musician and took steps I’m sure many couldn’t comprehend, like heading off to Los Angeles to learn how to write down the musical ideas he had, to putting fear behind him to audition for the important first gigs, to striking off and move to Detroit to advance a career that didn’t even exist yet (which may have seemed really crazy to many people at the time, but see last week’s column for some the answer to why he did so).
“Now, I’m doing commissions all of a sudden based on these concepts and that’s how it’s going to become my bona fide profession,” Robert said.
Imagine what this world would look and sound like if not for dreams most of us cannot fathom. I’ve head versions of this story too many times to not be surprised this time next year if Robert pulls it off. Good luck. We hope it turns out well.
The duo, Maria Millar (violin) and Shawn Wyckoff (flute) performing as Sonic Escapes were the third installment of this year’s Orillia Concert Association’s lineup. They played at the Opera House last Sunday afternoon.
A good portion of the repertoire was made up of their own compositions, and of those, several were medleys with Irish/Celtic themes. The pair spent an amount of time living in Ireland and as they explained the music there had its effect on them, not to mention the typical instruments one might find being used in Irish pubs are violins and flutes.
Their closing piece was a medley of music from Game of Thrones Millar arranged. It’s one of their more popular videos. They opened the second set with a medley, the first part of which, Dvorak’s Going Home was carried on flute. Later another medley of Irish pub tunes started with a more lyrical, slower take of Danny Boy than one might hear in a pub.
Despite not being familiar with the music, enjoyment came from hearing the mastery of the playing, and the stories the pair told of the music they were playing.
Next up for the OCA is the Hogtown Brass on March 27 and the Toronto All Star Big Band on May 1. You can get tickets, which I understand are now selling individually instead of as season passes.
- Mike Hill has a new book out this week. The Lost Prime Ministers is about the ones we don’t often talk about; Abbott, Thompson, Bowell, and Tupper. You can get a copy at Manticore Books.
- Zachary Lucky has two concerts happening March 4 and 5 at Picnic. You can get them online. Sean Patrick and Jeff Davis play Picnic Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m.
- The Severn Winterfest happens March 5 at ODAS Park from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. They have the usual winter activities, plus an ice bar, a demo derby and giant slide and a Polar Bear Dip. That’s right, they are building their own lake.Visit the website for details how to enter. They also have ice and roller skating.
- The Mariposa Folk Festival’s Gospel and Blues concert with Lance Anderson is April 9 at the Opera House. Ticket should be going on sale on the Opera House website next week. Tickets sales up so far this year for Mariposa’s summer festival. You can get tickets online. I have been told there are some announcements due soon about filling out the rest of the lineup that may surprise. The Audition Showcase is happening May 1 at St. Paul’s Centre. You can apply now. Get the details online.
- The Roots North Music Festival main stage lineup at St. Paul’s Centre for the April 21 to 23 concert event is; Friday night Craig Mainprize followed by Terra Lightfoot and Steve Poltz; Saturday it’s Lydia Persaud, Logan Staats and the Good Lovelies. You can get tickets online.
- Sustainable Orillia is having an art contest based on the theme Orillia 2050 – a Sustainable City. There is a $1,500 prize pool for entries in three classes; adult, high school students and elementary school age. Submission details are out March 1 on the website.
- Glen Robertson has a new tune, Are You Woke Yet? On his Soundcloud channel. And just let it play, the next tunes in the cue are very good.
- The Opera House has concerts with Chantel Kreviazuk March 10, the Shanytman March 17, Ron James March 20, the Stampeders 50th Anniversary gig April 7, Washboard Union May 3, and I’d get tickets online now for the Mudmen May 5.
- OMAH has a 35 piece quilt show called Colour With a U and From Marbles to Minecraft: A Century of Childhood which contrasts childhood in Orillia between the 1920s and the 2020s. Douglas Ahsen:Nase’s excellent exhibit of portraiture is still up, so go see it. March 16 at 7 p.m. the next installment of the History Speaker’s Series happens online. John Savage will speak about The War of the Woods, the conflict between area lumber barons and residents that has its effect through today. Call the museum at 705-326-2159 to register and the event link will be sent to you. And in case you are wondering, the annual International Women’s Day Art Show is happening this year, but in April. And, March Break is coming and OMAH has programs to keep the kids occupied. Registration is open now. Heh, it beats wall art you didn’t ask for.
- Ronnie Douglas has a new original tune called Right Between The Eyes you can see and hear on Youtube.
- Gordon Lightfoot has a new tune, Oh So Sweet, you can listen to on Youtube.
- Steven Henry does an online concert Saturday’s at 8 p.m.
- Hibernation Arts March show is Of Women because it’s March International Women’s Day March 8.
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia and Images Supplied) Main: Art by Robert Kavanagh.