I am not a concert go-er. In fact, I can count the number of concerts I have been to in my life on both hands. My main aversion to concerts is the venues. They are too big, too crowded and too impersonal. So when I saw the announcement for Sarah McLachlan at the Orpheum last spring I knew I had to act quickly. I was lucky enough to see Sarah in 1996 at Nat Bailey Stadium, in her pre-Lilith Fair days, and I was eager to reacquaint myself with her music. I bought two tickets and presented one of them to my mother for her birthday. My husband said he would have gone with me, but it seemed ideal for a mother-daughter outing.
I never win contests. Imagine my surprise when I received an email nine days before the concert, informing me that I was one of the grand prizewinners in Sarah's Facebook contest. Months earlier, I entered the contest by writing about how I "Shine On." The winners were randomly drawn, but I was exhilarated by this news. The prize was that my guest and I were invited to join Sarah on stage for several songs in her "living room." The only potential problem I could foresee was convincing my shy, retiring mother that this was the opportunity of a lifetime.
Truth be told, I could have gone on stage by myself, but my mother was a trooper. I immediately got her signature on all the releases and quickly sent them away. I wasn't going to give her an opening to change her mind. We weren't really sure of any of the logistics. I was told to pick up an envelope at "Will Call" the night of the show and follow the instructions inside it.
The Orpheum theatre is a classy building. According to its website, it was built in 1927 and refurbished in 2009. It has been designated a National Heritage site. I have been there a few times to see the V.S.O. and the sound is fantastic. For Sarah's concert, we were sitting in the fourth row of the dress circle on the left hand side. We had great views of the stage, the "living room" and plenty of legroom.
We arrived early; picked up our invitation, found our seats, put on our green wristbands and anxiously awaited Sarah's request to join her on stage. It happened near the end of the first set. It was a long walk down to the stage entrance where we met "Mark." He escorted us to the "living room" and we took our seats on a large, plush couch. There were already two other guests seated, and two others arrived not long after us.
Sarah is genuinely interested in her fans and makes an effort to connect with them. In addition to the contest, she set up a station in the lobby where fans could write down questions for her. At two different times during the concert, she pulled questions out of a black top hat and answered them. Sarah was in the process of answering some of these questions while we made our way onto the stage.
After Sarah finished the questions, she came over and greeted us warmly. She hugged everyone and plopped down on the ottoman opposite the sofa. I had been thinking for days about an intelligent, thought provoking question to ask her, but I abandoned my mission when I realized how difficult it was on stage to decipher what she was saying. I could ask my question and the audience would hear her response, but I wasn't necessarily going to hear it. So I changed my tactic and became light-hearted. "I'd like to say hi to my friends Kristin and Rita who are sitting in the audience tonight." People laughed. "I promised my class I would try to get a picture with you. Would that be ok?" Sarah was very obliging. It's not the best photo of me, but Sarah looks radiant. Oh well, I'm the only person who seems to care about that.
It was difficult to follow Sarah's conversations with the other guests. I missed most of what was going on. I figured the first one out when the girl beside us on the couch pulled aside her shirt to show her blossoming belly. "Ohhhhh, she's having a baby." To the left of us, a girl asked Sarah something, which I couldn't hear. It was the collective murmur of the audience and Sarah's response that alerted me to the fact that something serious had happened. It turns out the girl's ex-boyfriend had died the day before. She was asking Sarah to dedicate the song "Angel" to him.
I became the photographer for all of the guests. Obviously, my husband's ad-hoc photography lessons and my teacher training came in handy. Sarah was incredibly relaxed and there was no pressure to hurry things along. Once everyone was satisfied with her pictures, the concert resumed.
We were lucky enough to listen to three songs from the "living room." Afterwards, Sarah and the band took a twenty-minute break and we returned to our own seats in the audience.
Clearly, this was a bucket list experience for me. My personal encounter aside, everyone in the audience experienced a real treat. Sarah knows how to put on a fantastic show. I was impressed with the intimate setting, the relaxed atmosphere, Sarah's humour and her raw honesty. Even the length of the concert was outstanding. She sang twenty-one songs and did a four-song encore over the course of two and a half hours. When all was said and done, my mother even admitted to enjoying her on-stage experience. It was the perfect ending, to a perfect evening.