By Woodard, Dale on October 13, 2020.
When D’Arcy Kavanagh plugged in for a Canada Day gig in his driveway, he expected a crowd of five people.
Instead, Kavanagh got a few more than that as a crowd of nearly 100 -fully co-operative of the COVID-19 protocols of physical distancing and sanitization -showed up to enjoy some upbeat celtic tunes.
With the Canada Day chord struck, Kavanagh and longtime bandmate Ian Hepher – aptly dubbed Kavanagh and Hepher -plugged in and reunited in Kavanagh’s driveway for another set of upbeat music Saturday afternoon.
“Immediately after (Canada Day) I got a lot of comments saying ‘When are you going to do the next one?'” said Kavanagh. “My wife and I kept hearing that over the subsequent weeks and thought about doing another one. That was a way for us to do some gigging. Hopefully this is a way that will help out, if nothing else, to entertain.”
It was that Canada Day gig over three months ago that got it all started.
“I expected five people to show up, four of them being family,” said Kavanagh. “It was a really nice surprise to see so many people show and that they stayed around right to the end.
“You could see them if they knew a song, like Last Pirates Of Saskatchewan or Farewell To Nova Scotia and people were singing along. It was a chance for them to escape from the day-to-day existence of living in COVID. We had several places that were offering socially-distanced entertainment, but personally it was a lot of fun to do.
“It’s the same thing with (Saturday’s) gig. When Ian and I decided we were going to do this, even though we’ve played together for so long semi-professionally, we still need to practise and there’s no better way to feel the music than to do it in front of an audience. You can do it all you want in rehearsal place, but it’s not the same.”
On Saturday, the crowd was light early in the set, but four or five songs into the set neighbours made their way over – some carrying lawn chairs – and staked out a spot on the driveway or on the lawn. Other onlookers watched from the end of the driveway as Kavanagh and Hepher welcomed a little toe tapping and hand clapping.
But back in March, the pandemic promptly pulled the plug on Kavanagh and Hepher’s gigs.
“From the time we locked down, which was in early-March just before St. Patrick’s Days, bands like us get booked big-time,” said Kavanagh. “There are probably 10 to 12 good, premium gigs, concerts and festivals in pubs in Calgary and down here that disappeared.”
Kavanagh landed a few gigs at seniors centres during the downtime.
“Most of them have shut down for obvious reasons, but I did play a couple of times,” he said. “That was nice, but what they ended up doing was I played outside. They had these pretty expansive courtyards at a couple of them and I was probably 30 or 40 metres away from the nearest person. There’s nothing wrong with that and I’m loud as a singer, but it’s a lot of vocal and instrumental power. Then you look out and the seniors liked it and asked me to come back. Those were two gigs, but everybody was being cautious. It’s funny to perform, but to see people as far away as home plate to second base.”
Kavanagh, Hepher and Richard Burke started a five-piece band called Glencoulee in 1998.
“Like most bands starting off, the parts kept moving and in 2000 there were three of us,” said Kavanagh. “There was Ian, myself and Richard. We just hit it off. Richard and I used to work at the Lethbridge Herald back in the 1970s and early 80s. So we played together for 11 years. We toured all over Alberta and did three CDs.”
Glencoulee disbanded in 2011 due to different interests, but in 2012 Kavanagh and Hepher did a solo gig for St. Patrick’s Day.
“It was a one-off, but the response was so good we got a whole bunch of offers and we figured it was nice to have a little extra coin and play our music,” said Kavanagh. “Those three gigs gave way to three more gigs, so Ian and I have been playing ever since 2012 as Kavanagh and Hepher doing the same kind of stuff, celtic music with an Atlantic/Canadian theme. We play as much as we want to play. We could play 30 or 40 times a year, but we play Lethbridge and places in Calgary. We’ve toured smaller communities like Vauxhall and the Crowsnest Pass because there aren’t that many celtic bands around and we’ve been doing it for a long time.”
So convincing is Kavanagh and Hepher’s delivery of the upbeat celtic tunes that audience members think they’re from down east.
“People hear us and they think we’re from Halifax or St. John’s and when they ask we say ‘No, we’re from the Island of Lethbridge,'” said Kavanagh. “A lot of the songs are upbeat and we play it really up-tempo and even though there are two of us I play two instruments and Ian plays seven or eight.”
In Saturday’s concert, Kavanagh busted out a Bodhran Irish drum in addition to his guitar.
“They call it the heartbeat of celtic music,” he said of the drum.
Hepher rotated between guitar, mandolin, dulcimer, whistles, harmonica and bouzouki, a slightly longer and bigger version of the mandolin.
As for future gigs, Kavanagh said that will depend on three things, the rise of COVID-19 numbers being the first.
“The second one is we still want to do them outside, but that’s weather-permitting and we know winter is coming quickly,” he said. “The third reason depends on the response of people, did they like it enough to maybe brave another gig in slightly cooler temperatures?
“There may be someone coming up with an idea for some sort of inside concert that doesn’t put COVID-19 into the mix, that it’s a safe event to do and that’s obviously pretty tough to consider right now.”
Whether it’s socially distanced or not, there’s something to be said about the live gig.
“We’ve been playing for almost a quarter-century and it becomes part of your life blood,” said Kavanagh.
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