Following post was carried on my Facebook Author page on March 7, 2015, achieving a total reach of nearly 700 people, far more than any other of my FB postings in the past year. Unlike many of such offerings, it was not posted on my website, so I want to remedy that deficiency at this late date. If it achieves nothing else, perhaps it may remind organizers of the delightful March Hare programs to broaden their geographic reach by staging one of their annual shows in Ottawa. Not all mainland-based fans of Newfoundland cultural treasures reside in that melting pot metropolis, Toronto.
Chasing the March Hare
I fulfilled a long time ambition when my wife and I drove all the way from Ottawa to attend a tremendously enjoyable March Hare event in Toronto. A showcase of Newfoundland musical, literary, story-telling and cultural talent, this wryly christened event rotates among some 17 venues over two weeks in the hungriest month of the year. Initiated primarily to promote poetry, March Hare has evolved into a festival of words and music staged not only in eastern Canada but on occasion also in Ireland.
Anita Best, unquestionably Newfoundland’s best a cappella singer and story teller, was the ultimate drawing card for this Toronto event. Saw her perform several times before, notably when she teamed up with Figgy Duff’s phenomenal songstress Pamela Morgan. Anita’s voice has if anything improved with age – not a pin dared drop when she thrilled the Gladstone Hotel’s packed ballroom audience with traditional ballads unique to the Newfoundland culture. Her enchanting stories drawn from her Merasheen, Placentia Bay upbringing epitomized the wit and humour characteristic of the big island’s joie de vivre.
If ever a book reading could be called fascinating, the term aptly applies to Sara Tilley’s theatrically performed recitation from her new novel Duke, loosely based on recollections of her grandfather. Her total aplomb in rendering seemingly endless lines of complex dialogue involving numerous diverse characters was just amazing. Small wonder as she was demonstrating superior skills learned both in writing and in theatre as actor and playwright.
Michael Crummey delivered a selection of his delightfully pithy poems along with poignant excerpts from his newest novel, Sweetland, based on a familiar theme, a remote community’s desire for resettlement frustrated by one man’s resistance to leaving his home.
Kelly Russell, Newfoundland’s leading traditional fiddler, entertained with tunes learned from celebrated masters of the genre, Rufus Guinchard and Émile Benoit, and tall tales spun by his famed story teller father, Ted Russell. An unexpected but well appreciated contributor was Toronto story teller Dan Yashinsky whose humorous tales blended nicely with those of his Newfoundland stage mates.
Emcee Ren Brown, prime organizer of March Hare programming since its inception 29 years ago, welcomed the full house attendance in its new venue. He also signed and sold copies of his first book, Out From the Harbour, describing his home town, the Placentia Bay island community of Tack’s Beach, before it was resettled.
A particular pleasure for me was spotting, in the program for a March Hare event in Corner Brook, this participant: David “Smoky” Elliott poet Jemma King. Smoky Elliott, the man her award honours, was a great friend of mine at Memorial University in the 1950s. He inspired everyone who met him for his prodigious knowledge of literature and indeed all things cultural. He was one of the pioneer participants in March Hare. Ken Brown recalled that occasion because Smoky’s book of poems, The Edge of Beulah, was due to be delivered that very day, and only made it at the last moment.
Current March Hare events entertain fans in assorted venues between St. John’s and Parry Sound, but never has the schedule found time for Ottawa. So hear us please, March Harers: make room for us next time!