A Small Town Makes Magic

by Laureen on March 29, 2012

The Val Marie Hotel. (Photo: Robert Berdan)

Last night I saw magic happen. Not big magic, with walking trees and talking animals and wizards, but small, local magic. The kind that turns a key in your heart and opens the door.

Last night the Val Marie Hotel hosted performer Glenn Sutter. Glenn is a singer-songwriter, described on his poster as playing “folk music with deep prairie roots.” He’s in town today at Prairie Wind & Silver Sage, our summer season museum, book and gift store and high quality espresso bar, as Dr. Glenn Sutter, Curator of Human Ecology at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, giving a workshop this afternoon on ecomuseums and community sustainability to area museum professionals, and an introduction to ecomuseums at the PWSS annual general meeting tonight, which I will chair. Glenn’s also on tour with his new CD Sweet Happiness, and one of our board members arranged for him to come into town a day early and share his music too. There was talk of a house concert, but being interested in communities and sustainability we decided on the hotel as a venue, where the concert could also contribute to our small local economy. Two sets of 45 minutes each, Glenn at one end of the dining area, which is at one end of the bar, $5.00 suggested admission at the door as the performer’s wages, and CDs for sale.

Glenn is a one-man show. He plays with a guitar and sometimes a harmonica and an electric piano. Lyrics count, and so do delicate instrumental harmonies. Val Marie is a very small town. When people go out to hear music, they usually go for louder, probably country, and not so much, well, listening. I was maybe just a bit anxious about how the performance would go over.

The show starts at 8:00. I have another early evening commitment, leading a teleseminar called Getting to Exhibition for the visual artists’ organization CARFAC Saskatchewan, so I arrive about half an hour late. Trucks outside. That’s good. Means someone showed up. Inside, I pay my $5.00 and look around. There are at least 20 people. That’s also good. I thought there might be five. Mentally I wet one finger and test the air, looking for atmosphere. I can’t tell if people like what they’re hearing or not. But they’re not noisy and they’re not leaving. I settle in to watch the show.

Glenn’s a good performer. He’s musically talented and relaxed, and he knew it could be a quieter kind of night. He plays a few more songs in his first set, and people applaud. Then he takes a break, the lights come up, and he comes onto the floor. We talk briefly, and he says he’s been playing in both smaller and larger venues on this tour. I ask how this compares to the smaller ones. “It’s good, he says.” They’re listening.”

During the break, Glenn sits at every table and makes friends with all 20 people. A few of the group call it a night, but not too many. Then his second set starts and that’s when the magic begins. You might have not noticed magic at first. Glenn makes a few jokes, and he tells us what a good audience we are. He plays a couple of songs made familiar by other performers, and a few more of his own. Again, he tells us how good we are to play for. “I’m going to tell all my Regina friends to come to Val Marie,” he says. “You listen. And…you listen.”

Something has changed. Maybe it’s Glenn’s pleasure in us. Maybe it’s that all the people who stayed through the break made a different commitment to being here. Maybe the magic was there all along and with my too-many-engagements hurry and my anxiety about the performance’s reception I couldn’t find it, but the air in this small hotel feels different. There’s a new focus on what’s going on at the front of the room. Now it’s time for Glenn’s last song. It’s quiet, a gift to his wife. It’s a love song. He begins to play and the song is beautiful. I look around. No one is talking. It’s like breath is silent, and deep. Some of the guys have their chairs turned so they can see properly. These are guys who run cattle, build fences and houses, work as border guards, farm. They’re smart, and they can speak their minds, but they’re not given to speaking of love.

And you can see them listen.

I fell in love with my community all over again at that moment. When the lights came up, you just knew how happy everyone was they were there. Glenn talked to more people, sold CDs, took in the glowing faces. Glowed himself. It was magic.

You never know where magic is going to come from.

Where do you find magic in your community? What makes you fall in love with it all over again?


Norine March 31, 2012 at 10:01 am

What a wonderfully told story. Thanks, Laureen.

Laureen March 31, 2012 at 10:31 am

It was a wonderful feeling. Thank you for enjoying it with me.

Glenn Sutter July 31, 2012 at 10:53 am

What a beautiful account of that night! Thanks for penning and posting it, Laureen. It’s a rare gift, and inspiring, to get this sort of feedback about my music. Would it be ok with you if I posted a link to it via Facebook and my website? – Glenn

Laureen July 31, 2012 at 11:47 am

It was an inspiring night, Glenn. Thank you for bringing your music to us. And I’d be delighted if you posted a link to the blog!

All the best to you.

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