They say that coincidence is when God works a miracle and chooses to remain anonymous, and that serendipity is the art of making an unsought finding. And if there’s ever a time that you want these sorts of things to happen, it’s when you’re trying to piece together a special weekend to celebrate your wedding anniversary. As it happened, Kelly and I found ourselves trying to do just that – just a few weeks ago – as we searched for a B&B within driving distance that might have space available over the weekend that plays host to both Independence Day and Canada Day, depending on which side of the border you’re looking…
As it happened, we found a place, and booked a 3-night stay at the Timberhouse Lodge, nestled at the edge of Prince Edward County, Ontario. After a 5-hour drive with a dinnertime pit stop in Alexandria Bay, we settled into our room, too tired to spend much effort looking through the brochures we’d picked up, or planning the next day’s adventures. At breakfast, a charming retired couple joined us at our table – after the usual greetings and pleasantries, they explained that they were visiting the area for a special concert. Apparently, they were on the mailing list of a local winery and had tickets for a concert. And the artist? Just a singer from nearby Kingston – maybe we’ve heard of her? – her name is Sarah Harmer.
As it turns out, we had heard of the delightful Sarah Harmer. She’s been a darling of local indie station WBER, and even came to Rochester for a concert at the Water Street Music Hall, years before Kelly and I were married – a concert that we attended and enjoyed! So, needless to say, we were excited, and kept our fingers crossed that there’d be a few extra tickets available if we showed up at the winery, smiled real big and maybe bought a few bottles of wine to take home.
Thanks to the efforts of Robert, the owner of Chadsey’s Cairns winery, we were able to get the last two tickets – sealed with a rooster hand stamp. After trying some wine in their barn-turned-tasting-room, we took a quick peek at the venue: a nearby barn lined with chairs and hay bales, complete with a stage, endless strings of tiny white lights, and a cool breeze through the open pasture door.
A couple of hours later, we arrived alongside a hundred-fifty-or-so other (far more invited) guests. Kids climbed around the stacks of hay, parents mingled over glasses of wine, and we found a comfortable bale on which to park. Streams of afternoon sunlight cut through the barn’s siding, painting bright stripes over long-dormant farm equipment and highlighting what little dust floated through the air as if it were fireflies brought in just for this occasion. The concert opened with the lead singer from the Canadian band Bahamas playing a solo set, just as Sarah would not long after. A witty and likable amalgamation of Willy Nelson’s guitar, John Mayer’s voice and lyrics landing somewhere in the triangle connecting the Barenaked Ladies, Jason Mraz and The Weepies, Afie Jurvanen played a set of original songs that made us smile, and set the stage of good vibes perfectly for the rest of the afternoon.
After a short break, Sarah stepped nonchalantly from a small room off to one side, finished in the same slatted siding that was now casting long strips of amber late-afternoon light over the stage. With no fanfare and just a short introduction from the winery’s owner, she started into spinning her unique flavor of indie-infused folk that’s simultaneously brilliant and down-to-earth; through the delightfully-clear concert sound system, the pitch and intonation of her voice would have been at home right alongside Sarah Mclachlan or Regina Spektor. She ran through some favorites (Basement Apartment, I am Aglow), a handful of covers, and even a few new songs – one highlight was her performance of an upbeat commissioned song for the Canadian National Parks Service (presumably) titled “Won’t You Come With Me?“ that put a smile on all our faces. Though she only speaks English, she did impress us with one verse in French after describing the difficulty she had in recording the French version. At another spot, when she forgot a chord for a cover song, she just started experimenting with the audience – eventually someone called out “B-flat!” and as she played it, a satisfied smile washed over everyone and the song casually resumed.
As Afie and Sarah played, I stopped at odd intervals and looked around. I watched people in the audience pouring wine and smiling, watched a small spider work across one beam of sunlight building a web that would have shamed Charlotte herself, watched as kids played on the broad, well-worn floorboards at the performers’ feet, prompting occasional smiles from behind the microphone that tinted the lyrics with joy. It reminded me of an article I read while we were on our honeymoon. I thought, This – right here – is the kind of thing you only read about in magazines and food blogs. It was a rare, special, once-in-a-lifetime treat, indeed.