The third annual Beverly Street School fundraiser, Dream Serenade, held at Massey Hall Oct 22 2016, promised a good time for staff, parents, families and friends but last night’s show really delivered on the promise, it was the stuff of dreams.
This year's Serenade marked the debut of Broken Social Scene at the storied venue and they brought out almost the complete original line-up, including a surprise appearance by Feist. A very pregnant Amy Milan of Stars was also with BSS but she had her own separate set. Barenaked Ladies, Hayden, Lou Canon, Dan Mangan and New York a cappella group, The Persuasions filled out the bill.
It was however the surprise opening appearance of Gord Downie and his back-up band to play three songs from their Secret Path album that drew the loudest applause.
For those in the audience who are fans of the Tragically Hip, for those who missed out on tickets for the sold-out Canadian tour billed as the band’s final outing, for those who thought they may never experience the thrill of seeing Downie perform again after his diagnosis of terminal cancer earlier this year and in particular for those families whose own life circumstances would prevent them from seeing not just Downie in performance but any show, well, just the stuff of dreams really.
Funds raised at the Dream Serenade goes to Beverley Street, a school for special needs children aged 4 to 14. The money is used to provide respite services for parents who need a break every now and then, maybe even to see a live show. The daughter of Hayden Desser and Christie Greyerbiehl attends the school and they co-founded the fundraiser. So far they have raised $125,000, with some of of the sum also going to a new playground at Beverley. They also donated $20,000 last year to Toronto’s George Webster Elementary School for upgrades to their classrooms. Serenade concert alumni include members of the National, Billy Talent, Sarah Harmer and Kevin Hearn of Barenaked Ladies. Hearn’s daughter also attends Beverly.
Hearn pulled a double shift as a member Downie’s Secret Path band and of BNL. The Ladies played a rollicking fun-filled set with free raps, a song medley that included Drake’s Hot Line Bling and David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, plus a duet (?) with The Persuasions.
The six member singing group from Brooklyn have been together for 50 years and were discovered initially by Frank Zappa. They performed earlier this year with BNL at Central Park and Hearn was credited by school principal Alana Grossman for bringing them to the show. She also said she was sure he had something to do with getting Downie onboard too.
Downie’s advocacy for education about the history of First Nations in Canada struck a chord of course with so many teachers present but it also struck his fellow performers deeply too. Hayden ended his set with “Ahead By A Century”, just for “the beauty of the man” and when finished the song, left the stage quite abruptly, overwhelmed it seemed by the evening’s poignant undercurrent.
The emotions flowed throughout the night including during Broken Social Scene’s closing set. This was their Massey Hall debut, and with a lineup that had the aforementioned Feist and MIlan plus Kevin Drew, Charles Spearin, Brendan Canning, David French, Evan Cranley, James Shaw, Sam Goldberg Jr. and Andrew Whiteman, they chose the moment to poke a little fun at the venerated music hall by opening with “Lover’s Spit”, continuing into Anthem for a 17-year-old and the celebratory feel good roar of “Shoreline 7/4”.
The 2016 Dream Serenade was a roaring success, a celebration of community, of possibility, of hope, of music and ultimately of life itself. With so many stars on stage it would be easy to overlook the real stars of the night, the children and parents of Beverley Street School. Its their dreams the Serenade is helping to come true.