It’s hard to imagine that as a writer of songs about freedom and joy Valdy has not once, in five decades, climbed up the stair to the stage that was there with just a day’s notice.
“I’ve sung for people and they brought friends over,” the Canadian folk icon explained while sitting on a shady porch of a home in central Barrie. “But the day before we decide to do it, never.”
That all changed Wednesday evening when that porch, framed by farm implements and flowers, became a stage and the facing driveway filled with lawn chairs for an audience of about 60 people.
It was an organic affair, a nod to the genre itself.
Valdy, a spry 77-year-old who was favouring a tender shoulder from a recent incident, told the stories of his songs as he performed. The popular Rock and Roll Song emanated from his experience at the 1969 Aldergrove Beach Rock Festival in British Columbia's Fraser Valley.
“It was really the wrong place to be,” he told the audience. “I was presented as a folk singer and that didn’t go well.”
The resulting song, however, did go over well. Rock and Roll Song was on RPM’s Top 40 singles chart for Canada for 12 weeks and went gold by 1975.
Wednesday’s audience, though, was made up of members of the Barrie Folk Society and their larger circle, which may have expanded when word of the event was announced Tuesday evening on Facebook.
Host Arnie Ivsins then fielded the inquiries, responding to the requests with the location, set up the society’s sound system, ran to the store to get lemons for the lemon water, switched on the porch lights and Valdy was presented as the kind of a singer that all could enjoy.
And they were all in the mood to listen.
He performed more of his originals as well as songs by Pete Seeger, Max Bennett and Roger Miller.
And he proved that all can be changed by weaving in narration and re-adapting the lyrics to A Good Song to talk about his 36-year marriage to Kathleen.
During a break, he hauled chalk boards with requests closer to his stage and used them as his set list.
Valdy had come to the area to play to a sold-out audience in Orillia on Tuesday, but built some flexibility into his schedule.
While staying at the home of Linda and Arnie Ivsins earlier this week, which is his wont when he’s in the area, Valdy and the Ivsins got to chatting. And somehow, on Tuesday morning, they decided they’d throw together a concert around the Ivsins' porch the following evening.
The Ivsins' property backs onto a ravine lot where mosquitoes thrive, so they opted for the porch/driveway combination along the side of the house.
“It’s Valdy’s decision to go by donation as opposed to a set price — that makes it easy for us. We’ll just pass the hat around,” explained Arnie, with a little chuckle prior to the event.
Part of the proceeds would go to the Ukraine Defense Fund, the audience was later told.
The surprise is neither the Ivsins, having long been involved in the local folk music movement, nor Valdy, who released his first of 18 albums Country Man, featuring Rock and Roll Song and A Good Song, 51 years ago, has ever thrown a spontaneous or pop-up concert.
When asked why add in another performance, Valdy replied: “I like to play. It’s very selfish.”
As Arnie tells it, Valdy is largely responsible for adding credibility to the Barrie Folk Society in its nascency more than 20 years ago. The founding group set out to put on house concerts, but the goal was to bring world-class musicians to Barrie.
“And I’m known the world over — from Toronto to Oshawa,” Valdy chimed in.
Valdy agreed to come to Barrie, packing Linda’s parents' “big house” on Mulcaster Street.
The Barrie Folk Society had no trouble booking acts after that.
Valdy has since been to Barrie several times, playing the rooftop at the downtown library, the Five Points Theatre, a church, as well as at other homes.
“He gave us legitimacy,” said Arnie.
As he was preparing to perform at the Barrie library, Canadian folk musician Garnet Rogers told Arnie that Valdy had spoken highly of the local group.
Groups like the Barrie Folk Society, added Valdy, are an important aspect of the music scene.
“Music is generated by music,” he said. “There has to be a love of music for it to grow.”
The problem, he added, is that many of the people involved in these groups are getting older. The Barrie group, added Arnie, largely consists of the original group of people who founded it 24 years ago. New blood, they agreed, is needed.
Valdy, who hails from Ottawa but now lives in B.C., has won Juno Awards for folk singer of the year and folk entertainer of the year, along with seven additional nominations and four certified gold records. He was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 2011.
A Simple Life, from his 1973 album Landscapes, also charted in Canada. His music was also featured in the 1972 Steve McQueen film The Getaway.