Sil sit down with Steven Page on first BPAC performance since COVID

On Nov. 13, the Steven Page Trio is once again performing at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre as part of an Ontario-wide tour. This performance marks approximately eighteen months since the trio’s last performance in Burlington — the group’s last show before the COVID-19 pandemic locked down Canada.

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“It feels great . . . I think I might have maybe expected something — some deeper feeling that I was getting because it’s what I’ve done for 30 years and if you’re away from it, but [because] I’ve been doing the online shows through most of the pandemic, I kind of kept some of my chops up and I’m able to because they’re on Zoom,” said Steven Page, former frontman of Barenaked Ladies and Canadian Music Hall of Fame recipient.

Since April 2020, Page has been livestreaming weekly concerts from his basement. Selling tickets for a small price, the musician has been able to ensure fans still get a taste of live music in a safe way from home. To date, Page has livestreamed 74 shows with plans to do more in the future in between his in-person shows.

“When everything shut down and I watched a lot of musicians, my peers and also superstars and young people doing online streaming shows . . . at first I resisted it. I thought “I don’t know how interested I would be sitting here at this table with my guitar” and that they were often that kind of intimate “Hang out in the kitchen with Hugh Jackman” or something like that. I didn’t know if I wanted that, but people started to kind of expect if from everybody,” said Page.

Although Page was apprehensive at first, he became inspired by friend and Canadian singer-songwriter Dan Mangan’s company Side Door. In a pre-pandemic time, Side Door would organize concerts in peoples’ homes. Due to COVID-19, Side Door pivoted to organize livestreamed concerts. Page watched one of Mangan’s concerts and saw the opportunity to have a musician play to an audience, albeit virtually.

“I thought I’d try [performing] one and so you charge eight bucks a concert, it’s not a heck of a lot but I play two to two and a half hours. They’re long shows, but that’s how it ended up evolving and I think once I realized it was something that we could actually do as musicians that kept us in our jobs in a time when our jobs were impossible, it was pretty exciting,” said Page.

In 1991, Page rose to popularity with the release of “The Yellow Tape”, a demo tape created by Barenaked Ladies. Helmed by duo Ed Robertson and Page, the band was set to play Toronto City Hall’s New Year’s Eve party but were removed from the setlist due to controversy of the band’s name. Instead, BNL performed at McMaster University.

“I guess I remember it was one of those things that it didn’t register with us that much that we got kicked off the Toronto City Hall show. We were bummed about it, but we had other shows before too where people would be like “Oh I don’t want those guys” and sometimes it was about our name, sometimes it’s just that they didn’t like us or we didn’t draw well enough or whatever. So, we went and did the show at McMaster for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Eve is always fun and wild and that was that. But the whole publicity that came out of that thing later, happened after New Year’s. I think somebody at the [Toronto] Star caught wind of it and ended up putting it on the front page of the newspaper and that was a big part of how people got to know who Barenaked Ladies were back then. But we were kind of nonplussed and just happy to have the university gig,” said Page.

Just over 30 years later, Page is still performing, now with the Steven Page Trio comprised of Craig Northey on the guitar and Kevin Fox on the cello.

“The greatest thing for me at the beginning was reuniting with Craig Northey and Kevin Fox in my trio because we haven’t been able to be in the same room together like that, but after a few shows under our belts, now we can step back and go “Oh, we’re playing really well together”. You start to, I think, enjoy the things that you maybe took for granted pre-pandemic, just the little nuances musically or the moments together on stage, or the response from the audience,” explained Page.

Although provincial restrictions are slowly lifting, many live shows have yet to return with many still apprehensive to partake in an atmosphere with hundreds of people. Page shared why he thought now was the right time to return with Northey and Fox to the stage.

“You know I’ll be honest; I didn’t have any plans to be first out of the gate. It was not what we’re trying to do, but this tour of these shows, you often book a whole bunch of shows at once and it was supposed to happen in the fall of 2020 and of course it didn’t happen then. So, then they’re like “Well, let’s move it to March of 2021” because the whole industry kept trying to figure out when was live music going to happen again” said Page.

The show was moved to middle of November in hopes it would be safe to perform to a full audience. In July 2021, Page performed a few shows in the United States to a very welcoming audience; however, then the delta variant of COVID-19 became prevalent. Page has attempted to find a way to bring music to those who are comfortable to be in public settings as well as those who might not be comfortable yet.

“People got a lot more cautious, which was great — I’m happy for people to be cautious which is why, for instance with these shows, in Burlington, people can buy a streaming ticket if they’d rather have one in-person. Which I think is great, but we also have all the vaccine and mask precautions, so it makes it safe,” said Page.

Many know the sound of Page’s voice from hit songs like “If I Had a Million Dollars” or “One Week”. Although much of his set is comprised of songs from his solo adventures, Page shared his favourite song that never gets old to play.

“I’ve been lucky. I enjoy playing most of the songs all the time and I also have enough of a catalogue that I can skip one now and again, if I want to. But “Brian Wilson” is the one I usually close with and that one, it doesn’t get old. For me, it’s not about me singing my song or whatever else. For me it’s about hearing and seeing the audience bring whatever [memories] . . . and I love that. I love that people bringing their own memories of a song with them to this new place altogether and that’s what “Brian Wilson” is for me,” explained Page.

Reflecting on his career, Page had some advice for McMaster students, sharing one of his own experiences.

“You know, I’ll tell you about my own university experience. I went to York [University] and I dropped out in my fourth year and part of me still is like “I wish I had my degree” as if it would have mattered at all to my career path. But, I admit, I enjoyed doing the work and I enjoyed being a student, but I just jumped onto being an artist because it presented itself. I had an opportunity to go on the road and tour, so I was going to do it. I think young people now know so much better than my generation did that it’s okay to follow your instincts on something and do 15 different things and come back to it later. As opposed to having that singular track that we were brought up to believe. You go to school and you become a thing and that thing is who you are for the rest of your life. I’m a doctor, I’m a scientist, I’m a whatever. I think your generation understands much better and I think it’s awesome that you can do those things as long as you want to do them and then you can do something else,” said Page.

The Steven Page Trio will be performing at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre on Saturday, November 13, 2021. Tickets can be purchased for an in-person concert or livestreamed show.

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