Building a Nation – one home at a time.

Bill Stafford plays "Voyageur" on Voyageur at OHBA Fallsview Back in 1995 I had a dream about an instrument that would somehow house a million stories of Canada. After 11 years of research and consultation and collaboration with many others, luthier George Rizsanyi executed that vision using the materials I collected and he made it sturdy and sonorous and beautiful and welcoming to players of all sizes, shapes and abilities. Over the years, the experiences of this guitar, Voyageur, in the stories that I tell about it and the stories others add to it and tell about it and the travels that it makes and the musicians who bring it to life through performances and recordings and compositions, have made it a home for a living, breathing and vital idea of Canada – one that resonates on so many levels with so many different people. And this story seemed to really resonate also with the attendees of the 2017 Ontario Homebuilders Association Conference – people who design and build and equip and protect and renovate and decorate and innovate the houses and homes where people make their lives and memories in the province of Ontario – earlier this week at the Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls. In spite of heavy morning rush hour traffic (and an especially nasty accident in the opposite direction on the Burlington Skyway – so sorry for those involved) I was able to get to the venue in time to do a tech check and visit some of the exhibitors ringing the perimeter of the Grand Hall ballroom. Even if the American government isn’t willing to acknowledge climate change, the OHBA and its suppliers made it a big topic at this conference and I got to meet some of the people designing and implementing technology solutions for super efficient homes, which was super interesting! I also got to sample some Niagara Gold Cheddar soup as the lunch buffet got underway. OMG – Best. Soup. Ever. AND, I got a chance to hang out for a while with Bill Stafford (pictured), an amateur player from nearby Beamsville whom one of the conference organizers had enticed to fill the “performance pocket” part of the presentation. Bill has had a fascinating journey in life with all kinds of travels and adventures as a mechanic and technologist and teacher and business owner but at this point he’s playing guitar, writing songs, letting his grown kids take over the business, honing his life philosophy and cultivating some amazing mutton chops! Honestly, in both looks and temperament he was a spitting image of Sam Elliott‘s “The Stranger” character in The Big Lebowski. If I could have bought him a sarsaparilla, I would have! During our conversation, he told me that he was going to play a song that he’d never performed in public before; a song that he’d written for his wife about their experience of building a home together – the patience and commitment and joy of it – a song so new that he didn’t yet have a title for it. When he got up to do the song near the end of the proceedings, he’d clearly been moved by the presentation and he remarked that it had added a whole new dimension to his choice and his performance. We had a chance to say goodbye when he bought a book out in the lobby afterwards and then, about a half an hour later, one of the OHBA organizers came up to tell me that Bill had called from the drive home to Beamsville and wanted them to let me know that he’d come up with a title for the song: “Voyageur”. That’s an honour, Bill – thank you! Thanks also to the stage and sound crew at Fallsview, to Emma Maynard of the OHBA who was a pleasure to deal with from start to finish, to Lynda Busch who handled book sales and kept things orderly at the guitar meet-and-greet, and all the attendees who came up afterwards to tell me their stories, have me sign their books and take pictures with Voyageur. And thanks, as always, for my friends at the National Speakers Bureau for handling this booking as well as for their ongoing support and enthusiasm for what I do. Finally, special thanks to my old high school friend Scott Bullock – now an OHBA veteran – who was in attendance and captured Bill’s performance in a Facebook video and reminded me that those old connections are also foundations we build on in life. Great to see you, man!