“I’ve never heard of it.”
“Is that even a real place?”
Those are among the common reactions I get when telling people my hometown. It’s only when I add “It’s where Neil Young is from!” that recognition arrives on their face. It never gets old.
You see, here in Omemee, Neil is what we’re the most proud of and we’ll never stop talking about it.
When speculation first began circulating about his mystery performance, I knew it meant he was coming back to us. Call it Omemee intuition. When the news was officially confirmed that Omemee was the location of the show, I cried.
Our boy — our Omemee pride — was coming home.
My family moved to Omemee a few weeks before my fourth birthday, but I had been introduced to Neil’s music long before that. My dad, having been a fan since the ’70s, doesn’t much believe in headphones. Speakers are his preferred method for enjoying music, which meant the rest of us experienced it too; whether we liked it or not. Luckily for me, I loved it.
As fate would have it, we moved to Omemee because my dad got a teaching job at Scott Young Public School — named after Neil’s journalist father. It was only then that he realised his new connection with a rockstar.
That connection made itself profoundly worth it when a member of the Neil Young entourage approached the Scott Young staff last week to offer up a $40, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If they wanted it, they could get their names on the very small list of people invited into the concert at Coronation Hall. He chose me as his plus-one.
Cue, once again, the tears.
Omemee’s temporary population all but tripled the night of the concert. Sure, Santa was there for the annual tree-lighting, but crowds were forming for someone with less beard and more mutton chop. I’ve never seen Omemee so full of life. I don’t think there ever has been or ever will be a more exciting day on our streets.
Those who were included on the guest list began forming a line in front of the hall at about 4 p.m. with doors opening 7 p.m. Dad and I were among the first three in line, because the standing area was first-come first-served. We weren’t about to accept anything less than a perfect line of sight to the stage.
The standing area was separated from the stage by about five rows of seats. We had a perfectly centred, unobstructed view of it.
Neil meandered onto the stage at 8 p.m. He began playing almost immediately. The crowd was completely and utterly transfixed. There wasn’t a phone or camera in sight, and not a sound coming from anywhere or anyone but the man on stage.
It was the definition of intimate. Neil Young, alone on stage, playing acoustic renditions of songs from throughout his long musical career: it doesn’t get more Omemee than that.
Over the course of the evening, Neil alternated between several guitars, two pianos, an organ, a handful of harmonicas, and multiple hats.
He shared stories of a lot of the instruments, like how his baby grand piano has lived through more than one hundred years and a fire.
He showed us a bullet hole in the bottom of one of his guitars, each of which had a name. Hank was my favourite.
His sense of humour was unexpected but warmly received.
“I’m a little bit nervous here,” he told us. “I’m just settling into Omemee.”
If he hadn’t said it, we wouldn’t have known. He seemed comfortable; he seemed at home.
Then, Neil picked up his ukulele and began playing his song ‘Tumbleweed’.
“Life is full of strange delights, in the darkness we find lights to make our way back home again,” he sang.
And it felt like he was singing not to us, but to the town.
You guessed it. More waterworks.
Dang, why does this lady cry so much? you may be asking. It’s hard to explain. This town, which according to Wikipedia is but a “community”, is so much more to those in it. And it’s a powerful moment when the man who’s been to Hollywood and Redwood and back still thinks so too.
Neil made a point of telling the audience that a portion of the funds raised from the evening would be going toward the music program at Scott Young Public School.
“Thank you for Scott Young School!” one of the teachers shouted, to which he replied with a peace sign and a smile.
One of my first stage performances as a musician was with the Scott Young Public School band for our 2006 Christmas concert. The venue? Omemee’s Coronation Hall.
Now that’s what I call full circle.