Saturday, July 18, 2009

Oh, Regina, You Virgin Queen

Here's a short essay I wrote that ran in the prairie dog about a month ago.

My friends Scotty and Kristen, of the pop group the Choir Practice, came back to Vancouver last summer after playing shows in Regina with shocking news. They loved it.
This was not what I was used to hearing from touring musicians who play my hometown. Empty clubs or inattentive bar crowds who talk through the whole set are the usual reports from the road, so Scotty and Kristen’s raves about their enthusiastic audience and great gigs left me a little confused. Then Kristen gushed about the vibrant downtown and beautiful Victoria Park. And that’s when I knew what they were talking about.
They didn’t play a show in Regina, they played the Regina Folk Festival. A totally different beast. The Folk Festival is one of several times throughout the summer when, like the lost city of Shangri La, a different Regina reveals itself. It’s the Platonic Ideal of Regina, a place where arts, culture, food and community are valued and celebrated. It’s a city that approaches the cosmopolitan. It’s the Regina that Regina could be all the time, if only it would let itself.
That’s not the Regina I left three years ago. The Regina I walked away from was the one with only one, almost quixotic movie screen left downtown. It was the city whose economic growth didn’t have room for the inner city neighbourhoods, where urban sprawl is valued over urban growth. It was a city that no longer had a centrally-located new bookstore where you could just easily find Saskatchewan authors Dianne Warren, Cliff Burns and Dave Margoshes alongside works by Noam Chomsky, George Pelecanos or Richard Meltzer. It was a city I wasn’t sure shared my values anymore. It was a city I had little confidence in.
A few years ago, back when I still believed in Regina, my friend Mike Burns, that great promoter and defender of the arts in Regina, liked to repeat a line from the David Mamet film State and Main: “Everybody makes their own fun. If you don’t make it yourself, it isn’t fun. It’s entertainment.”
It all seems so easy and simple during the honeyed days of summer. From the Cathedral Street Fair to the Folk Festival to the Farmers Market, there’s that Ideal Regina, making its own fun. That’s the Regina I love, that’s the Regina I miss.
I keep hearing that Regina’s changed these last three years, I hope it’s been for the better.


Cliff Burns said...

To tell you the truth, Saskatoon is more like my kinda town. It just seems hipper, less uptight, more open and artsy. I lived in Regina for over 10 years and formed some roots...but with the loss of places like Buzzword Books in the Cathedral area, friends who have moved on, it's just a place I visit (and very rarely). As a family, we try to hit Saskatoon at least once a month for our fix of bookstores, ethnic cuisine, etc.

Thanks for the mench in your post and for rekindling a few old memories.

Paul Dechene said...

Great piece, Emmet.