Playing with your hero; how I shared the stage with Sarah Slean

On stage with my musical heroine, Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah Slean! Photo by Patrick Meeuwenberg.
On stage with my musical heroine, Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah Slean!
Photo by Patrick Meeuwenberg.

Every musician has a hero. Someone they’d like to be like. Someone who they’d love a chance to play with. For the last decade or so, Sarah Slean has been that hero for me. And last year, I got to share the stage with her and got to hear her sing one of my songs

For those unfamiliar with this goddess, Sarah Slean is a Canadian singer-songwriter and pianist. That description doesn’t really do her justice though. She writes fabulous, life-affirming songs, influenced by cabaret and Paris and philosophers and nature. She also writes poetry, paints, composes classical music and acts. I tell you, there isn’t anything this lady can’t do. If you are not familiar with her work, I strongly urge you to check it out.

Last September, she played two shows in the Netherlands. I had seen her live a few times before, and spent some time talking with her at those shows. Before the first September show in Amsterdam, I tweeted her “would it be weird if I brought my ukulele?”. You see, she inspires me a lot, and I wanted to play her one of my songs. Her reply: “Who would say no to a ukulele?! I mean REALLY?” And so I brought my uke to that first show. Because I’m a nerd who always arrives super early, I managed to see Sarah before the show started, she asked me what I could play, and when I mentioned I could play Set It Free, one of her songs, she immediately suggested playing it together.

Uh, okay! And so it happened that halfway during her set, Sarah asked me to come up and I played Set It Free along with her. We didn’t rehearse it in any way and I made a few mistakes but I don’t think anyone really noticed. More importantly, it was oh so awesome to be out there playing with her.

“But wait!”, I hear you say. “Didn’t  you say you played one of your songs with her?” Reader, so I did. Because after that Amsterdam show, I did play her one of my songs in the lobby. By the end she was already humming along to it. “That’s a really good pop song! Can you send me the lyrics? I want to sing backing vocals tomorrow!”

And so I did. The next night, in Qbus in Leiden, Sarah again called me up on stage. First we played Set It Free again (the above video is from that night), and then I played my song Shake it up and she sang backing vocals. Again, without any rehearsal (which explains why I fudged the last note of the chorus the first time around).

As you can imagine, it was a pretty amazing night for me. I mean, how many singer-songwriters get to share the stage with their hero at all, never mind so early in their career? And not only did I play with Sarah Slean, I also managed to not get overrun with nerves or fuck up too badly. It remains one of my proudest moments.

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