Anyone who heard Brian Griffith play guitar knew he possessed something remarkable. It wasn't just mind-blowing skill. It was artistry, imagination, and exuberance. The music world far and wide has been blessed by his musicianship, and Hamiltonians have been proud to call him one of their own. A couple weeks ago, on November 14, Brian suffered a heart attack and died, way, way too soon. It's hard to articulate the magnitude of this loss. I don't know enough about music production to make a clever metaphor, but if I could compare Hamilton's music scene to an orchestra, Brian's death is like having an entire section missing. It just seems incomplete without the sound he created.
Besides his immediate friendliness, what first struck me about Brian was his uninhibited and infectious excitement about music. He was passionate about Hamilton's music scene. He was giddy about the new musical ideas he was working on. He believed music should be experienced anywhere with anyone: on the big stage, at a Hess Village club, around the kitchen table, or on the front porch. In my opinion, Brian had the talent and the resumé - playing with the likes of Daniel Lanois, Willy Nelson, and Emmy Lou Harris - to have a giant rock and roll ego. Instead, he exuded gratitude and even awe that he was able to participate in and contribute to music culture. One of my favourite moments of that visit to his house was when he showed Sean and I the blanket Willy Nelson gave him, draped over his couch like a granny afghan. He got a real kick out of it.
After the interview, I spent a couple nights shooting video of Brian performing at some clubs in Hess Village. He played solo, and that weekend he also teamed up with Harrison Kennedy and Sharon Musgrave. As I zoomed in on his fingers dancing across the frets and strings, I could appreciate just how masterful he was. His face was alight with all the expressions of a truly passionate musician: smiling, grimacing, squinting, eyes closed with raised eyebrows (serenity, maybe?). I remember this great shot I got of him turning his head from side to side in time with the music, his dreadlocks flying: I shot it on a low shutter speed, so his dreadlocks were these blue-lit rhythmic blurs flying across the screen. And as I would pan across the stage, it was abundantly clear that everyone was having a great time up there with him.
The last time I saw and heard Brian Griffith play was this past August at the annual Greenbelt Harvest Picnic, a music festival organized by Daniel Lanois and Jean Paul Gauthier that celebrates the agriculture and arts culture of the Hamilton area. Brian was on small stage in the middle of the crowd, jamming with Daniel Lanois, playing with the freestyle agility and artistry that so typified his musical presence. It's a great image: Brian jamming with a few guys, surrounded by appreciative listeners, with the sounds echoing off Christie Lake through the trees.
As I said before, it's hard to express the immensity of this loss. Another Hamilton musician Tom Wilson said it well, I think: "Brian was really what Hamilton music was all about. He was about neighbourhood. He loved playing on his block. Nobody else could give what he gave us. He inspired generations." I guess we can just smile with gratitude that we were able to enjoy the gifts he so abundantly shared with everyone while he was here.