Sara May’s Homecoming
When the musician came back to Orangeville, she was skeptical about the small town she’d grown up in. What she discovered was a creative “dream space.”
I came back to Orangeville when I was 22, after spending five years immersed in the hustle and bustle of the big city. I was fresh out of university, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and very skeptical about the small town I’d grown up in. A town that, for me, was riddled with teenage memories and emotions that rode the line between traumatic and hilarious. A town I never paid much attention to, having spent my time here on the edge of my seat, eagerly awaiting to get away to bigger, better places.
At that point I’d been writing and performing music for about five years. I had just graduated from my long stint of touring open mics around the city and had started playing shows on my own, as a solo singer-songwriter under the name “Falcon Jane.”
Once I came back to Orangeville I started casually jamming with my friend Jay, completely unaware this collaboration would lay the groundwork for Falcon Jane becoming the musical force it is today. We both played guitar, and got together about once a week to fiddle around with the songs I’d written. We had visions of performing live but no concrete plans or show dates.
One day in late 2013, I received an out-of-the-blue message from Ricky Schaede, a name I didn’t know at the time, but would later become a fixture not only in my life, but also in the Orangeville arts scene. He said he worked at Euphoria Café and had heard about me through my mom, who owns Maggiolly Art Supplies. He asked if I’d be interested in performing at what he referred to as a “fundraiser jamboree at a new art space on Broadway called Club Art.” Figuring it would be a good opportunity for Jay and me to premiere our new two-piece band, I agreed.
And so it began.
I didn’t know what to expect, as you never really do with live shows. All you can do is show up, adapt to the environment, play your best and hope someone is listening. I remember climbing the long flight of stairs up to the third floor of what used to be As We Grow and is now Koros Games. I walked into Club Art that day with an attitude that sat somewhere between apathy and cynicism. But almost immediately upon entering, my uncongenial city-slicker guard was brought crumbling down.
The big space was full of colour, art, music, laughter, and creative young people who seemed to be, as the graffiti on the wall boasted, “High on Art.” I floated through it, feeling as though I was held by the hand and guided around the room, each person warmly introducing themselves to me, humbly showing off their latest creative endeavour and expressing genuine gratitude that I was there.
There are many moments in my life that I consider essential steps in the journey that got me to where I am now, and that day was one of them. There we were, looking each other up and down, finding out where we came from, and who we wanted to be. It was the first time I laid eyes on my partner, Andrew, the first time I got my photo taken by Jim Waddington, and the first time I put a face to the name Ricky Schaede.
Jay and I played our set, surrounded by supportive, smiling strangers. After we played, we mingled for a bit, got a group photo taken by Jim, and then I left. There was a warm feeling radiating in my chest – like romance, or pride. That feeling stuck with me. I couldn’t shake the sense of all those unfamiliar faces welcoming me into what seemed like a very loving family.
This wasn’t the Orangeville I was expecting. It wasn’t the town I thought I knew, the town in which I had previously spent 10 years feeling like a visitor. It was a fresh, loving community, bursting at the seams with imagination and excitement.
What followed were two years of riding the vibe of newfound friendships, the excitement of getting to know someone new, and also getting reacquainted with the town we had almost written off. Orangeville felt like a dream space. I immediately ditched my city life and moved back to Hockley. I went to Paws and Claws and the Salvation Army and bought myself a wardrobe that matched my mood – bright colours, surreal patterns, bedazzled, bejewelled, beautiful. I dug hard into my music, and vowed to pursue it without inhibition.
As a group we were unstoppable. We sauntered up and down Broadway, serendipitously found each other at Euphoria, and followed wherever the day would take us. Falcon Jane quickly grew from two to four, and we continued playing at Club Art, walking up the stairs with our instruments in one hand and our discreet cups of wine in the other. We put on shows in backyards, in back rooms. We always played for free, for fun, for whomever might show up. Afterward we’d run down the street and party at a nearby apartment, or in someone’s parents’ basement or garage.
It always seemed to be sunny, always warm. It felt like I was always smiling, always laughing, always a little buzzed. We spent nights at the Tipsy Toad, dancing and singing along to the Justin McDonald band. We spent my birthday lying under blankets, looking up at the stars. We sat by rivers, on rooftops, on the stoop of the old Aardvark Music building. We talked about how wonderful life was and all the great things the universe was bound to bring to us, if we just kept going, kept dreaming. Every lazy afternoon was so creatively productive, coming away from a casual hangout with a new music video, or song or drawing. We played music because it felt good, we painted because we didn’t care, we made time for each other because we loved each other. We were stretching our creative legs and forming a network of support that felt unbreakable.
And then things changed, as they always do.
I don’t know exactly when the big shift happened. It was likely gradual, as these things seem to be. Suddenly it felt like everyone was gone, or unavailable, or not on good terms. Burnt bridges, bad blood.
Our common spaces were dissolving. The Club Art space shut down, and suddenly all the venues that were promoting original music were gone. We stopped spending as much time together and more time on our own, trying to take our individual lives more seriously. Everyone seemed to have their own agenda, their own priorities. We were all trying to make names for ourselves, make a buck, and somehow make it as creative people in a society that seemed less and less interested in supporting independent artists.
I became slightly bitter. I felt too young to have so many ex-friends. I didn’t understand why we had fallen apart. My band, which had been a centrepiece of my social circle for so long, started feeling like a graveyard of fallen friendships. I would offhandedly refer to Orangeville as a “dead zone.” Because I felt alone, the town started feeling devoid of culture, of creative excitement. I felt like I had to get out, but I didn’t know where to go.
And then came 2020.
This year has been straight up awful in so many ways. I’ve never felt more anxious in my life. But something special has been happening through all the anguish. Whether it was the extreme isolation, or the occupational pause, or the common fear for our lives, something brought us together again.
It started with another out-of-the-blue message: “I’m two wine spritzers deep. I miss you all.” Which lead to an unwaveringly loyal commitment to weekly virtual parties while we were in Covid lockdown. We dressed up, we played games, we created music and videos and sent them to each other as gifts. We had birthday parties, sang songs. We spent all week looking forward to our virtual gatherings – that moment when we could let loose in the company of others.
The first time we got together in person after spending months alone in our respective homes, Andrew and I hung lights and lit candles in his backyard. I waited with excitement for each guest to arrive, a warm feeling glowing from within me. There it was, that same feeling of community I had felt so many years ago. Feeling in love, feeling understood, feeling alive. An adoring alliance that nurtured the individuality in each of us.
Perhaps the forced separation made us realize we really didn’t want to be separated at all. It alleviated the responsibility of maintaining friendships while trying to grow creatively – an undertaking that can lead in all kinds of unknown directions.
And now my bitterness has evaporated. I look back fondly and know I’ll always hold those years when I rediscovered Orangeville close to my heart. The years when so many seeds were planted in my creative journey and identity, when we all first found each other, and in turn found ourselves – a true spiritual awakening on the cusp between adolescence and adulthood. As it was happening, I couldn’t believe my luck. I felt like I was home.