The Rankin Saga
A Vacation Adventure....of Sorts,
July, 1998

The whole thing started this spring, 1998. I said to Joan, "Where do you think we should go on vacation this summer?" She said that she had been talking to another teacher at school, and that the area around Kenora, Ontario, directly north of Minnesota, is supposed to be very beautiful.

I told her I would do an internet search, and see what I could find. I did, and didn't come up with much, but there was a link to an outdoor music festival which was going to be held near Kenora in July. I followed the link, and found the list of performers. Included among them was a group that I had recently become familiar with named "The Rankin Family". In looking further, there was also Ashley MacIsaac on the list, a Cape Breton fiddler who I also like.

I told Joan we should look at a vacation up to Canada, and then have it end at the music festival, and we could see these groups. Ah, such a simple plan!

Well, that's what we did. We took a vacation that went into North Dakota and the Badlands, up to Alberta, over to Saskatchewan, and then east to Ontario and the Kenora region. The festival, as documented in an earlier writing, turned out to be what could be called a debacle, catastrophe, or absolute disaster, depending on my mood. None of the groups we wanted to see appeared, the festival was extremely loud 24 hours a day...with rock music blaring throughout, and we had, all in all a miserable time. We did not know until the very last day that the Rankins and the promoters had never come to an agreement on a contract, so they were never going to appear. As soon as we heard that, on a Sunday afternoon, we got in the car and immediately left for home, which was about an eight hour drive. Did I forget the word fiasco? I think that also fit for part of the vacation.

When I got home, I wrote to the Rankin homepage, to whomever was there, and expressed my disappointment, after spending all that time and money, and not even getting close to the group I most wanted to see. I did realize that it was not the Rankin's fault, and that the festival promoter was to blame, but I just wanted to tell somebody about it.

A person at the management agency that handles the Rankins named Karen Maxwell wrote me back, and said she did feel sorry for me, and was very impressed with the eight hour drive home that we had. She asked if there was anything she could do, and said she'd put together a box of things and mail to me...kind of a surprise package.

A few days later, I received the package in the mail, and it was great! First, there were tee shirts for Joan and Me...Rankins Tee Shirts, of course! Then, there were some videos...of their releases in Canada that aren't seen here...two of those, and then a video of a segment from CBS Sunday Morning that profiled the group. Also, there were some CD singles of two of their releases, and also a few newsletters from the group.

I was thrilled to get these, and it did help the disappointment some. Karen mentioned in an email that she had mentioned my story to a fellow named Mickey Quase, who is the manager, and he said that if we ever planned to go to another Rankin performance, he would provide the tickets.

Well, unfortunately, the Rankins don't perform in the United States, so I doubted whether I would ever get the chance to take him up on his kind offer.

In August, I got an email from an email friend named Kimberley that the Rankins were to be performing in Thunder Bay, Ontario, about eight hours north of us, on Lake Superior. I hesitated to mention another trip to Canada to see the group after our last "episode", but did anyway, and Joan said we ought to check into it more. Isn't she wonderful!

I quickly e_mailed back Karen Maxwell, and asked if that offer about tickets still was good, and she wrote back that it was...I wrote back that it would be an even bigger thrill if we could also get backstage passes to actually meet the Rankins, and get my picture taken with them.

Karen wrote back and asked which night we would be attending, and that there would be tickets waiting for us! Now that was exciting! Scary, of course, since we had no assurance that all this information got communicated to whom needed to know it!

But we all must survive on acts of faith and we made plans to go for it! The kids could come home and "dog sit" for the weekend, so we were free to go for the entire weekend.

We left on Friday afternoon, after supper and headed to Duluth. It was hot...about 90 degrees when we left Cambridge, and headed north. We got to Duluth about 8:00, and it was gettting dark. It was much cooler already, thankfully, and the winds were picking up.

Saturday morning, we headed out early to Thunder Bay, Ontario, about 5_6 hours north. We hit rain and wind and fog all the way up, although the very hard rains were internmittent, thankfully! Traffic was light, and there was a lot of beautiful scenery to see. With the weather, however, we looked at most of it through the car window!

We got to Thunder Bay in the early afternoon, and located the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium, and then our hotel, and got all checked in. It felt good to relax a bit after a long drive. We went shopping and looking around Thunder Bay, and Joan found some Beanie Babies she didn't have, so she was happy!

In the later afternoon, we headed back to our hotel to get ready, and then to eat. Joan thought she had seen a different time on one of the clocks there, so we checked with the hotel manager and sure enough, they were NOT on Daylight Savings time there, so they were an hour later than we thought they were. This meant we had to hurry and change, and eat, in order to get to the auditorium on time!

Well, we got to the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium in plenty of time, and I began to wonder now if everything had fallen into place and that there indeed were tickets waiting for us! I went up to the window, and, sure enough, there were two tickets reserved for "Roger Anderson"! The first big hurdle had been cleared!

I thought that there were also going to be backstage passes, so I asked the ticket seller, and she sent me to the head usher, who in turn sent me to the folks who were selling the Rankins tee shirts, CD's etc. They got me in touch with a crew member ( a very nice fellow), and he said, "They didn't issue any backstage passes for this performance....."

Well, my heart sank at that moment, because I had actually had great hopes that things would go smoothly and we really would get a chance to meet them. He then said, "Just wait here after the show, and I'll bring you backstage myself...they just didn't print backstage passes." That improved my spirits immensely!

We were about a half hour early, so we went in to our seats. This was another risk, because they didn't necessarily have to be decent seats...just seats! They were about perfect! We were five or six rows back (E_22 and E_23, to be exact), and they were right in the middle. We figured that if we had been much closer, we couldn't see the full stage, and the gigantic speakers might have been a bit too much. We were VERY satisfied!

A fellow named Gordie Sampson, who is a member of the Rankin's band, actually was the opening act. He did three or four numbers, and has just had a CD released. He is quite good, and and excellent guitar player.

And then it was time for the Rankins! Oh, and what a show they did! They were absolutely marvelous! The talent and energy that they exhibited were enthralling, and I told myself a couple times how lucky I was to be there, and to be able to finally see them!

I just can't say enough about them. Each of them is so talented, and has such stage presence, and when they combined, it was multiplied. I knew all of the songs, of course, since I have all the CD's, so it was really neat to see them performed.

They got a standing ovation, of course, and they really deserved it. It is getting pretty much standard to have this happen, but this is one concert where it was very much earned....and their encore was interesting, because it really was spontaneous, and they took requests from the audience....Fare Thee Well, Rise Again, and Mull River Shuffle....what an ending! And the best was yet to come!

I ran out to the car after the performance and got the camera and pictures we wanted signed, and went back in to the theatre. The gentleman, true to his word, came and got us, and maybe a dozen other people, and took us backstage!

I should explain that the group is made up of five brothers and sisters: Cookie, Heather and Raylene are the women, and Jimmy and John Morris Rankin are the men. They are all talented but in different ways

Heather was the first one we got a chance to talk to, and she was interested in the fact we had come so far, and told us some of the problems they had with getting their recordings released the way they wanted in the United States. I was surprised at how young and how tiny she was, and so friendly and easy to talk to.

We chatted a while longer, and asked her to sign a couple pictures...

Cookie was next, and we had a nice chat with her too. I asked her about the difference between Irish and Gaelic, and she explained that the Gaelic they speak is different from the Gaelic in is based more on Scottish. I think she is cuter than her pictures, and I was also surprised at how tiny she was! She also recognized you from your picture, of course, and I told her you had sent it to me electronically.

Next, Jimmy and John Morris were standing talking, so we went over and talked to them for quite a while, and about a number of things, including Minnesota, how we got there, etc.

Then we saw Dan, the lighting guy, and John Chiasson, the bass player, and talked to them for a quite a while....They seemed like really nice guys and we had a nice visit.

Raylene didn't stick around very long, so we missed her, darn it, because I wanted to tell her what a beautiful voice she has too, and how lucky we felt to be there. She got a standing herself once for one of the numbers she did. She hit notes that are unbelievable! I'm sure they will not remember me, but believe me, I will remember them!

That's it in a nutshell...there is more to the story, of course. I had injured my back about a week previous, and then it got worse toward the end of the week. By Friday, I was in a lot of pain, and couldn't really maneuver too well, but I was bound and determined not to let that stop us...we were on a mission!

I did get my picture taken with Cookie, with Heather, and with Jimmy and John Morris....doesn't mean much to you, I know, but it does to me!

[A sad footnote: John Morris Rankin, a wonderful musician and songwriter, was killed in a car accident about a year later, driving on icy roads in Cape Breton. A genuine loss to the music world.]