Rex Brown was a little caught off guard when he was called up Saturday morning and asked to recall some of the highlights of the March Hare.
Now in its 32nd year, Brown has been a part of the Corner Brook-based festival since its early days, starting out as right-hand man to festival founder, poet and author Al Pittman.
So, it didn’t take long for the festival’s project manager to start talking.
“Al and I would always get together in a bar, because Al like to sip on his Screech and coke,” said Brown with a laugh.
That bar was Casual Jack’s, now the location of Louis Gee’s, and that’s where they, often joined by Nick Avis, would make their plans for the March Hare.
“So, I’ve got many, many good memories of doing March Hare business in a very congenial atmosphere.”
Brown remembers Mr. Pittman, who died in 2001, as a colourful guy.
“Whenever you were in his company it was always quite pleasant and quite stimulating.”
Mr. Pittman, who was a teacher, often had people present original work to him to critique, a critique that Brown said was always honest and meant a lot of writing in the margins.
“When he’d hand it back to them they’d be right discouraged,” said Brown.
But what Mr. Pittman would say is they didn’t realize that 90 per cent of what he wrote ended up in the garbage and the other 10 per cent was written 30 and 40 times.
“I suspect that he was probably being a bit harsh on himself,” said Brown, but noted Mr. Pittman was meticulous in his writing. “He’d just go over and over it until it sounded the way he wanted it to.”
Brown said he’ll also always remember the last time that Smokey (David) Elliott read at a March Hare about 20 years ago.
Mr. Elliott’s health was failing but, just as from the time of the first March Hare, he led off the Saturday night program.
“And he went up to the mike and he said, ‘I’d like to speak without the bother of talking.’ Which was very profound.”
And through the years there’s been numerous memorable performances from poets and authors and singers.
One that stands out for Brown is the time that Gerald Squires recited Mr. Elliott’s “Didymus on Saturday” at the former Columbus Club.
“He just went up to the podium and he read the first line, and then he just tipped back on his heels and sort of stared out and recited the rest of it. He had it committed all to memory, (it was a) favourite poem of his and it was just an incredible, incredible performance.”
Back in the 1990s another memorable performance took place when singer-songwriter Ron Hynes sang “Atlantic Blue,” a song he wrote in honour of the Ocean Ranger crew.
“The one who got floored was Ron,” said Brown of the impact of that performance. “He told me after that it was just incredible to be able to do that song for 200 people and that they were with him for every word and every note.
“It was just that the place was theatrically, totally silent with everybody taking in every word.”
Hynes, who died in 2015, was used to performing in downtown bars and Brown said to have people appreciate his artistry in that manner was very meaningful to him.
For Brown a favourite performance came about 15 years ago when Pamela Morgan and Anita Best took to the stage at King Henry’s Pub in the Glynmill Inn.
“I was sitting on the floor up at the corner of the stage and I was transfixed and so was everybody in the audience including Alistair MacLeod, who was there with the tears streaming down his face.”