Summer nights’ jazzy lights

Aurora borealis over downtown Saskatoon skyline, night of June 28-29, 2013 (Darrell Noakes)

Aurora borealis over downtown Saskatoon skyline, night of June 28-29, 2013 (Darrell Noakes)

I’ve enjoyed the works of Herbie Hancock and Dr. John as long as I can remember. Back as a teen in high school, I worked evenings and late nights at a small town FM radio station. A weekly jazz show was my only respite from the endless, dreary “easy listening” background music that took up most of the station’s airtime.

I’d like to be able to say that the Friday night jazz show came across as something along the lines of John Corbett’s fictional KBHR disk jockey character in Northern Exposure, but our station management would have had none of that, anyway: just play the music, kid, and keep the talk to a minimum. Come to think of it, though, Trail at the time of my youth had quite a bit in common with Cicely, except the isolation maybe, and could have benefited from someone like Chris Stevens.

Imagine my excitement, then, to discover Herbie Hancock and Dr. John and the Nite Trippers among the lineup for this year’s Saskatchewan Jazz Festival. No way we’re going to miss that!

Nature timed her own special fireworks perfectly with both shows’ encores. You couldn’t have timed it better if you’d planned it. About mid-way through Hancock’s last song, a huge thunderstorm passed over the Bessborough Gardens. I don’t think anyone noticed how thoroughly soaked everyone was becoming. The band was dry on-stage, but there sure was a deluge coming down on the audience. We didn’t mind. The lightning was like an added light show, and you couldn’t really hear the thunder over the music. Then, just as they were launching into the last song of the encore, the storm blew away as fast as it had hit, and a rainbow arched over the stage. Almost in unison, every phone camera in the audience was pointed skyward. Cell phone photos wouldn’t do it justice, and you won’t see mine posted anywhere.

Aurora borealis over downtown Saskatoon skyline, night of June 28-29, 2013 (Darrell Noakes)

Aurora borealis over downtown Saskatoon skyline, night of June 28-29, 2013 (Darrell Noakes)

It seems that the heavens had to upstage that performance for Friday’s Dr. John concert, though. As we neared the end of the evening, bright auroras broke through the sky and danced above the stage and the gardens. Just when you think it couldn’t get any better, a shooting star streaked overhead, the night sky’s mischievous wink at the crowd. As quickly as the aurora arose, it vanished.

Around midnight the aurora was back, blazing across the entire sky like tattered laundry flapping in a stiff breeze. So, out into the night we headed to watch the sky (and swat mosquitoes). The display subsided about an hour later, but it was a marvelous sight while it lasted.

As it turns out, that aurora was one of the most spectacular of the current solar cycle, delighting late-night viewers as far south as Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas.

There’s no way my small town Friday night jazz show could have matched that.

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