From local streets to the downtown stage

Former homeless man Harold Anderson conquered his self-confidence issues at last year’s Duncan-Cowichan Summer Festival open mike. - Maeve Maguire
Former homeless man Harold Anderson conquered his self-confidence issues at last year’s Duncan-Cowichan Summer Festival open mike.
— image credit: Maeve Maguire

Harold Anderson is a musician who sings from the heart about his complicated past, “If I’m singing about it, you know I’ve lived it.”

Anderson trained at the Royal Conservatory of Music and became a successful bass player before his life took a turn and he ended up living on the street.

“I’ve slept in churches, graveyards, garages, under bridges. But I always had a goal in sight. I was driven.”

But Anderson’s dream of playing music came alive again, thanks to the open mike session at last year’s summer festival in Duncan.

Last summer, Anderson moved from living homeless in Chemainus’s Waterwheel Park to the Warmland House in Duncan.

He said it is difficult to explain the despair he felt prior to the move.

“I don’t know if there are words to describe what it’s like to be without. And I mean without hope, without purpose, without direction. The only thing tying me to this world at certain times were my two daughters.”

One day while practicing his guitar, another resident told him about the open mike session at the festival. Anderson went to the festival that day but he lacked the confidence to perform,

“I wasn’t there mentally. I’m a hack and I just practice because it takes away the pain.”

Anderson went back to the festival every day to watch the other musicians play.

Eventually he found the courage to ask his friend Mercedes Benoit, a musician he met while busking in Chemainus, to introduce him to Longevity John Falkner, the festival’s organizer — someone whose presence intimidated Anderson.

“This big, tall, long-haired hippie type. I thought, this guy’s got it together. There was no way I could approach him.”

When Falkner heard Anderson was homeless and wanted to perform during the open mic session, he said, “You know that’s the best time for the music to come out. Come on down.”

Anderson performed the next day and went back five more times during the festival.

His daughter was in the audience.

Falkner addressed her and said, “You should be proud of your dad. He’s a talented guy.”

Anderson was touched, especially given how intimidated he was of Falkner at the beginning.

“Every little bit of appreciation and positive reinforcement goes such a long way the farther down you are.”

Falkner invited Anderson to play at the Duncan Garage Showroom. Now he plays there most Tuesday nights and has a repertoire of about 80 songs.

“I would learn a song and go down to the Garage Showroom and perform it that night — and blow it sometimes, but as Long John says, it helps you get your legs under you in an environment that is conducive to what you are doing.”

With his legs under him, Anderson is focused on getting his life back on track. He hopes to work with youth so they can learn from his life experiences.

“They may be having a hard time with their parents at home and think a life on the street is easier. I’d like to take what I’ve learned from my years of making wrong decisions — knowing full well they were wrong — and through music, theatre, or just clowning around, help young people think about what their options are. “

Anderson has an hour-long set at this year’s 39 Days of July Duncan Cowichan Summer Festival at 2 p.m. on July 31.

You can also see him perform at Warmland House’s Shine and Show on July 28, or busking downtown.

This year’s summer fest open mike returns Monday, July 16 at 5 p.m. at the Charles Hoey Park stage and continues weekdays until July 27.


Dazed in Duncan

By now, you’re likely familiar with the idea that the annual Duncan-Cowichan Summer Festival has stretched into a celebration known as the 39 Days of July.

But the good times definitely come to a head this weekend.

The festival’s apex, Duncan Daze, runs downtown Friday, Saturday and Sunday featuring all the traditional games and entertainments courtesy the Duncan Business Improvement Area Society.

The children’s parade is set for 5: 30 p.m. Friday, followed by the grand parade, 11 .m. Saturday, the pipers tattoo at 2 p.m. and the Duncan’s Got Talent championships at 3 p.m. at Charles Hoey Park.

Sunday is Elders Day, capped by the Dal Richards Big Band show at 6 p.m. on the city square stage.

Downtown entertainment continues until the festival wraps Monday, Aug. 6. For a complete list of activities go to For more, call 250-748-1231.

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