He was due for his annual hair cut. Yes, his white hair was past his shoulders and his beard was down to his chest. Definitely a character. I walked up to him and said: “Mr. Steel, I understand that you’re the person I have to meet”. He was somewhat surprised but not really taken aback. He seemed to know that he was the unofficial cultural liaison for St. Andrews by-the-Sea, New Brunswick.
Jamie Steel is the type of person I look for in every small town I visit. He is one of the reasons that small towns make great destinations. He’s an outlier. Jamie is exceptional for his role in the music scene. The important characters of other towns may stand out for their age, the stories they tell or their unofficial political role.
These are people really worth knowing but they are rarely tripped over. They are typically found through others. I find them by simply asking.
Who is the person in town that I just have to meet?
My assumption is that the person I find to chat with easily, the chance encounter in a coffee shop or a clerk at a Visitor Information Center, is not the most interesting person in town, but that they know who is. So I ask: who is the person that I just have to meet?
On my trip around the Bay of Fundy, I met many fascinating people but there was one who got away: Harley Haggerty of Parrsboro, Nova Scotia. I learned of Harley simply by asking the young woman serving me a coffee at Tim Horton's (a Canadian institution when it comes to coffee). She told me where he hung out in the evening but, in spite of taking the long walk to his preferred watering hole, I missed him. It happens some times.
But in St. Andrews by-the-Sea, I was lucky. This is a quaint town that thrives primarily on tourism. I was in a tartan shop (there is a rich Scottish heritage in New Brunswick) chatting with the owner, when I asked her the question.
She thought about it for just a moment and said Jamie Steel. — “Where would I find him?” — Well, she stepped out of the shop to point out the pub I should go to that evening and there he was, walking in, at that very moment.
Off I went and, as I told you, I walked right up to him and introduced myself. And what good fortune that I did. Jamie Steel is not only the executive director of the Sunbury Shores Arts & Nature Centre but also books all the musical talent in the town. He invited me back to the pub that evening to see Adam Olmstead, a local boy who made good in Nashville was on his way through town to play at a festival in Nova Scotia. He would play at the pub that night with the Nashville String Band that includes a number of Grammy Award winning members.
I returned after dinner that evening, listened to the music and met the entire band. I don't usually play the groupie but this was a fabulous evening!
We don't always meet the Harley Haggertys of the world (what a great name – I just have to adopt it for this technique for meeting people) but sometimes we do. How fortunate I managed to do so in St. Andrews by-the-Sea.
Many people forget about small towns when they plan their travels. I recommend them highly.