This is a post about the kindness of strangers and the joy one feels when bringing joy to others.
In early 2014 my daughter, Avery (affectionately nicknamed “Princess Pants” or just “Pants” or “Pantalons” if we’re being formal and embracing the French language) was diagnosed with severe idiopathic scoliosis. My wife got the idea to start a family blog so we could chronicle the journey and share our experiences with others going through the same thing and bentbutnotbroken.net was born.
One thing that helped Pants through the whole ordeal (eleven hour surgery and eleven month recovery) was music, specifically the music of Vance Joy and Taylor Swift. Shortly after surgery my wife got tickets to see them play in Toronto and Pants was concerned she wouldn’t be physically up to the challenge. Listening to their music helped motivate her to do her physio exercises and kept her in a good mental state.
Recognizing this, I got the idea to reach out to both artists to see if they’d give Pants a shout-out on Twitter or something. I even mentioned how she wanted to wear a tiara on her last day of school before surgery and how everyone in her class ended up wearing one.
I did not receive a response from Taylor Swift, but a month later Avery got a next-day delivery envelope in the mail with the return address of Vance Joy’s record label and a postmark of Edmonton – the city he had just played in.
I managed to record a video of her opening the envelope. Suffice it to say, she was excited.
I find your bravery and strength inspiring. It means a lot to me that you have been listening to my music. I don’t have a tiara on me right now, but I have decided to draw me in one. I’m on your team!
[drawing of a face with a tiara] (Looks more like a crown, sorry lol)
I could not have written a better ending to the story and retelling it brings a tear to my eye, but as it turns out, that wasn’t the end. Fast forward to March 2023, nine years since diagnosis, eight since surgery, and seven and a half since Vance Joy made Pants the happiest girl on the planet.
Pants was studying abroad and took it upon herself to make a solo trip to Barcelona to see Vance Joy play. I reached out to his rep again and asked if there was any way he could do a shout-out for her as an early birthday present. Unfortunately, that particular tour date was already packed with lots of personal stuff for him and there would not be an opportunity. They said they’d see if they could work something out in terms of a birthday card, but that’s when I mentioned that our family would be seeing him at the Sommo Festival in PEI in July.
Hatching A New Plan
After too many emails than I care to admit, Vance Joy’s rep, Rachael, finally agreed to a meet and greet at the festival. This was big news, but keeping it a secret from Pants was going to be a challenge. She was aware I tried to set something up in Spain so there was a good chance she’d put two and two together eventually.
The big day arrived and I got word from Rachael that there would be a small group meet & greet at 5:15. Vance Joy was slotted to be in the culinary tent at 5:00 and Pants really wanted to see him there, so I’d need an excuse to pull her away. My wife and I ended up telling her that I had a friend of a friend on the crew who got us a backstage tour, and as luck would have it, Pants thought that was really cool and “would see Vance Joy perform later anyway”.
Now, at this point, it’s important to mention that only Rachel and my wife, and I (and Pants’ brother) knew that this was a surprise. None of the security people, promotion company folks, or the PR people around knew, so as I was running around trying to figure out where to meet and who to talk to and whatnot, other people part of the meet and greet started to arrive and a bit of a buzz formed in the area where we were standing.
At some point, one of the security people called out, “Are you all here for the Vance Joy meet and greet?” and thankfully Pants was like, “No, we’re here for a backstage tour,” which really confused the person because I had just spoken with her about making sure we were in the right spot for the tour. At that point, however, we had to congregate in a specific area and were going to get instructions on what to do and where to go. So, the jig was up. I turned to face Pants.
There were tears. Lots of shaking and crying. She was, to put it mildly, a mess. The security person felt terrible for spoiling the surprise, but it all worked out (rest easy, security lady!) The advanced notice allowed Pants to do her freaking out beforehand so when she got to do the actual meet and greet she was composed and not in tears tripping over her words (in hindsight, I should have factored that in and let her in on the secret).
We told the backstory to the promotions people and they got their Social Media person to interview us, which was pretty cool, and then it was time.
Vance Joy was so friendly, and kind, and Pants got to properly thank him in person for the letter he sent all those years ago. He remembered her and said that he gets a lot of fan mail and can’t reply to all of it, but some stories stick with him, and hers was one. They had a brief chat and then took selfies with me, then my wife, and son, and I got to thank both him and Rachael for making this happen. Seeing the joy it brought Pants meant the world to me.
As we exited the meet and greet area, we were approached by Bianca from Whitecap Entertainment (the promotions company). She said that our story was so heartwarming and unforgettable that they wanted to give us a special gift (hat tip to my wife who ventured outside of her comfort zone and told the story to anyone who would listen): Wristbands for the limited-access pit right at the front of the stage!
We got to watch Vance Joy from as close as you can get and then close out the festival watching Mumford & Sons from the same spot. It was absolutely fantastic. My son and I even got to meet former NFL player and owner of Amazeballs and chef/host of the show Mad Good Food, Derrell Smith.
So, there you have it. The happiest of happy endings for everyone involved.
Special thanks to Rachel from Unified Music Group, the Sommo Festival, Whitecap Entertainment, their awesome employee Bianca Boutilier, and of course Vance Joy.