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God Speed, Ron Hynes…

I had the most wonderful time at the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival in Nova Scotia.
I was there with the Eastern Belles and I was struck again by how truly this is a folk festival. The audience loves old folk songs, loves to engage and sing along and also is genuinely interested in each act for who they are and their original music. It feels, maybe, like stepping back into the 1960’s when folk music and pop music were one and the same.
So thank you, Lunenburg, for that.
During the weekend there was a 2 hour Ron Hynes tribute that I was a part of alongside Dave Gunning, the Fortunate Ones and the Ennis Sisters. It was a beautiful experience sharing the songs of Ron but also so many stories.
There were about 200 people crowded into the Lunenburg Schoolhouse and it was so intimate. We all laughed and cried together.
I had decided to play 1962, which is my favourite of his songs, but I needed one more and so I chose to play Godspeed.
Now, Godspeed is a song that Ron Hynes wrote right after my dad died and it’s a farewell to a man who took his life and it questions why but in kindness and compassion.
Ron always told me how he had been meaning to get together with Gene (my dad) to co-write a song. He had finally worked up the courage to call him when he heard the news that my dad had died.
Ron was devastated.
He told me how just days afterward Godspeed came to him like a gift from Gene, like they finally got their co-write.
As I got older and started my own career in music, I was fortunate enough to be able to tour with Ron and see him play many times. Every night, Ron would play Godspeed and I would always cry my eyes out.

photo by David Sheffield
From the Gene MacLellan Tribute, Ron Hynes & Catherine MacLellan

It never occurred to me, after Ron died, until this weekend in Lunenburg, that I would never hear him sing that song again, that yet another connection to my father was lost. I thought how there is no one left to sing this song that will mean anything to me, that could be authentic and genuine for my experience. Another thread had broken.
And, God, how I miss Ron. I’ve been doing so much healing over the past few years over the loss of my father, and losing Ron was huge. A friend, a mentor, a hero, a connection to my past. I always felt Ron could just stand on stage and say nothing, and we, the audience, would sit in awe, his stage presence was so powerful.
I remember just after Ron passed, his nephew Joel wrote a piece about how -yes – Ron was a legend and amazing, but he was also a man afflicted and consumed by his addictions. And that although Ron had had cancer, what really killed him was his demons.
So when I learned Godspeed, I was singing it not only to honour Ron Hynes and my father, but to flip that song around because now it also speaks to me of Ron’s passing. A tortured soul who never got control of his addictions and in the end they took him away from us. He didn’t take his life like my father, but in some ways he did.
So at the tribute this weekend, we sat and talked and sang and shared and laughed and cried. As the circle of sharing came back to me, after an emotional roller coaster ride, I picked up my guitar and started to play the song. My fingers were trembling and the next thing I knew I was weeping In front of the crowd. I tried to start the song and just couldn’t. I got up and walked out.
I went to the bathroom and wept like I hadn’t in a long time. These guttural sounds were coming out of my throat and I felt full on wailing grief. The show continued on without me and Andrew, from the Fortunate Ones gave me a glass of water and a big hug, thank god – I really needed it.
I felt so embarrassed, usually I can keep it together on stage, and I was thinking “who am I to feel this much grief over Ron.” But I somehow managed to pull myself together, walked back on stage, listened to more stories from everyone and then, without saying a word or explaining why I wanted to play the song or why I was such a mess, I launched into Godspeed.
Dave Gunning sat beside me and helped me through it. I was shaky but I felt supported by everyone around me and I got through it somehow. When I ended the song I put down my guitar and looked up as the entire room stood up in applause.
They got it.
Without me explaining, they understood.
Now, as I sit here and write this, I am still crying. Crying in grief but also gratitude, so thankful to be able to share something like that, no matter how hard it was.
From that point on in the weekend, people kept coming up to me and hugging me, like I was their child, like they understood.
What other festival would this happen at?
So – thank you Lunenburg. Thank you for your beauty, for your enthusiasm for songs, for your deep love of songwriters and for being real people whose see us crazy musicians as real people too.
“God only knows
What takes a petal from a rose
What makes the dark rivers overflow
What makes a lifetime come and go…
Godspeed, Godspeed…”
All my love,
Catherine

35 comments on “God Speed, Ron Hynes…

  1. A truly beautiful expression of joy in the knowing, and sadness in the loss, of these two gifts to music. Thanks for the bare honesty Catherine. I loved them both and honestly miss them dearly. There is peace in having their songs and the legacy they left to those they inspired. Godspeed indeed!

    1. Thanks so much for sharing this with us, Catherine. We can all relate to this story in our own life experiences.

  2. Thank you Catherine. I told you once about loosing my daughter to suicide. I too will be singing 1962 in a song circle celebration of Rons songs this coming November and thankfully, someone else will be singing Godspeed. I have not been able to for 13 years now. You are a brave soul and both Ron and your Dad would be so proud of you. As am I. Peace❤️

  3. This is very beautiful Catherine; you have incredible empathy for the wounded.
    I knew your dad and loved his sweet, sad, gentle, poetic soul.
    “God Speed” tore at my heart; it spoke so clearly to Gene’s death and to many others who find life’s burdens too heavy. This poem is a legacy to Gene, to Ron, to the others.
    Thank you Catherine; thank you Gene; thank you Ron.
    Like the wild flowers outside my window…hope lives…hope grows…

  4. Beautiful sharing Catherine. Grief can open doors to the soul and allow for healing to take place at the deepest places. Bless you.

  5. Thank you for saying it like it is, Catherine. Great healing in that, for all of us. That takes courage.

  6. I knew Ron, and I know you — slightly — and I am weeping reading your lovely, gentle, touching tribute. Thank you for posting it; please always keep singing for the heart.

    1. From the heart, Richard, not for the heart. She’s not from Toronto. It’s actually real. Anyway, glad to have once stayed in your little house. Pkt.

  7. As Richard Flohil “I knew Ron, and I know you — slightly …”. You stated that your cried when you wrote that. You do not cry alone as many shed tear as they read it. Continue with your beautiful performances and continue sharing your connection with those two fabulous East Coast writers. Thank you for the gift that you share with us all.

  8. What a beautifully crafted and evocative piece of writing. Exquisite really! Would you ever consider allowing us to publish it in RED MAGAZINE?
    ps loved what you said about there being a time when folk music was pop

  9. I am proud to be Treasurer for the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Society. The Society works very hard to bring performers like Dave, Cathy, the Ennis Sisters, etc. to share their passion for music and folk heroes to the stage. Last week was, by far, the best Festival ever put on! Your performance, Cathy, helped to create many memories the will last a lifetime! Thank you!

  10. Thank you so much for sharing this, Catherine!!
    I cried helplessly reading it, it touched me so very deep…

    And yet I feel so warm inside. We are all connected…!

  11. What Barb said “brave, vulnerable, beautiful and deeply authentic…thank you.”

    -I know at Stanfest when we had “Remembering Ron” – that there were tears from the Stan group I was with and which is why I love attending Stanfest with them ; I still remember where I was when I heard “Godspeed” for the first time, it bowled me over especially when I had friends that loved and appreciated Gene so much, it was powerful and searing and so deeply human – Love and Hugs to you and I am also remembering Ron and your dad for their heart-filled humanity in all it’s fullness (We are all amazing gifts and also have broken parts and we are also there to heal each other’s brokenness) -thanks for sharing this and am sending you a HUGE virtual hug -much LOVE your way

    1. I was at Stanfest for the Ron Hynes Tribute this year. The fog rolled in on cue, and a lightning storm on marine radar was diverted by the power of the tribute on stage, it was one of the most moving moments at this folk festival in twenty years. Who is Arlo Guthrie? He wouldn’t even play his one good song, City of New Orleans…. Ron was a songwriter who will live for five hundred years. So will Woody Guthrie, who once said: “If you use more than two chords to write a song, you’re just showing off.” 😉

  12. Catherine, Thank you for sharing this…it brought tears to my eyes. Come back to North Bay soon!!!!

  13. Thank you Catherine, for all the reasons in the previous comments. What a brave and caring woman you are.

  14. Very touching story Catherine. Weeping as I read it. Hopefully healing for you to verbalized your feelings.

  15. Beautifully expressed Catherine. Right from the heart. Thanks for being the artist your are.

  16. So lovely Catherine. One of the many reasons I love your music is your ability to, without any pressure, sort of put a golden lasso around us listeners, like a Canadian Wonder Woman, and get us telling the truth, cause you are courageous enough to tell it! loves ya!

  17. We were there in amazement of the muscians gathered, but soon were found immersed in real stories and feelings while hearing great music,thanks

  18. Dear Catherine,

    With my own tears flowing from the joy received and pain felt reading your post I have to share that your soul, your lyrical and musical expressions are a testament to the blessings you have been graced with. We too as fans have been blessed by them. Thank you. I have always loved Godspeed by Ron, but I had no idea of the backstory.

    I will cherish this post and only wish I had been at the festival to experience the love felt by all.

  19. We miss Gene. We miss Ron. We’re thankful to share time with you, a beautiful artist who has such tremendous gifts and who is now, willingly or unwillingly, a link to two of our other favourite songwriters. Please know that we love your work and we know there are times it takes you to difficult emotional places. We’re grateful that you go there at times, helping all of us deal with our losses. Cheers from Fredericton and the Miramichi!

  20. I was there and as a long time organizer and participant in the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival I have many memories but the tribute to the wonderful Ron Hynes and Catherine singing Godspeed tops them all. Thank you Catherine for a moment that I will never forget

  21. Dear sweet, beautiful, real Catherine. Your words as usual have gone straight to my soul. While you often share your thoughts and feelings so eloquently in your songs, this is straight from your heart to ours. Thank you for your bravery and honesty. “Life is not conclusion, a sequel stands beyond – invisible as music, yet positive as sound.” Emily Dickinson. Hugs ❤️

  22. You’re a brave and beautiful soul Ms. MacLellan. I think you know I can relate. What you don’t know is that just two weeks before you showed me such kindness during your shows here in Europe, one of my chosen sisters died, age 52, after 2 years battle. She became my big sister when I was 13 and my 16 year old brother lay dying in the hospital from injuries…my own father already gone…lost little soul I was. I share this now to let you know how you helped me, just by being your beautiful kind self, being there just as I was recalibrating life, needing some little sign along the road, even if fleeting, to keep faith in what might lie around the corner.

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