When former U.S. president Barack Obama takes to the stage at Mile One Centre in St. John’s on Tuesday, he’ll be given a warm, musical welcome.
Singer-songwriter Tim Baker will be performing three songs from his debut solo album, songs that describe life in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I felt I was supposed to be a musical ambassador, or an interpreter, so I thought I would play a few songs about the place that we were welcoming him to,” he said.
Baker said he was supposed to be recording in a studio in Montreal this week, but cancelled those plans when he was offered the chance to sing for Obama.
“I figured I would probably never get another opportunity to meet [Obama], and I’m a huge fan,” he said.
“It’s very exciting — probably, there’s no one famous I’d rather meet.”
Baker will also be joined by the Shallaway Youth Choir for two of his songs, a group that he was a member of himself when he was younger.
Shallaway artistic director Kellie Walsh says she and the choir have been hard at work on Baker’s music — as well as the Canadian and American national anthems — but they’ve also been discussing the significance of the performance.
Walsh said this will be “one of the most extraordinary experiences” the choir has ever had, one that goes beyond music.
“It talks to everything this choir is about, which is about building community, about culture, about leadership,” she said.
“When it comes to music making and what Shallaway’s all about, this is probably on the very, very top of anything we’ve ever done.”
Walsh said it’s inspiring for both her and the young singers to see a “big thinker” effecting positive change in the world.
Erica Budden, 17, says it’s an “invigorating” feeling to get to sing for the former president.
“It’s a very ‘you’re never going to get to do this again’ kind of feeling, so [I want] to relish it,” she said.
Eli Quinn, 17, says it ranks highly among the special opportunities he’s gotten with the choir.
“We’ve done so many cool things, travelling to Africa, singing with the Tenors.… [This is] pretty close to the top,” he said.
Claire Donnan, 16, says it will be exciting just to hear Obama speak, let alone perform for him.
“We get to be there, and that’s amazing, and I’m just so blown away,” she said.
Alan Doyle will also be performing as part of Tuesday’s event.
Obama is visiting St. John’s as part of a speaking tour across Canada, telling the story of his two-term presidency and offering insight into the current state of affairs in the United States.
“It was a bit of a dream” to book Obama for St. John’s, said Janis Byrne, chair of the St. John’s Board of Trade, which arranged the event.
Obama was making appearances in Montreal and Halifax, Byrne said, and they figured it was worth a shot to ask for a stop in St. John’s. The board submitted an application that got approved just last month.
“And voila, it got accepted,” Byrne said. “We were delighted.”
The discussion will be moderated by Zita Cobb, chair of the Shorefast Foundation, which Byrne said should make for some “fascinating” conversation.
“Like president Obama, she’s a visionary, so we thought, what better match to be on stage?
“In today’s geopolotical climate, it’s just to wonderful to have a statesman and a visionary like president Obama come and speak to us.”
Mile One Centre lists ticket prices ranging from $100 to $325, plus taxes and surcharges.