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Stevens brings homegrown project to Sarnia streets

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Oh this paradise
Is somethin I can see
Its all right here
If we just look it will be…

(excerpt from Livin’ In Sarnia by Mike Stevens and Matt Andersen)

Mike Stevens is taking his world-renowned harmonica playing to the streets of Sarnia this summer.

On various days throughout August, locals can spot him with his band, a camera crew and a bevy of extras, working on an eight-minute video that celebrates Stevens’ hometown.

The video features his song “Livin’ In Sarnia” one of 12 tracks for his 13th album.

“For a long time, I’ve wanted to make an album that’s all Sarnia,” he explained. “The musicians are from Sarnia, it’s recorded here at The Grove Productions and the video is made in Sarnia featuring Sarnians.”

The video is being shot and edited this summer by Lambton College photography students and faculty.

It will include footage recorded Aug. 8 with the band performing in front of The Imperial Theatre on Christina Street. That shoot involved a couple of dozen physically-distanced extras who volunteered to don masks and dance to the music while the cameras rolled.

The video also involves members of Aamjiwnaang First Nation and features Stevens playing at favourite landmarks throughout the community.

Guests, both famous and not-so-famous, have been invited to make cameo appearances, says director Richard Beland, a local music photographer and co-ordinator of Lambton College’s photography program.

As complex as production of the “Livin’ In Sarnia” video is, it is also a fun project and a fun song, said Beland who calls it a quirky ode to the city.

“We’re getting all these people from the community to volunteer their time. It’s really great to see them enjoy it so much.

“Sarnia takes such a beating from people who don’t know what a freakin’ gorgeous place this is.

“This will showcase a lot of great things here,” said Beland who also grew up here.

Stevens co-wrote “Livin’ In Sarnia” with fellow Sarnian Matt Andersen years ago and the duo performed it on an earlier album called Piggyback.

The upcoming album, called “Breathe in the World, Breathe Out Music,” reintroduces “Livin’ In Sarnia” with a new arrangement and a unique effect that Stevens creates by breathing in and out on his harmonica while speaking the words: “I’m living in Sarnia and I’m living there still; If the air don’t get me, then the French fries will.”

The words are inaudible but they form the foundation for the song, said Stevens.

“It’s unique. No one else has written a song where the base is someone talking into the harmonica.

“It makes it really interesting and more than just a love song to Sarnia.”

Beland calls it a mantra that the cameo performers – including astronaut Chris Hadfield – are playing with.

It’s hoped the finished video will premier in Sarnia after the threat of COVID-19 passes. Stevens wants to include a blooper reel and possibly produce an entire documentary on the project.

“I do appreciate and feel the suffering and the disruption that the pandemic is creating but, at the same time, we’re human and there’s still joy,” he said.

“The way everyone is coming together for the video – no one said no to anything – and they all donated their time… doing things like this, is the best way to rail against COVID-19.

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