After more than three decades of energetic, breath-taking live shows, and more than a quarter million records sold in Canada alone, Vancouver folk band Spirit of the West, renowned for iconic songs like “Home For A Rest,” “Save This House,” and “If Venice Is Sinking,” is preparing to say goodbye.
While many bands decide on their terms how they want to say farewell to their fans, if they are even afforded such an opportunity, that wasn’t necessarily the case for Spirit of the West.
In September 2014, Spirit of the West frontman John Mann revealed that he had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. In a heart-wrenching confession that was posted to the band’s website, the group explained that while they had their suspicions and concerns about the state of Mann’s health, they had clung to the hope that other factors were at play.
It wasn’t to be, however, and so this coming Friday night at Moncton’s Tide & Boar Ballroom, Spirit of the West will perform in Atlantic Canada for the last time.
“It is very bittersweet,” Spirit drummer Vince Ditrich admits. “Obviously, if the choice was ours, the band wouldn’t be coming to an end. We’ve been at this for more than 30 years now; it has been a huge part of our lives, and has become a massive part of our consciousness. The friendships, connections and social references that go along with being a part of a band for as long as we have played. We’ve done everything together.”
It is those tightly-knit inter-band friendships that no doubt played a significant part in Ditrich and the remainder of his bandmates having identified that not all was necessarily well with their vocalist, seeing him struggle to recall the lyrics to songs that he had been singing for the better part of two-plus decades.
Even with 30 years of friendship behind them, however, Ditrich says broaching the subject with Mann was still difficult.
“I was the one that ran the alarm on John [Mann]. I find that I’m able to connect to everyone’s personality with a certain level of examination and observation, and had alarm bells ringing over the matter for a long time before I finally worked up the courage to call him and share my concerns.
“The thing was, it wasn’t a surprise to him. He knew he was struggling on stage and was completely conscious of the fact his brain wasn’t regurgitating things that it needed to when it needed to. At first, we chalked it up to maybe being anxiety or stress, which are normal things we all live through, but then we began witnessing an even sharper decline. Hearing the diagnosis is perhaps one of the most sobering moments of my life. It is the kind of situation where we all knew we had to step up, it’s just that we didn’t necessarily want to. It is very much like a slow motion tragedy, to see someone deteriorating before your eyes. You begin looking at the situation and asking, ‘How am I supposed to deal with this?’ ‘What will John be going through and how can we help him?’”
In addition to Mann’s terminal condition, Ditrich shares his own health isn’t doing the best these days. For more than two years, he has been suffering from complete kidney failure, which requires the drummer to undergo dialysis treatment several days a week. There has been two separate occasions where potential donors have been lined up, but due to compatibility issues, have not been able to proceed with the operation.
Ditrich admits that his health issues combined with Spirit of the West’s imminent dissolution marks a critical juncture in his life. He has played the drums for more than 50 years now, and in some ways, struggles to envision Spirit no longer comprising such a significant part of his day-to-day.
That being said, he says there is an overwhelming amount of happy memories of the band, a time he knows will stay with him for the remainder of his life.
“When we first started and weren’t that well known, we took so much pride in our being able to turn around an audience in our favour. It was always very much a team mentality that we would be able to win them over, and we did. We played so many ridiculous venues under equally ridiculous conditions and always came out on top,” Ditrich says.
“That’s what I am always going to remember.”
What: Spirit of the West
When: Friday April 8, 8 p.m.
Where: The Tide & Boar Ballroom, 700 Main St., Moncton
Tickets are $33. Advance tickets are available online at www.tideandboar.com/music