Hitting Home and Healing: A Personal Story from Joanna Barker on Hey Rosetta, Tonight’s NL Folk Festival Headliner

Joanna Barker shares a personal story of the universal appeal of Hey Rosetta, and how it brought her to St. John's to mourn a friend

Two thousand and ten was my first summer in St. John’s. After the passing of my dear friend Robyn in 2009, I came home to her city to grieve. I thought, “if I can fall in love with her city, this will be easier for me – St. John’s will heal something.”

I lived with my Great Aunt for a few weeks, crashed on my sister’s couch a lot, and spent nights in the battery with two sweet friends and a really wonderful boy I was dating. The whole time, I didn’t have a fixed address. I went to CBTG’s for the first time and sweat my shirt off to Texas Chainsaw. I drank every locally relevant beer I could get my lips on. I ate my first late night plate of Ziggy’s.

I read Lisa Moore’s February in one day. My friends paid my way to my first Pathological Lovers show as my birthday gift. I ate a lot of Moo Moo’s ice cream and logged a lot of hours in Bannerman Park. I went to my first Folk Night. I met Wallace Hammond. I volunteered at the NL Folk Festival. And for the first time since Robyn died, I saw Hey Rosetta!

As far as Robyn and I were concerned, Hey Rosetta! were ours. Our musical tastes overlapped in very few places. But for two Newfoundland girls living away from home, Into Your Lungs was the most important common place. Standing sweaty shoulder to shoulder, singing along to their performance in a packed Marquee Club was a spiritual experience for us.

Up until Hey Rosetta’s Folk Festival performance in Bannerman Park 2010, I had not been able to listen to their recordings since Robyn passed away, let alone go see them play. I had them set in my heart as a sort of test, “How strong are you, Joanna? Can you listen to Hey Rosetta! yet?”

Most often the answer was no. In fact, I think the answer was ‘no’ on that summer’s night when I finally stood there in the park and let it all hit me like a freight train. My sister Catherine held my hand as I sobbed and hyperventilated through their set.

Eventually, I told my sister that I had enough, and wanted to head back to The Battery before the crowd started to move. As we turned to walk towards Military Road, they started to play A Thousand Suns and I collapsed. For me, that song was the most jubilant hymn to Robyn and our friendship and I was not ready to hear it.

“A Thousand Suns” by Hey Rosetta 

In about April of 2015, I realized that I have crossed the hardest stretch of my grief. Grief is strange and complicated and beats at your roots like the coldest Atlantic waves. Today, I feel as if my body has adjusted to the ocean’s temperature. I feel a warm breeze around my shoulders, and I feel comfortable enough to wade into the water for a swim.

I never intended to stay in St. John’s so long. But I guess I never expected the grieving to take so long. I don’t know what I expected, but five years and nine apartments later, I’m still in this city. I did fall in love with St. John’s, and it did make it easier for me.

When I saw the announcement that Hey Rosetta! were playing at the NL Folk Festival’s triumphant return to Bannerman Park, I cried. And Iaughed. And I rolled my eyes. Here it is. Mine and Robyn’s favourite band has book-ended my big journey to solace.

I honestly can’t think of a better way to celebrate not only how far I’ve come, but how fortunate I was to have her in my life for as long as I did. To top it all off, the band is celebrating their 10th birthday. Happy Birthday, Hey Rosetta! (I wonder if there will be a cake? Should we all bring a cupcake for ourselves to celebrate?).

And thank you! Thank you for changing the game for Newfoundland musicians. Thank you for inspiring a decade of kids playing instruments in their parent’s basements. Thank you for the anthems that move us to dance and the ballads that move us to tears. And thank you for being their for us when we lost our best friends.

There’s a bench in Bannerman park dedicated to Robyn. That’s where I’ll be sitting Friday night. Well, I’ll dance beside it too.

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