As they’ve done time and time again through the years, Walk Off the Earth performed to an adoring crowd in Burlington, Ont., Sunday night — but this time, one member’s absence weighed heavy in the air.
The band was there as part of a concert to honour the life of keyboardist Mike “Beard Guy” Taylor, who died of natural causes in his sleep on Dec. 29.
Thousands of people packed Burlington’s Civic Square to pay their respects, and catch a glimpse of the band performing for the first time without the 51-year-old father of two.
“Music heals,” vocalist Sarah Blackwood said. “We’re hoping that eventually, over time, it will help us keep his memory alive and bring him with us on the road, and bring him with us in all the music that we continue to make.”
It was an emotional night, with tears staining the cheeks of the band and audience members alike, as they huddled together in frigid temperatures.
The indie pop group was joined onstage by several juggernauts of Canadian music, including members of Arkells, Barenaked Ladies, Monster Truck, Saint Alvia, Scott Helman, USS and The Dare Nots.
Many spoke of Taylor’s passion for music and community, and thanked the crowd for being there to support the band and his family.
Shawn Kelly and his family came to Burlington from Niagara to catch the show, and have seen the band several times.
“They’ve just been like a really big part of our family, and the fans are like a big family themselves,” Kelly said.
“So when you lose one of your own, you want to come out and pay your respects.”
Walk Off the Earth exploded on YouTube with a cover of Gotye’s Somebody That I Used to Know back in 2012. It featured all the band’s members playing the track on one acoustic guitar, and has since been viewed more than 185 million times.
The band has also released several singles and EPs, with the most recent being Subscribe to the Holidays, which came out last November.
The band won a Juno in 2016 for group of the year, and has also won a CASBY Award, Canadian Radio Music Award, and a Streamy Award.
As the band’s star rose, Walk Off The Earth never forgot the city where it got its start, said Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward. She told the crowd that Taylor, who was a hockey coach and ran a freight company, will be the honourary recipient of the first “key to the city” program in Burlington’s history.
“Walk Off The Earth and Mike never forgot us, and never forgot their roots,” she said.
“We will never forget the legacy he left.”
Next month, the band is embarking on the first leg of a world tour that was planned before Taylor died. The first show is scheduled for Truro, N.S., on Feb. 9.
The band said it isn’t planning on immediately replacing Taylor. His keyboards stood untouched on stage throughout the show Sunday night, covered in candles to mark the man who was on everyone’s minds.
“I think we’ve all taken a moment to slow down and think about what means most to us. Think about family, think about what we’ve done, and what legacy we’re going to leave,” said Joel Cassidy, the band’s drummer.
“The one bit of comfort I’ve found in this is he lived life to the absolute max. He really did live life like every day was his last, and he left an incredible legacy.”