Daryl Hiebert and Corrie Van Aertselaer met for the first time at a Josh Ritter concert at the West End Cultural Centre more than a decade ago.
The story came full-circle this week, when the acclaimed singer-songwriter made an in-person visit to the (now married) couple during his recent stop in Winnipeg.
Hiebert and Van Aertselaer had hoped to attend Ritter’s performance with Jason Isbell at the Centennial Concert Hall on Wednesday, but ongoing health issues made a night out impossible.
Posted: 08/08/2019 11:25 AM
During an evening as intimate as a house concert, Jason Isbell showed his reputation as a gifted storyteller isn’t limited to his lyrics.
The Alabama-born singer-songwriter is funny, although you wouldn’t know it from the heavy topics explored in his music. He didn’t shy away from cracking a few jokes while he bantered candidly between songs at the Centennial Concert Hall on Wednesday night.
Hiebert was diagnosed with a rare and inoperable form of liver and bile duct cancer in late 2018 and has been in and out of the hospital ever since.
Instead, Ritter came to them — playing an hour-long acoustic set at Hiebert’s bedside at the Health Sciences Centre.
"It was as beautiful as anything I’ve ever experienced," said Jeremy Sawatzky, a longtime friend of the couple who was in the room during the visit. "You could just see that this was a person that really does personify goodness and kindness and compassion, he was very engaged and it was very heartfelt and sincere."
Ritter played a handful of their favourite songs and stayed to talk with the couple about life and family — Ritter has two daughters and Hiebert and Van Aertselaer have three girls under five.
Wednesday’s private concert wasn’t the first time Ritter had interacted with the couple.
Heibert is a graphic designer who has made album artwork and marketing campaigns for many musicians in Winnipeg. Upon hearing about his cancer diagnosis, the local music community stepped up and hosted a benefit concert for the family in April.
In his role as emcee, Sawatzky reached out to Ritter for a few words of encouragement to be presented at the event. He responded with a long handwritten letter.
Sawatzky kept in contact with Ritter’s management team and was in the process of organizing a backstage meet and greet at Wednesday’s concert when the circumstances changed.
Ritter’s hospital visit was a surprise for Hiebert and an opportunity for the couple to find some enjoyment in an otherwise dark time.
"It was sort of this moment that gives you a little bit of hope and a little bit of joy in the midst of a time that is fairly devoid of those types of things," Sawatzky said. "I think it meant a lot to them and I think it meant a lot to Josh… it was an emotional time for everyone in the room."
A Go Fund Me page set up for Hiebert and his family has raised more than $21,000 to date.
— Eva Wasney
Eva Wasney reports on arts, culture and life for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Thursday, August 8, 2019 at 9:33 PM CDT: Fixes typo
August 9, 2019 at 1:45 PM: Adds video