Comedian, television star, rural advocate and simply all-around great guy Shaun Majumder takes The Gathering on tour in an effort to remind all Newfoundlanders that ‘ome isn’t only where the heart is but it’s also the place where opportunity exists
Shaun Majumder still oozes rural Newfoundland roots. From his manners; ‘how’s ya gettin’ on skipper?’, to his easy going, relaxed mannerisms (cue the hands-in-pocket, legs-sprawled, man-on-wharf stance). There’s little doubt about it; Majumder never turned big shot while making it big up-along.
The Gathering Festival
Visiting The Herald to promote The Gathering on Tour, which will hit St. John’s on August 18, followed on consecutive dates by stops in Gander, Corner Brook and Grand Falls-Windsor, Majumder was a force to be reckoned with when it came to enthusiasm.
“This journey I’ve come on started with me buying the school that I went to as a kid for $2,700. I wanted to rent that out and have the money go back to the town. There was zero tourism in Burlington then. Now The Gathering festival has been a reason to go visit for a weekend and now the concept of ‘Ome Sweet ‘Ome is a reason to stay,” he begins.
So what exactly is ‘Ome Sweet ‘Ome? “It’s a place like no other,” Majumder teases with a smile before carrying on with a more meat-on-bone explanation. “People were not sure at first. Newfoundlanders are sensitive, understandably, when they feel like they are ‘being made fun of’ but what I love about the brand ‘Ome is, to me, it encompasses so much. It’s how people say ‘home’ for one thing, and the essence of what I’m trying to do is bring people ‘ome. Not just for the festival, not just the accommodations and not just for the food, but to bring people back to Burlington, Smith’s Harbour and Middle Arm and to other smaller communities as well.”
People are always using the word to describe this place anyway, he continues, why not expand the word’s meaning? “It’s in every day speech. When people talk, they don’t say; oh, I can’t wait to get back to Buchans. People always say, how long you ‘ome for? When you ‘ome next? Can’t wait to get ‘ome.” The word plays into our sense of humour as well, Majumder shares, which is right up this comedian’s alley. “It’s the way we can take words and spin them and have fun with them, so using it within all the branding stuff, it works well,” he says.
“So The Gathering is Welcome ‘Ome because people are coming back, the accommodations are ‘Ome Sweet ‘Ome because there’s no place like ‘ome, ‘Ome Grown is the greenhouse … we want to have ‘Ome on the Range which could be our wilderness adventure tour when we get that going, and let’s say we have an art gallery, that would be … ‘Ome is where the Art is, right?”
Majumder reflects on the very first Gathering and the inspiration behind one of its most moving moments. There’s a resettled community near Burlington called Indian Burying Place, he begins.
“When you really understand the story of resettlement you go, these are forces that I understand. I get the thought process behind it and the basic; we can’t afford it, model. But if you buy into it and say, that’s just the way it is, then everybody’s got to go. If you buy into that and say, yeah, fine, then the towns are going to die. They will dry up and go away. And we see this in the living ruins of places like Indian Burying Place. It’s just so powerful.”
A Floating Lantern
That’s why, to cap off the first Gathering, Majumder had an idea. “Instead of having fireworks at the end, why don’t we float a house? We had Sherman Downey on stage and he was playing this beautiful ballad as this floating house, at night now, came down. Lit from the inside, it was like a floating lantern. You didn’t have to say a word. Men were weeping on the beach at this symbol of resettlement. We were saying, we don’t want that to happen to our town. We have to rethink rural and stop looking at it as there’s nothing there.”
While the word Hebron means one thing to many from this province, to Majumder and others it means a whole lot more. “My inspiration from Labrador was the story of Hebron. I got to sit with Inuit elders and talk to them about their story of resettlement. Being told they were no longer sustainable broke up this community and it set a path for these people. Their identity was busted up, things became uncertain, their way of life was completely disrupted. This is horrible but it was an inspiration. Rural communities are sustainable and with self-determination we can take control back.”
While Majumder calls himself a ‘spark plug’ among many other spark plugs around, he stresses it’s his hope that tourism can create enough revenue to ‘feed the towns’ and make the people who live there less dependent on government and subsidies.
“Money makes the world go ‘round and while I’m not a money guy, I get it, you need it to become independent. Resettlement is terrible and what it can do to a people is powerful.”
Fire, Food and Music
It’s his hope that what is happening in Burlington can be replicated.
“These are not places that have nothing. These places have everything. You have to just look for it,” he says with enthusiasm. And this is the reason behind taking The Gathering on tour. Majumder, along with Steve Poltz, Sherman Downey, Kevin Kane (Grapes of Wrath) and Bryan Potvin (Northern Pikes) hopes to inspire other ‘spark plugs’ and set them free in their own communities.
“Look at your own places and look at what you have in your community and let’s celebrate it. The messages we are bringing is that every place has a Gathering. Ours is fire, food and music but what is yours? I’m shaking noise makers here saying, wake up! You are sitting on a gold mine here! It’s not oil and gas. I believe in what Zita (Cobb, Fogo Island Inn) said; people are the new fish. And that resource is not going to run out unless a meteor hits.”
For more visit omesweetome.com or thegatheringburlington.com