(Edmonton Sun – Feb. 18, 2018)
Don Johnston has tens of thousands of songs he could play and sing when the 67-year-old plays the last song of the night Sunday: his last public performance. The pianist and singer, most notably known for his 16-year run at the Rose and Crown ending in 1997, has traveled with cancer since 2007.
Don has leukemia myelofibrosis. He can’t produce his own blood cells.
With his current state of health, Sunday’s jam at the B-Street Bar will be a swan song.
“My health is holding up pretty well for now. I had a bone marrow transplant in 2016 which worked for a while but ultimately failed,” Don said. “They give me about a year but I plan on making it more than that, being the optimist I have always been. I’ll live on transfusions as long as they keep working.”
Don could play and sing one of his trademarks – Candle in The Wind, by Elton John. Or, something, you know, slow, melancholy, and a tune to say a thankful farewell.
Not a chance.
That isn’t how Don is wired.
“Maybe Feeling Alright,” Don said of Joe Cocker’s 1969 hit. “Great jam song for all my friends and co-players – and tells it like it is.”
Sunday’s event fires up at 2 p.m. with Don playing for a half hour with Davey Parks. The evening will close around 9:30 p.m. with a jam of all the musicians who will gather.
And, there are quite a few: Bobby Cameron, Darrell Barr and more.
Don will be in the middle of the room, making sure everything and everyone is tended to. While musicians are setting up, Don plans to provide in-between music.
Clearly, it wouldn’t be a Don Johnston event if there wasn’t a charitable component. I mean, who can ever forget the tip jar sitting on the edge of his piano with cash going to many community causes?
Funds from Sunday’s event will be shared with the Alberta Cancer Foundation. There’s a cover charge of $20 at the door and several other mini fundraisers, like a 50-50 draw and silent auction.
“I have some important words to add,” Don said. ” I would never find words to say how much help and love I have been given by Laurel Stewart Downs and Rosalynn Ruptash along with George at Trencevskis, owner of B-Street Street Bar. This would hardly even be a dream without their help.”
And then there’s Enid Best, Don’s sister, who has been caregiver, chauffeur and best friend.
“She’s a widow and we’re good company for each other. Without her I would not be here now.
“She sat with me sometimes for 12 hours during my transplant,” he said.
Don’s attitude is remarkable and is a beacon of light for people not only with cancer but folks undergoing challenges, to keep forging ahead.
We’ll hug Don Sunday. We’ll cry with him, too. And, we’ll thank him.
On the way out of the parking lot on the way home, we’ll have a tune repeating itself in our head.
“Boy you sure took me for one big ride
Even now I sit and wonder why
And when I think of you I start myself to cry out
I just can’t waste my time, I must keep dry
Gotta stop believin’ in all your lies
‘Cause there’s too much to do before I die, hey
You feelin’ alright?
I’m not feelin’ too good myself
You feelin’ alright?
I’m not feelin’ too good.”