• Justin Shaw

The Moment of Surrender


Music can make you aware of feelings you didn’t know you had. All it took was an asthma attack at my sister’s wedding to prove it to me.

In the fall of 2008, my sister Nicole was about to marry her fiancé, Eric. Theirs couldn’t be more of a King’s County love story unless they‘d met at Radical Jack’s.* Ever-prepared, Nicole had ninety-nine per cent of the preparations for the occasion all set. All she needed was to finalize one more detail to polish an already spotless itinerary. She needed music.

She and Eric loved The Judds, specifically the track “Young Love.” Nicole played the song for me, and I met it with a respectful indifference. At 17, I had little interest in country or folk music. At that age, I was more interested in the uncontained nonsense of The Rheostatics, the defiance of The Rolling Stones, and the rebellion of Steven Tyler. It just didn’t seem like country music was a sound meant for my ears. Nevertheless, I respected my sister’s taste, and didn’t judge if she wanted twang to factor into her special day.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could have Eddy Quinn sing it live?” she asked me. Again, the suggestion was met with a respectful indifference.

I have many memories from my childhood of sitting in the back of my parents’ car on a hot July evening as Dad drove us home and Eddy Quinn, the voice of Fiddler’s Sons, sang a sweet summer lullaby. Any time the Sons released a new recording, it stayed in the car until their next release. The music itself is rich in East Coast tradition, and the warmth of the voice, melody, and lyrics takes the listener on an emotional journey that is deeply personal yet somehow universal.

Though I realize this now, at the time I simply shrugged and said, “Well sure.” So, we hopped in the car and paid a visit to John Webster, the guitarist for Fiddler’s Sons, and a relative to the Shaw family. The plan was if we could convince John, John could convince Eddy, and the rest would be history. The three of us sat in John’s living room as Nicole played a cassette tape of “Young Love” for John so that he could determine whether or not it was possible to learn it in time for the wedding. As the song finished, John picked up his guitar and strummed what, after only a few attempts, quickly resembled the melody to “Young Love.”

Nicole asked the question that every patron should ask an artist when requesting a service: What should I pay you? John smiled and said, “No need.” It was his gift to the newlyweds.

On the day of the wedding, I was thinking of all the work Nicole had put into making the event as special as it could possibly be. I couldn’t help but think of the stress that must have weighed upon her, and that wouldn’t be relieved until the moment the day was officially done, and she could turn to Eric and say, “There, we’re married!”


She made her way down the aisle walking with a grace a little brother doesn’t normally observe in his sister on a day-to-day basis. As she passed my pew and caught my eye, she vanquished any worry I’d had about stress with a quick wink of shared sibling secrecy.

The vows were exchanged, and the congregation glowed as the pair shared their love under the roof of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian.

And that’s when it happened.

Reverend Stephen Thompson, just before leading the newlyweds to sign their marriage license, announced “And now, as a surprise from the bride to the groom, please welcome Eddie Quinn and John Webster as they praise the newlyweds with the gift of song.”

No words were exchanged between Bride and Groom. Eric’s eyes widened with disbelief. Nicole grinned from ear to ear, as if to say “Yes, this is really happening.”

As if by magic, Eddy and John appeared before a microphone. John strummed and Eddy crooned “She was sittin’ cross legged on a hood of a Ford…”

As the music played, I was immediately overtaken by a feeling of total joy for my sister as I watched her dreams come true. I didn’t know I was capable of feeling the level joy I felt in that moment. The sound filled the church with humble yet holy reverence – a sound that somehow spoke directly to the heart to tell you that love is real, worth fighting for, and standing right before your very eyes.

As this message reached my soul, it somehow also reached my throat… I could not breathe. There’s never really a good time for an asthma attack, but this moment surely ranks high on the list of the worst. My asthma is triggered by moments of extreme stress or anxiety, so as far as defense mechanisms go, I feel I may have been sent back to the end of the evolutionary scale. It’s as if there’s a tiny operative sitting at the control panel of my brain who goes “What’s that? He’s stressed out? Better kill ‘em!“, and then hits the red button that closes my airway and causes a simultaneous asthma and panic attack.

As if somehow synced to Eddy’s voice and John’s guitar, my eyes began pouring like a faucet and my nose soon followed suit. I was sitting in a pew drowning in my own head-fluids as this beautiful moment unfolded before the entire congregation. Guests took their eyes from the rural Renaissance tableau at the altar to find the source of the gasping and gurgling coming from the centre pew. I tried to stifle my gasps for air by wiping the ripe combination of tears and snot from my face with the sleeve of my rented suit, and any time I caught someone’s inquisitive glance, I managed to croak, “It’s so beautiful!”

Eddie and John played on as I endeavored to quell an asthma attack which was in danger of upstaging the ceremony. As I collected my breath as best I could, I couldn’t help but remember how I cared so little about the song Nicole had played for me just days before the wedding. Somehow hearing it in person in relation to something so important happening right in front of me made the music feel so personal – as if it was something I was meant to hear.

As happy as I was for my sister, I felt deflated after the ceremony, possibly due to my asthmatic outburst. On top of that, “Young Love” had moved me to weep like a child. Country music had done that. I felt like a shadow of my former self. What would Steven Tyler think of me now?

I rode home with Dad after the ceremony and apologized for crying. After a beat, he quietly replied, “Never apologize for having the courage to cry.”

Music can only be truly personal if it is listened with vulnerability – and that vulnerability comes from a willingness to surrender to how you feel. In those moments, such as my sister’s wedding, the moment may introduce you to feelings you didn’t know were there.

I think the magic behind the music of Fiddler’s Sons is that they give the listener permission to surrender to a feeling that may be connected to a person, a place, or perhaps a memory one keeps close to their heart. For folks in King’s County, Prince Edward Island, the willingness to surrender to these feelings comes from the safety of knowing that they are not alone in this experience. When they listen, they are invited to share in a feeling that is personal yet universal. Humble yet holy. When they feel it in their heart, whatever that feeling may be, they know in that moment that it was something they were meant to feel.

*My editor Dave Stewart informs me that he did not know the Radical Jack’s reference. Radical Jacks was a popular Poole’s Corner mini golf course, ice cream parlour, and go-kart track. I don’t know what possessed the owners to combine these three things into a single business, but it made for a colourful visit. They went out of business the summer after I flipped a go-kart on the race track and had to go to the hospital. I feel partially responsible.

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