HALIFAX — For those growing weary of gloomy news about the COVID-19 pandemic, Nova Scotian Heather Thomson has created an upbeat antidote: an online, down-home kitchen party.
Her Facebook page, launched less than two weeks ago, has attracted almost 200,000 followers from 99 countries — and about 15,000 people join the party every day.
"It gives people something to focus on other than the news," Thomson said Wednesday from her home near New Glasgow, N.S. "It's really bringing people together through the power of music."
The site features thousands of newly uploaded videos showing musicians, singers and dancers — all of them performing in isolation from basements, garages, bedrooms and, of course, kitchen tables.
Hundreds of videos are added every day. There are acoustic ballads, traditional Celtic reels, opera, karaoke, dancing babies, the Royal Canadian Air Force band and even a very pregnant woman and her two boys dancing to a rap song.
One particularly Canadian video shows three Mounties dancing a jig as fiddle music blares across a frozen Sakatchewan lake.
Then there's Scott MacKinnon in Westville, N.S., who shows off his basement shrine to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He tells viewers it would normally be filled with friends watching an NHL game. And then he picks up his guitar.
To the tune of Stompin' Tom Connors' "Hockey Song," MacKinnon sings: "Hello out there, hockey's off the air. There's no hockey tonight. My tension grows, I feel I'm getting old, stuck inside with just the wife."
Canadian country stars George Canyon and Johnny Reid have made appearances on the site, officially known as the Ultimate Nova Scotia Kitchen Party — COVID-19 Edition.
Another popular video shows eight-year-old Caleb MacDonald of Sheet Harbour, N.S., belting out Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On," the theme song from James Cameron's blockbuster film "Titanic."
Caleb's mother, Sherrilee Redden, says her little boy was stunned by the reaction to his performance, which he completed in his pyjamas.
"He was absolutely flabbergasted when he was reading the comments," Redden said in an interview Wednesday, adding that Caleb's video received more than 5,000 likes. "He was floored. He couldn't believe that many people watched him sing."
When asked what he thought about the page's popularity, the Grade 3 student said simply: "It cheers people up .... It's wonderful."
And that is precisely the idea behind the online kitchen party, says Thomson.
She was inspired to create the page last month when she was feeling overwhelmed by the bleak tone on social media.
"I was sitting at my kitchen table and my Facebook page was just flooded with negativity and everything that is wrong in the world today," says Thomson, who is continuing to work through the crisis providing in-home care to those with intellectual and physical disabilities.
"I just needed to find a bit of joy."
She reached out to a few friends who are musicians in Nova Scotia's Pictou County and asked them to share their music online.
"I sang along," she says in an online post. "I felt joy. I felt like the world was the place we knew only a few weeks ago. In that moment, I knew I wanted to drown out the bad and flood my own Facebook with music."
As for the kitchen party theme, Thomson says she thought everyone knew about the tradition, which remains strong in Atlantic Canada. But some "from away" were initially confused, saying they thought the page was a forum for swapping recipes.
According to Maritime lore, these makeshift jam sessions typically started in the kitchen because that's where the wood stove was. Food and drink were easily accessible, too.
"People would naturally gravitate to that area of the house and stick around," says Thomson, who comes from a family of musicians.
"In true Nova Scotia fashion, everyone is welcome."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2020.
Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press