A tribute fit for the ‘Beard Guy’
Arkells, Barenaked Ladies join in honouring musician
BURLINGTON — There were plenty of tears and even more hugs as more than 1,000 Walk Off The Earth fans gathered Sunday in the frigid cold to honour the memory of their beloved Mike (Beard Guy) Taylor.
The crowd filled the square in front of Burlington City Hall and spilled onto Brant Street a half-block in either direction, while eight musical acts, including the Arkells and the Barenaked Ladies, performed for two hours in tribute to the Walk Off The Earth keyboard player, who died in his sleep of natural causes on Dec. 30.
“This is unbelievable,” Walk Off The Earth singer Sarah Blackwood said as she looked out on the crowd, choking back tears. “We just
wanted to set up, play some music for the fans and honour Mike’s legacy. Look what it turned into ...
“Tonight is about coming together, expressing love and happiness. We’re here tonight to celebrate his life.”
The concert, which was broadcast live across Canada on CBC’s Gem streaming network, was put together in little more than a week by Walk Off The Earth, with help from the City of Burlington and the Burlington Sound of Music Festival.
“This is a testament to the reach and impact that Mike and Walk Off The Earth have had on Burlington and around the world,” Mayor Marianne Meed Ward said in opening the show.
“We’re here to let Mike, his family and friends know that we will never forget him.”
Meed Ward also honoured Taylor by awarding him posthumously with a special key to the city.
As well, Burlington MP Karina Gould read to the crowd a letter of condolence from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Mike had a profound impact on so many,” Trudeau wrote in the letter. “He will be sadly missed.”
The concert stage, set up in the civic square, was backdropped by a large silhouette of Taylor’s profile featuring the beard and his trademark tuque.
His keyboard rig stood in one corner, surrounded by candles.
Blackwood introduced each act to the stage, sharing hugs and memories with the musicians, all of whom were friends of Taylor and Walk Off The Earth.
“We were nominated a couple of years ago in the same category as this band and they won,” Blackwood said as she brought Hamilton heavy rockers Monster Truck.
“No hard feelings. Mike was a big Monster Truck fan. He was always playing their music.”
Toronto pop singer Scott Helman recalled how he had made friends with Taylor while touring with Walk Off The Earth.
“I’ve opened for a lot of acts, but opening for Walk Off The Earth was like being part of a family,” Helman said. “It sucks to lose my friend.”
Kevin Hearn of the Barenaked Ladies told the crowd that his mother had been friends with Taylor’s mother for 28 years.
Through that connection, Hearn and Taylor had also developed a close friendship.
“Mike was a good man with a big heart and a big beard,” Hearn said before his group was joined by Arkells’ frontman Max Kerman for a cover of Bruce Cockburn’s “Lovers in a Dangerous Time.”
Other acts performing included Burlington’s Saint Alvia, USS, and Darenots.
The concert ended with all musicians involved joining Walk Off The Earth for a moving singalong
of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me.” Fireworks and a video montage of Taylor performing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” capped the evening.
To music fans, Taylor was known for his skills on the piano and his stoic and steely-eyed composure on stage.
But he was also a devoted father to his 16-year-old daughter Mylie and 14-year-old son Jackson, whose hockey team he helped coach.
Taylor, who died at the age of 51, was also a respected businessman, co-founding the Burlington-based transport brokerage Gateway Freight Systems in 1994 and remaining at its helm while touring and recording with Walk Off The Earth.
Taylor’s role in Walk Off the Earth rocketed him to unexpected fame in early 2012 after the group’s YouTube cover of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” captured international attention.
The clip featured all five members sharing a single guitar, strumming its strings and knocking on its frame as they sang in harmony.
The video was an instant hit, eventually drawing more than 185 million views. Fans seemed especially captivated by Taylor, his thick eyebrows and wellcoiffed beard.
Two albums followed on the prestigious Columbia Records label, leading to a 2016 Juno Award for group of the year.
Monster Truck performs during a tribute to the late Mike Taylor (Beard Guy) of Walk Off The Earth at a concert in Burlington on Sunday.
Lisa Revell sings along to the performances during the tribute concert.
Sarah Castellani and her son Riley Ruckstuhl wore beards as a tribute to Mike Taylor. Various artists performed at Burlington's Civic Square. Taylor, just 51, died in his sleep Dec. 30.
Walk Off The Earth's Sarah Blackwood wipes tears as she watches a video tribute to band mate Mike Taylor.