Saskatchewan

Final Regina show for illness-challenged Spirit of the West

It's the final few performances for Spirit of the West, whose drummer Vince Ditrich has been hit with kidney failure.

'We soldier on,' drummer Vince Ditrich says

Frontman John Mann (top ) poses with members of the band Spirit of the West in a file photo, including drummer Vince Ditrich, centre front. (Suzanne Strojwons/The Canadian Press)

"I'm sick as hell, to tell you the truth. But we soldier on."

That's the mindset Spirit of the West drummer Vince Ditrich is in these days.

He is one of two members of his band hit with a devastating health condition.

In his case, it's full kidney failure, which he was diagnosed with in 2013.

Then, last year, frontman John Mann was hit with early onset Alzheimer's disease. The condition that's left him using an iPad-turned-teleprompter when he's playing a show, because he no longer remembers lyrics.

Mann also needs audio cues from his group mates to tell him when to come into a chorus or a verse. 

"Johnny is now in a position where he can't reliably recall lyrics. I think that happens to pretty well every artist with 10 or 20 albums. But it's particularly acute with him," Ditrich said while speaking with Morning Edition host Sheila Coles.

Ditrich, Mann and the rest of the group are on the band's final tour, which includes a show in Regina Thursday night. Their final gig is in their hometown Vancouver on April 16.

The band is deciding to call it quits because of Mann's and Ditrich's health problems.

Music as a safe place

That attitude of soldiering on, of pushing through, seems to have given Ditrich and crew an infectious, positive outlook for themselves and their fans, especially when they're on stage. 

"Music is [Mann's] safe place. He can still sing, and he gets so much comfort and joy from singing, and it's a very touching thing to see him comfortable when those notes are finally coming out of his mouth," Ditrich said.

He said it's a similar experience for him.

"I didn't expect this when we found out that John had Alzheimer's," he said. 

"I thought 'Oh my God, he's going to be just tarred with this brush. This spectre will be hanging over him,' you know?"

In fact, fan reaction has been quite the contrary.

"The audience has come out in droves to show their love and support. It's been very moving and very touching."

How does he measure that up on stage?

"There's just a warmth of response and the look in their eyes. And it's just clearly a lot of people who have a lot of sympathy for John and have a lot of love for the band."

Last show will be a tough one

That last show in Vancouver, will no doubt be a hard, one, he said. 

"I'm trying not to think about it too much, you know? If I can hold it together until the end, I'll be pretty pleased with myself," he said.

The drummer said he's looking forward to playing in front of his close friends and loved ones, including people flying in from San Francisco, Halifax and Newfoundland. There's also a new grandson born in January.

"It's been a pleasure," Ditrich said

"It's a rare thing to be able to do what you love the most, and be appreciated for just enjoying yourself. That's a rare pleasure. We're well aware of how fortunate we've been."

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