Seventeen years ago, Ross Viner’s dream came true. He got to sing with his musical hero, Sting, in Vancouver.
On May 31, when Sting plays here, the Victorian hopes to replicate the feat.
But he needs your help.
Viner is an accounting manager for Veterinarians Without Borders. He is 44, single and — when I met him — sported a porkpie hat.
He’s also a mega Sting fan.
Viner has seen 20-plus Sting concerts, one requiring a whirlwind return flight to Paris. One time he met Sting’s wife at a Los Angeles concert and talked to her for a few glorious seconds. He once even made a Christmas card of himself and Sting together, wearing matching Santa hats.
Realizing his fanaticism, his friends have created a Facebook page for him, entitled Sting ask Ross to Sing (Again).
Here is Viner’s plan: He gets thousands to click on his Facebook page. It goes viral. Then someone tips off Sting, who’s so impressed with Viner’s efforts, he invites him on stage at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre for a historic reunion.
“Yeah,” Viner said the other day. “That’s the idea.”
Sounds, well... far-fetched. But he did achieve it once, on Aug. 11, 1996, at Vancouver’s GM Place (now Rogers Arena). Viner, sitting 13 rows back, held up a torn pillowcase. The makeshift banner, hastily created in a parkade, was Magic-Markered with the words: “I’m so happy I could sing.”
On that tour, Sting was letting audience members on stage to sing I’m so Happy I Can’t Stop Crying. So he beckoned Viner, whose knees began to wobble like a pair of maracas.
Security guards hoisted him up.
If you type in “Ross Viner” on YouTube, you can view the performance. Videos of the Viner/Sting duet have clocked more than 300,000 views.
On stage, Viner appears remarkably poised. When Sting asks if he’s nervous, he replies “slightly,” which seems to please the rock star. At one point, after a chorus, Viner cheekily yells: “Come on, Sting!”
Come on, indeed. After the song was performed in front of a 10,000-plus sea of people (“What a rush!”), Viner was instructed to sign a release. And, because he was technically — albeit briefly —a performer, he was paid one American dollar.
Viner keeps that precious greenback in his Sting scrapbook. It also contains the concert ticket, a photograph and a TV Guide clipping about the concert (later televised). And there are two fan letters from admiring American teens who, somehow, tracked him down.
The Sting memorabilia is contained in a cardboard box at Viner’s home with other important items, such as his late mother’s diary and a flag that once draped the coffin of his stepfather, a war veteran.
“Some people expect me to have a shrine to Sting at my place. And I don’t,” Viner said.
He has, however, turned an audio sample of his Sting encounter into his ringtone. Later, Viner messaged me to say, if you look at page 295 of Christopher Sandford’s Sting: Back on the Beat, there is a mention of the duet. One of his favourite Sting songs is Every Breath You Take, a love song with stalker-like overtones.
Sting has millions of fans worldwide. But the über-fans are a close-knit community. By coincidence, my brother-in-law, Jason, now a TV news producer, also performed with Sting on that 1996 tour, in Nagoya, Japan. Because Sting chose someone else to sing, Jason ended up playing bass on I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying.
Turns out Viner knows Jason. Or at least, he once talked to him on the phone. Somehow, my brother-in-law had procured audio of Viner’s Vancouver gig and offered it to him.
In May, the odds will not be Viner’s favour. He has tickets to the Victoria concert. But they’re not 13th row. They’re halfway down the arena, high up. Viner showed me his new pillowcase banner, which reads, “I’m So Happy I Could Sing Again.”
The thing is, will Sting even see it? Or care?
I asked Viner to rate his chances.
“I would argue, 25 to30 per cent,” he said.
“I would think, like one per cent,” I said.
“Really?” replied Viner, sounding deflated.
Then he pointed out, if you don’t try, you don’t have any chance at all. Which is so true.
So let’s get our hometown boy back on stage with Sting. Log onto Facebook. Click onto the Facebook page titled: Sting ask Ross to Sing (Again). Share it with your friends. Make it go viral.
Before he left, I asked Viner if he’d like the crowd at the Victoria concert to yell out “Ross Viner, Ross Viner!” in unison. You know — it might improve his sing-along-with-Sting chances.
“Oh yeah,” he said, smiling the smile of a believer. “That would be awesome.”
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