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Walk Off the Earth fans come from across the globe to remember ‘Beard Guy’

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BURLINGTON, Ont. — Bundled in winter jackets, tuques and a few wooly blankets, fans travelled from halfway across the world to the chilly streets of Burlington, Ont., on Sunday to say a sombre farewell to Mike Taylor.

The steely-eyed keyboardist of Walk Off the Earth, known simply as “Beard Guy,” received a grand sendoff at an outdoor acoustic tribute concert where hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the musician, alongside his friends in bands the Barenaked Ladies, Arkells and Monster Truck.

Josh Walker trekked from the small English town of Hartlepool for the event, something he decided was an essential part of the grieving process for the musician, who died on Dec. 30.

“The more I thought about it, the more I had to do this,” Walker said.

“There’s nothing better than paying respects by travelling.”

Standing beside him, Richard van Scherpenzeel came from the Netherlands. He agreed that showing up in Walk Off the Earth’s Canadian hometown wasn’t a question. He found many of his friends through the band’s online social networks, which exploded in popularity after their breakout YouTube cover of “Somebody That I Used to Know” eight years ago.

“It’s not only the band, it’s the community around it,” he said. “It’s not like other bands — it’s more.”

Those intense connections became evident at many points during the show.

As the tribute got underway band member Sarah Blackwood broke into tears explaining that originally the concert was envisioned as a relatively small gathering for fans. But as the concert neared, it became clearer that hundreds of people would be showing up.

“Look at what it’s become. It’s absolutely beautiful,” she told the audience before breaking into tears.

“Everybody is shocked and saddened, but tonight is about coming together and expressing love and happiness. We want to celebrate Mike for the incredible man that he was.”

Performers included pop singer Scott Helman, who shared a story about how Taylor played a role in shooting his music video for “Machine” in Paris.

Arkells frontman Max Kerman charged through a number of songs, including a soulful rendition of “Stand By Me,” while Taylor’s vacant keyboard sat in the distance, covered in lit candles.

But the rousing finale was left for Walk Off the Earth, who performed a number of songs, including “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a cover that’s a favourite among their fans. They closed out the show with a blast of fireworks over the stage, as a shot of Taylor faded from the video screen.

—Follow @dfriend on Twitter.

David Friend, The Canadian Press

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