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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Sun Times Articles 2012 – part 5

James Keelaghan wrote a series of articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times last year as part of the lead up to Summerfolk.

Gunning and Miles

If Dave Gunning had a motto it would be “There’s a song in there somewhere.”

In mid October 2008, I was in Cape Breton for the Celtic Colours Festival. Artistic Director Joella Foulds had invited six writers to collaborate on the creation of an evening worth of music. She put us in a house on the main street of Baddeck.  We had a week to write somewhere between 12 and 16 songs, all on the theme of homecoming.

No pressure?

The writers were Rose Cousins, David Francey, Lori Watson, Karine Polwart, Dave Gunning and yours truly – James Keelaghan.

We took turns writing in pairs. When Dave Gunning and I got together, I asked him if he had any specific ideas. “Yeah,” he said, “I’d like to write a hanging song.”

I was a bit taken aback.  Death on a gallows is not what springs to mind when I think of homecoming songs. While there are some great hanging songs- Long Black Veil and The Night Before Larry Was Stretched come to mind, I think its fair to say the form has long fallen out of fashion.Dave Gunning Photo_by_mat_dunlap

Over the next two days, we would revisit the hanging tune, and each time the song became more real. Dave found a path that led from homecoming to hanging, creating a totally believable story. On the Wednesday it was finished.

Dave sang the song in the first set of the concert in Sydney. The Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia was in the front row. During the song, she sat bolt upright, her eyes firmly set on Dave. She was totally involved, not moving a muscle.

During the break in the green room, the LG was announced. When she came into the room she made a bee line for Dave, shook his hand and gushed,“ I certainly wasn’t expecting a hanging song!”

There’s a couple of reasons why Dave can get even the Vice Regal representative excited about a hanging song. He has a keen eye for a good story and he’s utterly charming on stage and off.

Tall and gangly in the way that men from Pictou County are, he’s your little brother. He’s every mother’s son. He’s the guy that makes you party too late and  the guy who just played you a hanging song and made you believe it. If I was him, I would have already turned this article into a song.

That week remains one of the highlights of my life.

Since that experience, I play a little game with myself. I imagine which writers I with whom I would love to be locked up with – if the chance every came again.  As always, topping my list is Lynn Miles.

The problem with the term singer songwriter is its over-use. Some people are great singers but mediocre songwriters. Some are great songwriters, but don’ t really have the pipes needed to be a good singer.

Then there are the rare few that actually live up to being truly both singer and songwriter

Lynn’s voice is eternally youthful, packed with emotion and colour that can only come from years of experience. If she didn’t write, I’d go to hear her sing other people’s songs.

The songs she writes are razor sharp. There’s not a wasted note or lyric.
Lynn has that rare ability to take the personal and make it universal. She can also step into a character sing about more than herself.

In her mournful mining ballad, “Black Flowers” she sums up the desolation of a mining town by observing:

The Undertaker, he’s a busy man
He’s got a clean blue shirt
He’s got soft pink hands
He’s got a paved driveway
And a brand new car
And Black Flowers grow in my yard.

Verses like that are the reason that I would love to spend a week in a house with her, figuring out how she manages to distill something that profound into 36 words.LynnMiles4

It’s not the only reason. She is also great company. She’s well read, a great conversationalist and has a quick dry wit. As a friend of mine once said,
“ She’s wicked smart!”

You’ll want to see Lynn and Dave on the main stage, but you shouldn’t miss them in workshops. Allow yourself the pleasure of seeing them in a spontaneous setting where the unexpected can happen. They will not disappoint.

Summerfolk is proud to welcome two of Canada’s finest singer songwriters to Owen Sound.

For more information please visit us at
Visit Lynn at
Visit Dave at

Sun Times Articles 2012 – part 4

James Keelaghan wrote a series of articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times last year as part of the lead up to Summerfolk.

Something in the Winter

In 2001 my wife and I decided to move from my hometown of Calgary to Winnipeg. We had a desire to live someplace different. Winnipeg was that, for sure.

It’s a city with a great history-epic battles, wave upon wave of immigration larger than life characters. It has the largest urban concentration of First Nation’s people of any Canadian city. It sits at the junction of two rivers, the Red and the Assinaboine, and two of Canada’s greatest geographies, the Shield and the Prairies.
Musically it sits at the place were all roads meet.
Every February, in the darkest coldest part of winter we looked forward to Festival du Voyageur. It was always high adventure, venturing out in 40 below to St Boniface to drink caribou ( the incredibly powerful fortified mulled wine) and listen to Franco-Manitoban music. While it wasn’t a trip to the tropics, it did break the back of winter for us.

In 2008 a songwriting student of mine, Vanessa Kuzina, told me that she three other local musicians had formed an all female old time band. Like all good Manitoba bands, Oh My Darling came together during a particularly frosty winter. Alison De Groot ( banjo), Marie Josée Dandeneau ( Upright Bass),Oh My Darling_35 Rosalyn Dennet (fiddle) and Vanessa (Guitar) took to the stage at Festival that year for the first time and have never looked back.

They tour relentlessly. If you wanted to hear them tonight you’d have to be in Verden, Germany. A week from now you’d have to be in Ireland.

Their music is a blend of bluegrass, Appalachian, Franco-Manitoban and old time. The original songs blend seamlessly with the traditional tunes. Over top of it all is that unique prairie accent and sense of place.

The Crooked Brothers are different fish, but the same kettle.In their press kit there’s a familiar reference. Their first CD, it says, was “recorded in a small cabin over a cold Manitoban winter.”
Manitoba should probably package that winter and send it to musicians in other parts of the country.
I don’t know the weather that led to their latest CD, but the first time I heard the track “17 Horses” I was hooked. It’s swampy and wide open.The vocals are low and rumbling, the percussion played by banging on an old piece of railway iron.
The Crooked Brothers are Jesse Matas, Darwin Baker and Matt Foster. They are kindred spirits. Like Oh My darling, they are all accomplished solo players in their own right. They have exceeded the sum of their parts and managed to forge a distinctive band sound.CrookedBrothers_HR_couch
You never know where they are going to take you next-they are hard to classify. The banjo, harmonica, dobro and mandolin give their music a roots feel, but the lyric and the melody spin you off into another dimension. They take you to that dark mid-February of the soul where we nurse our regrets and hone our desires.

I suspect that the long lonely Manitoba winter might have had something to do with why Al Simmons is the way he is. There’s no mention of it on his web site, but he may just take it as a given.

In many ways Al is like a real life muppet. He’s got their sense of vaudeville and musical comedy. He’s got the irresistibly corny humour and a body that defies the law of gravity. It’s his DNA that’s pulling his strings though.
He claims he was genetically engineered for comedy. He has lanky legs, a rubber face and large flipper like feet-all of which combine to make him the reigning sovereign of sight gags. I’ve seen him recreate the entire opening of 2001 in pantomime. I’ve seen him wearing a bathtub while playing a bath-brush ukelele.

AlSimmons_flippersHe is an underrated musician and songwriter-the fastest pun in the West.
I mean that in a good way, because Al’s comedy for all its madness, is gentle. Its comedy in the tradition of Victor Borge. There’s never a laugh at anyone else’s expense-no one gets hurt, no one is insulted. He does kids shows and adult shows but the distinction is strictly academic. I’d take any one of any age to see whatever he is doing. Al makes me laugh. What more do you need to say about a comedian?

The thing my wife and I loved most about Winnipeg was that music is part of the fabric of the life there.We loved that the fact that there was still live music in our local pizza joint, that musicians were more likely to jam for fun than rehearse for a gig.

I can guarantee it won’t be forty below during Summerfest, but we hope you’ll enjoy this taste of Manitoba nonetheless

You’ll find Al Simmons at
Oh My Darling at
The Crooked Brothers at

Tickets and information for Summerfolk can be found at

Sun Times Articles 2012 – part 3

James Keelaghan wrote a series of articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times last year as part of the lead up to Summerfolk.

Lemon Bucket Orchestra

When I was hired to become the new Artistic Director of Summerfolk, the first thing that greeted me was a large box of CDs – a big cardboard container packed with lbo_promo_standingpromotional materials from those wishing to play Summerfolk.  They were submissions that had been piling up between Richard Knechtel’s departure and when I signed on.

There were hundreds of CDs.  I felt I had to listen to them all, an occasion that made for an interesting December at my house in downtown Perth.

By some strange geologic process, certain discs kept rising to the top of the pile.  But one that broke the surface most often was by a group named the Lemon Bucket Orkestra.  It was heartfelt, rollicking, breathtaking music from the Balkans and the Ukraine, tinged with strains of klezmer and gypsy, all served up with joyous abandon

I had never heard of the group.  That bothered me.  How did I miss out on this musical experience?  A Toronto friend surely would have said to me, “Oh, by the way, did you hear about this insanely great Balkan klezmer and gypsy party band?” I began to think, perhaps, they weren’t real but then I discovered this fantastic video on YouTube, plus a good looking website.

I phoned the number on the contact sheet, holding a conversation with Mark Marczyk.  He assured me that Lemon Bucket was for real and that it was him that I was seeing on the videos, playing fiddle.  He let me know that LBO could arrive with anywhere from a five to a twelve piece band, the culmination of a Toronto musical co-op.

Just as I hung up, the phone rang.  It was a colleague from Toronto, letting me know about this fantastic band he had just seen on the past weekend.  Quite unexpectedly, the next three phone calls I handled all raved about LBO.  Was it fate or a clever viral promotional assault?

In the long run, I decided it was fate!  I believe that LBO was made for Summerfolk and that Summerfolk was made for them.  I phoned Mark Marczyk back, letting him know that I wanted the full band and for the whole weekend.

There is great skill and virtuosity in the music they play – there is no pretense.  LBO is as comfortable performing their music on city street corners as they are on a large stage before a roaring crowd.  The YouTube video presents them on board an airplane, stranded on a runway.  To keep the passengers and crew’s spirits up, they made music, music that makes life better and more enjoyable, especially for tired, hot airplane travellers.

Tangi Ropers brings a Breton-accented accordian sound while Mike Romaniac adds reedy texture with the sopilka, a traditional Ukrainian wooden flute.  Anastasia Baczynskyj throws her head back, singing from a place very deep within herself.  The horns (alto sax, clarinet, trombone, flugelhorn, and sousaphone) and the percussion section put it all into overdrive.  On top of it all, out whirls dancer Stephanie Woloshyn.

Without a doubt, the Lemon Bucket Orkestra will have you on your feet, dancing and singing.  If they have their way, you will end up on the same Balkan binge that I have enjoyed for the past six months.

There is endless debate among festival directors concerning booking headliners.  Do you really need them to bring a larger audience to your event?  Do you need them to boost ticket sales?

These are totally relevant questions.  Still, speaking, not just as an AD, but a lover of music and a frequent audience member, I go to festivals largely to hear those people and bands to which I have never been exposed.  A particular headliner may well attract my attention but really, I go, hoping to be surprised.   And then I come away with CDs that I never thought I would end up from musical acts I never knew existed.

The Lemon Bucket Orkestra has been the soundtrack of my past six months.  I am totally excited that they are coming to Summerfolk – and I can guarantee our audience that they are going to love them..

More information can be found at  You can listen and read about LBO at their website at

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