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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Sun Times Article 07/25/2014 Molsky/Naiman

 Every year, as part of our continuing sponsorship with the Owen Sound Sun Times, the Artistic Director writes a series of 12 articles about the festival and the performers.The Sun Times online edition here


Hannah Shira Naiman’s CD rose to the top of the pile that came from the Folk Music Ontario conference last October. There were some really great original tunes, interspersed with traditional material. I wondered where she’d found so many traditional tunes that were new to me. When I got round to reading the liner notes I was pleased to discover that she wrote them.

The songs are solidly in the Appalachian/Old Time tradition. The melodies come from someone who has an intimate knowledge of the classic ballads and tunes. It helps that she was raised in a musical family in Toronto-both her parents are themselves respected players.

Hannah Shira Naiman

She has a willowy voice and gentle hand on the claw hammer banjo. She’s a joy to listen to.

I hired Hannah because I loved the cd and the songs. I also wanted to have her pitch in with our dance program. She’s an accomplished dancer herself, you can hear some foot percussion on the cd. She’s also a dance caller.

There’s been a revival of contra and square dance brewing in Toronto. Hannah is one of the go to callers at the popular Hog Town Hoedown. Contra dances, like square dances, are done with the help of a caller. That’s where Hannah comes in.  She teaches each dance before it begins in a ‘walk through’.  Once the dancers have done the walk through, the caller will strike up the band, and she/he will continue to prompt the dance until it looks like everyone is flowing along on their own.

As we talked about dance programming, she suggested that she could call and teach the dances, sing her original tunes and put together a band that could handle both. She’s bringing some great players from Toronto. Her dad, Arnie Naiman on banjo, Rachel Melas ( from Betty and the Bobs) on Bass, and Rosalyn Dennett ( Oh my Darlin) on violin.


I mentioned some of the other people coming to the festival and she suggested that maybe there was an opportunity to put together an All star band for our Saturday night contra dance band. Why not said I. So, over the course of the Saturday night dance, the band will be joined by a parade of some of the best trad players in North America-Brittany Haas (Crooked Still), Eli West, Ann Downey and Ian Rob from Finest Kind and the incomparable  Bruce Molsky.

Bruce Molsky should be made a UNESCO World Heritage site. He has a deep, wide catalogue of American songs and tunes. He is the undoubted master Appalachian fiddler of his generation. When you listen to Molsky you listen to history.

Guitar, banjo, fiddle and a classic reedy voice are Molsky’s hallmarks. They are deployed on the staggering library of tunes and songs stored in his head. He’s a natural folklorist, sifting though songs learned from field recordings, festivals, and old-timers.

He was raised in the Bronx and had a brief flirtation with bluegrass when he was younger. He became devoted to Appalachian and Old Time music when he was studying to be an engineer at Cornell. He was attracted by the music’s drive and power, but also by its social and communal side.


Bruce Molsky

“Community is integral to the music,” Molsky explains. “Most of us started playing in a social context. The music is all about pulse and heartbeat-everybody has that, it’s just expressed a little differently in different places. There’s always common ground that we can find.”

His first solo album, Lost Boy,  was released in 1996. It wasn’t until 3 years later, though that he finally gave up his day job and turned to music full time.

His latest disc, 2013’s If It Ain’t Here When I Get Back, finds Molsky not only self producing, but also playing all the instruments.

His other musical influences are on display as well. There’s Bimini Gal, which he learned from  an LP that featured Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence. Or the playful instrumental Growling Old Man and Grumbling Old Woman a traditional Métis fiddle tune learned from field recordings of the Ojibwe people in Western Manitoba.

He’s got a quiet version of charisma. You can find him at fiddle camps, music schools and festivals where younger players flock to him to soak up technique or repertoire, or both.

If you are a fan of traditional music, you’ll be telling people about him for years. If you know nothing about traditional music, he will steal you heart.

 Hannah Shira Naiman and Bruce Molsky both possess an “I’ll sleep when I”m dead” attitude at music festivals. They are two of the fine musicians you’ll find in our roster of over 40 acts at this year’s Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival. The gates of the festival open at 4 Pm on the 15th of August. The contra dance  with our Summerfolk All star Contra Band happens at 7:30 Saturday August 16th. Tickets, info and schedules can be found at or by phoning the office at 519-371-2995. Come and catch the sound of summer!

Sun Times Article 07/18/2014 The blues

 Every year, as part of our continuing sponsorship with the Owen Sound Sun Times, the Artistic Director writes a series of 12 articles about the festival and the performers.The Sun Times online edition here

The other day, just for kicks, I tried to think of all the various kinds of blues. Chicago, New Orleans, Piedmont, Memphis, Detroit, boogie-woogie, jump, swamp. Add to those the genre’s that have been spawned from Blues, which would be pretty everything from 1920 onwards. Blues has become the musical language of mass communication. Strangely, though, blues  tends to come to me by word of mouth.

I first heard about the Reverend Robert B. Jones from my brother Bob. My brother’s band was playing a festival in Kitchener and shared a stage with him. When I quizzed him about who he’d liked, Reverend Jones was the immediate response. I asked him, what made Jones stand out? Bob said – He’s authentic.

Rev. Robert B. Jones

When you couple authenticity with exceptional talent, songwriting and storytelling you get the Reverend Robert B. Jones. He’s got an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of African American folk music, including blues, spiritual, and slave songs. He knows its players and its styles. He no slouch when it comes to performing it.

Until recently he has been pastor of the Sweet Kingdom Missionary Baptist Church on Detroit’s lower east side. The blues, typically, deal with a side of life that is decidedly secular. Reverend Jones doesn’t have a problem with that.

“ The fact of the matter is the two things are related.” he says. “ You can’t have gospel without the blues. And the blues came out of the spiritual…the two things are related always, and if you look under any good preacher’s bed, you’re gonna find that guitar that he don’t let nobody play.”

He’s spending less time in the church now. He’s handed over a lot of the duties there to his children. At storytelling festivals in classrooms and on stage he’s out preaching the gospel of song.

The place Rachelle Van Zanten lives is the opposite of Detroit. She’s from the Bulkley Valley in Northern BC. It’s a stunningly beautiful place, high mountain peaks and broad river valleys. The lakes are crystal clear, the streams and rivers are fast flowing.

Randy Bachman calls Rachelle Van Zanten Rachelle Van ZantenCanada’s best slide guitar player. She comes by it honestly. She got her guitar chops at family jams and in church. She’s honed them over the past 15 years with almost constant road work, first with band called Painting Daisies and, for the past 8 years, as a solo artist.

She tours regularly in Europe and is a favourite on the Western Canadian festival circuit. She’s known for her dirty guitar licks and gritty lyrics. She stole the show at last year’s 27th annual Women’s Blues Revue at Massey Hall in Toronto. I’ve seen her rock the house alone or with a band many times in Western Canada. Like the Reverend Jones  her appeal comes from sincerity.

The Blues has always been about struggle. Van Zanten’s songs don’t shy away from the issues in the valley. In a song like My Troubled Town, she’s singing about Northern BC but the town could be anywhere that the economy has moved on and left people struggling to find a new way to make their way in the world.

Politically Van Zanten is at ground zero of the pipeline debate in British Columbia.The roots of her “environmental music” started when Shell Oil tried, unsuccessfully, to build a gas extraction project in the heart of her region’s wild-salmon watersheds.

” I saw the effects of corporate bullying on a community.  When I saw the unity between the Tahltan nation and environmentalists … it really lit my fire,” said van Zanten.

She’s passionate about politics and it shows in the music

Musicians need regular injections of passion. It’s the emotional fuel that keeps the wheels on the road.

The 24th Street Wailers have a mighty set of wheels. A friend of mine says that the Wailers are like a big, sexy diesel truck. The truck’s destination doesn’t matter, you just want to be along for the ride.They have a smooth unstoppable groove that’ll get you where you are going.24th Street Wailers

From their debut release Dirty Little Young’s in 2010 to this year’s CD Wicked they have been bowling over critics and filling venues across North America. Now Europe is beckoning as well.

The Wailers have always been a band to watch. Their recordings are fantastic, but live they are tremendous. They’ve logged enough road time to know how to perform. The don’t play at you, they play to you and for you. They will have you on your feet in no time, like they are practicing some form of Blues voodoo.

Blues, more than any genre, prides itself on its genealogy. Fans can draw you flow charts of where this player got their licks, or who toured with who. One thing is certain, you don’t get recognition until the elders have spoken.

There’s a great video floating around the web this week. Blues legend Jimmy Vaughan steps on stage to jam with the 24th Street Wailers at the Apollo Club in Thunderbay. That is the blues equivalent of being handed a torch.

Jones, Van Zanten and the Wailers will be in the Blues by the Bay workshop on the Saturday of the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival. The 39th annual Summerfolk runs August 15, 16 and 17 at Kelso Beach Park in Owen Sound Ontario. Tickets are now available and info can be found at or by phoning our office at 519-371-2995.

Sun Times Articles 07/11/2014 Oh Susanna

 Every year, as part of our continuing sponsorship with the Owen Sound Sun Times, the Artistic Director writes a series of 12 articles about the festival and the performers.The Sun Times online edition here

In the summer of 2012 Suzie Ungerleider and I were at the Mariposa Folk Festival. Suzie is better known to music fans as Oh Susanna. We were both performing, but we also had our families there. On the Sunday afternoon we hung out at the splash pad with our kids. “Splash pad” and “Oh Susanna” were not words that I thought would ever be used in the same paragraph.

PollockHeather-OhSusanna-3890-1 (8x12)

I met her first in 1997. She was on the Scrappy Bitches Tour with Veda Hille and Kinnie Starr, playing at MacEwan Hall in Calgary. It was a magic night. I had never heard her before, though I had started hearing of her through the grapevine.

Suzie’s voice is like a distant bell heard through a bank of fog. The songs are coal mine dark. They are narratives full of mayhem and broken dreams. Folk songs in short.

She’s always been attracted to storytelling and having characters drive the songs. The songs have a classic sound, like Appalachian ballads.

The moodiness of the songs are at odds with the woman. Ungerleider is engaging, charming and quick to laugh.

Suzie and I run into one another at semi-regular intervals, as musicians do. She’s one of those people who you can pick up with, no matter how long ago you left off.

So, I was looking forward to seeing Suzie at last year’s Summerfolk. However, a couple of months before the festival her agent called to say Suzie had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was going to be undergoing treatment and was not going to be able to play the festival.

Suzie described for me the period between when they suspected it was cancer and when they confirmed it. She stepped on stage every night and sang all the haunting songs she does so beautifully. Suddenly they had a very personal edge. Now she was the character at the centre of a very dark ballad.

She told me that once she was diagnosed, things became less ominous. The people overseeing her treatment were encouraging, reminding her that breast cancer is a treatable disease. She message she gave to herself was positive; deal with this and you will live a long life. She put the dark feelings aside. Her friends and family rallied to her.

She’s doing great now. The occasional bout of tiredness, but she’s enjoying life and busy finishing the projects that were delayed by the cancer.

One of those projects is her upcoming CD, Namedropper.

Suzie is recognized as a great song writer. With Namedropper, she wanted to acknowledge the inspiration she gets from her peers. The people who, she says, inspire us, break our hearts and kick us in the ass.

Her and confidante, Jim Bryson ( Sarah Harmer, Kathleen Edwards, The Weakerthans) began asking other writers for songs, preferably new or unrecorded, that would suit Oh Susanna.

In a way, Namedropper is a tribute album. Suzie wanted to honour the Canadian songwriting community and it seems they wanted to honour her as well. The list of writers who eagerly contributed songs is stunning.

Songs came from Ron Sexsmith who wrote Wait Until The Sun Comes Up for her. Old Man Leudecke, Amelia Curran, Royal Wood and The Good Lovelies all contributed as well.

She says recording their tunes lead her to understand more deeply the difference between being a singer-songwriter and being a singer. Even if you have characters in your songs, essentially the song you’ve written is a piece of you. Singing a song written by someone else let’s you experience the other’s persona. Singing becomes a physical act, unencumbered by ownership of the words.

Namedropper was nearly finished when Suzie was diagnosed with cancer. She felt guilt that her ensuing treatment would put the brakes on a project that fans and contributors were looking forward to. She needn’t have worried. Namedropper has become one of the most anticipated releases of 2014.

Early in the project Jim Cuddy wrote Dying Light for her-the chorus was almost prophetic,

Come back to me darlin’

Let me know you’re all right

Cause I can’t let go of this dying light

I’m happy to say that Oh Susanna is more than all right. I’m excited that she will be joining us at Summerfolk this year and not just because I get to hear her sing. I’ve also got plans for a visit to the splash pad.

Oh Susanna will be appearing with Jim Bryson at Summerfolk August 15, 16, 17 at Kelso Beach Park. Ticket information, schedules, performer bios and links are all available at You can also phone us at 519-371-2995.


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