Several years ago, I was teaching at a music camp in New Jersey. I had a group of about 16 songwriters as students. On the first night they invited me down to a songwriters’ circle at one of the cabins. I went, stayed for one round through the circle, and said my “good nights”. I then went and played for two hours with the contra dance band.
The next day, they asked what I thought about the circle. My inner Canadian was still asleep and instead of being polite, I said what was on my mind. I told them that the best thing they could do as songwriters was to go back home and find a traditional band to play with —traditional Irish, traditional Rock and Roll, it didn’t matter. They were writing songs that had no tie to any tradition, except a singer songwriter tradition. To write better songs, they had to grow some roots. Case in point-Joel Plaskett.
Joel is a node. He’s one of these people who works well with others. He has written the occasional song with Matt Andersen. He has production credits on dozens of CDs. He’s recorded and performed with Rose Cousins and Anne Egge. He’s played everything from orchestral shows to Cafes. He clearly likes to play. He likes to explore and bring people along for the ride.
Joel has spent most of his career in bands-Nabisco Fonzie, The Thrush Hermits, Neuseiland and his eponymous Joel Plaskett Emergency. He’s a great live performer, relaxed and comfortable. His melodies are catchy. Though he has dabbled in a lot of styles musically, his lyrics maintain a consistent conversational tone. There’s a lot of storytelling. Joel has enjoyed and is enjoying the kind of success that independent artists aspire to. Great sales, sold out concerts, nominations and awards are all fruits of hard work and talent.
This year, though, it’s back to the roots for Joel. He joins forces with one of his earliest musical influences—his father Bill Plaskett.
Bill was born in London, England in 1945. He spent the early 1960s playing tenor banjo —learned from his father— and bass in a traditional jazz bands and skiffle groups. In 1966, Bill traveled through the United States on a Greyhound bus pass. He immigrated to Canada in 1967, ultimately moving to Nova Scotia where Joel was born in 1975.
Through much of the 1980s the family lived in historic Lunenburg. The town is the embodiment, in wood and stone, of what every Canadian imagines Nova Scotia to be. Trim wooden houses rise up from the harbour. It looks prosperous because it was. The Bluenose is the most famous of the vessels that was built in that harbour, but she was only one of thousands born in Lunenburg’s cradles. In the mid 1800s, there could be as many as 18 vessels under construction at a time. There may be busloads of tourists now posing before the picturesque, but it’s still a working harbour.
Bill played in an old time band called Starb’ard Side and helped found the beloved Lunenburg Folk Festival. On festival weekend the town is dominated by the tent atop Blockhouse Hill, the highest point in town. Music also happens on the docks on the waterfront.
From the beginning, the festival was plagued by a lack of accommodation for the musicians. Volunteers and members of the board offered their houses as billets. Kitchen parties at the Plaskett house during the festival were a big event, but there was live music in the house all year round. Joel did not learn to be a musician in isolation, it was part of the fabric of his youth— Bill made sure of that.
They have recorded a new CD, Solidarity and have been touring throughout the spring and summer. The CD gives a glimpse of their musical life. In typical Joel fashion, the supporting cast draws from sources as divergent as Mayhemingways, a duo from Peterborough who will be the backing band for Bill and Joel’s Summerfolk appearance, to Shannon Quinn a wicked traditional fiddler. The album is stripped sown and simple. As its title suggests, the disc doesn’t shy away from politics, that’s in the finest folk tradition.
Bill and Joel Plaskett join us at Summerfolk 42 on August 18th on our Amphitheatre stage. Summerfolk runs August 17, 18, 19, 20 at Kelso beach park in Owen Sound, Ontario. In formation can be found at summerfolk.org or by phoning our office at 519-371-2991. Weekend passes are available at advance prices until July 31.