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Tag Archives: James Keelaghan

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Honestly Unforgettable Performers

By James Keelaghan
Sometimes an artist owns a song. Chances are they didn’t write it, but it’s their voice that you hear when you imagine the song being sung. Judy Garland—no one since has owned Over the Rainbow. Arlo Guthrie still has the definitive version of City of New Orleans.

Sometimes, you witness a hand off — that moment when one artist takes possession from the previous owner.

Since Irish Mythen and I share a bit of heritage, I have a confession to make. The first time I actually heard her, rather than just hearing about her, was at last year’s Folk Music Ontario conference. I walked in on the last song of one of her showcases. She ended the set with The Auld Triangle. The song was written by legendary Irish poet/playwright Brendan Behan, though the rumour persists that it was actually written by his brother, Dominic. The song has been owned since the 60s by Luke Kelly, the gravel-voiced singer for the band, The Dubliners. Shane MacGowan, of the Pogues, covered it in the 80s, but never really owned it.

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Irish Mythen

When Irish Mythen started singing it, I did a subconscious eye roll. So many have attempted the song. So many have failed to do it justice. By the second line of the song, however, my hair was on end. By the time she finished, it was clear the song had a new owner. It was like the spirit of Behan and Kelly had descended from the sky and placed their fingers on her.

Irish is a powerhouse. If you combined the output of every generating station in North America, it would still not come close to matching the energy in her voice. It’s a voice built to silence a Dublin pub.

I’ve gone out of my way to see Irish several times since that conference. I have rarely seen a performer more in command of herself or her audience. The darkness of some of the material is tempered by a between-song personality marked by deep humour and a sharp, quick wit.

She is not just a voice. She was named SOCAN’s songwriter of the year in 2015. She has the Irish gift for a turn of phrase. She speaks her mind and the songs can be pointed or poignant as the occasion dictates.

What Irish Mythen has in spades is honesty. It’s the hallmark of all great performers and contrary to the old adage, it can’t be faked. Old Man Luedecke has the same quality, though he and Irish have distinctly different personas.

Music conferences can open a window on a performer’s stagecraft, but they can also let you have a more intimate glimpse of a performer’s personality. I was at the Folk Alliance conference last February in Kansas City. Nice though the hotel was, after a couple of days I had to get out of the conference atmosphere and get some real food. When you are in Kansas City, the real food is barbecue.

Fortunately, not far from the hotel, was the famous Jack Stack restaurant. I was standing in the lobby looking at a map when I saw Chris Luedecke. I asked if he would like to join me, as he had a hungry look about him.

We had a pleasant walk, but when we got to the place, it was jam-packed. The hostess mentioned that there was takeout at the back. That’s how Chris and I ended up eating a mass of burnt ends (you’ll have to trust me) under a bridge beside the railway tracks.

I have rarely had a better meal—it wasn’t just the food, it was the company. Chris is down to earth and although soft spoken, he has an easy humour and is a great conversationalist. You would be hard pressed to pick him out of a crowd, but there is no mistaking him on stage.

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Old Man Luedecke

Chris writes about ordinary lives, but does it with extraordinary insight. He captures the everyday with such truth that you can’t help but see yourself in his lyrics. When I listen to an Old Man Luedeke song, my first thought is always, “I wish I’d written that.” I think that not because I am jealous of his writing, but because he is saying the things that I think, but never put into words.

His power is simplicity—a voice, a banjo—mostly—and some lyrics. With that, he creates an entire world. He seems like a modern day Pete Seeger, but where Seeger was earnest, Luedecke is laid back. There are no big issues, just small moments illuminating truth.

His is the kind of music that sneaks up on you. The first time you watch one of his shows, there is a pleasure that washes over you, some laughs, a knowing nod of the head, a hint of a tear. It’s not until a day or two after that you realize you have witnessed something extraordinary. It happens as you find yourself singing lyrics that you have only heard once. It’s the second time you see him that it really hits home. You hang on every note and every perfectly placed word resonates.

Folk music is about truth and honesty. We are pleased to present two of the most honest performers you will ever meet- Irish Mythen and Old Man Luedeke at this year’s Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival, August 19, 20 and 21st at Kelso Beach Park in Owen Sound. Find out everything you need to know at summerfolk.org.

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Refreshing Classics And New Traditions

By James Keelaghan
It should be no surprise to you that with a name like Keelaghan, I know a bit about Celtic flavoured music. It might surprise you that it’s not the fiddle in Irish trad that really gets me going — it’s the tenor banjo.

There is a whole twisted and fascinating history of how the banjo got into Irish music, but however it got there, I think the music is the better for it.

For a number of years, the tenor banjo all but disappeared from traditional celtic music. In the ballad heavy 50s and 60s, the five-string banjo was king. But with the trad revival of the 70s, it came roaring back. Kieran Hanrahan of Stockton’s Wing and Mick Moloney brought it to the fore. I was backpacking in Ireland in 1979 at the height of the revival and the sound of the tenor banjo was the soundtrack of my travels.

It went out of fashion for a while, but there’s been another renaissance, though the resurgence has been mainly in Canada. Composers like the late Jean-Paul Loyer and players like Darren McMullen, who was with us last year as part of Còig, have been bringing it back.

Which brings me to The East Pointers, who are joining us for the first time at Summerfolk this year. The East Pointers are a wicked band. Wicked! Tim Chaisson is surely one of the finest fiddlers on the planet, and a great songwriter in his solo career. Jake Charron is a rock-solid rhythm guitar player-like a machine, he drives the tunes forward. And then, there is the tenor banjo player, Koady Chaisson. His playing is staccato, but it isn’t square. It pushes and it pulls, but it never drags. When all three instruments suddenly land on the melody line, it’s electric, played with a precision that is at odds with the laid-back look of the group. You wonder how much they must have played in order to be so pristine. They don’t play it sitting down, either, which is also a change. It adds to the raw energy of their sets.

The East Pointers

The East Pointers

Here’s the best thing—all the tunes are new. There are no old chestnuts, but every single tune sounds like it’s already a part of the tradition. It helps that the Chaissons (Tim and Koady are cousins) are one of the dynastic musical families on PEI. There have been at least seven generations of musical Chaissons on the island. While the taste in the family has always run to the Scottish, The East Pointers have brought in the Irish and the French to create a sound that not only raises the roof, but rattles the floor. Add Tim working on a stomp box and the pickup system that allows Jake to play bass as well as guitar—it is innovation-advancing tradition at its very best.

I get excited about music that has a bloodline that goes along with the melody line. Music that knows where it came from is inherently more interesting than a flavour of the week, or music from an artist that is dipping a toe into a genre.

Lindi Ortega is serious about the bloodline of country music. Last year she wrote an article partly in response to some things that Blake Shelton said. Specifically his contention that, “Nobody wants to listen to their grandpa’s music” and his reasoning that sales are the only measure of good country music. What bugged Ortega was that Shelton’s solution to making country more popular is that commercial country music is now a …“bro country” domain. It is a world full of frat boys, partying and drinking, and making sure their women wear tight jeans and are referred to as “girl”.

She summed it up beautifully. “Gone are the days of originality, not only in style but in songwriting. In that classic era you could tell the difference between Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. Artists were easily discernible and legends arose because of their unique qualities that made them not only country music legends, but revered and respected all over the world.”

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Ortega is nothing if not discernible. She doesn’t fit the mold. You get the feeling that she probably stands out at industry mixers. That’s bound to happen in a world that often mistakes fashion for achievement. In a town that is notoriously hard on artists that are “different”, critics have nothing but praise for her. Universally, the praise refers to her as refreshing. They then point out that the refreshing thing about Lindi is that she has a classic sound and classic sensibility.

Her songwriting style is confessional, but not self-indulgent. In this, she is solidly in the bloodline of country music. She writes and sings stories that are missing from mainstream commercial country. She’s not singing about pick-ups and beer. It’s about heartache and being from the wrong side of the tracks. It’s about good women and bad choices.

Her singing voice is true, but has rough edges. It’s a voice with character, easily identifiable. If you HAD to make a comparison to a voice from the classic generation, I’d choose Kitty Wells singing It wasn’t God that made Honkey Tonk Angels.

She’s been known to play some classic covers during her sets, but like The East Pointers, she’s really all about moving the tradition forward. To make people realize that their grandpa’s music was pretty good, and that’s the standard you have to write to.

The refreshingly classic Lindi Ortega and new tradition of The East Pointers will be gracing the stages of the 41st annual Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival on August 19, 20, and 21st at Kelso Beach Park. There’s more info at summerfolk.org.

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Where the music happens

By James Keelaghan

When you talk about folk festivals, music is essential, but really it’s all about the space.

In 1992, I played the Tønder Festival in Denmark for the first time. That festival was a week after the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival in Nova Scotia, so rather than go home to Calgary in between, I went directly to Denmark. I hung out in Copenhagen for a few days and then went down to Tønder.Main-Telt-Tonder

It’s a small town — 6,000 people at most, but tens of thousands descend on it for a weekend of music.The town doesn’t have a concert facility for that large a crowd and so, in a square on a field at the edge of town, they set up two circus tents. One holds about 3,500 people and the other 1,500.

After I’d spent half a day seeing everything I could see in the town, I went to the festival office and asked if there was anything I could do to pitch in. They looked at me sideways and then gave me to a guy named Neils. He took me to the bigger of the two tents and I spent a pleasant day tying off the acoustic baffling that would be hoisted into the roof of the tent.

The tent was amazing! It was completely empty with no seating. The stage and sound gear hadn’t been installed. It was just a big canvas shell.Over the next two days, crews transformed it into concert hall. It was beautifully lit, had great sight Main Stage Telt 1lines and a powerful, well run sound system.

Ever since then, I have had my eye on the spaces that music happens in. A well thought-out site with great well-run venues are essential for a successful event.

One of the undoubted stars of Summerfolk last year was the new Down by the Bay tent. Since starting as Artistic Director of Summerfolk, I’ve wanted to bring in some clear span tents. I’ve seen them, and performed in them, at festivals in Europe and Australia but have never encountered them at a Canadian folk festival.

It’s taller and more open than the tent we used for years in that space. That’s because it has no interior poles. The structure of the tent makes it easier to hang lights meaning that we can light the roof of the tent and the stage without bringing in additional scaffolding. The result is a space that inspires and welcomes. It transforms the space into a proper concert hall.

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Looking into the Down By the Bay tent.

I really wanted to have the tent in our licensed area. Veterans of the festival call it the “Beer” tent. We call it the “Down By the Bay” tent because “Beer” tent just doesn’t reflect all that goes on in that space. It’s a place for high-energy music — just ask anyone who danced to Delhi 2 Dublin or The Mackenzie Blues Band last year.

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Delhi2Dublin inspired a high energy dance party Down By the Bay at Summerfolk40

It allows for incredibly intimate moments as well. Last year’s “Tall Tales” workshop with David Francey, Steve Poltz and Donovan Woods brought the house down. During the songs, you could have heard a pint glass drop, it was so quiet.

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Steve Poltz performs Down By the Bay

On the Saturday of the festival, activity in the tent starts at about 9 AM as the stage crews arrive to ring out the sound system and prep the stage. Music starts at 11AM and runs straight through until until 1AM -– with the exception of a quiet hour between 6 and 7 so the crew can get dinner. Last year, on Saturday, twenty-seven acts played on the stage in fourteen hours.

We’ll do pretty much the same this year. One highlight will be Bruce Cockburn playing an afternoon workshop with Leonard Sumner and Lindi Ortega. On Sunday the tent will host an east coast kitchen party with Natalie McMaster, The East Pointers and Cassie and Maggie Macdonald. On both Friday and Saturday nights, the evenings traditionally end with sets that blow the roof off. This year, Blackburn, Gypsy Kumbia Orchestra and My Son The Hurricane will do the honours.

Down By the Bay has evolved into a second main stage at the festival. This year, by adding another section to the tent, we can have close to a thousand people under cover.

We now have the audience under cover at five of the six daytime stages. That’s not just because we want folks dry in case of rain.

The fact is, recently we have had more sunshine than rain at Summerfolk. In the past four festivals, we have only had one day of rain. The sun is becoming a concern for a lot of people and a shady place to listen to music is a great thing on hot summer afternoon.

We don’t worry about the sun as much at the other mainstage — the Amphitheatre.

Digging Roots led a round dance in the Amphitheatre on Sunday night

Digging Roots led a round dance in the Amphitheatre on Sunday night

That’s because we only run that stage at night. For the first few years of Summerfolk, the area where the amphitheatre is now was just a broad field. The amphitheatre was built in 1982. For 35 years, it’s hosted thousands of performers.

The stage, of course, is named after the late, lamented and much loved Stan Rogers Summerfolk loved Stan and he loved it back, setting the pattern for a relationship many performers have with Summerfolk.

An amphitheatre is not unique. What makes ours special is the backdrop. It’s a combination of sky, water, trees and a hint of the industrial.  It’s easily one of the most beautiful backdrops of any festival in Canada.

You can enjoy our Summerfolk space at Kelso Beach Park on August 19, 20 and 21 this year.Advance tickets are on sale until July 31st and information can be found at summerfolk.org.

Workshops and Festival Magic

Randy represents the audience at the Songs from a Hat workshop in 2014

Randy represents the audience at the Songs from a Hat workshop in 2014

By James Keelaghan

We have a lot of people who buy tickets to the festival before we announce even one name from the lineup. They know that what happens at Summerfolk is unique. They don’t need to see a lineup to know that the entertainment will be top notch.

The schedule for the entire weekend is up on the website now. I looked at the spike in web traffic when we posted it. I knew what was going on. The serious were handicapping the schedule.

They were figuring out how to maximize their time at the festival. Plotting how to see everybody that they want to see. I also see it in that first hour on site, before the music has actually begun. The calm before the song, as it were. People are hunched over their programs, the highlighting tool of their choice in their hands. They are circling things.

Every year, we hear same thing,“ you can’t possibly see it all ”. It’s true, you can’t. With seven daytime stages and two to three evening stages, you’d have to have clones to take it all in.

It’s my job to program all that activity. Eighty-eight separate shows that add up to one festival. I would like to take all the credit, or blame for that, but the ideas for the workshops come from a lot of different places.

When performers return their paperwork for the festival, they also return a sheet where they have listed their workshop ideas.

Workshops, if you haven’t seen them, take a few performers, give them a theme and sixty minutes or so on stage. Performers play to the theme, but if they are feeling particularly comfortable, they start playing with each other. The very best workshops end up with the performers becoming a pick-up band. It’s electric.

They might also mention people they would love to be in a workshop with. The Bombadil’s really wanted to do a workshop with Grit Laskin. Done ( Saturday August 22 11AM, Down BY the Bay stage). Ann Lederman wanted to do a workshop with Bruce Molsky. Done ( Sunday afternoon, August 23rd, 4:30 at the Wine Bar. Be there or be square).

There are often existing relationships between musicians that you know will bear fruit in a workshop. Leonard Podolak is at the festival this year with his group, the Duhks. Mark Schatz is here as part of Claire Lynch’s band. Mark and Leonard have known each other for years. Mark produced two of the early Duhks’ records. He also taught Leonard to hambone and clog. Clogging, you are probably familiar with, or you can take a wild guess and probably will be right. Hambone, you might not be familiar with. It’s a form of dance mixed with body percussion and it’s a great thing to watch and an ever better thing to do. Master and student will teach it all to you at Noon on the Sunday of Summerfolk ( Over The Hill stage).

There are many other instructional workshops over the weekend. David Essig has a workshop called Art of the Jam that could help those who tend to stall out around the campfire. How about learning how to write a haiku, be a part of the Summerfolk choir, or learn how to spin poi?

Other workshops are about throwing musicians together and, with the relaxation that comes from the Summerfolk atmosphere, magic happens, not to mention a few sparks. I anticipate the last workshop on the Down By the Bay Stage, Sunday afternoon, called Groove Summit with Whitehorse, The Mackenzie Blues Band, and Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar is going to take the roof off the tent.

Another Down by the Bay workshop (1PM Saturday), Songs from a Hat has become a favourite of the audiences in the past few years.
The idea is simple. I have a hat. It’s filled with song titles written on long scraps of paper. Steve Poltz, Anne Beverley Foster, Trout Fishing in America and David Woodhead square off against the audience. The challenge is to sing at least the first verse and chorus of a song pulled from my hat. If the pros can’t do it, it’s up to the audience. There’s only one other rule. Don’t throw the microphone!

Shari Ulrich, Claire Lynch, Wendy McNeill and Sarah MacDougall are four writers with very different styles, but my bet is they find common ground at a workshop called “Wolf at the door”, (Down by the Bay, Sunday at noon).

Those are just a few of the things we have in store for you. The best part is, you still don’t know what it is that is going to surprise you.

You’ll find the weekend schedule and everything else you need to know about Summerfolk at summerfolk.org. The 40th annual Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival happens August 20-23 at Kelso Beach Park, Owen Sound and is brought to you through the efforts of the Georgian Bay Folk Society.

A workshop on the Down by the Bay stage in 2014

A workshop on the Down by the Bay stage in 2014

Fruitful artists have roots in tradition

Joel Plaskett

Joel Plaskett

By James Keelaghan

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 produced the latest James Hill CD. He’s recorded and performed with Rose Cousins and Anne Egge. He’s played everything from orchestral shows to Cafes. Later this month, he’ll be performing as part of the Interstellar Allstars for the Interstellar Rodeo in Edmonton with Kathleen Edwards and Luke Doucet. 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. Lately, he’s been appearing more as a solo or a duo. It allows him to be more nimble, to switch up the material. 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. But there is something else.

Joel is, in fact, a poster child for the value of exposing kids to live music.

Before moving to Halifax, Joel grew up in Lunenburg Nova Scotia.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.

Joel’s father, Bill Plaskett, is a musician in his own right. He was one of the founders of the Lunenburg Folk Harbour 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.

Evalyn Parry, who is going to be with us at Summerfolk this year, puts it this way

I was raised in a tradition: squeeze boxes in the kitchen.
Heads thrown back, call and response, feet stomping, gut strings thrumming.
Believing in the songs I was raised with .
Songs sung from festival stages, around campfires…
You can circumnavigate the globe in song, but you know you are home
When you know all the words

That’s why Nova Scotia, or Winnipeg, or the Ottawa Valley continue to produce consistently great musicians. There is a tradition of music being part of the everyday fabric of life.

That’s essentially what I was trying to say to that group of writers in New Jersey. They had some catching up to do. You don’t write good songs unless you come out of some sort of tradition. The more music you are exposed to in your youth, the better you will be. Luckily, it’s never too late to have a great childhood.

Joel Plaskett will be playing in the amphitheatre at Kelso Beach on Friday, August 21. He will do a workshop on Saturday Morning at 11AM with James Hill and Steve Poltz. They are just three of the over 40 acts that will be playing the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival August 20-23. Tickets and information can be found at summerfolk.org.

Building on Musical Mentors

By James Keelaghan

In April this year, I lost a good friend. Ron Casat had been one of my earliest mentors. He taught me pretty well everything I know about music. He taught me how to be band leader and about the fundamentals of song writing and performance. He taught me the importance of musical community.

His memorial was held in Calgary on a bright May afternoon. Five or six hundred people attended to remember him and to play music. There were reggae bands, folkies, country singers, There were hundreds of people that he had played with over the years-hundreds who couldn’t make it. There were no “kinds” of music for Ron, there was just music. Ron built community and connected us all because he knew that was the only way for musicians to survive.

Most musicians have a “Ron” in their lives. I talked to Samantha Martin a couple of days ago and I wanted to know who were the influences on her musically. I wanted to know if there was something special about the Grey Bruce in her musical development. Sam was born in Edmonton, but her dad’s family have been on the peninsula for 4 or 5 generations. At various stages in her life, she found herself living by the shores of Georgian Bay. She says there is a special community vibe here, a feeling that’s hard to find in other places.

Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar

Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar

Her voice is always true. True enough that she could belt out show tunes when she was in elementary school. Like most great musicians she plowed through a lot of different styles before finding the music that speaks to their heart.

Eventually she spent a lot of time hanging out at the intersection of gospel, blues, rockabilly and soul music.

2015 may be her biggest year yet. She was featured in the prestigious Women Blues Revue concert at Massey hall in Toronto last November. She’s in demand at festivals in Canada and Europe. The critics have been universal in praising her power and originality.

Who was her Ron? Without hesitation, Samantha answered that it was Trevor and Tara MacKenzie.

When Martin came back to town in 2004 after time away at college, it was Trevor and Tara that helped her focus on what she wanted and how to get it. They encouraged her to write and helped her join what was in her head with what was in her heart.  She recorded her first EP at Trevor’s studio. She’s hardly looked back, except in gratitude.

Musicians are like sharks. In order to live you have to keep moving. You have to try to carry your music to its farthest geographical limit. But in doing that, it’s easy to lose home and community.

When Tara MacKenzie came back to the Grey Bruce after being away for the better part of her 20’s, it was only for a family visit. She had been playing and studying in Amsterdam, Budapest and throughout Europe.

On that trip back, she met Trevor MacKenzie. In Trevor, she found someone who shared her passion for building musical community. She did what is hard for a lot of touring musicians to do. She put down roots.

You can see Trevor and Tara’s contribution to the musical community everywhere you look. It’s  can be seen in The Choir that Rocks, the constant recording sessions at Trev’s studio, their participation in the Youth Discoveries program. They’ve provided hands on education and vocal training and many more initiatives.

In the past 3 or 4 years, though, the road has been calling again. The MacKenzie Blues Band has been wandering farther from home. They have a full slate of festivals this summer. If you don’t know them from here in town, you haven’t been paying attention. As blues outfits go, there are few as tight or as powerful as MBB. Trevor is a truly awesome electric guitar player. At Summerfolk three years ago, no less than Oscar Lopez, threatened to steal him away. Trev declined. With a rhythm section anchored by Mike weir on Drums and Joel Dawson on bass, the Mackenzie Blues Band make a mighty sound.

 

The MacKenzie Blues Band

The MacKenzie Blues Band

The beating heart of the band is undoubtebly Tara MacKenzie. She gives the band a run for its money in the power department with a voice that will literally blow your hair back. As a vocalist she does more than blues, though. If you haven’t heard her sing Irish Traditional music you haven’t lived.

No matter how much they tour, though, there is no way that they will abandon the scene they have helped to build.

Summerfolk survives because of the community that has been built over 40 years, by the work that is done every year by over 700 volunteers, by the kind contribution of sponsors. It also thrives because there is a vibrant musical scene in the Grey Bruce that gets better with every passing year.

Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar, The MacKenzie Blues band and over 40 other acts will be building a community by the shores of Georgian Bay at the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival this year. Summerfolk gets underway with a 40th Birthday bash on Thursday, August 20 and continues for three days of music, art and food August 21-23 at Kelso Beach Park. Information can be found at summerfolk.org or by calling 519-371-2995

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trout Fishing in America

Trout Fishing in America

By James Keelaghan
Nineteen eighty-eight was the first year I played Summerfolk with my own band. The festival, as usual, supplied rooms to out of town performers. Our rooms were on the ground floor of the hotel. My mandolin player, Kathy Cook, shared a hotel room with a young up and coming songwriter named Shaun Colvin. I shared a room with my curmudgeonly bass player, Bill Eaglesham.

On the Friday night, at the hotel, the party spilled out of the function room and into the hallway. People would emerge from rooms with mandolins, guitars or banjos and disappear into one of the many jam sessions going on. At the far end of the hall, a door opened and a man stepped into the hall. You couldn’t miss him. He was 6’8 with broad shoulders. He seemed to fill the hallway. Behind him, a more diminutive man was negotiating the passage with an upright bass. That was my first glimpse of Keith Grimwood and Ezra Idlet, better known as Trout Fishing in America.

I got to see them in action that night and they were the life of the party. Over the course of the weekend, I caught them as many times as I could. I came to realize they are that most essential of festival elements-the spark plug. They are musical instigators. They are also so proficient, and so sensitive, that they can play with anyone. Ezra and Keith manage to put other performers at ease and get them playing with one another.

Their personalities are as different as their heights. Ezra is more playful and extroverted while Keith is more serious and reserved. The difference is what makes them so strong. They bring out the best in one another.

Keith began playing music professionally when he was still in his teens. He was part of the Texas All-State Orchestra for years and later earned a degree in music from the University of Houston. At 22, he landed a position with the Houston Symphony Orchestra. Keith put himself through college with the inevitable basketball scholarship and by playing pop music in local clubs.

Idlet and Grimwood met  in 1976 when they became members of the eclectic folk/rock band, St. Elmo’s Fire. When St. Elmo’s dissolved in 1979, Trout Fishing in America was born (named for Keith’s love of Richard Brautigan’s writing and Ezra’s love of fishing).

I have rarely met two musicians more accomplished than Keith and Ezra. There are many reasons that they have been doing this for almost 40 years-solid rhythms, blazing riffs and great writers who also know how to cover other people’s material. Add to that four grammy nominations and an upright bass full of other awards and you get the idea. It’s only fitting that they join us for our 40th on the eve of their 40th. They are also one of the most requested acts from Summerfolk fans.

It’s rare to have a band that has seen you through a couple of decades of your life. The other day I pulled up a list of performers from that year. Of the 13 duos or bands at the 1988 festival, there are two still in existence. Trout Fishing in America is one of them.

One of the great things about Trout Fishing, from an artistic director’s perspective, is you get two bands in one. There is no denying their appeal to the adults, but Keith and Ezra discovered early on that they also were kid magnets. There are very few artists that can pull that off. Usually one or the other suffers. That’s why they will not only headline our mainstage, but will also be the highlight of our Family programme.

Summerfolk has always been a family affair. In fact, some families are represented by three generations at Summerfolk. We’ve expanded the family programme and made it easier on the family pocket book this year by making admission free for children 12 and under accompanied by a ticketed adult.

This year our children’s area will feature, the massive craft tent, Todd’s musical petting zoo, a Sunday afternoon children’s parade, and a return of Elephant Thoughts with reptile displays, Science gizmos and gadgets, a bubble station and more.

Our children’s parade was one of the highlights for the festival in 2014 and it’ll be even better this year. Stilt walkers, costumes, a 30 foot articulated dragon decorated by the kids and a parade route that takes them through the park and to the opening of the evening concert.

This year, we will also be having a children’s open stage session in the gazebo tent. It’s a chance for the youngsters to strut their stuff.

Trout Fishing will be doing workshops all weekend at the 40th Annual Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival and will headline the amphitheatre stage on Saturday Aug. 22. Their featured kid’s show will be that same Saturday afternoon. Summerfolk happens at Kelso Beach Park Aug 20-23. All the information you need, and links to tickets can be found at summerfolk.org or by phoning 519-371-2995.

Claire Lynch Has The Voice

By James Keelaghan
Every now and again I play a little game with myself. I imagine which musician I would like to be. Sometimes I’d like to be Phil Ochs, sometimes Captain Beefheart. Lately, I’ve wanted to be Claire Lynch.

ClaireLynch

Claire Lynch and band

 

Claire possesses that high reedy voice that is the hallmark of Anglo-American roots music. It’s reminiscent of Alison Krauss or Hazel Dickens. She can whip you into a frenzy with a holler or seduce you with a lullaby. When Dolly Parton says you are one of her favourite vocalists you must be doing something right. The International Bluegrass Association agrees. Claire Lynch is a three time winner of their Female Vocalist of the Year award.

 

There are singers and there are songwriters. Sometimes you have singers who sing their own songs but they really aren’t writers. Sometimes you have songwriters who sing their own songs, but they aren’t really singers. It’s very rare that you find someone who can really do both.

 

Claire Lynch is that person. Her songs have been recorded by Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea and others. At the IBMA’s last year she also won the Best Song award for “Dear Sister”. The song is based on letters written between a brother and sister on the eve of the Civil War battle of Stone River. It fuses the world of the traditional and the original.

 

Her band is an astounding group in and of themselves. Mandolinist-guitarist Jarrod Walker is a soulful singer and skilled player. Bryan McDowell is a young string wizard who, at 18, had an unprecedented hat-trick at the Winfield, Kansas National Flat-picking Championship winning first place in fiddle, mandolin, and flat-picked guitar. Mark Schatz is a two-time IBMA-winning bassist-clawhammer banjo player-dancer-percussionist. He makes the coffee as well.

 

Mark Schatz also has a close connection to a member of the Winnipeg band, The Duhks. Some of you may remember Leonard Podolak being here 4 years ago with Dry Bones. One of the highlights of their sets was the hambone solos. Leonard learned to hambone and clog from Mark. Schatz also produced one of the Duhks recordings.

TheDuhks

The Duhks

 

I met Leonard Podolak when he was 10 years old. My band and I arrived in Winnipeg by train early on a cold October morning and cabbed it over to Mitch Podolak’s house. Mitch was the concert promoter for the show we were playing in town that night. He is also the legendary creator of the Winnipeg, Vancouver and Edmonton Folk Festivals.

 

I knocked on the door. There was the scurry of feet. The door swung open and a cloud of smoke billowed out. Leonard’s ten year old face screamed, ”I’m makin’ pancakes”!!

 

His level of enthusiasm has never dimmed.

 

He grew up in a house that was the centre of folk music in Winnipeg. The Podolak place housed anybody who was anybody in folk music. Stan Rogers, Utah Phillips, Odetta, Tom Paxton, Spirit of the West, you name them, they slept in the spare room. Leonard soaked it all up getting lessons and advice from them all. Banjo became his area of expertise, but he also learned how to build and run a band.

 

The Duhks, Grammy nominees and Juno award winners, play a high energy version of Old Time music. They get their instrumental power from the guitar, banjo and violin. The Duhks added a signature percussionist to give it more drive and then topped it all off with an incredible lead vocalist, Jessee Havey.

 

Jessee joined the band as a teenager. She received her musical education on the road. Because of the immense touring range of the band—they regularly play in the US, Europe and Australia—Jessee was able to learn from cajun musicians, traditional British singers and jazz greats.

 

The band has always described itself as polyethnic. It has certainly taken that approach with its material, but the band is diverse as well. Fiddler Anna Lindblad is from Sweden and brings a nordic style to the strings. Less raw, more melodic, but still capable of unstoppable groove. Guitarist/bouzouki player Colin Savoie-Levac is from Quebec where he’s in great demand. He splits his time between the Duhks and filling in when needed for Éric Beaudry in star trad trio De Temps Antan. He also guides his own group, Les Poules à Colin. Drummer/percussionist Kevin Garcia is from Detroit originally but now make Brooklyn his home where he plays with, well, everybody.

 

The Duhks has been a labour of love for over 14 years. Doc Watson, no less, said, “Oh God, it is so beautiful, some of the finest music I’ve heard in many a day.”

 

The band has evolved over the years, losing and adding members as bands do. What has never changed is the absolute dedication to producing music that is true, focused and as enthusiastic as a 10 year old making pancakes for the guests.

 

Claire Lynch and the Duhks are just two of the over 40 acts that will be playing the Summerfolk Music and Crafts festival this year. The festival happens August 20, 21, 22, 23 at Kelso beach in Owen Sound, just like it has for 40 years. You can find information about the festival at www.summerfolk.org

 

*This article first appeared in the Owen Sound Sun Times on June 19th, 2015

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