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.
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 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