Every year our artistic director writes a series of 12 articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times in the 12 weeks leading up to the festival. This is the first one for this year.
Brothers and Sisters
I don’t believe an accident of birth makes people sisters or brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at. ~ Maya Angelou
I met Madeline and Lucas Roger (Roger Roger) the first week my wife and I moved to Winnipeg. They were about ten at the time. They had more than their fair share of exposure to music. Their father was Lloyd Peterson, a well-respected, affable and talented musician, engineer and producer.
The twins were no strangers at the studio called Private Ear that Lloyd ran then.
The parade of talent through the studio was amazing–the Wailing Jennies, The Weakerthans and some minor folk luminaries. Lucas and Madeline ate it up.
When Lloyd decided to downsize, the studio moved to their home. I remember breaks in recording sessions as they came home from school or when Lucas would come in to raid equipment for one of his first bands.
Not unlike other siblings, they drifted apart for a while. That can happen when you’ve been together since conception. Madeline went in for theatre and travel. Lucas was rebuilding hotrods. One day, when they were both at home for a stretch, Lucas heard Madeline strumming and practicing some new songs. He picked up his guitar and began to play. They rediscovered each other musically.
When Miche and I moved east, I lost track of them for a while, but they showed up at last year’s Folk Music Ontario conference. They were certainly taller, more mature than they had been when I saw them last. We had a great reunion, and then, I heard them sing.
What a revelation! People talk about family harmonies–that particular blend that you can only get when you have sung with someone for your whole life. It struck me watching them that it was more than that. It’s also the shared experience. When they sing about their childhood together, as they occasionally do, they have the same pictures in their heads.
Their songs are crisply written. Lucas tends to be more dark and brooding, Madeline, more hopeful and poetic, but they fit together seamlessly. They are clean players with a sense of dynamics and range that’s unusual for two people so young. I guarantee they will melt your hearts
Cassie and Maggie Macdonald never really had the sibling hiatus. They started performing together at the age of six, but at that stage of the game, it was Highland Dancing. They were born to a family with a rich musical heritage and raised in Nova Scotia, a province that is serious about its in musical culture and traditions.
Playing music together since they were ten years old, they bolstered the traditional with classical training. They went beyond playing tunes and started writing and performing songs as well. They do it with a passionate intensity and a facility that can only come from spending the better part of your life playing music with one person
They are a powerhouse duo who clearly love the stage and performance. Check out their mind numbing tour schedule if you don’t believe me. That kind of touring tests the metal of even the stoutest band mate–to do it with your sister is another thing all together. This is a different kind of family harmony where people transcend being siblings and actually achieve sisterhood.
Cassie says that what keeps them chill on the road is that they really do play two different rolls. One is good with the bookkeeping, one with the promotions. When one plays lead, the other plays rhythm. Still, you have to be tight with your sister to be able to spend so much time together.
I come from a big family. There were enough spaces between the arrivals of my siblings and I that there is a slight difference in the cultures we grew up in–folk for my oldest sister, Beatles for the next, Zeppelin for my older brother, a quick reversion to folk from me, Elton John for my sister and Captain Beefheart for my youngest brother.
The Blackburn Brothers are very much like that. They grew up in three different eras musically and create a unique sound that arises from their history and their connection. That’s how they have managed to seamlessly absorb the best of Soul, Funk and Blues.
In Toronto, the Blackburns are called the first family of funk and soul. Their dad, the legendary Bobby Dean Blackburn was, and is a musician’s musician. They were schooled in the soul and gospel influences of the church and the stirring jazz, R&B an blues backdrop of their Dad’s live performances.
Some say that Duane, Brooke and Cory are evidence that genetics plays a significant role in musical talent, but it doesn’t, really. What Bobby Dean gave them wasn’t the genes it was something better. He let them see that it was possible to live your life making music.
And they do make great music. Duane plays a vintage Hammond B3 organ, Brooke handles the guitar, and Cory is on drums. It’s backbone moving music–sinuous and snaky They have that natural musical camaraderie that comes from family connection. It drips with history.
Blackburn, Cassie and Maggie Macdonald and Roger Roger will be appearing, with no sibling rivalry, at the 41st annual Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival, August 19th, 20th and 21st at Kelso Beach Park. You can find out about how to purchase tickets here and who else is on the line up here.