Meaford Band Culture Reject Enjoys International Reputation
Millennial Dan Edmonds Reinterprets Our Collective Roots
Kimberley Community Out In Force To Support Meaford Refugees
Conor Gains Has Impressed The Best From An Early Age
Luke Martin Finding His Voice at Bruce Wine Bar
Heartwood Presents An Intimate Evening With Danny Michel
For The Love of Music
A Songwriters’ Evening Showcases Three Local Talents
Young Talent Featured at GBCS Battle of The Bands

The Thursday Outlook – March 23 to 26, 2017

Larry JensenThere’s a special event at The Heartwood in Owen Sound tonight with a showing of a film called Spirit Unforgettable.  It was filmed in 2015, following the band Spirit of The West as they prepared to their concert at Massey Hall, part of their farewell tour necessitated by lead singer John Mann being diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.  The film was screened at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in April 2016.  Adding resonance to the evening, the film will be preceded by a performance by Larry Andreas Jensen, a songwriter who is particularly known for his poignant evocations of people in struggle.

itinerant troubadoursExtraordinary guitarist and singer-songwriter Shane Cloutier will be bringing his original songs and energies to The Red Door Grille and Pub in Meaford on Friday night.

The dinner shows at Bruce Wine Bar on Friday feature the former frontman for Harlan Pepper, Dan Edmonds, making his solo reputation on the strength of his modern take on retro sounds and sources.

There are too many good things to choose from on Saturday night in our area.

At The Leeky Canoe in Meaford, WKRP is a small group that features some of our area’s most impressive talents: Jaret Koop will front the band on lead vocals and bass. On guitar is the legendary Trevor MacKenzie with Mike Weir on drums, both from Maple Blues Award winning band The MacKenzie Blues Band.

Another Meaford talent, newly arrived to the area, is singer-songwriter Michael O’Connell.  He’ll be performing with his impressive little band Culture Reject at The Bicycle Café in Flesherton.

And a phenomenal blues player, Conor Gains, with his band Ramblin’ Moon, will be rocking the Marsh Street Centre in Clarksburg on Saturday night, another fund raiser for the volunteer run organization.  A Saturday night at Marsh Street is loads of fun.

Check the listings on the right of this page for other great options to help you celebrate the first spring weekend of 2017.

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Meaford Band Culture Reject Enjoys International Reputation

This Saturday The Bicycle Cafe in Flesherton features a band called Culture Reject.  This unassuming little venue just down the road from Meaford has a relaxed and friendly atmosphere with some comfy chairs at the front and a tasty menu.  They have been featuring an eclectic selection of great music on Saturday nights.  Culture Reject is a small band with a big reputation in Europe, headed by one of Meaford’s more impressive recent imports, singer-songwriter Michael O’Connell.

Those who have seen Michael perform at open stages (or at last Saturday’s benefit in Kimberly) have been struck by an unassuming talent who has a remarkable ability to sculpt profound sounds with the use of space and dynamics even when it is just himself and a guitar.  That ability actually comes from years of writing, recording and touring internationally, and proficiency on a number of instruments.

Micheal started his first band, Quest, in the mid-eighties when he was in Grade Six, an 80’s style hair band with a couple of school buddies.  Within weeks of forming they were opening for country bands at local bars in St. Catherines.  He found his calling in music and, with some vocal training, delved deeper into the mysteries of composition.  While attending the University of Guelph in the mid-nineties, he played consistently at open stages and gathered a number of musical friends who eventually became a band called Black Cabbage.  It evolved into an 8-piece band that included accordion, organ, alto sax, violin, percussion, bass, drums, four guitars, five singers and four songwriters.  They gained national airplay and toured the country for six years playing their unique amalgam of “rock, folk, punk, Motown, blues, African, Celtic, country, and gypsy influences”.

About a year and a half after the band disbanded, in 2008, Michael O’Connell re-emerged with his solo project, which he called Culture Reject.  It benefited from the wide mix of instruments and styles in Black Cabbage and resulted in a very engaging and sophisticated music that is in a class all its own.  Michael had had enough of Canadian touring and opted instead to take on Europe.

“Driving for hours along the 401 is soul-killing,” he says, “and I found that in Europe you can travel on a rail pass and enjoy the experience.”  There were other benefits of European touring.  One is that unknown “small towns” may have a population of 400,000 people who have tastes that extend beyond the roots rock tradition that dominates North America.  His music found an audience there and, signing with Whitewhale Records, his fan base in France and Germany continues to expand after five European tours.

In 2011 Culture Reject became a band rather than a name to hang on a solo performer, with the addition of Carlie Howell  and Karri North.  Despite Michael’s self-description as a “control freak”, the new band members have added sonic dimensions to the band in keeping with the original vision.  The music of Culture Reject is beautiful, spacious and rhythmic at the same time, with lyrics that sound almost like candle lit conversations in a quiet room.  There is a real sensitivity to this band, where every note on every instrument, every nuance counts.

Michael says he really came to appreciate the importance of every tiny piece of the sound when he took his family on a vacation in Cuba.  “That music is so special,” he says, “Everything counts.  Even the cowbell is totally integral to the sound.”

The sensitivity also emanates from Michael’s world view and sense of community, which he developed while living in a Malawi village in Africa.  He applies this insight into his other great passion in life, helping at-risk youth find their own voices through the creation of music, working with the Toronto-based organization which “creates opportunities for young people (ages 16 to 29) living street involved, homeless or otherwise on the margins, to experience the transformative power of the arts; to build leadership and economic self-sufficiency in the arts; and to cultivate social and environmental change through the arts.”  When you hear his music (even though his focus is on the creations of the kids rather than his own) you can appreciate how he is able to reach out and help in a healing way.

You don’t have to be “at-risk” to be transformed and moved by the music of Culture Reject.  This opportunity to enjoy them in a comfortable café on Saturday night in Flesherton is available to us because, like so many insightful and talented people, Michael and his family were drawn to the beauty of this area and have decided to make Meaford their home, enriching (thankfully, not rejecting) our local culture.

The show starts at 9 p.m. on Saturday evening.

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Millennial Dan Edmonds Reinterprets Our Collective Roots

Former frontman of Harlan Pepper, Dan Edmonds will be at Bruce Wine Bar this Friday, March 24th.  He is touring to support his solo album, “Ladies On The Corner”.  He has said that the album is his attempt to move away somewhat from the Americana label attached to Harlan Pepper, due to their “twangy” sound, toward something that is closer “a different side of all the old country and folk music I still love. My hope is that people will come to this album with fresh ears and appreciate it for what it is.”  As an example, he ends the album stretching far back to folk roots with a cover of Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene” a song that was a hit for the first pop folk group The Weavers way back in 1950.  His affection for The Grateful Dead and the inclusion of a pedal steel player in his touring band set the scene for what you might call psychedelic folk.  The album has also evoked comparisons to Bob Dylan and “Lou Reed meets Arlo Guthrie”.  Exclaim! In its review of “Ladies On The Corner” commented, “despite its retro quality, Edmonds’ debut solo album is imaginative and fresh, a trip well worth taking.”

Since leaving Harlan Pepper a year and a half ago, Edmonds has produced, among other bands, The Vaudevillian, an authentic jug-band trio that visited Bruce Wine Bar not long ago.  He has a taste for retro sounds, demonstrated by the fact that he recorded this album on an 8-track reel-to-reel with 1” magnetic tape.

His songs, recorded in his home studio in Hamilton, reflect, “ the downtown area, Barton Street in particular,” as he explained to The Hamilton Spectator,  “I’m just trying to write from a different perspective, not from my life but from the people I see. I’m trying to put myself into their shoes. It’s dark, but it’s not my life I’m expressing.”  There are songs about unrequited love, addiction, restlessness and discontent, leavened with his sense of humour.

Dan Edmonds is among a new generation of songwriters who are re-discovering, just as songwriters did in the sixties, the importance of the roots of North American music.

“When I was a teenager I loved punk rock,” he told Biljana of Cut From Steel, “I don’t know what happened. It’s a far trip from punk the old country. I think I realized rock is amazing, then I realized oh, that came from blues and country. So, I listen to rock and realize those guys were listening to this.. and those guys to this… and follow that all the way back. Also check out Alan Lomax’s recordings – he recorded jail songs slave songs and that’s like the root of American music in a lot of ways. You can trace it back super far. There’s so much there. These old blues guys made records in the early 1900’s and were forgotten about until they were old men. In the 60’s these kids realized they were still alive. Funny how music works that in a span of 40 years they weren’t making popular music and then they were re-discovered by a new generation and became famous again.”

There are two shows Friday at Bruce Wine Bar, 7 and 9, and as always reservations are recommended.

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Kimberley Community Out In Force To Support Meaford Refugees

There was a hint of spring on Saturday evening and on the steps of Kimberley Hall, down at the bottom of the Beaver Valley, the bagpipes of Michael Findlay resonated through the village calling people to gather for the celebration.  It was the special fundraiser organized by the Meaford Refugee Welcome Group, promising a variety show with an array of local talents.

The MRWG had been formed a year and a half ago with the goal of bringing a Syrian family to our community to escape the violence of their homeland.  Just over a year ago, Hanan and Rajab Al Sheayer came to Meaford with their four children.  Since then they have settled into the community with the children embracing school and mom and dad completing a year of ESL courses and starting a business selling their delicious Syrian food.  Now the support group wants to bring Hanan’s sister and her family here as well from a refugee camp in Lebanon where the children  of the camp sell flowers and gum to try to eke out a meagre living.  There is some urgency to this effort because the youngest boy in the family is suffering from cancer and his life might be saved by access to the cancer treatment centre at Sunnybrook.  If sufficient funds can be raised by the end of this month, it means the family can be brought to our community this year.  The event on Saturday night in Kimberley was designed to bring the community together to raise awareness and funds to make another miracle happen.

The hall filled with bustling neighbours early in the evening, soon reaching capacity.  Before the music even began there was a sense of celebration.  The enticing aroma of Syrian food, prepared by the Al Sheayers and offered free to everyone, filled the hall, along with the excited murmer of conversation.  Master of Ceremonies and one-man technical crew, Chris Scerri, hustled to set up the sound system.

The early part of the evening offered a succession of singer-songwriters with the emphasis on youth.  Songwriter Greg Smith, who is quickly establishing a reputation for his unique story songs, started off the evening, playing with enthusiasm and joy even though his songs were somewhat buried in the acoustics of the room and the audience conversation.  He was followed by Abby Woodhouse who was last year’s winner of GBSS Idol.  She sang a number of country covers and her version of “I Fall To Pieces” was particularly impressive, coming closer than most singers can to the emotive power of Patsy Cline’s original.  Isaac Goodings followed with a strong performance of originals mixed with covers.  Then, to cap off the solo acoustic part of the evening there was a big jump in age when Bill Monahan sang a few originals and got the crowd pumped up with a rousing version of “Jambalaya” and a Bo Diddley song.  Things were hopping from then on.

The exciting rhythmic sounds of klezmer music from Broken Bagel Scene had people up and dancing in the few spaces available.  That was followed by some piping from Michael Findlay, a couple of songs from Michael O’Connell, and then East Back Line, the band built around the songs of Paul Allan and David Marshak from Beaver Valley, with Beaker Granger on drums.  They had everyone dancing.  Chris Scerri joined them to sing some songs at the end of their set, Hartley from Broken Bagel Scene joined in and the evening climaxed with a jam of “I Shall be Released”.

It was a big success for everyone concerned and brought the Meaford Refugee Welcome Group closer to their goal.  If you missed it, you can still contribute through a tax deductible contribution by cheque to:  Christ Church Anglican Meaford, with MRWG in the memo section.  Christ Church Anglican, 34 Boucher St E, Meaford, ON N4L 1E3.

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Conor Gains Has Impressed The Best From An Early Age

Conor Gains and The Ramblin’ Moon will be bringing another great night of music to The Marsh Street Centre in Clarksburg next weekend, March 25th.

If you close your eyes and listen to Conor Gains play and sing you can hear the history of the blues, from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago.  He’s an old soul, born to sing the blues.

Conor, was born in 1993, two years after his namesake, Conor Clapton, at the age of four-and-a-half, tragically died in a fall from a window forty stories up.  The boy’s father, Eric Clapton, memorialized his son in several songs, including “Circus” and “Tears In Heaven”.  But perhaps a better memorial to the son of the famed blues guitarist is this young talent from Cambridge, Ontario, who has been making an impression on the blues world since he was a pre-teen.

Conor Gains could be called the Mozart of the blues, because, like Amadeus, he was a child prodigy who seems to have been born with a natural talent for the music he loves and continues to impress, not only as a guitarist but as a vocalist and songwriter as well.  He has the appetite of a devoted student, an attribute that was always there.  When he was eight, he picked up his father’s guitar and began to play.  He explored his father’s music collection, absorbing the skills of guitar greats that included not only Clapton but Rory Gallagher, Alvin Lee, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix.  Although he is firmly rooted in the blues, his playing and writing explores the best of other genres as well.  In an interview with Erin McCallum for the Toronto Blues Society Newsletter, he said, “Blues is a soulful, creative, extreme right-brained forum to express or evoke emotion – a way of expressing, despite what you are going through, something beautiful.” But through his two album releases to date, “Junction Sessions” and “Run Away With The Night” he stretches the genre to bring in elements of country, rockabilly and reggae.

Conor’s father, like Mozart’s recognized his son’s talent at an early age and in the fall of 2007 he and his journalist father went on a “father and son ‘rock and roll road trip’” which included music venues in Cleveland, Nashville and Memphis.  By this time Conor had already been impressing local Cambridge musicians, participating in blues jams since the age of twelve.  Within a year of the road trip he was playing shows in Ontario and across the continent, including at the Montreal Jazz Festival and Memphis Blues Festival.  He performed with the BB King All stars, in Nashville and Memphis, and was invited by the late Les Paul to join him on stage at New York’s Iridium Jazz Club.

Along the line he has expanded his original trio to an ensemble called The Ramblin’ Moon, that includes horns and a keyboard, allowing him to expand his songwriting and performance to match his growing sophistication as an artist.  He has also left a string of exclamatory praise in his wake.  Craig Laskey, talent buyer at Toronto’s legendary Horseshoe Tavern, said  “Conor was great, Everyone who saw the show is raving about him.”  He’s since become a regular favourite at the venue.  Following Rambli’ Moon’s high energy show to the Montreal Jazz Festival’s main stage in July 2015, Mark Lepage of the Montreal Gazette raved that “Gains brought… the life force of the music.” Grammy Award winner Dan Hill, after co-writing a song with Conor, commented, ” I swear he’s brilliant.”

The Marsh Street Centre attracts an audience that becomes fully engaged with the performance on stage and reflects back to the band the energy they put out.  This will make next weekend’s performance even more special.  It’s bound to be a sold out show, so you’d better check in as soon as you can to purchase tickets at www.marshstreetcentre.com so you don’t miss your chance of to see this shooting star while he’s still in our stratosphere.

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Thursday Outlook – March 16 to 19, 2017

If you’re looking for a St. Patrick’s Day party in Meaford this weekend, there’s one at the community centre complete with Irish stew.  At the Heartwood in Owen Sound, the One Night Band returns to Heartwood Concert Hall for their annual St. Patrick’s Day show, playing two nights (?), both Friday and Saturday.  The band consists of Bill Farrar, Bill McMillan, Dave Farrar, James Ellis, Justine Farrar, Gillian Farrar and Larry Dickinson playing a mix of traditional Irish and upbeat pub tunes.

Larry Jensen

Larry Jensen Friday at The Red Door

If your taste runs more to singer-songwriters, combine it with dinner on Friday at The Red Door Pub in Meaford, which features Larry Jensen.

Luke Martin Friday at Bruce Wine Bar

Or head over to Bruce Wine Bar to take in the exceptional talents of Luke Martin.  One of Canada’s best singer-songwriters, Danny Michel, is playing tonight at The Heartwood, but is unfortunately sold out.

The Harbour Street Fish Bar in Collingwood continues their string of great blues players with Lisa Hutchinson tonight and guitarist Daniel Davies on Saturday.

Our community comes together at Kimberley Hall on Saturday to support our Syrian refugees

The big event on Saturday night is the benefit concert in Kimberley to raise money to bring another Syrian family to Meaford.  It’s bound to be a party with an array of local talents.

Craig Smith is back at The Leeky Canoe and the Honeyrunners are spending another weekend at The Huron Club.

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Luke Martin Finding His Voice at Bruce Wine Bar

If you’re heading to Bruce Wine Bar this Friday night don’t be expecting green beer and “Kiss Me I’m Irish” buttons.  There will be plenty of pubs offering a chance to pretend you’re Irish for a night.  Bruce Wine Bar will be putting the focus on what it does best: presenting original singer-songwriters in an intimate setting conducive to listening.  Owner Steve Vipond consistently expresses his passion for original songwriting by presenting dinner shows that feature the best in touring artists and local emerging talents.  This Friday the focus will be on one of the most promising local talents around: Luke Martin.

It’s just been two years since Luke Martin decided to follow his dream of making music full time and his first paying gig ever was at Bruce Wine Bar.  “I just feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to meet Steve and Jen,” he says, “There has never been a venue like Bruce Wine Bar, with big city sophistication in a small town.”  He appreciates that it is a place that is classy in every respect, from the décor to the menu, and that it provides a platform for original music.  For him it’s a far cry from, and far superior to, the bar scene he left behind in Montreal.

“I was managing a bar there, and I wasn’t very happy,” he says, “and my family urged me to make a change, to do what I love.  So I quit my job and started playing full time.”  It was creativity, not a thirst for fame, that drove him.  He had been writing songs and playing guitar for about ten years, attended a professional theatre school and done a little acting and improv, but his only public outlet for creativity was as a cocktail consultant.  “At a certain point when you write a lot of songs,” he says, “you have to get out there.”

It seems counter-intuitive to leave one of the country’s biggest and most cosmopolitan cities to start a musical career in rural Ontario, but Luke Martin is a man who embodies paradox.  While he has an assurance and delivery on stage that comes across as a seasoned professional, he is actually tentative about his talent.  “I don’t consider myself a musician or guitarist,” he says, “but I’ve always been very interested in lyrics.  I’m attracted to songwriters like Bob Dylan, who are more poetic in their approach.”  Even while mesmerizing audiences with his songs and his delivery, he always comes off stage a little disappointed in himself, thinking about the things he needs to improve. “I’m never happy with what I’m doing,” he says.  Although he is grateful to the Bruce Wine Bar audiences who listen intently to his songs, he is just as happy playing to a noisy room full of conversation.  “When nobody’s listening,” he says, “that’s when I feel most free.”

The move to our area was a chance for a fresh start and to find himself, a process that he is still exploring.  He didn’t feel comfortable about the idea of becoming a performer in Montreal, playing to the same people that he had been serving drinks (although there’s no shame in that).  He had an opportunity to live in Markdale when he heard of a Therapeutic Riding Centre that was looking for someone to work on the farm and take care of the horses, something he’s had some experience with.  It gave him a base to work from to launch his career as a singer-songwriter.  Since then he’s moved to Kimberley, and his reputation as a performer and songwriter continues to grow.  He definitely feels he made the right move, “You get a chance to be more experimental here,” he says, “People are more willing to listen.”

Despite a growing fan base, selling out previous nights at Bruce Wine Bar, Meaford Hall’s Summer Terrace Series, and other venues, he is still restless, still looking for his unique expression.  He’d be happy if he was more satisfied with his efforts.  “I’d much rather appreciate what I do than sound like anyone else.  I’m a bit of a perfectionist, in just about anything I do.”  So far, mainly due to that perfectionism, there are not a lot recordings to be found of his work.  He has posted things on You Tube in the past, then removed them rather than have them stand of representations of what he does.  His restless creativity pushes him toward other outlets, writing in various media, with an idea for a graphic novel and plans to try his hand at stand-up comedy.  He would like to record his songs but it is a matter of finding the right producer.  Being a perfectionist, he’s not always comfortable with musical collaborations.

Until he finds his level in his own mind, the only way you can experience his work is to see him live.  We can be grateful to Bruce Wine Bar for seeing his talent and sharing it with the community.  Even if he comes off stage disappointed in his performance, the audience never is.

As always, reservations are recommended for both one hour dinner shows 7 and 9pm.

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Heartwood Presents An Intimate Evening With Danny Michel

This Thursday Danny Michel will be playing at Heartwood Concert Hall in Owen Sound.  He’s touring to promote his new album, “Khlebnikov”, a recording that is special in many ways, the least of which is that it may be the most northern album ever recorded.

Danny was invited by astronaut Chris Hadfield who invited him to join Generator Arctic, an expedition in the Arctic Ocean aboard the Russian ice-breaker Kapitan Khlebnikov with scientists, photographers, writers, videographers.

In an interview with Tom Power on CBC Radio’s Q The Music, he explained, “The goal was for all of us to go up there, experience the arctic and to come back and share it with the rest of the world.”  His job was to write a song about it.  “I can write more than one song in eighteen days,” he said, so, ensconced in his tiny cabin, he created an entire album’s worth of material, recruiting as session musicians Colonel Hadfield and the vessel’s dishwasher.  He brought the recordings back to civilization with him and, collaborating with multiple award winning composer Rob Carli, created this singular album.

Joseph Mathieu of Exclaim! calls it “a pensive album that illustrates a nautical and northern life. It’s all majestic scenery with well-oiled machinery at the forefront, with a story of picturesque fishing villages, ancient graves of explorers and even the dreams of the Russian crew.”

Danny told Aaron Tang of Killbeat Music, “One evening at 4:00am I woke to massive muffled booms and thuds of the Khlebnikov lurching through the Arctic ice,” recalls Danny. ”Too curious to sleep I put on all of my gear and went outside to see what was happening. There alone, at the bow I witnessed one of the most glorious moments of my life. Under an endless sky and midnight sun, I watched pieces of ice the size of tennis courts break, flip, and bounce around like bowling pins under the hull of the mighty Khlebnikov. Later that day I wrote “24,000 Horses”

Danny Michel was a natural choice to capture this expedition in song.  His musical output has always reflected his love of the planet.  He describes himself as “an environmentalist, pacifist, romanticist and space enthusiast.”  In 2011, he created “The Ocean Academy Fund”, helping raise scholarships for the Caye Caulker Community School, a small non-profit community high school in Belize. To date, he’s raised over $70,000.00 for the school and volunteers there.

He is also a fireball of creative energy who expresses himself in a variety of projects that bring together musical friends.

He created and single-handedly produces  “Dan’s Space Van” ,a web-series that takes place in an original customized 1978 GMC Vadura (airbrushed in a Star Trek theme), featuring interesting people and musical guests who perform in the van’s diamond quilted, crushed red velvet interior.

He also created a special series at Toronto’s Roots Rock mecca, The Dakota Tavern, that he calls “School Night Mondays”.  He’s given life to the slowest night of the week for any venue with a “relaxed early show for no other reason than friends playing music”.  It’s been sold out for eighteen weeks in a row, with guests that have included Sarah Harmer, Jim Cuddy, Col. Chris Hadfield, Ed Robertson, Tom Cochrane, Royal Wood, Whitehorse, and more.

Danny Michel’s music is a gift, an art and a joyful celebration of life, sure to brighten up a cold Owen Sound winter’s night this Thursday.  Doors open at 7:30 and the show starts at 8:30.  Most tickets, priced at $25, are available on line, with a limited number of hard copy tickets available at Heartwood Home, just below the venue.

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Lots of Laughs From a Stellar Guitarist

Review by Bill Monahan of Wendell Ferguson at Meaford Hall, Mar. 11, 2017

Wendell Ferguson has a real talent for disarming an audience right off the bat and making everyone happy to be there.  He tells some great jokes and interacts with the audience with a lot of off-the-cuff wit.  His is a self-deprecating humour, dismissing himself as a guitar playing joke.  Not only is his guitar playing no joke, it’s truly amazing.  It’s not surprising that he won CCAA Guitar Player of The Year award four years in a row before he told them to stop nominating him to give somebody else a chance.  If he hadn’t done that, still no one else would have a chance.  To hear a guitar player of this quality is such a rare treat, so full of energy, melody and rhythm.  It’s not just his amazing facility on the fretboard, it’s what he does with it.  I guess it’s cool that he doesn’t have a swelled head about it, and we Canadians do seem to value humility, but jeez!

It makes me wonder.  I’ve seen some players whose self-confidence so far exceeds their abilities that that alone gives them a momentum.  When you see a musician that makes you want to bow down and chant “We’re not worthy!” you kind of feel he deserves to hold himself in high esteem.  Still, even at its most self-deprecating, Wendell Ferguson’s humour had us all laughing out loud.

The lighting kind put him off a little during the first set, two bright lights set below him setting him in a ghostly glare.  He couldn’t refer to his set list without shielding his eyes.  And he couldn’t see the audience, which undermined his ability to banter, which he excels at.  Soundman Al Burnham immediately jumped up and offered to fix it, but he demurred, not wanting to seem to demanding I guess. But for the second set the room lights were left on and it was a huge improvement.  Now we were all drawn in to his personality, and we all felt like friends, when he made eye contact with each of us in the room.  Many were personal friends, and he happily related anecdotes about them.

Sitting right in front of him was “the youngest person in the room,” a teenager that he learned is named Bennett.  He asked if his parents were unable to get a baby sitter and that’s why they dragged him along, and was told that the boy was there because he is an aspiring guitar player.  So he played a medley of Chet Atkins tunes for him, apologizing in advance for not doing a better job, explaining that it was something he was just learning.  Chet Atkins, in addition to creating the “Nashville Sound” as a producer through the sixties, is an outstanding finger picking guitarist and anyone who attempts to replicate his sound is brave.  And Wendell Ferguson did so flawlessly, at least as far as I could tell.  Bennet will either be inspired to practice all day every day, or he’ll throw away his guitar figuring that he will never attain that level of excellence (I hope it’s the former!)

Along with everything else Wendell treated us all to some guitar lessons, with a lengthy explanation of how harmonics on the fretboard work.  The audience seemed pleased to get the information, and I know I was, as a guitar player, thrilled at the tutorial.  And then, of course, his demonstration was, like all his instrumentals, transcendent.

He had started off the first set with an instrumental called “Mayor of Loserville”, truly mind-blowing, and later, in addition to the Chet Atkins medley, he did a medley of 60’s songs as instrumentals.  The word awesome is over-used but it applies here in it’s true meaning, as awe-inspiring.

If he hadn’t spoken a word but had only played instrumentals all night, it would have been a show worth seeing.  But he offered much more than that and proved himself to be a performer not to be missed.  He’s legendary as a sideman, one of those invisible talents that enhance the performance of others.  But with his audience rapport, his sharp wit and his own songwriting, he is a performer who deserves to be front and centre.

He played a lot of familiar covers but, except for Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”, he substituted the original lyrics with his own comic creations, parodies that would put Weird Al Yankovic in the shadows.  His version of D-I-V-O-R-C-E by “Hammy Swinette” became B-U-T-C-H-E-R, all about a favourite pig’s final days.  He turned the Johnny Cash classic, “A Boy Named Sue” into “A Boy Named Bruce”, where he retained all of the dynamics and drama of the original song but changed it to focus on the malleable gender identification that has become part of our current culture.  And he donned sunglasses and a harmonica holder to do a great imitation of Bob Dylan in which “Like A Rolling Stone” became a song about choking to death, with the main lines ending in “didn’t chew!”

His own original songs, also heavy on the humour, were just as strong lyrically.  Having crossed Canada countless times in his career as a musician, he was inspired to pen a tongue-in-cheek ode to our great country about the endless rocks and trees and trees and rocks, which make even the sight of construction equipment seem like scenery.  His annoyance a fiddle jams that leave no room for any other instruments came out as “Throw Another Fiddle On The Fire”, and his most impressive song, “WW
JD”, apparently a reminder for born-again Christians to ask themselves “What Would Jesus Do?” for him meant “What Would Jesus Drive” and it was a long, extremely clever laundry list of deities, prophets and car models.

It was the kind of performance that deserved rapt attention through every moment.  Funnier than the best of comedians, with more virtuosity than the best guitar players, Wendell Ferguson is a talent who impressed everyone but himself.

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Fourth Annual Mapleplaooza Turned to Fundraiser

Next Saturday, March 18th, the fourth annual Maplepalooza concert at Kimberley Hall is being dedicated as a fund raiser for the Meaford Refugee Welcome Group.  The group, originally organized by Cathy Miller, the pastor at Christ Anglican Church, and several prominent caring citizens, brought the Al-Sheayar family to Meaford just over a year ago and has helped them to settle in.  The family is doing very well.  The children are enrolled in local schools and have enjoyed various summer camps. The parents are attending English language classes, and are working to establish a specialty food business. Now they want offer the same opportunity to extended members of the family: Hanan’s sister, her husband and 4 children.

The rules have changed since the original push by the new Liberal government to meet their campaign commitment of bringing 20,000 refugees to the country within a few short months.  For this application, due this month, the government requires that the group raise a minimum of $32,000.  They are hoping to reach a target of $50,000, with the money going toward resettlement costs of the family and the first year of their living costs.  Donations are tax-deductible.

Maplepalooza has been an annual celebration of tree-tapping season organized by Jonathan Robinson in the great little community of Kimberley down in the bottom of the Beaver Valley.  He’s invited friends to come to his sugar bush to tap trees during the day and then party with him that night at Kimberley Hall to the sounds of live music.  This year his generous spirit has turned the party into a benefit concert to help raise funds for the new refugee initiative.