Summer Concert Series

The Summer Concert Series of free concerts happens Friday nights in the Market Square in downtown Meaford

Higher Funktion Filled The Heartwood Dance Floor on Friday Night

Review by Bill Monahan of Higher Funktion at Heartwood Hall on Friday, July 14, 2017

There was no better place to be on Friday night than Heartwood Concert Hall where Higher Funktion had the place hopping with funk and soul.   The six-piece band ran through a couple of sets that reproduced all the energy and excitement of some of the great summer hits of the sixties.

They began with some Sam and Dave and Wilson Pickett and then moved on to The Outsiders’ “Time Won’t Let Me” while the horn section of Wayne McGrath, Ian Harper and Chris Palmer, and great lead vocals from Randy Martin started to get the blood moving.  And then when they moved on to Sly and The Family Stone’s rousing “Dance To The Music” the dance floor filled with bouncing bodies.

The Heartwood Concert Hall is an ideal venue for this type of show, and the best shows they have there feature high energy jumping bands that make you want to move.  It’s spacious yet warm and when it starts hopping the energy bounces off the walls.

Ragwax Brings Gypsy Jazz and More To Meaford Next Friday

When Meaford gathers next Friday, July 21, for the next in the summer concert series, the opening act for HigherFunktion will be a unique young performer who goes by the name of Ragwax.  He’s been in Meaford once before, playing at The Red Door, and while he’ll be doing just a few songs before the headliner takes the stage in the Market Square, people can catch him after the outdoor concert across the street  at The Leeky Canoe, where he will be entertaining for the remainder of the evening.

Ragwax brings a fresh voice to an old style of music that never ages, the early hot jazz that was popularized by Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli  in the 1930’s at The Hot Club in Paris.  This “gypsy jazz” (Reinhardt was Romani) combined the jumping flavour of New Orleans filtered through Reinhardt’s gypsy style guitar work (think Gypsy Kings) with the big band swing music popularized by bands like Benny Goodman and interpreted by Stéphane Grappelli  on violin.  The resulting hybrid is exciting enough to get anyone jumping.  We have our own heroes of gypsy jazz in this area in The Huronia Hotstrings, who played a concert earlier this week in Collingwood.

Scott Almond and Eden Young Featured at Meaford Summer Concert Series

When this year’s Meaford Summer Concert Series kicks off this Friday, opening for Tomi Swick and The Strummers Union will be Meaford’s country star, Scott Almond.  Like all of the opening acts in the series, he will be playing at the Leeky Canoe afterwards.

Born and raised in Meaford, Scott Almond has been playing country music in the area for about twenty years.  He was in his early twenties when he took up the guitar, inspired by Stompin’ Tom and Hank Jr., as well as by his uncle and his cousin who would play around Christmas time.  He learned from them and played some fall fairs with his uncle.  His starting point was at open stages, at Ted’s Range Road Diner, at The Gateway in Collingwood and at The Dark Side in Owen Sound.  Eventually he played around campgrounds, house parties, and assorted jamborees.

In 2004 he put together a CD called This Hard Land and it led to a gig at The International Plowing Match that year as well as distribution in Europe.  He had a band at the time called The Nighthawks but he was advised to put out the record under his own name.  He had to pass up an opportunity to go on a European tour when his songs were getting airplay in the Netherlands because, as a working man, he just couldn’t afford to leave his job.  He’s still hoping to get another chance to record, especially a song he wrote about the attack on the World Trade Centre called “End of Humanity”.

“You never know what kind of energy you’ll see around me when I’m playing on stage,” he says, “It’s all about entertaining people and seeing the smile on their face.”

Every show in the Meaford Summer Concert Series will include a local young performer and Friday night it will be Eden Young, lead singer of Cry For Ophelia, a band that was included in last year’s Summer Concert Series and went on to win the GBCS Battle of The Bands earlier this year.  In that same contest, Eden won special mention for her guitar playing.  Eden will be performing solo, doing a few of her favourite covers, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar.  She says, “I’m a little bit nervous but I’m really excited about it.”

This and all the shows that are part of the Meaford Summer Concert Series are free in the Market Square beside Meaford Hall running from 7 to 10 pm.  Bring along a camp chair and a non-perishable food donation for the Golden Town Outreach.  A space has been set aside inside Meaford Hall so that the concert can still go on if it rains.  Afterwards, head across the street to enjoy more music from Scott Almond.

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The Party Starts With The Strummers’ Union

When Tomi Swick and The Strummers’ Union kick off this year’s Summer Concert Series in Meaford they intend to bring a party.  The Strummers’ Union is a group of musical friends from the Hamilton area that have been playing together for the past couple of decades off and on.  They vary according to who is available at the time but they are built around the core of Tomi Swick and Joel Guenther.

Tomi makes a point of noting that The Strummers’ Union and Tomi Swick the solo artist are two different entities.  Tomi  Swick is a JUNO winning singer-songwriter who has his own records out and has toured, written and worked with some of the biggest names in the music business.  Although he may be doing one or two of his own songs on July 5th in Meaford, most of what the Strummers Union will be doing is upbeat covers.  “We’re more of a party band,” he says.

Nevertheless, Tomi Swick is an impressive artist in his own right, with an interesting story to tell.

In 2007 he was on the threshold of a very bright future, with a Warner Music contract and a couple of hit singles under his belt.  Overnight he found himself stalled out in the doorway.  Which, in a cruel irony, happened to be the name of his hit record, the album that won him Best New Artist award at that year’s Junos Awards.

Some people have said that winning a Juno in that particular category can be a curse rather than a blessing.  Martin Melhuish, one of Canada’s leading music writers, in a 2008 interview with the Vancouver Sun, outlined his theory that it is often because the winner of that category represents a musical fad that didn’t last.  He cites Claudja Barry and France Joli, who won for disco hits, Leahy who rode in on a (temporary) wave of enthusiasm for Celtic music, and Johnny Favourite who benefited from an all too brief return of swing music.  Those artists can’t be blamed for changing styles, although maybe they were necessarily restricted by their choice of genre.  But the door that slammed on Tomi Swick was much more devastating, and frighteningly sudden.

He woke up the morning after the Junos to find that he had strep throat and pneumonia.   He was on his way to LA to do a series of showcases, designed to make the most of his Juno win, but despite the attention of some high end medical practitioners, he just couldn’t sing.  It kept getting worse and within six months he could no longer sing at all.  Added to that was the personal tragedy of losing both his parents to cancer.  He had surgery to remove polyps and a cyst on his vocal chords and it was almost four years before he was able to sing again.

The momentum was lost.  To make things worse, his second album for Warner released in 2012 wasn’t what either he or the label wanted it to be, in spite of some strong songs.  He ended his relationship with the label within a month of that record’s release.

A lot of soul searching followed, as he played bar gigs and tried to figure out what to do with his life.  He realized the Warner adventure was not a good fit.  The label saw him as an emerging pop star while he leaned toward something more authentic, more soulful.  His idea of the ultimate record is one recorded live off the floor, completely analog, pressed to vinyl.  That’s where his true heart lies.

It’s going to be a great start to the series.  Opening  for The Strummers’ Union will be Meaford’s country star, Scott Almond and Cry For Ophelia’s lead singer, Eden Young in a solo turn.

One night when he was playing to an empty bar, an old acquaintance from Hamilton happened to drop in and expressed surprise to find him there, playing songs that sounded pretty different from the stuff he’d been doing with a major label.  That friend, Dave King, was working on his own album and invited Tomi to help out, particularly to lend his writing talents.