Tag Archives: The Cameron House

Ben Kunder and Sarah Macdougall at Desboro Music Hall

Once again, this Saturday night, The Desboro Music Hall is bringing a pair of musicians with international reputations to entertain local fans.  Again, as with the first two concerts in this year’s series, it is a man and a woman, except that this time they are not a couple.  In fact Ben Kunder and Sarah MacDougall are songwriters who have separate careers and their collaboration is enhanced by their individual creativity.

They originally met at The Cameron House in Toronto, when Sarah came to Ben’s gig because he was being accompanied by the bass player they shared, Anna Ruddick of Ladies of The Canyon.  Each of them was an established solo performer but interested in collaborating with someone, particularly in songwriting.  With Ben living in Toronto and Sarah in Whitehorse they wrote their first song by email.

“We realized we had many, many things in common,” says Ben, while Sarah has commented, “He’s like a long lost brother.”  Their collaboration led to touring together in Europe and the U.K earlier this year.  It was a great success, particularly satisfying for Ben who found that he was well known, enjoying “a great response from the people” and “a few sold out shows.”  He echoed many Canadian artists who have found success in Europe, noting that there is “a strong support for the arts there.”  This was his first tour of Europe, “but it won’t be my last.  I’ll be going back when I finish this new record.”

His first record, “Golden” was very well received, with Exclaim! saying , “Kunder’s extra special voice, along with gorgeous production, lends the record an almost velvety quality,”and NewCanadianMusic said the album: “features strong and warm vocals, nicely-crafted folk-rock songs, and top-notch production and playing.”

Sarah MacDougall, originally from Sweden, now living in Canada, was praised by the Swedish magazine Nöjesguiden as “One of Sweden’s best singer/songwriters”.  Her record, “Grand Canyon”, was called by CBC “as vast and as varied as its namesake” while Greyowlpoint said, “Grand Canyon is a refreshing addition to Canada’s singer-songwriter genre, but it’s also so much more. The album is filled with Sarah MacDougall doing what she does best: taking indie-pop expectations and shooting them full of fresh turns and honest lyrics.”

Together the two artists collaborated on a song called “Better Days”.  In concert they share the stage, “kind of like a song circle”, taking turns with their individual songs and singing together on some.

The Desboro Music Hall, a converted church, is developing a reputation among performers that has artists coming to them.  Ben was directed to them by Suzie Ungerleider, who performs as Oh Suzanna, and played the venue last year.

“Suzie is a good friend of mine,” he says, “She said I should play there.  Then I discovered that Josie [Phil’s wife] and I actually went to the same college together.  So it’s a double connection.”

In addition to a great booking policy guided by the love of original music, the Klages brothers at The Desboro Hall always give great value, adding an opening act.  This time around it is celebrated multi-instrumentalist Rob Elder, a highly respected local musician who opened last year’s series.

Return to Front Page for today’s update

Click on album covers to link to iTunes where you can preview, browse and download music by Ben Kunder and Sarah MacDougall

Freeman Dre: Great Songs, Great Band, Saturday at Heartwood

People are excited about Freeman Dre and The Kitchen Party coming back to Heartwood Concert Hall this Saturday. They’ve said that they mainly concentrate on a triangle, shuttling between Toronto, Montreal and New York, but they make a point of visiting our area often because just as in those other places, people love them here.  They’ve played The Marsh Street Centre and Bruce Wine Bar as well as Heartwood, adding to their local fan base each time.

While the main buzz about Freeman Dre and The Kitchen Party is about how much fun it is at their shows, you just have to hear a few lines from any one of their songs to notice that this great band is backing a truly fine songwriter.  They recognize that in Toronto, where the band plays regularly at places like The Cameron House, The Dakota Tavern and The Horseshoe.  He was voted best songwriter in NOW magazine’s 2010 Reader’s Poll and nominated again in 2012.  Every song is a story that draws you in and introduces you to three-dimensional characters.  “I like all those kind of storytelling, troubadour-type writers. I like that whole sort of genre. Three chords and something funny and something cool to say,” he said to The Orillia Packet back in 2013.

An important aspect of Freeman Dre and The Kitchen Party is the fact that they emerged from Parkdale, a Toronto neighbourhood that, thanks to low rents, developed a creative community and now, thanks to the creative community, is becoming increasingly gentrified.  The story goes that the band developed organically from kitchen jams in Dre’s Parkdale apartment.  As he told The Orillia Packet, “It was just two of us, me and Lonnie Knapp, who plays mandolin, guitar and a bunch of stuff. There was no band, really. We were just playing, it was just for fun.”  Then friends started coming around to jam.  Then more friends showed up to listen.  And before you know it something was happening that became too big for the kitchen and the band started playing gigs.  While there has been some fluidity in the band, Lonnie Knapp is still central to it and over the years The Kitchen Party has solidified into a band that, as one critic put it, “is tighter than a three day bender”.  Community is central to the band.  In the early days large part of their maturing process happened within a Parkdale collective called “Fedora Upside Down” which organized festivals that featured local bands of every stripe along with visual artists.

The fact that the band evolved in such an organic way, absorbing a variety of genres and ethnicities along the way from the creative community that surrounded them, is what makes the music of The Kitchen Party hard to define.  Reviewers are all over the map.  Dre calls it “rock ’n’ roll with a folk attitude,” but it’s more than that.  Others refer to “harmonica-heavy roots rock with a Euro-folk-punk party vibe courtesy of accordion, mandolin and a bit of violin”; “a quirky alternative style, going from alternative to folk to eastern-Europeon accordion jams and back”; “rock n’ roll-turned-gypsy sound”; “an amazing eclectic amalgam of eastern jazz, dark country and slow rock”; “an amazing eclectic amalgam of eastern jazz, dark country and slow rock”.  One of the most important aspects of the band, given that it is fronted by a great songwriter, is that Freeman Dre’s voice has the ability to cut through it all and tell the stories that are worth hearing while the beautiful and intriguing instrumentation carries it along on a wave.

It’s inevitable that fans in this area will be flocking again to hear the band at Heartwood.  Just as it’s inevitable that the band’s fan base will continue to expand internationally.  You won’t want to miss this chance to jump aboard the Kitchen train while it still passes through our station.

Return to Front Page for today’s update

Noah Zacharin At The Huron Club Tonight

Noah Zacharin has been a significant part of the Toronto music scene for a couple of decades, known for his excellent guitar playing and vocals.  Although he isn’t fond of the “folk” tag, it is at the festivals and small clubs that he finds his audience and his style is reminiscent of coffee houses and the 70’s singer-songwriter days when audiences were enraptured by the personal ruminations of people like Jesse Winchester and Eric Anderson.  He’s had his share of critical accolades over the years: “one of the best songwriters this country has produced”; “deserving to be mentioned in the same breath with names such as James Taylor and David Wilcox”; “an understated classic…musical versatility and lyrical depth” ; “like Bruce Cockburn, Ry Cooder, and Bonnie Raitt, Noah Zacharin possesses a virtuoso command of the guitar…world-wise songwriting.”; “The heart of a poet, the mind of a lyricist, the skill of a composer, the fingers of a musician…”

But such praise doesn’t always pay the bills and until earlier this year he supported himself with his day job as a dentist working in the disadvantaged neighbourhood of Regent Park.  Finally in January of this year he took a fateful leap and became a full time musician.  Finding steady gigs locally was no problem since he was already well known and able to play classic Toronto venues like Fat Albert’s, The Free Times Café, Hugh’s Room, and The Cameron House, where people gather to hear acoustic and original music.

House concerts and small venues gave him places to play in the wilderness beyond downtown Toronto, taking him to places like Bancroft, Killaloe, Maynooth, and at the end of June to Collingwood, where he played The Huron Club for the first time.  Finding an appetitite for his kind of original work, he’s now back for the third time, playing tonight from 8 to 11.

Return to Front Page for today’s update

To preview and download Noah’s music, click on album cover: