Sun Times staff
Amazing voices, singing blues, rock, folk, jazz, country and more, will start another season of Sunday night free concerts at the harbour in Owen Sound.
The launch show June 10 at the Legion, with the popular MacKenzie Blues Band, is the only ticketed event, to help support the series. It features the MacKenzie Blues Band’s Tara MacKenzie, who had a hand in selecting the other diverse vocalists for Amazing Voices.
They include the veteran power rocker Hans Langedyk, Anna Horvath, who writes and performs her own folk songs as Merival and sings with First Rate People and Kildear, trained vocalist Jamie Smith of Owen Sound, whose repertoire includes celtic ballads, show tunes, jazz and bossa nova, and 13-year-old Brontae Hunter, of Kincardine, who is already a Summerfolk veteran.
“She’s a real vocalist. That’s her instrument and she has a very powerful, strong voice and has an unusual passion for her music,” Tara MacKenzie said.
With his “huge and powerful, big rock voice,” Langedyk is a tenured rock pro, living in Jackson. He’s toured with Labyrinth and Fallen Angels and is known now locally for performances with Dirty Mack, which includes The Mackenzie Blues Band’s guitarist Trevor MacKenzie.
Doors open at the legion at 7 p.m. and tickets are $12 at the door, $10 in advance at Fromager Music, The Ginger Press Café and Bookstore, Mr. Inkbee Grey-Bruce, and SunSpa.
The weekly Harbour Nights concert series, most on Sundays, start June 17 at the west harbour area beside the visitor centre. All shows are free, with donations encouraged, and start at 7 p.m. They include;
* June 17 -Father’s Day special features local, well-known musical dads and their grown-up children, with John and Linsey Beckett of The Beckett Family, Martin and Jeremy Cooper, Ken and Levi Dow, Larry and Kate Dickinson, Kevin and Katie Dandeno.
* June 24 -Blues rocker Erin McCallum and her band.
* July 8 -Jazz guitarist Jamie Ruben and his trio.
* July 15 -Local band Wakin’ Up Johnny, blues and rock.
* July 22 -Venerable local duo Larry Jensen, singer, songwriter, guitarist and keyboard player Rob McLean.
* July 29 -Coco Love Alcorn, acclaimed jazz, soul and folk-influenced singer-songwriter now living in Owen Sound.
* Wednesday, Aug. 1 -Guitarist Paul Danard with former students Carey Worrod, Gavin Gardiner, and Cory Mayne, drums, and Archy Hachy, keyboards. Rock, blues and jazz.
* Aug. 5 -Beggars Road returns with traditional Celticinfluenced original songs, with pipes, fiddle, guitars, drums, bass and powerful vocals.
* Aug. 12: Summerfolk preview. The stars of tomorrow shine from the Harbour Nights stage.
Sun Times staff
It’s taken Tara MacKenzie a long time to come around to the blues.
Now that she’s found her spot beside husband Trevor — a searing electric guitarist — their new MacKenzie Blues Band and the CD due this summer have become an obsession for the powerful and versatile Owen Sound singer.
“I’m possessed almost. It’s crazy,” MacKenzie said this week. “I can’t stop thinking about it all the time because I love this music so much and what the band has made.”
Back Road Revelation is to be launched at Kincardine’s Lighthouse Blues Festival, where the MacKenzie Blues Band, formed just last August, kicks off the main stage festivities on Friday, July 13.
All but one tune on the new disc, the Buddy Guy tribute Heavy Love, are band originals, with Tara’s lyrics around her own song sketches or written to riffs Trevor and band members Joel Dawson, bass, and Mike Weir, drums, created.
They’ve logged more than 400 studio hours recording the project and the final mixes are just about ready to go to Abbey Road studios in England for mastering.
The effort they’ve put in and the potential they see is worth investing in the very best for the most important part of the recording, both musicians said.
“We’ve been busting our butts. I’ve never worked this hard on a project in my life or put more of my soul into it,” Tara MacKenzie said. “I left the blood on the tracks for this album. I did. So did everybody in the band.”
Married for a dozen years, both MacKenzies have behind them a long list of bands, projects and session credentials. Until forming this group in August, they rarely made their music on stage together, although both are part of The Honey Hammers, a popular local rock cover band.
Trevor’s home has always been on the heavy side, in blues and blues rock, while Tara was known more for folk and trad.
She’s been a solo folksinger, played the Celtic harp, has written songs and recorded and performed in that trad mode with several groups while also singing in a wide range of styles and genres.
It wasn’t until Saugeen Shores bluesman Larry White asked her to gig with Big Bad Wolf that MacKenzie was able to focus on that genre and sort out her feelings and her approach to the blues, MacKenzie said.
From there, finally singing blues in a band with Trevor was a logical next step. Especially since both musicians were so busy in different groups. They weren’t seeing enough of one another.
“We streamlined it,” Tara MacKenzie said during a chat this week at Fromager Music, where Trevor has worked for many years. That’s in addition to his performance career — sometimes with four or five bands at a time — and the recording studio the couple run together at their home in Owen Sound, where Tara also has a vocal teaching studio.
“It took me a long time to come to the blues,” she said. “I had to figure out what I did like and what I didn’t and I came to understand that I like something a bit raunchier than old classic style blues and I was able to really easily start writing in that vein.”
The songs on the new CD are true songs about her own experiences or things she’s observed in others.
“A lot of these songs are speaking to situations that I see that I don’t dare get involved in on a direct level,” she said. “But inside, I just can’t now say something. So I just hope that the result of those lyrics can intervene in the lives of the people that I’ve written about.”
“They’re not scathing, they’re really encouraging,” she added.
The feel of the original songs ranges from blue/soul ballad to “heavy (Jimi) Hendrix-style blues riffs,” Trevor MacKenzie said.
The band doesn’t sit comfortably in Chicago, delta or any other one blues niche, he said.
“We don’t really want to be confined that way. We just want to play music.”
At the heart of it all is Tara’s voice, ranging over almost four octaves, and MacKenzie’s often incendiary guitar playing against the solid rhythm section.
Highly regarded Owen Sound blues harp specialist Rod Ramsay, keyboard player Rob McLean, vocalist Sylvie Weir and Coco Love Alcorn, trumpet, contributed to the project.
The band’s creative collaboration often begins with a song sketch from Tara, a lyric and a riff.
“Tara would come up with some lyrical ideas and maybe some chord patterns and we would all collaborate and just make it happen,” Trevor said. “When it really happens is in the studio where you can really start working it.”
It’s been a busy first 10 months for The MacKenzie Blues Band. Even without a CD, they booked 42 gigs including several festivals. Notably still to come are Summerfolk, The Lighthouse Blues Festival in Kincardine next month where they’ll launch the CD and the Orangeville Blues Festival, where the band plays tonight.
There’s also a CD launch July 28 at The Dam Pub patio in Thornbury.
Next Sunday, June 10, The MacKenzie Blue Band will kicking off this year’s annual city-run Harbour Nights concert series, backing up several area singers during an Amazing Voices ticketed event at the Legion. Proceeds support the Sunday night free concert series.
Sun Times staff
It was inevitable Bill Millman, and then his son Andy, would take up the Highland bagpipes.
The bagpipes were always around, part of every social occasion, the third and fourth generation Owen Sound pipers both said earlier this week.
They grew up hearing the jigs, reels and marches.
That tradition is in their family. It’s their heritage.
But it’s the thrill of the music itself, uniformly articulated by exacting pipers against precise, powerful percussion, that keeps both Millmans piping.
“It’s just the high you get when you’re playing this stuff properly. It’s just a tremendous feeling. It makes you proud to wear the kilt, and play the pipes,” Bill Millman said this week at his home in Owen Sound.
“It’s a trance, almost, when you’re right in there. The way everything just zeros in together. It’s an amazing feeling. You get goose bumps. That’s what keeps you going.”
Both pipers will play Saturday night at OSCVI as part of a big Celtic Spring concert of Highland music and dance – Bill with the Penetangore Pipe Band and Andy with the Peel Region Police Pipe Band. That Brampton-based band has been both Ontario Supreme Grade 1 championship band and North American champions for the last two years.
Andy barely remembers starting to play, first on chanter at age six or seven, then with a three-quarter size set of pipes in his first band, beside his father when he was about nine.
Sun Times staff
Long delayed and much anticipated, Manitoulin premiers Saturday night as part of the Georgian Bay Symphony’s 40th anniversary season finale.
Richard Mascall’s newest composition relies on what he’s learned about First Nations culture and music, and on a simple pentatonic melody he first played with in 1998.
A decade later, Mascall rediscovered that still-undeveloped phrase as he researched First Nations music and culture. It was ideally suited for new work during his three-year tenure as the local orchestra’s composer in residence.
At GBS director John Barnum’s request, Mascall was planning music which would reflect First Nations traditions.
“I wasn’t that keen on the idea at first because I didn’t know a thing about native culture,” Mascall said this week. “As I immersed myself in this stuff, I became really intrigued.”
He listened to native music, spent time drumming on Sunday afternoons with Thunder Timberwolf and his M’Wikwedong drummers. That interest led, four years later, to Timberwolf honouring Mascall with his own spirit name Singing Beaver on Water. His research brought him also to the Woodlands School of painting, founded by Ojibway artist Norval Morrisseau, which directly influenced Manitoulin.
That signature work, among Mascall’s compositions influenced by native culture from that residency, premiers at OSCVI with the GBS Saturday. A slightly longer version is scheduled for two performances next month with Bramwell Tovey and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
Saturday’s GBS concert, dubbed The Russian Spectacular, also includes Owen Soundraised pianist Kati Gleiser as soloist, Sergei Prokofiev’s 3rd Piano Concerto and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony Number 5, his best-known and frequently performed work.
Gleiser has a long history with the GBS. Currently a doctoral candidate in piano performance at Indiana University, she has performed as a soloist with the GBS and other orchestras in the past and has won national awards for her music.
Many of the orchestra’s former section leaders will return to boost the string section for the 40th anniversary concert. That’s ideal for Manitoulin, said Mascall, who initially intended it would be performed by both the Huronia Symphony and the GBS.
“It’s perfect. It’s for a big, big orchestra and this is the perfect situation for it,” he said. “I would say that Saturday night you will see the best Georgian Bay Symphony ever” with the return of so many former leaders.
The 10-minute overture Manitoulin’s theme flows from the idea of shamanic transformation, the widely held belief among aboriginal cultures around the world that their spirit or medicine men shift shapes to become animals.
Mascall’s direct inspiration was a series of Morrisseau’s paintings at the Art Gallery of Ontario collectively entitled Shaman Transforms into Thunderbird.
Sun Times staff
Singing for family and friends isn’t quite enough to “raise the bar,” Chantry Singers music director Anne Little said.
So at least every second year, the 60 Saugeen Shores-based choristers take part in the annual Grey County Kiwanis Festival of Music.
The festival performance and the feedback from adjudicators motivates the group to work hard and excel, Little said as the choir was set to perform as part of the Festival Stars showcase concert Tuesday night.
“To come to festival we feel like we have to practise really hard. It puts the bar up a lot higher than just singing for all our friends and relatives who think we’re wonderful,” Little said.
“It’s all about the adjudication,” singer Chuck Beaton said. “I think there’s a sense of competitiveness in the choir that makes us want to sing really well, and then to hear from someone how well we did.”
Elizabeth Reid joined the Chantry Singers in 1975, a year after the choir formed. For her it’s the love of singing and sharing, with the Kiwanis festival performances a reward.
“At first you think it’s a lot of stress because you’re going to be judged on what you do, but it’s just a wonderful feeling and to hear the adjudicators speak highly of your choir is really something,” Reid said.
Faced with dwindling festival participation — registration has dropped more than 50% since 2005 — that’s one message and an example festival organizers want to highlight this year.
A federal New Horizons grant of more than $21,600 that MP Larry Miller announced during this year’s two-week festival will help hire someone to engage senior performing groups, people at retirement residences and other adults and promote the festival’s value to potential adult participants.
Festival organizers said they’ll also create new vocal and instrumental classes just for adults and welcome suggestions from the community for new categories and new musical genres.
Engaging that new, adult participation is only part of this year’s challenge, said executive-director Mary Jane Quinn.
Overall participation has dipped steadily in recent years, from more than 1,000 entries in 2005 to just over 800 on 2008 and 475 this year, which is the festival’s 80th.
“We do need to increase our entries,” Quinn said.
The festival awarded close to $14,000 in scholarships and bursaries this year, with the top soloists receiving as much as $300 and bands $350. About 100 awards were handed out during the two festival stars concert this week.
The money comes in part from endowments and from donations, including $70,000 over seven years from The Dock radio station, announced a year ago, and another $4,000 from a retired teachers group, Quinn said.
While participation from community choirs and bands was down again this year, most of the participation bleed over the years results from far fewer school choir, band and individual student entries.
That’s partly due to an overall enrolment decline, but it is mostly because of a change in school culture with less emphasis on music education, Quinn said.
Once, each school had vocal and instrumental music specialists. Vocal music teachers would lead several classroom choirs and school choirs. Instrumental experts taught Grade 7 and and Grade 8 music and led bands.
Many schools still have trained band instructors, but a board directive a few years ago did away for the most part with vocal music specialists, encouraging classroom teachers to cover all their own subjects, including vocal music, said Quinn, who for 10 years was a choir specialist at Hilllcrest school. She brought to the festival numerous groups each year.
“The music just gets shoved to the back now,” Quinn said.
Sun Times staff
If they weren’t making music around the microphone, it would be a kitchen table, or a campfire.
A family band by birth and by marriage, Moonshiner’s Daughter plays bluegrass music, with a twist of folk and more than a hint of old-time country.
Sisters Trish Schnurr and Cara Croll do most of the singing, playing guitar and bass. Their husbands, Adam Croll, five-string banjo, and Mark Schnurr, mandolin, do the picking.
“This is our enjoyment,” Trish said this week.
In the almost four years since the two couples moved to Durham and Flesherton to work and raise families – two kids each – word has spread about their lively music.
Most weekends, the four musicians get together on a Friday or a Saturday night to share a meal and make music once the kids are asleep, she said. That led to formalizing things, and, once Cara learned to play the bass violin, they formed the band not long after the move.
Moonshiner’s Daughter’s opening slot next Thursday, April 26, ahead of West Virginia’s Nothin’ Fancy at the Owen Sound Legion, will be the group’s second Queen’s Bush Bluegrass Club show. They’re also booked for The Hosltein Bluegrass Celebration in August, Durham’s Fall Fair and the town’s homecoming, along with shows coming up for the Massie Hall and Eugenia’s Flying Chestnut Restaurant concert series.
With jobs and raising kids, that’s busy enough, Cara said.
Growing up near Maryhill and Breslau in the Kitchener area, the girls were raised with music. Their dad liked to sing and play guitar, mom played fiddle.
They took their daughters at a young age to a few bluegrass shows and, although neither pursued that music until later, something stuck, Cara Croll said.
At university, she was inspired to sing and learn guitar when she first heard Sarah Harmer’s music, and eventually got back to those early roots.
“Once we got past those early years, we weren’t really immersed in bluegrass, but it was kind of something we came back to once we met musician husbands,” said Cara, who also plays piano.
Adam Croll got a start on banjo and guitar from his father Jim and early inspiration from his uncle Tex Smith, who lived up the road form their rural home near Acton.
“Once you hear the banjo, it captures you,” Croll said. “It’s just something you have to do.”
He sticks pretty close to a traditional Scruggs banjo style, with a few flourishes of his own.
“Every banjo player really wants to play like Earl Scruggs, or most of us do,” he said.
Croll played some blues through high school and at 18 met old-time fiddler Wally Jackson, from Lanark County. The played music regularly, and Jackson solidified Croll’s interest in old-time and country music.
“He just taught me so much about rhythm and about driving (the music) just to get that bluegrass sound,” he said. “It kept me there. There was no way you could change courses playing with a fellow like that.”
Mark Schnurr’s interests in Mandolin range beyond bluegrass into jazz and toward mandolinist David Grisman’s so-called Dawg music, a mix of bluegrass rhythms and adventurous, jazz-inluenced melodies.
His mandolin pursuit led to his profession as a violin maker. While “hoboing” across the country a few years ago, he bought a book about building mandolins, then made his own instrument and others before turning to making violins, in part through studies with luthier John Newton who had a studio near Desboro for many years.
Accessibility and relative simplicity is bluegrass music’s appeal, along with the sound of acoustic instruments together, Schnurr said.
“It’s really earthy sounding. As a violin maker I just love acoustic music and acoustic instruments all around,” he said. “And anyone can do it. There’s a huge repertoire of traditional music and you can get together with people you’ve never met before and throw out these tunes and everyone can catch some of it.”
“It’s fun music to play,” added Cara, who said her interest in the music is genuine, not based on trends.
“I like that bluegrass is sort of unpopular, a bit. I like that I like it because I like it. No one is influencing that.”
Her husband agreed.
“There is an aspect of that. You’re kind of against the grain,” he said. “It’s a demanding music. Not everyone does it or can do it, so there is a badge that you wear.”
Moonshiner’s Daughter blends the Croll focus on traditional bluegrass and old-time country with the Schnurr leanings towards folk, especially through the new, folk-influenced bluegrass songs Trish has been writing.
“She’s been just pumping out the songs in the last year or two,” Cara said.
“I guess I have been on a bit of a songwriting kick for the past two years, I guess,” said Trish, who also adds occasional fiddle to the band’s mix.
She said writing new songs is both her creative outlet and her contribution to the band, since she’s “not a lead guitar player.”
Her daily diet of CBC radio during drive to Owen Sound from Flesherton for work provides plenty of true life stories for inspiration, as do the people and moments in her own life. The songs “can also be quite fictional.”
Working the new material into the set list can be challenging as well as rewarding, while singing, even on new songs, just comes natural, Trish said.
“I think you can hear the family connection in our harmonies,” she said. “That’s just simple for us. We don’t work at that. We just get to sing with each other. The harmonies come pretty quick.”
That the four are family also shows in their comfort together on stage, she added.
As much as 50 per cent of some Moonshiner’s Daughter sets is now original and, while the band remains essentially a bluegrass unit, they tailor shows to suit the crowd, Cara said.
“One of the things about bluegrass is you’re always paying tribute to the originals. It’s built into bluegrass music,” he said.
So the Queen’s Bush Bluegrass Club audience can expect a mix of new songs and some bluegrass and old-time standards Thursday, the final show in this year’s Wintergrass concert series.
Doors open at the Owen Sound Royal Canadian Legion at 6:30. Show time is 7:30, with Moonshiner’s Daughter up first with a 40-minute set. Nothin’ Fancy, winners of the 2012 most entertaining group award from the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America, will play two sets.
Tickets are $22, or $20 for club members, $10 if you are 16 to 18, and free for people 15 and under with an adult.
Sun Times staff
Mark Fewer’s 2011 Juno for jazz won’t sway the violinist, music professor and Sweetwater Music Festival artistic director.
“I’m still primarily a violinist that’s a classical violinist. There’s no two ways about it,” Fewer said recently.
Just days before, with longtime collaborator Phil Dwyer, Fewer accepted the 2011 Juno for their contemporary jazz recording Changing Seasons, and Fewer was still “over the moon about it.”
A Canadian jazz giant with six Junos under his belt now, Dwyer composed Changing Seasons as a jazz concerto for violin, string orchestra and big band. He wrote it expressly for Fewer as soloist, who over two decades as one of this country’s preeminent classical violinists has often had his hands and head deep into jazz.
Often that’s been with Dwyer, who will again perform at the Sweetwater Music Festival in September, and share programming duties with Fewer, directing the Saturday night concert.
“It’s a relationship that just keeps on building and building,” Fewer said.
Dwyer will premier at Sweetwater a brand new composition he’s written for string quintet, piano and soprano saxophone. Dwyer will play sax, Fewer will put together the quintet, including festival regular Joe Phillips on bass. David Braid, whose 2011 traditional jazz album Verge, also won a Juno, will play piano, then later that night join Dwyer in a duo performance.
Braid will also premier new music, his Chauvet, for string quartet and piano.
“So we’ve got a triumvirate of the Juno clan showing up” for what will “definitely” be an evening of jazz for the Saturday night Sweetwater concert, Fewer said.