Ted and I had heard Nancy White on CBC Radio, where her topical songs were a regular feature from 1976 to 1994 on the public affairs show Sunday Morning, and we’d also seen her live in concert at St. Paul’s Church in Willowdale, where she performed in support of a community housing initiative, so we knew our audience would enjoy her. I was particularly in love with her song “Leonard Cohen’s Never Gonna Bring My Groceries In” from her Momnipotent CD. The surprise was when she arrived with Bob Johnston in tow, to play piano accompaniment. He was the first of many surprise bonus performers we hosted over the years, but Bob remains the only one famous for being able to “make a sound like a an old John Deere”. That’s Canadian talent for you!
We owe it all to Terry, so in 2005 when he told us that he had a new CD ready to drop, we jumped at the chance to hold a CD release event, complete with a CD-shaped cake. As luck would have it, the CDs weren’t ready on the night of the event, so Terry took $20 bills, names, email and physical addresses, and arranged to get the discs to me for distribution to our audience members.
Gregg had also performed as part of the Gordon Lightfoot Tribute concert where we first saw Terry, but that’s not why I knew him. Gregg had (still has) an alter ego, “Gregg LeRock”, who performs in French for elementary students all over eastern Canada, and that’s the Gregg I first met. Imagine my surprise to find out he was a really terrific “grown up” singer/songwriter! As Nancy had in September, Gregg brought support: the guitar stylings and vocal harmonies of Sean Cotton, as well as his own dobro, which sounded fantastic in the small hall. Gregg has always had many ventures on the go – he’d be back in Season 4 to entertain us again with one of them.
Oh, Jory. That voice. Those incredible sometimes almost Dylan-esque lyrics. The piano skills. The clear clean sound of his hand-made banjo. The self-deprecating style combined with wonderful storytelling. The collection of stylish chapeaux! Jory was an audience favourite, for whose return we had annual requests.
Thinking about it, he was also partly responsible for our love affair with Terry Tufts and our venture into house concerts, because he was the co-founder (with Aengus Finnan) in 2003 of THE WAY WE FEEL, that amazing concert celebrating the songs of Gordon Lightfoot which was held annually at Toronto’s Hugh’s Room every January until that venue closed. In all it was performed over 50 times, featured almost 100 different Canadian artists. Even though we only attended 2 of those evenings, they definitely inspired a number of our artist choices.
Joel was proof that Just Milton Folks was becoming known on the Canadian independent music circuit, because he’d heard about us through the musician grapevine, sent us unsolicited CDs in the mail, and then came all the way from Saskatchewan to play for us! Joel was responsible for a number of “firsts”: our first non-Ontario act, our first completely instrumental evening (not a single lyric, but a guitar capable of evoking summer mosquitos!), and the first performer that we hosted in our own home overnight and for breakfast.
(And if his name sounds familiar, yes, he is the son of sculptor Joel Fafard who was responsible for – among other things – the 7 life sized bronze cows that comprise “The Pasture” outside Toronto’s T D Centre.)
Heather was another “CD in the mail” discovery. Her concept album “May Queen”, full of original songs interpreting Arthurian legends, absolutely mesmerized us. Arthur’s love song to Guinevere, “As I Am”, had such gorgeous lyrics that our #1 son actually used some of them in his marriage vows, and the final track “Tristan and Isolt” is so moving that to this day I cannot listen to it in the car without pulling over to the side of the road to weep.
Heather brought her music and life partner Ben Deschamps along, and Ben in turn brought “Jimmy Hoffa”, his body-less electric bass fiddle.
Even though it was April, Heather indulged us by playing another of my favourites, this time from her 2002 Christmas CD “This Endris Night”: the Huron carol, sung in English, French, AND Wendat (Huron/Wyandot), with haunting harmony created by Heather electronically looping her own voice. Watching that process was interesting; the result was indescribably beautiful and haunting.
Heather and Ben stayed overnight with us, allowing us to enjoy breakfast and a leisurely morning listening to Heather’s stories about performing at renaissance fairs and Celtic music events all over North America.
Season 2’s Bonus Event:
Just as Season 6 was winding down, the Milton Rotary Club approached me about organizing a charity concert. Naturally, I looked for a performer with a Milton connection.
But in the interim, on June 24th, 2006, my Dad died during surgery after a brief hospital stay, and my mind was on a million family obligations far removed from promoting ticket sales. The concert went ahead on July 8th as planned, and the music was wonderful, but unfortunately without me consistently pushing the other Rotarians to sell tickets, only 100 of the available 140 seats were sold. On top of that, many of the people who bought the tickets did so to support the charity, and were not really interested in the music. On the night of the event, only about 60 seats actually had folks in them. I felt so badly that Dave and his band would be playing to an empty-looking space, but they sure put on a great show for those who attended.
On a positive note, we raised enough money for 2 new wheelchairs, and I learned an important lesson: mixing my other charitable pursuits with our house concert hobby didn’t necessarily make sense. What we did best was creating intimate evenings that supported independent Canadian musicians.
As always, we took a break for the summer months, when musicians generally had more opportunities to perform on Canada’s summer folk festival circuit, and many of our audience members headed out of town to cottages and on vacation. Season 3 was already planned and mostly pre-sold, and Ted and I were looking forward to more great evenings with an audience who were rapidly becoming friends.