2007 – 2008 …
I mentioned David in Episode 118 for his connection to Valdy, but wanted to give him his due as part of our series as a performer. David demonstrated that, in Canada, even multiple award winners are humble enough to share their talent with a small group. In addition to all his other projects, David also created a series of instrumental “relaxation” CDs that lulled us to sleep (as they were intended to do, not out of boredom!) for many years.
Outside of just hosting our concerts, we tried really hard to be involved within the folk music community. As part of that, we joined OCFF, the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals, now renamed FMO (Folk Music Ontario) and into its 34th year of conferences. In October of 2007 we attended the annual conference, being held in London Ontario, where we were registered as music presenters, as distinct from the songwriters and musicians. The conference spanned 3 days of workshops, talks, and concerts, as well as the opportunity to hear a range of musicians who were not yet famous enough to be headliners perform at “guerrilla” showcases in the hotel rooms booked by their agents. There was music from breakfast each day right through until the wee hours of the morning. One of our highlights was hearing the female indigenous trio Asani sing “O,Canada” incorporating the call of the goose, the howl of the wolf, English, French, and Cree. It was goosebump inducing. (Although YouTube is a much less visceral experience than hearing them live, you can listen to it here ASANI O Canada 2009 version)
This link will take you to the conference brochure for that 2007 event: https://issuu.com/ocff/docs/conf_2007.pdf
As presenters with a venue, one of our privileges was having a (literal) box in the artist’s hall for CD submissions. Our name (Just Milton Folks) and a description of what we did was attached to the box, and a supply of our contact cards put beside it. Musicians who thought they might be interested in coming to Milton could drop a card, a promo sheet, or a CD, into the box. We came home with FIFTY CDs !
When we booked our hotel room, we had a choice of the “quiet floor” or the “music floor”, where the after-hours guerrilla showcases took place. We certainly weren’t there to sleep, so naturally we stayed on the music floor, which is where we first heard John Wort Hannam sing his song “Sweet Sweet Rose” in a showcase that also featured Rose Cousins, Bill Bourne, and Lynn Hanson.
Wandering the venue on Day 2, we encountered (separately) two wonderful young songwriters singing in one of the hotel hallways: Saskatoon native Jen Lane, and Toronto-based Collette Savard. We really wanted to hear more from each of them, so we invited them to play in OUR room later that night! Jen did several songs accompanied by her partner John Antoniuk, and stayed while Collette performed with her partner John Zytaruk. Ted and I remember getting a kick out of Jen and Collette bonding over the fact that “everyone needs a Ukrainian John”.
In the end, although we didn’t yet know it coming home from the conference, we had made connections that would lead to five concerts for us in JMF seasons 5 and 6: Collette, Brian MacMillan, Tony Turner, Nathan Rogers, and – in a roundabout way – John Wort Hannam.
Just this past week I was on the phone with Gregg Lawless, who remains as charming, engaging, and generous of spirit as ever, even after 14 years of not being in contact. He’s been creating French curriculum (as his Gregg LeRock alter ego), including music of course, during these COVID times when in-person concerts are not possible. We had so much fun reminiscing about his evenings with Just Milton Folks, in particular his “Duets, etc” event with us. Back then, as he remains now, Gregg was a great believer in collaborating with and supporting other musicians. To that end, he created an ever-changing roster of duet partners with whom he performed at venues all over Ontario. We were much smaller than most, but when Gregg pitched the concept to me, fresh off our success with the previous year’s Lightfoot tribute event, I was eager to try another “bonus” concert.
I’m so glad we did!
When Gregg sent me the list of artists for the evening, his was the only familiar name, but I trusted his judgement, so posters were printed and tickets sold. By the end of the show, CDs were flying off the merch table for all 4 performers. Kirsten Jones, a transplanted Virginian, was the newcomer on the stage that night, having just won a country music contest sponsored by Magna International. Since then, she has garnered Juno and CCMA nominations, and charted in the U.S. as well. Richmond Hill Ontario-based Kevin Zarnett went on to co-write and tour with Kirsten, and continues to play at festivals and venues in Ontario. St. John’s Newfoundland-born Lori Anna Reid was the first classical voice we had hosted, and she certainly made an impression on all of us! Just a couple of months before gracing our stage, she had performed at Carnegie Hall with Daniel Lanois and Emmylou Harris. Honest!
What a wonderful night of music it was.
Scottish-born Maria Dunn was another “CD in the mail” find. I just couldn’t get enough of her CD “We Were Good People”, full of Celtic-infused storytelling, focussed on Canadian history, so I was thrilled that she was willing to travel from her home in Edmonton to come play for us.
We’d never had an accordion in Hugh Foster Hall before, and it sounded fantastic – especially when Maria made it sound like bagpipes! She absolutely hooked us with her ballads about the Depression Era in western Canada, the miner’s strike, Nelly McClung’s story and more. Canadian history has never bern more fun, nor the folk song as political tool for change been better demonstrated.
Maria stayed with us and continued to enthral us with stories about what inspired her songs. She did not, however, play her accordion in our little kitchen.
I used to regularly read Greg Quill’s music reviews in The Toronto Star, for whom he was the entertainment columnist. It came as a surprise that he was a musician in his own right, but when I found out, I couldn’t resist asking him to come be part of our series (he could write his own review if he wanted!) Greg was born in Australia, where he sang and wrote for the country rock band Country Radio, before moving to Ontario in 1974. On the night he played for us, he brought along (surprise!) his Aussie former bandmate Kerryn Tolhurst, and the two of them shared new songs, old songs, and lots of stories.
Sadly, Greg died in 2013, at only 66 years old. On Kerryn’s current website is a very comprehensive tribute to Greg. http://www.kerryntolhurst.com.au/home.html
The Sultans of String didn’t need to send us a CD. I knew the founding duo, Chris McKhool and Kevin Laliberte, from their performances for French language schools in Halton in 2004 and 2005 as a duo (just called “McKhool and Laliberte”) before they added additional band members and changed their name in 2007. Chris’ proficiency on 6-string violin combined with Kevin’s flamenco guitar talents were a formidable combination. Between the time that I booked them, and the night they played for our intimate audience, they had begun performing under their new name at a wide variety of venues, even collaborating with symphony orchestras and a range of vocalists.
I’d booked them as a duo, but they arrived with bass player (and fellow Sultan) Drew Birston in tow, and proceeded to enthral us with a wide range of musical styles, from classical to jazz to blues to flamenco. It was another great night.
Suzie was one of Ted’s choices (I occasionally let him do that), and ended up being another wonderful surprise. We had seen Suzie several times at Hugh’s Room, as part of the Lightfoot tributes, and with Betty and the Bobs for their Christmas show. Everything she did wowed us, whether solo or as part of an ensemble.
When she arrived in Milton on June 6th she wasn’t alone as booked, but had Rick Fines with her. https://rickfines.ca/home
Rick was a very popular solo act on his own, so we were thrilled about the show our audience was going to get – although a bit concerned about the fact that two “headliners” would now be splitting the ticket sales; we hoped the evening would be worth their while. What Ted and I both vividly remember about that night – beyond the fabulous entertainment – was Suzie sitting on the floor of Hugh Foster Hall after everyone had gone, tallying the proceeds from the intermission CD sales, and laughing. At $20 per CD or 2 for $30, Suzie had collected around $1000.00. It was the most CDs that anyone had ever sold at one of our concerts, and we no longer felt sheepish about handing them the ticket proceeds to split.
We were also feeling pretty good about the pending season, which would be our 5th year of house concerts.