2008 – 2009 …
Our 5th season began on a strange note. In addition to (obviously) attending our own series, we also took in quite a few events at the Brampton Folk Club, and got to know its founder Glenn MacFarlane. In the spring of 2007, Glenn surprised me by asking me to be a guest judge at their event to choose the headliner for Brampton’s summer folk festival. I don’t remember all 5 acts that had reached the finals, but I do remember the top 2: Jon Brooks (no relation) and Brian MacMillan’s trio. In the end, the panel of judges chose Brian’s group for the festival. Then, in October of 2007, we saw Brian again, as part of the late Saturday night “Fresh Folk” lineup. Ted and I enjoyed him just as much as we had in Brampton, and decided to ask him to play for us. In hindsight, perhaps we should have noticed that his set list both nights – 6 months apart – was identical, but we assumed that he’d performed his “greatest hits”.
With the exception of that last sentence, that’s pretty much the story I told in his introduction to our audience. I gushed about his style, which reminded us of Paul Simon, and his songs with their catchy, singable hooks. I just knew that our audience was going to be wowed by this young songwriter. And then Layah Jane took the floor, and played the entire first half of the concert: her songs, her voice, her guitar. She was good, but she was not who I had booked – or who I had just enthusiastically introduced. Brian and Oliver Jones sat beside her and played accompaniment. At intermission, when our audience usually bought CDs, no one had yet heard Brian’s music, and he wasn’t out socializing. To say that I was worried would be completely accurate. I went to find him and ask what the second half of the show was going to look like. He assured me that it would be the trio, led by him, that I’d seen and heard before. He’d simply felt that he didn’t have enough material for a 90 minute show, so had given Layah the opportunity. Hmm. Perhaps he could have forewarned me.
My intro for the second half was brief: “Remember what I said earlier tonight? Here he is!”. The performance was everything I’d hoped for: the audience loved Brian’s music. And no one seemed to mind what I knew was an unexpected glitch.
Brian has gone on to a very successful music career, as you can see from his website, but I’ve never forgotten how strange his evening with us felt.
From the ridiculous to the sublime. Noah Zacharin, who had been told about us by his friend Norman Liota (season 3), sent me THREE CDs: two professionally produced ones and one home-made disc containing only live acoustic tracks. The live CD was the one that played over and over in my car, until I couldn’t resist booking Noah. His sound was much more bluesy than anyone else we’d hosted, and at the same time his lyrics gave off a real 1960’s beat poet vibe. (I think I may even have suggested to our audience that they wear black, haul out their berets, and be prepared to snap their fingers.)
He was a delight to host. His live performance was absolutely everything that his CD had promised, and we all left feeling as if we’d watched poetry come to life.
In October 2007, we’d heard John Wort Hannam’s wonderful guitar work and unique voice at the Ontario Conference of Folk Festivals event. He didn’t leave a CD in our box, but must have taken one of our contact cards, because in October of 2008 he emailed me a request to come play in Milton during his fall/winter 2008 tour of Ontario, and attached an mp3 file of his song “Infantryman” Infantryman – youtube
As I listened to the song, sitting at my computer upstairs in the den, tears began to flow. I was sobbing by the end. John could not have known that our #2 son had just been deployed to the NATO airbase in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The raw emotion in the song was almost too much to bear.
Yet I knew at that moment that we had to host John and share him with our friends. Sadly, we’d already set the 08/09 season, so I had no booking to offer. Still….. I decided that I deserved a really nice Christmas gift that year, and that John would be that gift to myself.
In the two previous years, we had hosted a Christmas open house for our Just Milton Folks audience members. While we couldn’t fit 50-60 chairs into our house for a concert, we COULD jam that many people- some of them with guitars – into our house for food, wine, and partying! This year, we were going to treat everyone to a cold supper and free (to them) concert at Hugh Foster Hall.
What a fun night! What a great Christmas present – lots of food, lots of friends, and lots of fabulous music. PLUS, he sang his song “Sweet, Sweet Rose” and dedicated it to me!
So many of John’s songs resonated with me. “Pier 21”, in particular, told a story that brought back memories of my parents’ immigrant experience. If you use Spotify, (you can subscribe for free like we do, which means listening to an ad every once in a while, just like on the radio) please listen to some of the songs linked on the music page of John’s website. “Annabelle”, “3 Cylinders”, and “Two-Bit Suit” remain among my favourites songs – ever.
While not quite as tall as his famous father Stan Rogers (one of Canada’s preeminent folk singers, who died at age 33 in a plane crash when Nathan was not quite 4 years old) Nathan’s voice is just as big. Maybe coming from a musical East Coast family predestined Nathan to be a great singer, musician, and storyteller – he certainly is all 3 of those things.
The day Nathan came to play for us, he had been staying with a friend in nearby Hamilton, and called to say that they’d be in Milton late afternoon. Could we recommend a place to grab dinner before the show? We definitely could… if they were okay with my grandmother’s recipe for stuffed peppers served over torn French bread.
They were, which is how Nathan ended up helping us set up the chairs at Hugh Foster Hall for his own concert.
When we booked Nathan, he made it clear that he did not perform a tribute concert to his dad; the songs he’d sing for us were all his own. That, of course, was exactly what we wanted! I remember being especially enthralled with Mary’s Child from his album “True Stories”…. and then he demonstrated Inuit throat-singing!
At the end of his second set, there was a memorable encore, made even more so by the fact that Nathan climbed up onto one of the chairs to bellow it out acapella: “Garnet’s Home-Made Beer”, a song written by Ian Robb to mock Nathan’s musician uncle Garnet Rogers, and sung to the tune of Stan Roger’s famous “Barrett’s Privateers” (of which any good Canadian folkie over the age of 60 knows the chorus).
CDs in the mail just continued to yield real gems. Yael Wand travelled to us from British Columbia, bringing her glorious voice and serene songs to our hall. If John had been my Christmas gift, than Yael was – albeit unintentionally- my birthday present, because her concert fell exactly on my birthday. Apparently she was in on the intermission surprise: my best childhood friend had created a birthday cake for me, which magically appeared between sets. I’ve never been serenaded more beautifully than by Yael singing “happy birthday”.
For her 2007 album At Your Door, Yael had written a song for each season of the year. Come Spring is still my annual go-to each March as winter fades away.
Collette on guitar had wowed us at the London OCFF conference in 2007, which was the reason we wanted to share her with our Milton audience, but Collette unleashed with a hall full of eager listeners went well beyond our expectations. Growing up in North Bay, she must have had a lot of time on her hands, because she taught herself to play not only guitar, but banjo, and just about anything else with strings that can be strummed or plucked, as was aptly demonstrated when she did an amazing rendition of The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” on hammered dulcimer!
Collette was the icing on the Season 5 cake, and Season 6 was ready to go after our summer break.