2009 – 2010 …
As we prepared for our first concert of season 6, I got a call from the Milton town clerk’s office, telling us that Hugh Foster Hall was going to be undergoing renovations, and our bookings for the next 6 months would need to be cancelled. Panic time! Milton did not have much else in the way of suitable spaces: there was a dark low-ceilinged community hall at the south end of town, two ice hockey arenas, and the Seniors Centre. Beyond that, I’d need to see if any of the local churches or schools were willing to rent us space. Fortunately, the auditorium at the Seniors Centre was a decent space; nowhere near as charming or acoustically suitable as our usual, but we had musicians booked and tickets sold, so took what was offered.
This concert was also the first for which we had intentionally booked an opening act: 26 year old Ashleen Robinson, now of The Devil’s Drink, was a high school friend of our #1 son, and just beginning her professional music career. We were thrilled to be able to give her a paying gig and an audience. She was a talented and gracious opener.
Tony Turner, based in Ottawa, was a songwriter I booked mostly because of his amazing baritone voice (positively swoon-inducing). Much to our delight, he arrived with Ann Downey (of Finest Kind) and her upright bass in tow. As was the case with several of our favourite songwriters (Heather Dale has a degree in geology, John Wort Hannam was a teacher for 12 years, Dave Hadfield a professional pilot), Tony found his musical voice as a second career – he is also an environmental scientist. What is clear in his songwriting is a deep interest in history and storytelling, a combination which charmed our audience.
We had hosted Katherine Wheatley in our very first season, but it took until season 6 before I had the nerve to foist Wendell Ferguson on an unsuspecting audience. Ted and I absolutely loved (and still love) Wendell. He’s a multiple CCMA award winner, including 7 consecutive years as Guitar Player of the Year, resulting in him being disqualified from re-entering that category. Beyond the stellar guitar work, though, Wendell has the sense of humour and gap-toothed grin of a 7 year old boy (coincidentally the age at which he got his first guitar) in a 6’4″ body. Listening to his hilarious song lyrics sometimes makes you forget that when he settles down to “just play” the guitar he plays it better than anyone you’ve ever heard.
Initially we were worried that folks would find Wendell’s humour just too much (as with 7 year old boys, body parts and double entendres feature prominently), which was part of the reason we booked Wendell in duo with Katherine as a “calming influence”. As it turned out, potty jokes weren’t a problem – absolutely everyone except one couple found him hilarious. That couple’s issue wasn’t Wendell’s puerile humour, but “blasphemy”: Wendell’s joke about his ever-in-the-pending-stages Christmas album, to be called “Jesus Christ It’s Your Birthday Again” (his actual Christmas CD is called “Cranky Christmas”) and his compilation of difficult-to-play seasonal music called “Christ the Chords“. We refunded their ticket price.
Wendell is the musical gift that just keeps on giving. Now that we’re living up on Georgian Bay during our summers in Canada, spending lots of time hiking outdoors, he has inadvertently provided the soundtrack to our days: “Rocks and Trees”
There was a period of time during and following our son’s deployment to Afghanistan when songs related to Canadians’ participation in war were on my radar. Tannis Slimmon’s song “Edmonton“, about a wife’s reaction to her husband’s service (on the CD “Lucky Blue” that she dropped into our folk conference box) grabbed me. In the months between booking her for our series and her February concert with us, Ted and I had the pleasure of hearing her sing and play in a living room concert in Georgetown, which absolutely confirmed that we’d made the right choice. Lewis Melville accompanied Tannis for our evening, as he does on her CDs, lending gorgeous instrumental harmonies.
I wish that I remembered more about exactly why I booked Abby and Bryan, and about what that night in April was like. Sadly, I don’t. I know that by April of 2010 my mom’s Lewy Body Dementia symptoms – especially hallucinations – were escalating, although we had not yet moved her into care, and there was a lot going on in our lives. Our JMF music nights were one of the things that kept me sane and grounded. Clearly, looking back at our post-concert photo, the evening made me smile, whatever else was going on.
Jon was the runner-up in the Brampton Folk Club’s festival competition in 2007, for which I was one of the judges. I came home on the night of that competition with Jon’s (at the time) latest CD “Moth Nor Rust”, having decided that someday we would host him in Milton. It took 3 years, but the wait was worth it. Jon was a reminder to all of us that folk music can be a powerful tool to shine light on injustice, and to encourage people to create social and political change.
Although we didn’t know it at the time, there was only one more season of concerts to follow.