With a Song in My Head

June 28, 2016 1:14 pm
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Moviegoers of yesteryear may remember the classic film With A Song In My Heart. I remember this flick and the actress Susan Hayward who jumps off the screen in my mind.

However, what’s really going on in my mind since mid-October 2015, I’ve come to call With A Song In My Head.

When I awake each morning, I hear a song.  A different song every day at whatever time I get up, and only for a few moments. If I don’t key the title (not necessarily the vocalist, group or orchestra) into my PDA or write it down right away, it disappears from my consciousness, or unconsciousness.  It can happen at any other time of day (if I’ve taken an occasional power nap or a weekend nap) and there is always one tune.  Occasionally, a second might kick in right after, but somehow I only remember to write the first one down.  And the same song never seems to return, as if I’m only to hear it one last time.

Now into my 7th decade on this planet, I began wondering from where this life changing experience is coming?

And while I’m not exactly certain what this happening is actually called, through friend Heather Kassel and my jazz composer-drummer son Harris Eisenstadt, I sourced a Dr. Oliver Sacks book called Musicophilia – Tales of Music And The Brain, who writes, “Music is part of being human.”

I don’t know why my sleep awakening songs started or if they’ll ever stop, but the “Wurlitzer jukebox in my head” keeps cranking out daily ditties.

Dr. Sacks says, ”the power of music, whether joyous or cathartic, must steal one unawares, come spontaneously as a blessing or a grace.”  Certainly that seems to be happening to me, but only at my awakening, any time of day.

Perhaps the answer is as simple as this.  I’m an inveterate music radio dial twister whenever I’m driving, listening to JazzFM91 and SiriusXM stations from Little Steven’s Underground Garage, to the E-Street channel, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Buffet, Classic Vinyl, CBC Classical, some country & western, and the 50s, 60, 70s and 80s, on a regular basis. This all happens after I get my sports radio fix on Toronto stations 590, 1050, and the 680News 10-minute wheel.

So, is that from where the songs are coming? Are some of the tunes I hear getting buried unbeknownst to me?  Am I a frustrated wanna’ be radio jock?  Or do I simply enjoy basic and cross-genre musical melodies and just store them away?

I don’t know the answers, but some of my family and friends have told me they’d love to have this ‘musical malady’ rather than weird and/or often frightening dreams. Even the happy dreamers say they’d prefer awakening to my ‘condition.’

Dr. Sacks says “our sensitivity to music can sometimes go wrong ….and subject us to hours of mental replay, and how a surprising number of people acquire nonstop mental hallucinations that assault them day and night. Yet more frequently music gets it right.”

Here’s what I find fascinating. Dr. Sacks describes how music can animate people with Parkinson’s disease who cannot otherwise move, give words to stroke patients who cannot otherwise speak and calm and organize people whose memories are ravaged by Alzheimer’s or amnesia.

Somehow, without looking too far down the road, I might be one of the lucky ones to avoid those illnesses, because I have this “musicophilia” condition, whatever the cause, and it’s not going away any time soon.

So, let the band play on.

You can find David Eisenstadt’s full songlist below, it just bring music to your ears this summer!

OCTOBER 2015

MY EYES ADORED YOU – Sun, Oct. 4

LITTLE STAR – Mon. Oct. 5

MORE – Tues. Oct. 6

IT’S A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD – Wed. Oct. 7

AT THE HOP – Thurs. Oct. 8

FLY ME TO THE MOON – Fri. Oct. 9

EVERYBODY LOVES A LOVER – Sat. Oct. 1

NORWEGIAN WOOD – Sun. Oct. 11

IT’S RAINING IN MY HEART – Mon. Oct. 12

DON’T LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON ME – Tues. Oct. 13

PARTY DOLL – Wed. Oct. 14

YOU ARE THE SUNSHINE OF MY LIFE – Thurs. Oct. 15

JUST ASK YOUR HEART – Fri. Oct. 16

ISLAND GIRL – Sat. Oct. 17

GRANADA– Sun. Oct. 18

IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD (LA) – Mon. Oct. 19

DOWN ON THE CORNER – Tues. Oct. 20

MR. PIANOMAN – Wed. Oct. 21

LA BAMBA – Thurs. Oct. 22

I WALK THE LINE – Fri. Oct. 23

SUNSHINE SUPERMAN – Sat. Oct. 24

SAY THAT YOU LOVE ME – Sun. Oct. 25

SONG FOR OWEN – Mon. Oct. 26

ONLY THE LONELY – Tues. Oct. 27

THAT’S THE WAY, I LIKE IT – Wed. Oct. 28

SUNDOWN – Thurs. Oct. 29

MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS – Fri. Oct. 30

NOVEMBER 2015

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Sat. Nov. 1

CAN’T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU – Mon. Nov. 2

TELL ME WHY – Tues. Nov 3

SAY THAT YOU LOVE ME – Wed. Nov. 4

UNCHAINED MELODY – Thurs. Nov. 5

MORE – Fri. Nov. 6

LONELY WEEKEND – Sat. Nov. 7

HAWAII 5-0 – Sun. Nov. 8

HEARTACHE – Mon. Nov. 9

I LOVE HOW YOU LOVE ME – Tues. Nov. 10

O SOLE MIO – Wed. Nov. 11

GOOD OLD ROCK N ROLL – Thurs. Nov. 12

76 TROMBONES – Fri. Nov. 13

OH DONNA – Sat. Nov. 14

SUNNY SIDE OF THE STEET – Sun. Nov. 15

I’M GOING TO SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER – Thurs. Nov. 19

WONDERFUL WORLD – Fri. Nov. 20

BONA SERA – Sat. Nov. 21

JUST WALK ON BY, WAIT ON THE CORNER – Sun Nov. 22

SUGAR IN THE MORNING – Mon. Nov 23

CAN’T GET USED TO LOSING YOU –   Tues. Nov. 24

JENNY JENNY JENNY – Wed. Nov. 25

LOVE LETTERS STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART – Thurs. Nov. 26

VOLARE – Fri. Nov. 27

EVERY SHALALA – Sat. Nov. 28

SONG FOR OWEN – Sun. Nov. 29

IT’S UP TO YOU – Mon. Nov. 30

DECEMBER 2015

I WALK THE LINE – Tues. Dec. 1

DOWN BY THE STATION – Wed. Dec. 2

THE GREAT PRETENDER – Thurs. Dec. 3

HANG ‘EM HIGH – Fri. Dec. 4

SUMMERTIMES BLUES – Sat. Dec. 5

EVERY DAY IT IS GETTING CLOSER (BH) – Sun. Dec. 6

LE DONA E MOBILE – Mon. Dec. 7

TELL HIM – Tues. Dec. 8

WOODEN HEART – Wed. Dec. 9

FLOWERS ON THE WALL – Thurs. Dec. 10

AIN’T SHE SWEET – Fri. Dec. 11

YOU’RE SO VAIN – Sat. Dec. 12

NEED YOUR LOVIN’ TONITE (EP) – Sun. Dec. 13

LET IT SNO, LET IT SNO – Mon. Dec. 14

MR. BASSMAN – Tues. Dec. 15

IN DREAMS (RO) – Wed. Dec. 16

WONDERFUL WORLD – Thurs. Dec. 17

SHE SAY AH OOM – Fri. Dec. 18

LET THE LITTLE GIRL DANCE – Sat. Dec. 19

MAYBE BABY – Sun. Dec. 20

THIS DOOR SWINGS BOTH WAYS – Mon. Dec. 21

TIL THE MORNING COMES (NY) – Tues. Dec. 22

DOWN ON MAINSTREET – Wed. Dec. 23

THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE – Thurs. Dec. 24

CHRISTMAS IN KILLARNEY – Fri. Dec. 25

NORTH TO ALASKA – Sat. Dec. 26

THE ANGELS LISTENED IN – Sun Dec. 27

CRYING OVER YOU (RO) – Mon. Dec. 28

FIVE FOOT TWO EYES OF BLUE – Tues. Dec. 29

PATCHES – Wed. Dec. 30

DANCING QUEEN – Thurs. Dec. 31

JANUARY 2016

THE LION SLEEPS TONITE – Jan 1

UNFORGETTABLE – Jan 2

PERSONALITY – Jan3

YAKITTY YAK – Jan 4

WHERE OR WHEN – Jan 5

DOMINIQUE, NIQUE, NIQUE – Jan 6

THINK IT OVER – Jan 7

SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED – Jan 8

SEVENTY-SIX TROMBONES – Jan 9

EVERYBODY LOVES SOMEBODY SOMETIME – Jan 10

MARCH OF THE TOREADORS – Jan 11

LITTLE DARLIN’ –  Jan 11

JUST WALK ON BY, WAIT ON THE CORNER – Jan 12

STAY WITH ME – Jan 13

TZENA TZENA TZENA – Jan 14

DONNA PRIMA DONNA (F VALLI) – Jan 15

O MY PAPA – Jan 16

SUNNY – Jan 17

CELITO LINDO – Jan 18

YOU ARE THE SUNSHINE OF MY LIFE – Jan 19

THAT’S THE WAY I LIKE IT – Jan 20

ON THE ROAD AGAIN – Jan 21

SUNSHINE SUPERMAN – Jan 22

TIME PASSAGES – Jan 23

TRACES – Jan 24

ISLAND GIRL – Jan 25

TELL ME WHY – Jan 26

ONCE IN A WHILE – Jan 27

CHAPEL IN THE MOONLIGHT – Jan 28

LES MIS – STORMING THE BARRICADES – Jan 29

BROWN EYED GIRL – Jan 30

LOVE WILL KEEP US ALIVE –  Jan 31

FEBRUARY 2016

WHISPERING BELLS – Feb 1

MEXICO – Feb 2

SMILE – Feb 3

ROOT BEER RAG – Feb 4

NEW YORK, NEW YORK  – Feb 5

NEW YORK STATE OF MIND – Feb. 6

LITTLE DARLIN’ – Feb. 7

JAMMIN’ – Feb. 8

BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND – Feb. 9

A WHITE SPORT COAT – Feb. 10

ANGEL EYES – Feb. 11

GEORGIA ON MY MIND – Feb. 12

INDIAN LAKE – Feb. 13

NEVER MY LOVE – Feb. 14

LENINGRAD – Feb. 15

SO FAR AWAY FROM YOU – Feb. 16

GODFATHER THEME – Feb. 17

MY BLUE HEAVEN – Feb. 18

THE HOCKEY SONG – Feb. 19

AIN’T SHE SWEET – Feb. 20

TEQUILA SUNRISE – Feb. 21

RUBY, RUBY WHEN WILL U B MINE – Feb. 22

REBEL ROUSER – Feb. 23

UPTOWN GIRL – Feb. 24

EL PASO – Feb. 25

KUMBAYA – Feb. 26

SIHILOUETTES ON THE SHADE – 27

NEED YOUR LOVE SO MUCH (Elvis) – 28

LITTLE STAR – 29

MARCH 2016

LIPSTICK ON YOUR COLLAR – 5

MASHED POTATO – 6

WHEN I FALL IN LOVE – 7

ALONE – 8

LIES (The Knickerbockers) – 9

YELLOW SUBMARINE – 10

TEMPTATION – 11

TIRED OF WAITING (the Kinks) – 12

RUM IS THE REASON (Toby Keith) – 13

BLUE BAYOU – 14

BROWN EYED GIRL – 15

LAUGHIN’ (Burton Cummings) – 16

MEXICO (Bob Crew Orchestra) – 17

JUST ASK YOUR HEART – 18

OCTOPUS’S GARDEN (Beatles) – 19

ZANZIBAR – 20

ONE PARTICULAR HARBOUR (Jimmy Buffet) – 21

SUSAN – 22

COME MONDAY – 23

LONELY BULL – 24

CLEMENTINE – 25

MAYBELLINE – 26

EVERYDAY HOUSEWIFE – 27

APRIL  2016

TIGHTROPE (Leon Russell ) – 1

GREEN TAMBOURINE – 2

I WALK THE LINE – 3

YOU KNOW WHAT I LIKE – 4

SWEET CAROLINE – 5

SAVE YOUR HEART FOR ME – 6

FEEL SO FINE – 7

SUNNYSIDE OF LIFE – 8

I WRITE THE SONGS – 9

JUST THE WAY YOULOOK TONITE – 10

SURFER GIRL – 11

RAINDROPS KEEP FALLING ON MY HEAD – 12

THAT’S AMORE – 13

I’D LIKE TO TEACH THE WORLD TO SING – 14

RHYTHM OF THE (FALLING) RAIN – 15

SWEET CHERRY WINE – 16

YOU R MY SUNSHINE – 17

WIPEOUT – 18

I SAW LINDA YESTERDAY – 19

DIANA – 20

ANGEL EYES (Jeff Healey) – 21

A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON – 22

ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE – 23

SCARLETT RIBBONS – 24

UP THE LAZY RIVER – 25

PURPLE RAIN – 26

PEG OF MY HEART – 27

YOU’RE SO VAIN -28

LOOKING BACK – 29

ANGEL EYES – 30

MAY 2016

OOH BABY I LOVE YOUR WAYS – 1

SUNSHINE SUPERMAN – 2

JUST THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT – 3

OH SUZY Q – 4

MOON RIVER – 5

SHE’S GOT TO BE SOMEBODY’S BABY – 6

HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE – 7

MRS. ROBINSON -8

WON’T YOU COME HOME BILL BAILEY – 9

RAMBLIN’ MAN – 10

SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET -11

WALK DON’T RUN – 12

SWEET GEORGIA BROWN – 13

PEGGY SUE – 14

IT’S A LOVERS QUESTION – 15

STAY (JUST A LITTLE BIT LONGER) – 16

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr – PR Consultants to News Makers® in Toronto – tcgpr.com.

Mock and Roll at Ottawa’s Air Guitar Championships

June 6, 2016 6:31 am
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All photos by Andre Gagne.

I’d never seen a giant banana have a seizure before. To tell you the truth, it’s a soothing kind of hypnotic I can liken only to the times where I may have drunk more NyQuil than the cold required. As one in the bewildered crowd watching him, this mass of yellow blur wildly gyrating across the stage as though the man inside the costume also had a few irate hamsters in there with him, three thoughts went through my mind: How does the guitar solo to “Hotel California” go? How did I get myself into this? and Oh God, I’m next!

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Banana man hits the stage.

Two hours before I found myself being hypnotized by a large banana playing an invisible instrument, I was trying to coerce a blonde in shades and a Batman t-shirt to join me while I covered what proved to be the most bizarre story to come my way since reading Naked Lunch in my late teens.  “Come on,” says I to fellow journalist Terry Steeves, “when are you going to ever get to see this kind of thing again, huh?”

Terry looked at me as though I had ferrets on my face and, surprisingly, said she was in. As my grandmother used to say, friends, never underestimate a gal in a Batman shirt. Two buses later, we were walking into the House of Targ where pinball dreams are found and lost for the price of pocket change. We didn’t quite know what we were getting ourselves into but, as is often the case in times of need, a man dressed as Pikachu appeared to show us the way. Unknown to Terry and I, the Pikachu had plans to recruit us into the madness that is the Ottawa Air Guitar Championships.

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Terry Steeves shows Targ how to rock!

When I was a kid, like most teenagers with zero musical talent outside of being able to passably play “Three Blind Mice” on the recorder, many nights were spent in the dim light of my room rocking out to tunes like “Detroit Rock City”, “Sweet Child O’Mine”, “Crazy Train” and “Eyes of a Stranger” (Hey, it was the 80’s, lay off Queensrÿche!) In the teenage bedrooms across Canada we were all rock stars. You didn’t need to be able to play; you just needed to imagine you could.

Since 1996, however, Oulu, Finland has been trying to get you out of your room and into rock and roll reality -well, as much as pretending to play an invisible Strat while wearing a glow in the dark thong can be called reality. It is there that the Air Guitar World Championships are held and people from all over the globe come to participate. Canada’s branch started back in 2007, dying out briefly before Tim “Glen Airy Glen Rocks” Evans, 2007 Canadian Champion, brought it back in 2014. He’s been shipping Canucks off to Finland to follow their dreams ever since. Ottawa’s own Jason “Thrust” McNeely is a great example. He rocked all the way to Oulu last year after being crowned the Canadian king of air guitar in Toronto.

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Thelonius Star Brand.

“Competing on the world stage was completely electric! You’re in front of thousands of screaming people who are there to see you act like a rock star,” McNeely says. “Last year it was pouring rain, but over 8,000 people still showed up. It’s such an amazing feeling to be up there. Nothing compares to it.”

“A good Air Guitarist is someone who can move, who loves the music and without an instrument can make a rock show come alive,” says Evans. “It’s ridiculously fun. We keep it positive and light-hearted. It’s actually a great way to enjoy your favourite guitar-based music. As you get into it you start to really want to push your performances into new places, find new songs, and explore the art form.”

To McNeely, a good actual guitarist is made by hours of practicing to master the instrument.  An air guitarist, however, he says, needs only beer, passion, love, and beer. Back at Targ, Terry and I were about to discover that another three beers might be in order and quick! Pikachu, aka Freakachu, aka Sandy Gibson, was looking for what he calls “Brave Souls”, the fearless ones unprepared but willing to take one minute of their lives for the chance to live in air guitar infamy. Sure, there’s also the chance that one might make an utter fool of themselves but, he said, “when you’re playing air guitar you can’t be holding a gun.”

Somehow that seemed like sound enough logic for me. Besides, it was for a good cause with Gibson and other organizers of the event donating funds raised that evening to Right to Play, a global organization that “uses transformative power of play to educate and empower children facing adversity.” Plus, there was a ticket for a free beer if you signed up. Sold!

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The Weekend Warrior flies!

“A flair for the dramatic and willingness to be a goof,” Gibson says help with these types of competitions. “Knowing your song, actually making it look like you’re playing the guitar, innovative gestures, attitude, and crowd involvement” also help, he adds, and then motions us over to a table where we will sign our waiver.

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The Space Mime Continuum.

Wait? What? Waiver? Three W’s attached to question marks most people probably never want to ever be faced with. The two page document began with the line: “I acknowledge that participating in this event or any other activity related involved INHERENT DANGERS, may be HAZARDOUS and involves RISK OF PHYSICAL INJURIES OR DEATH”. Those are their all caps, not mine.

Well, I thought, I gather even frolicking in a pool of ostrich feathers while eating Ben and Jerry’s can carry a few risks. Where do I sign? Nowhere, thankfully, did it request for my soul nor did the document need to be inked in my blood. In fact, I think I scrawled my signature with a Hello Kitty pen. Rock on!

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The crowd at Targ looks on.

I chose the Eagles “Hotel California” from a list that included “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Ace of Spades”, “Born to be Wild” and, for some bizarre reason, Abba’s “Dancing Queen.” At this point, if Terry was thinking how I only invited her to the event, not to shred on her own air guitar in front of a bunch of strangers, she didn’t say anything, signing away and selecting Heart’s “Crazy On You” to perform to. At least with her comic book t-shirt and shades she looked the part. I looked down at myself wondering how many guitarists, air or otherwise, became famous wearing khaki pants and Fruit of the Loom socks their dad got them for Christmas.

Wait, didn’t Hendrix start that way?

“So, when does this thing start anyway,” I asked, trying not to think too hard about my look.

“At 10,” the guy at the sign-up table said. I glanced at my phone. That was only 10 minutes away. Ack! I have to practice. Wait, how do I practice playing air?

“Cody, your perogies are ready,” came an announcement from above.

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Facial expressions like this score points with the judges.

Sweat pooling, frantically trying to remember every lick of the “Hotel California” solo –I’d only get one random minute of the song to actually perform to– I turned to Justin Beauchamp in the seat next to me. He’d just moved to Ottawa from Montreal and was sporting a Macho Man t-shirt. Clothing baring 80’s wrestling icons is more than enough for me to strike up a conversation with you.

“This is one of the first things we saw a billboard for. I had to see what this was all about,” he told me. “Everybody has played air guitar in their bedrooms at one point in their lives, in their cars. I had to see it on stage.”

I mustered my best Randy Savage “Ohhh yeahhhh” in parting before being ushered into one of Targ’s back rooms along with the other participants where we would choose our performance order. It’s not every day you find yourself in cramped office with a mime, a surgeon, a Pokémon and Little Black Riding Death. Oh yeah, the banana was there too. Each of us chose our stage name. I went first, immediately regretting the lack of imagination in going with my old CB radio handle, Havoc. After me there was Thelonius Star Brand, Sonic Song Bird, the Weekend Warrior and the Space Mime Continuum. Terry would choose the Blond Terror and the only other female in the contest, the one dressed like a cute anime Grim Reaper, was Gen the Geek Girl.

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Jason “Thrust” McNeely showed the crowd why he became the Canadian champ.

“I think everyone has their own way of prepping themselves,” my mentor –even though I’d met him minutes ago– Jason McNeely says. “Personally, nothing beats a few cold India Pale Ales.”

He’d later nearly dent his skull with a beer can while showing us all how he took the air guitar world by a wet, beer soaked storm. I didn’t think I was ready to be that extreme just yet but I did need a costume. Thankfully, Gibson had brought a bin of props, clothing and wigs. There really wasn’t any time to ask if it had been washed or deloused. I picked up a brown wig, a green tie, some sunglasses Elton John wouldn’t wear and a plastic hook because, well, why not?

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Just another Brave Soul rocking.

“Cody, your perogies are ready,” the announcement from above informed us again.

They began pumping the place with more smoke than a Vegas casino at 4AM, an Old Faithful eruption and what might accumulate if Cheech Marin ever threw a party for Bob Marley and Snoop Dog. The crowd walked over and encircled the performance area. Costume in hand and feeling fairly confident I knew the Eagles’ tune alright, a surge of adrenaline suddenly welled up in me. You know, I thought, this isn’t going to be disastrous. I’ve had years of practice doing this. That Macho Man shirt guy was right! Everybody can air guitar. Who knows, I might have a chance, I might rock this place, I might actually win and go to Fin…

Then I looked up at the banana and, pun very much intended, those dreams vanished into thin air. Never have I seen an oversized fruit man rock harder, his little flap tearing at the air, his hands perfectly playing his unseen axe. As I watched his face reddened into a purple/red hue, I knew I’d never beat the banana. I now had two choices: 1) make for the back door, change my name to Kanye and move to Mexico until nobody remembered I was the guy who ran away from the air guitar contest; or 2) roll with it, baby!

“Cody, your perogies are still ready!”

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Ottawa Life’s Andre Gagne performs.

My stage name was called. I looked over at Terry, a mess of sweat from her performance a few songs ago. I glanced over at the judges table. McNelly was there along with Kristine Shadid from Crush Improv, Nancy Slater from Majic 100.3 and Suns of Stone guitarist Jimmy King. I slipped my hook over my left hand. It was time to make history.

Orrr, time to prance around like a fool for one minute suddenly realizing that in the span of time it took to walk from chair to stage I’d forgotten the entire song I’d chosen as well as the band that wrote it and the entire state mentioned in said song.

“Devil horns when ready,” I was told. I barely had time to question what that meant before the music started.

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A plastic hook does not a champion make.

What transpired over the following minute is pretty hazy but I am told it involved me playing the wrong end of the air guitar with my plastic hook, two windmill motions that might account for the shoulder stiffness today, an attempt to play the tie as though it were a banjo and a whole lot of facial expressions usually made by power lifters or people who have recently dropped shot-puts onto their toes. I realized you never know how out of shape you are until you attempt to play an instrument that’s not really there at the speed you might use if being chased by a pack of panthers.

Still, it was a pretty amazing minute of ludicrous fun. You do just lose yourself in the moment. I could actually see the banjo in my hand even though I should have been picturing a 1960’s Les Paul. Suddenly, I was a kid again –an out of breath kid who probably should exercise a bit more, but a kid nevertheless.

The judges were kind. I scored slightly higher than Cody’s unclaimed plate of perogies.

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Gen the Geek Girl shreds!

The Mime, Star Brand and the others would have their moment to shine but the guitar heroine of the night would be Gen the Geek Girl. Her Baby Metal performance was nothing short of amazing. She even had her own pyro! From jumping up onto an empty chair while the crowd chanted for more, to her perfect combination of believable playing mixed with over the top reactions, Gen rocked like a gal who’d been practicing for 12 months. That’s because she had.

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Gen takes to the floor!

“I spent a lot of time listening to the exact same minute of the exact same song in the car and visualizing what I would do,” she would tell me later in the evening. “I thought of how I was going to move, what my hands would do but eventually you just get up on stage and throw that all out the window because you just let it take you over and you do whatever the hell you want to do.”

Geek Girl, whose real name is Genevieve LeBlanc, stumbled into the competition last year and realized it was something she had to try.

“It’s unsurprisingly vulnerable but also surprisingly empowering,” she says of what it felt like to finally perform after a year of practice.  “There’s something to be said about getting up in front of a huge crowd of people and saying: this is me, this is who I am, and this is what I will do and you will enjoy it.”

By the time the final round ended –one where participants were unaware what song they would be doing– there was no doubt who had owned the night.

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Ottawa Air Guitar Champion, Gen the Geek Girl

“Gen! Gen! Gen!” the crowd shouted. LeBlanc, who has her own game review radio show on Live 88.5, the Geek Girl Game Guide, was beside herself when the inevitable announcement of her win was declared by the judges.

“Anyone can do it, and everyone should,” said Evans. “We have a 73-year-old Mr. Bob who is quickly becoming a legend. We have trans people, corporate types, artists, comedians, teachers, office types. It’s all for a good cause. Once people do it, they quickly get the point that it’s just a fun way to show off and be a rock star for even one minute.”

Evans tells Ottawa Life that Gen’s next step will be to wow the judges in Toronto as she did in Ottawa then, if she wins there, it’s off to Finland!

“All love. No fear,” was LeBlanc’s advice to those thinking of partaking in their own path to air guitar glory. “If you want to go for it and you think it will bring something positive to the world, do it. Let yourself be happy.”

Three hours later, it’s four in the morning and the words to “Hotel California” finally come back to me. I can’t sleep. I slip the headphones over my ears, crank up Queensrÿche, fingers at the ready, and I look towards next year, pausing only for a moment to wonder if Cody ever got his perogies.

One Year (A)LIVE on Elgin!

May 30, 2016 12:14 pm
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Father son team of Jon and Lawrence Evenchick celebrate year one at LIVE! on Elgin. All photos by Andre Gagne

He’s been a booking agent, a promoter, a manger and a band member. For a guy who’s been involved with the local music scene for nearly 10 years, it only seemed natural that the next step for Jon Evenchick was to open a venue in the centre of town where he could be all of the above while simultaneously giving others a place to perform. Getting to do all that alongside his father Lawrence, well, that’s just icing on the birthday cake for LIVE! On Elgin. The venue is celebrating its first year with a three day festival starting on June 3.

“Honestly, I wanted to open a music hall at first, but the timing just wasn’t right,” says Evenchick.  “After chatting with members of the community, and looking at the gaps in the market, we decided that a small venue that could also support local growing theatre groups and music promoters who can’t afford a large hall made more sense.”

After graduating from Algonquin College’s Business Management program, Evenchick started conducting polls and surveys of those in the community and local music scene. What was missing, he asked them? The answer was surprising: go smaller, not bigger. Armed with this information, he set his sights on finding a venue in Ottawa with a similar feel to the popular Blacksheep Inn over in Wakefield. He found it on Elgin Street.

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Lynne Hanson performs at LIVE! on Elgin earlier this year.

“Elgin is at the heart of our town, but lacks live entertainment. Maxwell’s was the only venue on the street, outside of the National Arts Centre. Maxwell’s has since closed, and the National Arts Centre is simply not an option for smaller performances. On top of that, the timing was right as the space we entered was coming up for rent.”

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Some reminders left by a lot of great shows!

220 Elgin, right above Dunn’s restaurant, was once a spa, a lawyer’s office and a couple of apartments. Evenchick, his father and their team had to demolish all the walls to really let the space breathe as well as redo the flooring and lots of the wiring. The result leaves the space very open for the 90 or so people who can fit inside. The bar remains central but allows a larger area for the performance space, which was key to how they wanted the place designed. People looking to see a show wouldn’t have to be obstructed by bar traffic. There is also a separate lounge area with some comfortable seating for those just wanting to chill and chat. Hungry? No problem. The place worked out a deal with Dunn’s to provide food to patrons.

“LIVE! on Elgin is a hub for local musicians. People don’t just come here to see shows; they come to network,” says Evenchick.  “Our regulars are all members of the arts community. The first thing I recommend to people who want to book here is come see a show, chat with the audience members, chances are you’ll find a bill to jump on. We’re a family; all of our employees are artists, and they’ve made amazing industry connections thanks to their work with us.”

Related: Killing Time with Lynne Hanson

Since Mayor Jim Watson wielded a sledgehammer to punch the first hole in the wall last year, the venue has become one of the most respected in the city, not just among music lovers and musicians but also within the theatre community. Lawrence has had ties to local theatre since the late 70’s and wanted to see another space in Centretown for those types of performances. The varied programming certainly gives the venue more options as it branches out over different audiences for their shows.

“It’s something that really adds to our quality of life and it’s one of the reasons we’re constantly ranked high…when it comes to trying to attract people and talent to live and work in Ottawa,” Mayor Watson told Glue Magazine last year. “They want to have these kinds of venues, they want that cultural experience. It’s not just about work.”

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Evenchick looks back on the year not only as a learning experience but also one that saw many amazing shows roll through the venue. The Balconies, Lynne Hanson, Monday I Retire, Craig Cardiff and the Lakes of Canada are just some of the stellar Canadian talent that was showcased in year one.

“When you come for a show, you are up-close and personal with your favourite acts. Presenting shows like these makes us so proud and reminds us why we opened this venue.”

Live on Elgin (4 of 4)wTo celebrate their anniversary, Evenchick wanted to throw a bash that would stay true to his vision as well as thank some of the musicians that have supported LIVE! On Elgin since day one. The three-day party will include performances by 10 bands headlined by Trunk (June 3), The Cardboard Crowns (June 4), and The Stringers (June 5). The Trench Town Oddities, Big Moan and the Kents are just a few of the other acts you can check out. Tickets are available online through the venue’s website.

Looking ahead to year two, Evenchick plans to continue with more of the same while building the venue’s reputation as the place to go when in search of live entertainment in Ottawa. This is a music city, he says, and LIVE! On Elgin is happy to be in the middle of it.

“Ottawa has a wealth of talented performers and great shows going on almost every night. Year after year we continue to see the attitude towards Ottawa’s music scene grow more positive, and we’re proud to be a part of that.”

Remembering Gil Levine with the Power of Song

May 29, 2016 8:30 pm
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Photos by Andre Gagne

A child of Jewish immigrants born into depression-era Toronto, Gilbert Levine (February 3, 1924-Novembr 16, 2009) has been called one of the most influential labour leaders of his time.  As the first Research Director of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), he was a pioneer in the practice of collecting, analyzing and utilizing facts to support his views and back up union positions. For a while he had a sign on his office door: Just the Facts. A tireless activist, strong willed and principled, his family would say he was “happiest when he was fighting for change, winning rights for workers and organizing everybody.”

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Gil Levine circa 1976 (Credit the Canadian Union of Public Employees)

As early as his teens, Levine fought against what he thought was wrong in the world, joining the peace movement and helping draft resistors from the war in Vietnam. He also loved folk music; his heroes included Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs. In fact, back in the late 50’s when Seeger was blacklisted in the United States, Levine was instrumental in bringing the singer to Ottawa to perform.

“There wasn’t much money, but we had lots of records in our house,” says Gil’s daughter Tamara, recalling listening and singing along to songs by the Weavers, Burl Ives and, of course, Seeger. “I went to Sam the Record Man with my dad when we lived in Toronto and sat in a booth with headphones on listening to a Weavers LP spinning on the turntable. Nobody had headphones then. It was magical!”

Though he didn’t play an instrument or have the voice some of his folk heroes did, Levine knew that there was something powerful about getting a group of people together to sing; that, perhaps, song could make a difference be they sung around campfires, in the comfort of living rooms or in the hostility of picket lines. With this in mind, along with wife Helen, he’d have gatherings in his home simply to share songs. They called them hootenannies –a Scottish word for celebration and long adopted by Seeger and Woody Guthrie to describe gatherings in the folk/protest movements. Joan Baez once said that a hootenanny is “to folk singing what a jam session is to jazz.”

After Gil’s passing, it only seemed fitting that such a party be held in his honour. The next year, held on May Day, the International Workers’ Day, a group gathered for what would become an annual tradition: Gil’s Hootenanny.

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Tamara Levine and friends at the Gil’s Hootenanny 2016.

“The theme of the Hootenanny has always been Songs of Protest and Hope because we believe it doesn’t make sense to protest unless you also offer an alternative vision for how things could be in the world,” says Tamara Levine. “In the earlier hootenannies, we had lots of performers, mostly singer-songwriters. Three years ago we started a Hootenanny Band whose job it was to get everyone singing. The same year, we started a song writing contest to encourage the writing of new sing-along-able songs with the themes of protest and hope.”

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Tony Turner performing “Harperman”.

In 2015, one hootenanny singer’s life would be forever changed by one of those songs. With his winning song “Harperman” –a protest tune about then Prime Minister Stephen Harper– local musician Tony Turner was suspended from his job at Environment Canada when a video of the song took on a life of its own and went viral eventually turning Turner into a public crusader in his own right. He would recreate the video with some of the original singers at the 2016 event.

“A good protest song has to be easy for people to learn.  People should be able to join into the song the first time they hear it, with no need for printed lyrics,” says Gil’s Hootenanny mainstay, Chris White. “The song needs to have an engaging rhythm, a catchy melody, and a chorus that’s easy for everyone to sing along with. The song should appeal to people’s emotions and motivate them to take action.”

Once the artistic director of the Ottawa Folk Festival, White has helped keep the local folk scene alive over last 25 years. He has fond memories of Gil, calling him not only a friend but also a mentor.

“I was impressed and influenced by his unwavering commitment to social and economic justice, and by his belief in the power of song to support those goals,” says White. “He championed collective singing as a way to touch people’s hearts and move them to action.”

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Sharon and Bram entertain all ages.

Planning for the annual event usually begins in the fall with, for the first time, the 2016 Hootenanny involving a separate family show. When you get legendary children’s entertainers Bram Morrison and Sharon Hampson (of Sharon, Lois and Bram fame) to join the party it isn’t hard to see why organizers traded in some of the protest tunes for songs like “Peanut Butter (And Jelly)” and “Skinnamarink” for a special morning concert.

With children dancing everywhere and parents singing along to tunes they learned as a child themselves, Sharon and Bram lit up the Glebe Community Centre with so many smiles. The two returned for the later show leading a parade of singers around the crowd, encouraging all to sing along.

White tells Ottawa Life that, based on the success of Ottawa’s event, the organizers are planning to help bringing similar events to other communities. They are even preparing a How to Hootenanny Kit.

“Humans –like birds– are biologically designed to sing and to respond to singing.  Around the world, parents instinctively sing to babies, people create new songs, and people move and dance to the sounds of music,” he says. “Huge numbers of people have been moved to work for positive change through singing. The do it yourself aspect of folk music means that everyone can participate.  At a physical level, the interactions created by human voices singing together makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts.”

Tamara Levine could be seen in the front row, often joining hands with friends, swaying and singing. By the time Gil’s daughter took to the stage, it was clear the vision of her father was still alive and well in those gathered to share these songs with one another.

“His spirit lives on never more so then when people get together to sing,” she said to those gathered. “We can all sing. There is no wrong note as long as you’re singing it. Please keep on singing. We have to keep singing together to make the world a better place.”

Carrie Underwood’s “Homecoming” Story

May 28, 2016 5:17 pm
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Photos by Michael Wing

“It’s so crazy how one decision can just change the trajectory of your life and you end up in Ottawa on stage talking about the past crazy 11 years,” Carrie Underwood told the crowd gathered around her inside the Canadian Tire Centre. As the cheers flooded the stage, the country music sensation smiled, pausing for a moment to perhaps wonder how different things may have been if she hadn’t have tried out for a little reality show called American Idol just over a decade ago. After multiple awards for her five albums and subsequent tours, Underwood had some stories to tell in Ottawa Friday night.

Underwood’s Storytellers Tour began with the familiar opening chords of AC/DC’s “Back in Black” blasting out as the lights washed over the audience and descended over the massive stage set in the middle of the arena with multiple moving pieces allowing the singer to perform from different heights and angles. Dressed in glimmering gold, Underwood began the show by ascending from the centre, chain-link mic stand in hand, belting out “Renegade Runaway” from the top of what would become a structure that resembled a giant chandelier. The woman knows how to make an entrance.

Underwood-10“Don’t be mistaken, she may be pretty but she can get nitty and gritty,” said Big Ginger, one half of Country 101.1’s Unbalanced Breakfast earlier in the evening.

“Carrie’s an interesting girl because she’s an American Idol winner that has stayed completely true to her country roots, especially in this world of crossover artists,” said the other half of the morning show and recent podcasting duo, Kenny Jones. “The sound of country music has evolved and she’s evolved with it.”

The two have watched Underwood’s star rise in a city that has a huge country music following which they relate to the music being so accessible with artists, like Underwood, that are down to Earth instead of up in the clouds.

“It’s honest. It’s true. It’s down home. It’s welcoming,” said an enthusiastic Jones.

Big Ginger, watching a gathering of elated fans rush into the arena, added: “It’s like a big plate of nice Southern food. It’s warm. It’s filling. It makes you feel good after you eat it and when you’re done partying you just want to nap.”

Underwood-7Nobody had had their fill just yet when Underwood rose up from mid-stage a second time, now in white and perched on a giant jukebox, sparks jetting out the side, as the crowd sang along to the hit “Cowboy Casanova”.

Some, like Marilyne Gascon, were already losing their voices by the sixth song. “She’s amazing!” she said between screams.

“She has a story to her music. It’s like a truth. It’s like she shares things that happen to her, her personal stories,” said Julia Cameron, wearing a new Carrie Underwood tour shirt she’d just purchased. “I’m really excited to see her outfits!”

Cameron would have plenty to see. Over the course of the 22 song set consisting of new and past favourites, Underwood would go through multiple wardrobe changes. All strut and smiles, the singer moved across the multi-layered stage, an attraction in itself, performing to all sides of the arena and leaving audiences to wonder where she would pop out next.

Whether she was elevated above the crowd under a giant disco ball creating thousands of specks of light over the audience, weaving around the band while large white sheets blew around her, rotating 360 degrees to wail her hits like “Jesus, Take the Wheel”, “Blown Away” and “Before He Cheats”, or picking up her CarrieCam and filming the crowd singing along to “All-American Girl”, Underwood would not be outdone by the flash and dazzle of pyro and lights. She owned this crowd.

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“It’s good to be back in Ottawa tonight!” she shouted. “We got a bit of a hometown crowd situation here.”

For a little awhile, Ottawans could call Underwood, at last partially, a local. The singer, married to former Ottawa Senator Mike Fisher, built a dream house on an 11-acre lot just outside the city. Underwood would often be seen in the crowd cheering her husband on as he blazed up the ice. “Wishing u still lived on Spruce Ridge Rd. Carp!” one sign in the in the crowd read, showing no hard feelings for Fisher moving out to Nashville to strap on his skates for the Predators.

“One of the most incredible things that’s happened in my life is I became a mother,” Underwood said.  “You think you got your life together, you think you know what’s going on, and then God throw’s you a big ol’ curve ball and says here’s something new. Here’s something wonderful.”

Underwood-3A touching video that played for the crowd during “What I Never Knew I Always Wanted” showed the couple hasn’t forgotten their time in Ottawa. Displaying images of their wedding and one-year old son, the crowd erupted when a shot of little Isaiah Michael appeared with the infant clutching some Sens merch.

“I think you guys cheered louder for Mike than you did for me,” the singer joked.

Continuously telling the crowd how thankful she was for her life and career, Underwood would slow things down a bit to pay tribute to one of her influences, performing a stunning rendition of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” before kicking things back into high gear for a cover of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Fishin’ in the Dark” . She was joined by one of the show openers, Easton Corbin, who knew how to charm the crowd. He rose from the stage in Sens jersey. The number? Fischer’s 12, of course!

After a two song encore, as she was slowly lowered back under the stage from where she rose two hours earlier, Underwood shouted: “You guys have always been so wonderful to me.” She continued to wave until her hand, remaining for a few seconds for one last goodbye, was lowered out of sight, leaving a satisfied crowd eagerly awaiting her next “homecoming”.

Setlist:

  1. Renegade Runaway
  2. Last Name/Something Bad
  3. Undo It
  4. Good Girl
  5. Church Bells
  6. Cowboy Casanova
  7. Heartbeat
  8. Jesus Take the Wheel
  9. Wasted
  10. Blown Away
  11. Two Black Cadillacs
  12. Dirty Laundry
  13. Choctaw County Affair
  14. I Will Always Love you (Dolly Parton cover)
  15. What I Never Knew I Always Wanted
  16. Fishin’ in the Dark (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band cover)
  17. Clock Don’t Stop
  18. All-American Girl
  19. Little Toy Guns
  20. Before He Cheats

Encore:

  1. Smoke Break
  2. Something in the Water

A Musical Farewell with Oliver Jones

May 20, 2016 12:32 pm
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Photos by Andre Gagne and supplied by the National Arts Centre.

Oscar Peterson watches the sun set from the corner, his piano by his side. A swinging melody plays from above as a couple hurriedly approaches. “I hear he plays just like him,” the woman says, jutting her thumb towards the statue of the famed Canadian jazz pianist before disappearing around the corner of Elgin and Albert, hurrying towards the National Arts Center for the final Ottawa performance by one of Peterson’s most accomplished protégés. If he were still with us, one could easily picture Peterson, his familiar smile wide and proud, there in the front row for this night of melancholy goodbyes.

“It’s been 70 years struggling with this baby here,” the protégé, 81-year-old Oliver Jones, says addressing the audience while lightly tapping the edge of his piano. “I feel happy but I still feel sad. This is probably the last time I’ll play here.”

The audience lets out a collective sigh towards the man on stage who received a standing ovation filled with thanks and warmth before his fingers even touched the keys. As though realizing he needed to lighten the mood, Jones added: “I look forward to a career in golf.”

Oliver Theophilus Jones was born on September 11, 1934 in Montreal’s Little Burgundy. He started playing piano at a young age. In a neighbourhood filled with musicians as well as athletes, however, the young Jones’s mind turned often to baseball as opposed to his piano studies. He recalls disliking practicing and a little sister that would keep him in line, running off to squeal to their father if Jones strayed from his daily two hour lessons. Things changed, however, when a five year old Oliver first heard Peterson play.

“I saw Oscar play at our church, Union United on Atwater Avenue, and it was quite a moving experience for me,” Jones recalls in an interview with Ottawa Life.  “I had never seen anyone play at Oscar’s level and I was truly fascinated.  When my family moved to Fulford St. we ended up living just around the corner from the Peterson family.  Oscar was 15 and he had a regular radio show. To us kids he was a celebrity already! We saw him every day in the neighbourhood and we were very impressed!”

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Oliver Jones with teacher Daisy Peterson.

Though he’d already discovered Boogie-woogie jazz and had dabbled in that style, Jones wanted to play like Oscar. Who better to turn to for tutelage, if not Peterson himself, than his sister Daisy. Daisy Peterson was an established teacher in the city but, to his youthful disdain, she would instruct Jones on a strict diet of classical music. Though Jones saw the value of her teaching, he continued those pieces in vein with other melodies in mind.

“It didn’t interest me as much as the latest crazes:  Boogie-woogie and swing,” he says, recalling how he’d often hear Peterson practicing from another room.  “Of course, the thing that inspired me about Oscar was his complete command of the piano at a young age and he was truly very disciplined as far as music was concerned. Extremely serious about anything pertaining to music, he didn’t fool around.”

Through Daisy’s teachings, he continued to shape his style often fooling his sister to thinking he was practicing his classical scales only to turn to jazz when she was out of earshot. He developed a sort of novelty act around the city, dancing while also playing the piano, sometimes from underneath the instrument or while hiding the keys with a sheet.  He’d even do the splits! A constant performer, Jones formed a band with some neighbourhood friends when he was about 11 and the group played dances in the area as well as some church functions. It wasn’t long before they started making a name for themselves, especially the young pianist who was already being compared to Peterson. Oscar’s career had already taken flight and, inspired by him, Jones was set to follow. By the time he turned 16, Jones was writing his own music, using scenes from the neighbourhood to inspire compositions like “Lights of Burgundy” and “Fulford Street Romp”.

oliver-jones2__largeJones began touring in 1953, though his career really took off in the 1980’s with the release of his first album, Live at Biddles. By the middle of the decade he was performing at major festivals across the country and overseas. His tour of Nigeria would become the subject of a 1990 National Film Board documentary. Shortly after its release, Jones would be named an Officer of the Order of Canada. His recordings have received 9 Juno nominations with two wins. In 2005 he was given Canada’s highest honour in the performing arts, the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award. However, perhaps it’s the accolade he received in 1990 that touches the pianist the most. Second only to Peterson himself, Jones was given the Oscar Peterson Award recognizing his contributions to jazz music in Canada.

With the praise of his pears and mentor, and many years on the stage behind him, the year 2000 seemed like a nice end point for the then 65-year-old. However, somebody told him it just wasn’t time for goodbye yet. That man was the very same one the young Jones used to listen to from behind closed doors, the one whose style he so wished to emulate.

“I had spent so many years on the road, my wife and I didn’t get a chance to travel together during those years and many of our friends were retiring so, I thought, it’s time. It lasted 4 ½ years. I was prompted to come back out of retirement by Oscar. I was in Toronto at his place and we got to talking about how I was too young,” says Jones relaying how shortly thereafter the two would share the stage at the 25th Anniversary of the Montréal Jazz Festival. “I thought, maybe I’ll just keep it simple, 10 or 15 concerts a year. I ended up doing 85 shows that year.  I’ve always had a problem saying no!”

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Oliver Jones performs at the National Arts Centre on his farewell tour.

This “problem” continued in his Ottawa farewell performance on May 19. Before the second set, Jones instructed the audience to place requests in a basket (“No hip hop”), as though the musician, knowing he would not return, wished to satisfy as many of those gathered as possible before the final note was played.

Alongside drummer Jim Doxas and bassist Éric Lagacé, the trio blazed through a swinging set that included favourites such as “Cheek to Cheek” and “Body and Soul”, a soul touching rendition of “Georgia On My Mind” and a medley of Gershwin tunes.

Picking out a request for the standard “Misty,” Jones joked, “You know, every night for 45 years I think, if I get by one night without playing “Misty” I’ll give everyone a hundred dollar bill. Well,” continued Jones disregarding the request, “somebody messed it up for you.”

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Concert goers were urged to sign a guest book for Jones.

There was a sense that the band was all in, that the finality of what they were working towards fuelled the performance. From engaging in a playful duel with the bass, to ensuring a young girl in the crowd was played a lullaby, Jones moved from showcasing his masterful speed to his graceful elegance with the tender ballads. Of course, there were stops in between to pay tribute to Peterson.

“Without Oscar Peterson and his family, I probably would not have become a pianist,” he said before dedicating one of Peterson’s seminal recordings, “Hymn to Freedom”, to Oscar’s daughter Celine who was in attendance that night.

Returning to play one more song alone in the spotlight, before leaving the NAC stage for the last time, Jones urged the audience to embrace up-and-coming Canadian musicians, passionately relaying how important it is for us not to let talent go to waste.

“So many of them are finding it hard to find work in their field and it can be very discouraging,” Jones said. “In the past I have gone to schools to speak to these young men and women about my life and hopefully to inspire them to follow their dreams and continue to create – just as Oscar inspired and encouraged me.”

Oliver-JonesThough the musician admits he is looking forward to his retirement, he will miss traveling across country, from Cape Breton to Victoria, seeing fans and friends along the way.

“I hope that over the years, after having the opportunity to play with so many wonderful musicians, that they will remember me as always being pleasant and enjoyable to work with,” Jones says.  “I think probably some of the most important and inspiring moments that I’ve had is playing with and watching the performances of so many amazing musicians. There are so many wonderful memories.”

With a final wave, Jones made his exit. Some of the audience, misty eyed, stood in place as though not wanting to acknowledge that this was, indeed, goodbye. Oscar said his farewell many years ago but, like Oliver Jones, the music will remain long after the farewells have been said and the tears have dried.

As the crowd exited that night, some walked by Peterson’s statue, ever the watcher from his spot on the corner, his piano playing somewhere above them in the Ottawa night. Perhaps the drop or two on Oscar’s sculpted face are the remains of an earlier shower of rain. Perhaps.

The Duality of Claudia Salguero

May 19, 2016 6:54 am
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All photos by Andre Gagne. 

The moment you walk into Claudia Salguero’s home you know you are in the residence of an artist. Flooded by colour, various pieces of artwork adorn the walls, most of it her own. Her images burst out at you from inside the frame, drawing you into her keen eye for detail within the urban landscape. Though they look like painted works, no acrylics or oils were needed for many on display. They began as photographs and became the unique works through digital manipulation, just one of her many talents.

Pulling yourself away, following the soft music playing throughout the kitchen, you see a digital picture frame of various images in rotation, vacation shots, mostly, images Salguero wants to remember but admits she might never see if they end up pinned down inside an album. Collected art pieces surround you, making you wonder where they all came from. All this before you even walk into her basement studio where various instruments await rehearsals for Salguero’s upcoming show at the National Arts Centre.  You see, not only is she a digital artist, but she also sings the romantic songs of her homeland, Colombia.

Art above and art below, two different mediums: one of colour and brush strokes and the other in the smooth, sensual vocals of Latin America. This is the duality of Claudia Salguero. To her, however, the two are not very far apart.

“They happen in different moments and spaces,” explains Salguero. “If you listen to the kind of music I like to perform and the kind of colours and textures I like to work with I think you see the same person behind them.”

Related: Claudia Salguero–100 per cent Artist in Everything she Does

Though she’s made Ottawa her home since 2001, Salguero hasn’t forgotten her Colombian roots. She often thinks of the warmth, the people and the celebrations that centred on music. There, she grew up dancing, and fresh tropical fruits were everywhere. Leaving Bogotá presented some challenges, such as strengthening her English and learning to adapt to the colder Canadian climate.

“I have to say, I felt welcome as an immigrant since the very first day. I have gown as a human being because of that and I have made amazing friends from many different countries.”

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Salguero’s musical career in Columbia got off to a bumpy start. She loved singing, but was exceptionally shy to the point of being unable to share her voice in public. When she was 11, a friend signed her up for a soloist completion in school. A reluctant Salguero accepted. The results were disastrous.

“It was not good. I was so shy and sang so soft that nobody could hear me. They started clapping to help me finish my song and I left,” she remembers.  Though such a traumatic event could have smothered any possible desire to pursue music publicly again, Salguero returned the next year and, this time, she won.

After arriving in Ottawa, she sought out Latin American musicians and started making music while continuing her photography and art career. In 2006 she discovered Corel Painter Digital Art Studio and was quickly hooked on the possibilities of enhancing her art and photographs with the software. She is currently one of three Painter Masters in Canada and, as she likes to say, the only one who is fluent Spanish. Going from teaching the techniques of digital art to painting large murals around town to singing Boleros such as “Si Dios me quita la vida”, her mother’s favourite, were not difficult transitions. She moves between her various careers as fluidly as the digital brushes that sweep across her computer screen.

In 2011 she was offered a chance to develop a new Latin jazz show at the NAC. It promptly sold out, and it has each year since. Salguero’s May 28 NAC Studio show is set to be an international affair. Her band mates include by Sylvio Modolo (piano) from Brazil, Izzy Martinez (guitar) from Mexico, Ken Seeley (bass) from the United States, Alvaro de Minaya (drums) JL Vasqueze on percussion from Chile, Canadian Jasmin Lalande on sax, trumpet by Great Britain’s Ed Lister, Togo’s Matthieu Mikando on Trombone, and flutes by Luis Abanto of Peru.

Tickets can be purchased at the NAC box office or online but best be quick, if the previous years are any indication, the show is sure to sell out.

Salguero took a break between rehearsals to sit down with Ottawa Life and discuss the new show, CANTARES, her view on how Latin American music is locally received, as well as her work as both a musician and artist.

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CANTARES poster art by Claudia Salguero

Ottawa Life: Your artwork is pretty unique, combining photos and digital painting. How did you discover a love for this process?

Claudia Salguero: Singing is something I can’t stop doing. Having talented musicians by my side and the support and view form my loved ones has been key in this aspect of my life. ​On the other hand, my hands and curiosity are my main tools and I think as a visual artist.​ I studied Graphic design in Colombia but I wanted to study art and soon after I became a professional photographer and multi-image producer. When computers showed up in the graphic world I got right into it and all that combined led me to become a digital artist. This discipline allowed me to combine my passion for photography and for painting at the same time. But the truth is that ​​being a full time artist hasn’t been easy. You have to work ​as creator ​and also promoter. You end up having two full time jobs and you don’t know if you’ll have a cheque ​at the end of the month or not.​ Not easy, but fun and always exciting.

Claudia (13 of 15)wCan you take me through your process in creating an art piece in contrast to your process in approaching a song?

Creating an art piece, a painting, a photograph or an ice sculpture is a solo action. It’s an individual process where you are asking and answering questions to yourself, and where the final product is your individual expression. Putting a song together with a ten-piece band is the opposite. The interaction, synchronization and communication between a band makes things more complex. The questions are asked and answered by many minds/hands playing many instruments at the same time. That is why it is so special to listen to and watch live music.

Can you tell me about putting together the new show CANTARES?

​Putting together CANTARES has been fun every year. ​This year I will be singing music from nine different countries for which we have included​ new instrumentation. Among the 23 instruments we have the cavaquinho, accordion, Peruvian flutes, udu, and xylophone. As a band we are so lucky to have been working together for so long. We are family now, a family that has as much fun on stage as during rehearsals.

These yearly shows have been exceptionally well received with sell-outs each year. Do you feel there is a large audience in Ottawa for Latin American music?

​Yes there is! The majority of my audience is non-Latin and I think that is because of the warmth and variety of Latin American music. The music is renowned by its rich mix of poetic content, exuberant harmonies, decadent vocal interpretation and instrumentation​and people want to listen to it. In my concert​s ​you would listen to music from many different countries​ including ​classic North American tune​s ​interpreted ​in Latin style. Also –and I think this has been key throughout the last six years– I always explain in English what the songs are about and I talk about the rhythms and instruments being used on stage. ​As you see, beside​s​ ​being fun and romantic, my concerts are also a learning experience.

This show will focus primarily on love songs. How did you choose the pieces for the show?

​You know, love is everywhere and is expressed in all kind of rhythms. ​There will be some Boleros and you will also listen to tropical rhythms, to melancholic songs with rich instrumentation and to songs that will make you feel dancing like a Beatles song we will interpret in a Latin rhythm. Lots of surprises for sure! The songs on every one of my concerts are songs that represent something to me, that take back in time and space or that I feel and I know my international audience will like or recognize.

Some of the proceeds are going to Casa Taller Las Moyas. Can you tell me about that organization and why it is important to you?

I believe in arts in general as a tool for better societies and I work in Ottawa as a Community Art Facilitator with institutions like Operation Come Home, OCISO and Ottawa Housing Corporation. I have seen with my own eyes during my workshops how participants develop self-esteem, a sense of belonging and love for life in general. Casa Taller las Moyas in Bogotá, Colombia is a small institution struggling to teach kids and youth crafts and skills that will help them get away from the streets and develop ideas for small businesses. They operate in a very low income area of the city where any help is welcome. My voice is a gift I didn’t ask for. I like the idea of paying it forward.

You believe art and music is a tool for a better society. Can you elaborate?

​Art in general is something we all need to be exposed to throughout our entire lives as individuals. ​Art is a self-expression tool that releases anxiety and tension, helps you solve your inner problems and shows you who you are. Practicing arts helps you to become the person you want to be and to solve your problems in different ways. Community arts are as important. Working as a community art facilitator in Ottawa has shown me the benefits of creating in our community. We all need a sense of belonging and inclusion and there are many members of our community in Ottawa who feel isolated and who don’t have access to creative outlets. I strongly believe that investing in arts would generate more benefits. It is also fun and our cities would have more colour everywhere!

Jaw Slinky: A Joel of All Trades

May 17, 2016 1:09 pm
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All photos by Andre Gagne.

“This is my Jeep,” the musician in shades said reaching for the door. There was very little time for pleasantries. Even with the sunglasses you could tell he was exhausted. I shuffled my photography bag over my shoulder and slid in expecting my shoes to be buried by fast-food bags, loose change and scratched CDs but, outside of the two guitar cases in the back, this thing was spotless. This guy’s organized, I thought. I suppose, given the circumstances, he has to be.

“So, how long do you think this’ll take?” he asks, his tired eyes on the road. He spoke with a sense of urgency, a man who has 29 hours of things to do but only 24 hours in a day. It was clear a photo shoot with me wasn’t high on the agenda. With a band to rehearse, a show in a few days, a video to shoot and a new album to promote, I was surprised he didn’t take the camera out of my hand and snap the photos himself, vanishing up the road in a cloud of dust leaving me to wonder if he was ever really there.

Meet Joel Sauvé. His new album Mezzanine was produced, recorded, mixed and mastered by Joel Sauvé. It also features guitars and vocals by Sauvé, drums by Sauvé, Joel Sauvé on bass guitar, flutes and harmonica, all recorded in a studio built by Joel Sauvé with videos shot by, you guessed it, Joel Sauvé. He also goes by the stage name Jaw Slinky and, yeah, he’s got things to do. He always has things to do. It’s like the man wasn’t manufactured with an off switch.

Both Sauvé and I grew up in Cornwall, Ontario. Our paths wouldn’t cross until many years later when, walking into a local bar, I heard him on stage belting out a rocked out cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” that almost made me forget the original was a pop song. As a teen, when I was reaching for my Nintendo controller, Sauvé was reaching for his guitar…and his bass…and his drum sticks. Trying to master as much as he could was sort of a trend with him. In school, not satisfied with one sport, Sauvé played, and excelled, at all of them. This Jack, or Joel, of all trades would take a similar approach to music, wanting to be a guitar player but being edged towards the bass at jams by his already guitarist friends.

Joel (9 of 10)b web“I was handed the bass and was a little apprehensive about it because, well, let’s face it, the bass isn’t cool when you’re 14-15 years old.  You want the guitar.” recalls Sauvé.  “I devoted my time to learn the bass lines for what we were doing anyway and I learned to love it.  We also had a singer at the time that would jam with us but eventually he decided he couldn’t devote his time to our little get-togethers, so I stepped up and said: “I’ll sing.”  And so I started working on my vocals while playing the bass – which is pretty much like taping one hand on your head while rubbing your belly with the other.  It taught me a lot about coordination.”

After these sessions, with everyone gone, Sauvé would sit behind the drum kit and start teaching himself how to play that as well. He’d spend hours pressing stop, play and rewind on a cassette player listening to bands like Pearl Jam or The Tea Party and trying to mimic exact notes or chords. Even though he didn’t know he was doing it then, this was how he developed and trained his ear.

He played his first gig in front of a crowd at Cornwall’s Aultsville Hall and, later that same year, in a local bar where he wasn’t even old enough to buy a drink. Cornwall, like it did for a lot of us, suddenly felt really small and Sauvé moved to Montreal where he studied music at Concordia. He later found work in a music store, started to do sound in a local club and, of course, formed a band.

“Concordia taught me the theory and history of music.  However, working as a server, sound man, open-mic/jam night host and just performing in the Montreal bars taught me the beat of the city when it came to understanding the rhythm of the musical nightlife and scene.”

After his first two bands dissolved, Sauvé found himself back in Cornwall playing gigs of mostly cover tunes nearly every weekend while teaching music on the side. There, things just weren’t moving fast enough.

“I’ve always said that once you come back to Cornwall, it’s like Velcro – you get stuck,” he explains. The pull back to a bigger city –with the help of his girlfriend, Jill, who lived in one– had him packing it all up again and moving to Ottawa, a place Sauvé feels is one he can possibly settle into.

Joel (3 of 10) webIt was here that he decided to go solo and create an alternate persona. Using his initials, and inspired by his own crooked jaw, he settled on Jaw Slinky. He had a name, now he needed a studio and, when you’re Joel Sauvé, you don’t just rent time in one, you build your own. After striking a deal with Jill –she got the third bedroom and he got the basement– Stuck in a Tin Can Studios was created, functioning out of their east-end townhouse where Sauvé spent countless hours learning software and studying YouTube tutorials to piece the place together.

“Sometimes you just can’t rely on anyone else to do something for you or, for that matter, the right way,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to have my own studio so I took it upon myself to just do it.  It was quite the unique process because being by yourself, recording in a studio is, for lack of a better word, weird.  There is no one there to encourage you or to tell you to do a take again. You have to be the one to say that the take was good enough and move on.”

Being a multi-instrumentalist, Sauvé always wanted to try to record an album himself. To him, it was about reaching another level. Mezzanine became that level. From the moment the opening punch of power chords from “Led by the Light of the Devil” hit you, well, square on the jaw, you’ll find it hard to believe this wasn’t produced in a huge studio, let alone that everything you’re hearing is by the same guy. The album is a testament to Sauvé’s detail oriented, focused vision.

Joel (10 of 10)b webSome stand outs include the blues-based “Dynasty” as well as “Crossfire,” a rocked out track with some catchy rhythm guitar. Sauvé releases his grip on you a little with the gentler “Hummingbird” which evokes some late 60’s prog-rock with a wistful flute that carries you through the upbeat track, flying. Though much of the album speaks of loss and betrayal, Sauvé explains that these are elements from his past that finally found a way to break out of him, little voices that needed to be heard before fading out.

“Some themes are better left for other people’s interpretation.  I’ve been in dark places. For some reason, I have an easier time completing a song about loss and deception, than I do about good and happy things.  The songs on the record that share these themes may have happened years ago to me, but I still needed to put them down and lay them to rest since they were never previously recorded.”

Though it’d be interesting to see him try to pull it off alone, Sauvé will be backed by a band for a coming CD release party on May 20 in Barrhaven’s Greenfield’s Pub. No, he didn’t build the venue, but I wouldn’t put it past him. Watching the Jeep drive off towards rehearsals, video tweaking and whatever other one of the dozen things Sauvé had to complete before the show, I realized that a guy like Jaw Slinky is somebody who makes you feel you just have to be doing more in life, moving forward, challenging yourself. There is always a higher level to reach for.

“I think the theme of rising above and pushing through speaks for itself as in everyone can relate to a situation that they have gone through,” says Sauvé. “This album was definitely a cathartic experience for me.  I killed many birds with one stone – recording a full-length record on my own, getting those songs out of my head and building my own studio, and learning a whole bunch of things about myself along the way.”Joel (6 of 10)web

Tickets for the show can be purchased by writing info.jawslinky@gmail.com. You have one guess who’s looking after those ticket sales.

The Piano Guys and the Art of Being Social

May 12, 2016 10:33 pm
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Images supplied by TD Place.

What has 4 strings, 16 children, 88 keys, over 4 million subscribers, 900 million views, multiple angles and a seemingly infinite amount of creativity? Well, the answer begins once upon a time in a Southern Utah city piano shop.

Paul Anderson, the owner, was looking for a unique way to move the merchandise. Also a skilled videographer, Anderson knew that viral online videos would be a huge way to get his store name out there. The only catch was he needed somebody to play the piano in the videos he was imagining.  A simple twist of fate supplied him with exactly what he needed. Local pianist Jon Schmidt needed a piano to practice on for a gig one night. Anderson needed a piano player. The script basically writes itself. Add to the mix the ADHD-fueled mind of cellist Steven Sharp Nelson and the song writing talent of Al van der Beek and you have The Piano Guys, four Mormon fathers with a group named after a piano store in which only one of them plays the piano.

The Piano Guys are internet sensations. What was originally planned as a way to sell pianos has now skyrocketed into some of the most popular videos online. If you look up the term “viral video” you should find a picture of Paul, Jon, Steve and Al underneath.  Their unique videos continue to be shared and marveled at all over the globe. That’s pretty fitting, actually, considering The Piano Guys traverse the entire planet in order to film them.

From lifting a piano up a thousand-foot cliff, to pushing one along the Great Wall of China for a performance, setting up in front of waterfalls, performing in front of a Scottish Castle with a traditional pipe band, and, more recently, filming a video at the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, The Piano Guys revel in new ways to get creative as they watch their viewership rise with each new posting.

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Ottawa Life caught up with the group before their May 14 show at TD Place to talk about how these four different talents met, how social media took them out of the store and onto the stage –not to mention a bunch of other locations– and how they like to toss the recipe book out the window when they’re cooking.

OLM: So, a piano shop in Utah brought together a videographer, pianist, cellist and producer/song writer? What made you decide to conjoin it all?

JON:  Paul asked me to film a couple of his original tunes for his YouTube channel called The Piano Guys which he started as a way to help promote piano sales by showing people videos involving pianos being played in cool and unusual settings. Paul was studying social media and came to me with the idea of forming a partnership joining all resources into building the channel.  Jon invited Steve, Steve invited Al and the rest is history.

What were some of the early discussions about when deciding which direction you wanted to take the group?

STEVEN: We talked a great deal of the principles we wanted to always uphold no matter what. We talked about our core, our values and how we wanted our entertainment to be something our kids could always enjoy and that could help young people get excited about learning an instrument. We talked about our roles as husbands and fathers and our faith in God and how these two things could never be compromised. We talked excitedly about where we could put a piano and cello and if we could ever tackle the 7 Wonders. Looking back, I love how it was never about an ambition to be famous or wealthy. We all had the genuine desire to use what we had been given to do as much good in the world as we could.

So, the store was named The Piano Guys, right? Were there any alternative names for the group when you started out?

JON: We tried to change the name of the Youtube channel when Steve joined us, but it would involve losing all the views that it had already accumulated.  So here we are stuck with this awkward name.  The name really stinks for Steve.

I read where you stated there is no really specific music theory you stick to or real rules when it comes to your music. Can you elaborate on that?

STEVEN: The best way to describe what we do is to draw an analogy. Just as a chef values quality ingredients and fundamental principles of cooking, we also value quality musical material and fundamental music theoretical principles. Then, as a chef who likes to push boundaries with unprecedented combinations of culinary elements, we too enjoy blending musical ingredients in ways that make a musical meal both familiar and unfamiliar, accessible yet innovative. We’ll sauté sweet pop music together with savory classical music. Or we’ll blend a rich, creamy film score with a light and ethereal folk tune or hymnal. Anything goes in our kitchen, as long as we base our creations on fundamental principles, but go with what feels right.

Social media has been very instrumental to your success. How do you feel you might have done things differently had there been no YouTube?

PAUL: The Piano Guys would still be a bunch of guys selling pianos in St. George, Utah if there was no YouTube. YouTube opened up the platform of anyone creating videos and sharing them with the world.

Bands like Walk Off the Earth and OK GO, like The Piano Guys, also achieved online fame from very unique concept videos online. Do you feel, as more and more artists turn to YouTube to get their art out there, that these kinds of unique presentations are becoming more and more needed to be noticed?

AL: The landscape of YouTube has definitely changed since we uploaded our first video. It was a lot easier to get views and have people share our videos then it is now. I think people have become accustomed to seeing crazy things online and if there isn’t a wow factor they don’t feel as inclined to watch it or even share it. We realize that in order to stay relevant there are certain things we should always be aware of to keep things interesting and shareable. However, we also believe that our growth has been steady and consistent because we don’t do things just because they are trending. Trends come fast and disappear even faster. Sometimes we’ll go all out and shoot a video on the Great Wall of China, or in front of an ancient Mayan pyramid at Chichen Itza using 100-plus tracks of cello and piano and then our next video will be a stripped down piano and cello duet in a forest in our backyard.

Is there a worry at all that the gimmicks or, say, concept videos become more popular than the actual music?

AL: Not really. At the end of the day, selling music is what gives us job security. We try and compose our music so it can stand alone without a video. Videos have always been the vehicle that we use to market and sell our music. However, we feel that visually interesting videos greatly enhance our music and one without the other just wouldn’t be as powerful in the social media world we live in today. Imagine uploading a song to YouTube with just a still image –not very compelling. So we try our best to create videos that complement our music and vice-versa. We don’t want either to overpower the other.

I think some of the criticism I’ve heard of social media is so many now are trying to be stars utilizing the medium as opposed to other avenues. Do you think there is too much out there now oversaturating things, or do you have the outlook that if you can be noticed, do so anywhere?

PAUL:  Social Media is definitely getting more and more saturated as people learn of its reach, so I’m sure it’s a lot tougher to get noticed in today’s world. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible, it just means the odds are less in their favor. The secret is to do something people haven’t seen before, or do the same thing others have done, but with a totally different spin. We know that every person in the world has unique gifts and should do what they can to share them, so as long they are sharing their gifts to inspire and uplift others, we say go for it. When we put out a video and see that it had a positive effect on just 1 person, we are completely happy!

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Tickets are available from Capital Tickets.

For Those About to Rock We Tribute You

May 9, 2016 10:32 pm
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All photos by Andre Gagne

Vintage band t-shirt, tight jeans, newsboy cap and adrenaline, yup I was ready to rock. It’s a Saturday night in Ottawa and the city’s own AC/DC tribute band Great Scott were a few hours away from blowing all the colours out of the Rainbow with power chords, wailing vocals and drums you’ll still feel next week.

On second thought, better take the earplugs, I thought to myself.  I mean, the actual lead singer is going deaf, right? I pause, working around a little doublethink. Though, it would be pretty cool to have Axl Rose fill in for my daily life duties in his weird throne. Naw, better safe than sorry.

In 1973, brothers Malcolm and Angus Young formed AC/DC after seeing the initials on a sewing machine. 21 years later Great Scott was formed by two drunken friends sitting in a pick-up truck ready to pay tribute to one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Well, almost ready. Guitarist Scott Mahar had his reservations.

“I never wanted to be in a tribute band. I don’t really like them, especially the clone acts. It usually doesn’t work. It’s actually kinda’ sad watching somebody pretend to be somebody else,” Mahar says before changing into his Angus Young outfit. He justifies his portrayal by extracting the root of any good band: you need to just play, play well and love it.

“I might wear the shorts and a tie and bounce around like Angus Young from time to time, but we’ve always been our own band. We don’t follow the recipe. We’ve never tried to imitate down to that excruciating detail. You get us. We play classic AC/DC. That’s why we’ve lasted so long.”

To see Mahar perform that signature Angus strut you’d think he’d spent awhile practicing for the band but you’d be wrong. Like any teenage AC/DC fan, Mahar just started imitating Young in his bedroom while listening to albums like Back in Black. By the time he joined Great Scott he already knew what to do.

Great Scott-9wHe admits to getting lost in the character sometimes. You can’t really blame the guy, thought. The kid who first heard AC/DC in the eighth grade when a friend handed him a Walkman blaring out the album Dirty Deeds has now been performing as Angus Young pretty much half his life.

He first saw the band live in 1988 at the Ottawa Civic Centre. It was the Blow Up Your Video Tour. “It was the volume and the intensity, the power and the energy, of not only the band, but the crowd that electrified me. I’ve still got the shirt from that gig. My father took me to that show. He saw the Beatles in ’64, so he completely understood my euphoria.”

Mahar strives to instil a little bit of that feeling when he pulls on the shorts, does up the tie and steps out in front of an audience. There’s always a few, of course, that must wonder if these guys really can match up to the real thing. By the time Mahar’s Angus hits the first few chords to “Thunderstruck” you’re wondering no more.  The crowd at the Rainbow on May 7 knew what those who have seen Great Scott perform before already discovered. Whether it was in Barrymore’s in the ‘90’s, some bar in Whitehorse or opening up for Steppenwolf, if you never get to see AC/DC live a Great Scott show is pretty damn close.

Related: The Black Inside the Rainbow

The max volume, high voltage, beer swilling, head banging epic near three hour set included hits like “Hells Bells”, “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “TNT” and had one fan shouting “you guys are unbelievable.” Well, it was more like a slur then a shout, she’d had a bit too much to drink, but the woman still knew her stuff. Unbelievable, Great Scott was. Close your eyes and you could very well be in a sell-out arena seeing the real deal.

Great Scott-30wSome tunes, Mahar admits, they’ve played every show for over 20 years. Songs like “Sin City”, “Riff Riff” and “Whole Lotta Rosie” have followed them to every gig. He spends so much time with these tunes, knows them back to front like he does the other band members. He calls them brothers, his best friends. He often catches himself watching frontman Albert Bouchard as Brian Johnson on stage in awe of how good the man is.

“Albert is the rightful King of Rock n’ Roll. He’s the most entertaining frontman I’ve ever seen. He engages the audience in a way that makes every show personal and unique for everybody in the room. He looks you square in the eye and sings just to you. That dude is tough as nails but has a gigantic heart.”

The band doesn’t know if anybody from AC/DC knows they exist but, as Mahar likes to tell it, they did open for Great Scott one night in Saskatoon back in ’96. The group was on a tour through Western Canada when a concert promoter got them in to see the Australian rockers during their Ballbreaker Tour. Great Scott was playing an after-party across the street.

“It was a real trip to see our posters up in the arena at an AC/DC show,” Mahar recalls. “We had to sprint out after the final cannon blew, race past the religious protesters, and get behind the wheel of the next wave of volume and crunch to hit the prairies. It was surreal.”

While the real band is going through what seems to be its final curtain calls with drummer Paul Rudd exiting the band due to criminal charges and singer Brian Johnson being replaced back in March by Axl Rose after doctors ordered him to stop touring or face complete hearing loss, Great Scott is still rocking. If the show at the Rainbow was any indication, the train is not losing any steam. It’s only gaining thunder!

“Many people come to the club expecting to get an AC/DC show, but they get a Great Scott show instead,” says Mahar explaining how the crowds keep returning because they know they are going to witness something amazing. “We’re part of a huge incredible family.”

When asked he they’ll be raiding a Gun’s and Roses tribute band any time soon Mahar had two words: “No comment.”

With my body charged, some chords still rattling my innards, I think to myself on the 2AM bus ride back home: Yeah, those earplugs were a good idea.

A Pearl of Jazz in Unexpected Places

May 6, 2016 11:31 am
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All photos by Andre Gagne

You’re pushing your shopping cart through the produce section when, while reaching for that perfectly ripe avocado, you hear the beautiful sound of a saxophone playing “Angel Eyes”. It’s Ladies’ Night at the Royal Oak and, where you might expect to hear some frantic Celtic music, your ears are met with the soulful sounds of that sax once again. The weekend comes and you decide to take a short trip out of town for a tasty meal only to now hear that sax leading a big band orchestra; three very different spots for one versatile musician.

The sax belongs to Davina Pearl, a woman who appears just as comfortable playing jazz in your local grocery store as she does in front of a 16-piece band. To hear her wail on her sax, you wouldn’t know that she really wants to play the trumpet.

“I am not  a saxophonist’s saxophone player,” says Pearl. “You can tell some people are really fascinated by the instrument, they want to get all into that. There’s lots of metal to flash around. Of course it’s cool, but I always envy the trumpet players who show up to a gig, pull out their axe and they’re ready to go.”

Her first instrument was neither sax nor trumpet. Pearl could often be found strumming her guitar on her front porch step and she reluctantly admits her early musical tastes leaned towards the glam and flash of disco. She has many fond memories roller skating around her basement with her younger sister.

“From my parents we got classical music and some very square Israeli folk songs. I remember listening as a family to lots of Tom Lehrer and musicals like Cats,” recalls Pearl. “A few years later I got all taken up with bands like the Beatles, Stones, Who, Pink Floyd, but, most of all, David Bowie. I was totally nuts about Bowie.”

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Davina Pearl and her sax on the steps of the Fairmont Château Laurier, 2014

In what became a pattern in her first steps towards her jazz career, Pearl took to playing an instrument not because it was her calling but, mostly, because it was there. A clarinet abandoned by her father found its way into her hands and she played that until, one day in high school, a surprised Pearl was given a saxophone.

“I ended up with an alto sax because that’s what my teacher handed me as my turn in line at the storage room came up. All the kids were just in a line at the door. It felt pretty arbitrary. Knowing that guy, he may have had a grand plan, but, if so, it certainly wasn’t apparent.”

An early boyfriend turned her on to jazz music. He played trumpet and the two would join the school band and spend many hours listening to records. Bowie now took a backseat to Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.

“True confession, I was his very first girlfriend and his Mum was not impressed,” Pearl says of the relationship that sparked her love of jazz. “Now he’s the ambassador to Venezuela so she may have had a point.”

 

Her band teacher, Bob Cleall, would become a huge inspiration for the young Pearl often passing her new cassette tapes every week to listen to. He gave her the opportunity to play big solos and must have seen a lot of promise in her.

“They didn’t have jazz band for grade 9’s at the time. You were supposed to wait till grade 10,” explains Pearl. “The girl on second alto in grade 10 wasn’t showing up for practice, so Bob cut her and put me there instead.”

Though thankful for the teacher’s faith in her ability, Pearl remembers how intimidated she was playing with the older kids.  “It was still just the fall of the year when you’re new in high school and all, but as soon as I heard the sound of the band I forgot all about being scared. From the first few bars I think I was totally hooked. It was a very powerful feeling.”

At 16, Pearl started giving lessons. Attila Clemann, now an in-demand actor and playwright, and award-winning producer/musician Gavin Bradley were two of her students. Then, with only her high school experience, guitar/banjo player Dave Johnstone took her under his wing and together the two formed a band with bass player Gerg Horvath.

“Dave pulled me through some incredibly tough personal lessons. I was such a handful. That man has the patience of Job.”

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Davina Pearl and her trio performing at the Royal Oak.

Since then, she’s shared the stage with some of the best names in local jazz: trumpet player John Renforth, guitarists Vince Halfhide and Kevin Barrett, and pianist Art Lawless, to name a few. She’s been a featured performer at the Merrickville Jazz Festival and, when not playing, she can be seen taking in some late night jams at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival or in spots like GigSpace.

Pearl says she doesn’t have any plans to record a studio album any time soon. For her, the passion is all in the experience of playing live.

“Once you start the canning process, much of that magic is lost,” she says. “For me, it’s all about being in the moment, sharing and connecting with the people in the room.”

That connection with an audience, no matter what the size, and that magic feeling she gets when performing live has had Pearl accepting some pretty interesting gigs.

Located about 70 minutes outside of Ottawa, in an 18th century home so quaint it could serve as a backdrop to a Jane Austen novel, Alexandria’s Georgian House Restaurant and Day Spa has had a big band house orchestra for nearly 20 years. Though she didn’t put the now 16-piece group together, over time she sort of just stumbled into the responsibilities of leading it.

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The Georgian House Orchestra, November 2014

“It’s a pretty special band full of people I adore. It’s a total labour of love for me,” she says and you can see it not only on the smile on her face as she signals the changes or highlights a soloist, but also in the audience who will sometimes will leave their supper plates to cool in order to dance.

Pearl maintains a strong connection with owners Heinz Kaswurm and wife Julie who continue to support the band each month, often looking on as they perform the standards with band vocalist Kathy Eagan. “They always make us feel so welcome. If anyone can find another Heinz and Julie, I’ll eat my reeds!”

When Wellington West’s Royal Oak was looking to bring in some jazz to counterbalance some of the more Celtic sounds usually found in these types of pubs, Pearl answered the call.

“It was a bit of an experiment at first. We weren’t sure how well it would go down. It’s not exactly your first thought when you imagine live music at an Irish-style pub. But it’s been an amazing success story.”

Every second Tuesday of the month, her regular trio, which includes Ed Stevens on guitar and Paul Soble on bass, usually fills the place. Not bad for a West end Tuesday night! Pearl gets a bit more experimental in these performances as heard recently with a jazzy tribute to her early music love, the late David Bowie.

Jumping around from various gigs, duos to trios and big bands, doesn’t faze the musician. In fact, she welcomes the changes.

“Sure, it’s all different, but as you grow it starts to be more the same. You start seeing more of the forest. One of the reasons I like to play with all sorts of different people is that it forces me to grow as a musician. Plus, I just like meeting everyone!”

Her most unique gig has Pearl performing for often surprised Saturday afternoon shoppers as well as a very receptive audience of pineapples, carrots and radishes inside Wellington Street’s Herb & Spice. She laughs thinking how many believe the music is piped in over the radio before turning the corner to see a live group performing in the grocery store. Suddenly you feel as though you are in a Woody Allen film, the jazzy soundtrack following you as you shop sometimes having to reach around the sax player to get to the potato chips.

“Playing in the store can be a lot of fun, not only for the adults but also the kids. I don’t have a lot of gigs where I can play for families and the kids are just fascinated, clapping. It’s a very honest experience with them.”

Pearl returns to the Oak with the trio, this time including bassist Neil Sealy and guest vocalist Martine Courage, on May 10 from 5-8. Or, you can do a little shopping and hear her perform with Vince Halfhide at the Herb & Spice on May 14 beginning at 2. There’s also the May 28 evening show at the Georgian House but be sure to reserve in advance. Really, though, you never can tell where she’ll show up next, sax in hand, ready to play.

“It’s very stimulating and challenging to play in these venues with all these different musicians of varying styles,” says Pearl. “It forces me to be a better musician, a bigger musician. That’s really exciting.”

Music is on the Menu Every Second Sunday at Vanier’s Maison Baguettes

May 3, 2016 1:30 pm
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All photos by Andre Gagne.

Trish Bolechowsky is all about the music, and the more she can add to the Ottawa scene, the better. As the Artist Manager of RedLeaf Music, she continues to help emerging artists achieve their career goals by fostering a family-like environment and an encouraging atmosphere for creativity to blossom. In programming her Hintonburg Sounds Simple concert series, she has given those musicians an outlet to showcase their talents as well as an audience to perform to. One series, however, just wasn’t enough for her and Bolechowsky is back, in Vanier this time, with more live music to enjoy every second Sunday of the month at Maison Baguettes. Music lovers and foodies unite because you’re both in for a treat!

“The shows and series RedLeaf Music presents are designed to move around the city,” explains Bolechowsky on why she changed up neighbourhoods for these monthly shows. “I’d love to be able to walk around in any neighbourhood and find live music to enjoy in the local businesses.”

Choosing Vanier for the Second Sunday series wasn’t a very hard one to make for Bolechowsky. She just happens to live there and, when it comes to some of her favourite neighbourhood restaurants, Maison Baguettes at 381 Montreal Road was love at first sight. Or, perhaps, that’s love at first bite.

“A friend took me in soon after I moved into the neighbourhood,” she says. “I loved the warm atmosphere and the tasty food right away. The café is small and intimate so I invite musicians who are comfortable playing in a listening room environment, who are creating original music and able to play acoustically, with just an instrument and their voice.”

Stomach grumbling, I found myself wandering up the steps and inside the café a few weeks ago. The sign outside told me I could snag a soup, sandwich, beverage and a dessert all for less than ten bucks. Quite the steal these days, says I, especially when you consider how tasty the food was. The atmosphere was just as enjoyable as I was met with a smile or a nod by nearly everyone I passed on my way to get to a table near the back. Here, I discovered, you get the feeling that you are in a small town diner or a Cheers, of sorts. It’s that kind of place where everybody knows your name, as the song goes, and, even if they don’t, a welcoming smile for a stranger could be chalked up on the menu board next to the soup of the day.

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Howie Hooper performing at the Second Sunday series.

As I sat down watching the cream swirl in the blackness of my coffee cup, the deep voice of Howie Hooper began a country music serenade. He listens to Cash and Haggard and Kristofferson and looks like he should be running cattle somewhere down on a Texas ranch. Nothing is overdone and manufactured here. This is stripped down country. Pour your heart out into a glass to mix with your beer kind of country. Hooper sang songs that sounded like they were coming from a man who can actually can wear the lyrics like an old shirt, all comfortable like, where even the stains have a story or two to tell. He shared a few of those stories that afternoon.

“I love to play at smaller venues. There is a different feel to them,” said Hooper. “Personally I find it more difficult to perform in the smaller venue, and this is a good thing. You are so close to everyone, there’s no place to hide, no room for a band to lean on, and you are all alone with the audience. You really have to work hard to ensure you connect with everyone possible. Definitely a great learning experience.”

Related: Supporting Local Musicians Sounds Simple in Hintonberg Concert Series

Bolechowsky, who had come in just in time for Hooper’s second set, agrees that a smaller setting allows for a deeper connection. It’s a place, she says, where lyrics can actually be heard, something that’s pretty important to most of the singer-songwriters she programs into shows like these.

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Maison Baguettes

“This is the starting place for many musicians in their careers and, because of how enjoyable it is for both the listener and musician, it’s a setting many love to return to time and again later in their careers,” she says.

Hooper was one of those musicians. He started playing gigs at a young age but took a 25 year break to focus on raising his family. Despite the canyon sized gap between his departure and return to the local music scene, he was always collecting stories and biding his time before they would eventually become songs.

“I think the Lord gives us all a gift, and leaves it up to the individual to choose when to open it,” he says after some reflection. “Some can’t wait and rush in, others are more patient. I know I would not be writing the same song at age 18 as I would now. The sum of my experiences provides a unique filter to which all the characters I create must pass through. The more experience I have to draw upon, the richer the scenes, emotions, characters and stories become.”

Seen swaying behind the counter as I started to tuck into my desert was restaurant owner Marie Lamont. When she took over Maison Baguettes from the previous owner, her first goal was to create an atmosphere where people could feel at home while they were away from home. Bringing in live music wasn’t necessarily part of her initial plans, but when she was approached she agreed to it the moment the offer left Bolechowsky’s lips.

“I think that the entertainers are amazing. I am privileged to have them perform in our establishment,” Lamont beams. “The time flies by so quickly during those two hours. It’s just another homey feeling that we can all enjoy once a month.”

Hooper finished his set as I was pondering which soup I should grab as a take-out meal for the next day. Somehow I just felt I wanted to take more of this place home with me. The country singer, now packing up his guitar, felt the same.

“Artists need a place to be heard, to grow, to discover who they are as an artist.  In my experience, overnight success is pretty much an urban legend, it doesn’t happen,” Hooper told me. “Most of the artists I know are fully consumed by learning their craft. It is a passion worn on the outside for the world to see.  The smaller series is a place to connect and test drive material, find what works and what does not work. There is nothing that can simulate this. Ottawa needs more of these series and venues; everyone gets something out of it.”

Jillian Kerr performs on May 8 from 1 to 3 p.m. Admission is by donation.

Amanda Rheaume’s Holding Patterns

May 1, 2016 5:55 pm
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Photos by Jen Squires, supplied by NAC.

One woman, one venue, both of them in a period of transition and ready for change. For Métis singer-songwriter Amanda Rheaume, it was a few steps back in order to move forward through some pain and sad realities on a rocky road to find herself again. For the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage, it is a time of rejuvenation, to close the doors on the past and re-emerge anew, ready to, once again, welcome the music. Both come together on May 5 to say goodbye and boldly face that change, one if only for a little while and the other in her songs.

“We stand chasing that obsession / just close the door”, “we’re in a holding pattern / don’t you know it’s time to land”, “no more looking back, they say, living in the yesterday / no more wasting this life”, “I will do today what I might do tomorrow / the wolf of time don’t owe me any favours” are lyrics from Rheaume’s new album, Holding Patterns. It’s a deeply personal release for a musician not afraid to hang a couple of hardships out on the line to dry or, in some instances, be thankfully carried away by a good strong wind.

“The songs on this album reflect a theme that I became aware of in the last year,” explains Rheaume, looking back on a time of turbulence that helped shape the songs on this release.  “Certain situations in my life – romantic relationship, business relationships – weren’t contributing to my life in positive ways and a lot of the songs reflect on taking control and responsibility of my own actions and non-actions and, in a way, reclaiming myself again. I liked the idea of the patterns that hold us and the patterns we hold onto. I felt it spoke to me.”

She’s no stranger to the local music scene. Born and raised in Ottawa, Rheaume says this was the perfect place to start her career, slowly honing her craft at open mics around town and places like the Blacksheep Inn, eventually performing at Bluesfest opening for Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris. She’s played across the country, toured Europe and looks back at a stint playing the Faroe Islands, the archipelago between the Norwegian Sea and North Atlantic, as one of the most incredible experiences of her life. These days, averaging 160 shows a year, she laughs, wondering how she finds the stamina.

“I actually am finding it harder to play that number of shows per year as I get a bit older. I used to perform a lot more in Ottawa than I do now which means that when I am home I am just home, not performing a ton. It can be challenging to stay healthy and grounded on tour. I attempt to exercise when there is time and also make sure that I eat healthy and get enough sleep. Luckily I’ve been able to hire a tour manager the last few tours and that has helped a lot!”

Holding Patterns is Rheaume’s fourth album. She released her first, an album of Christmas songs, in 2009, followed by more original material on Light of Another Day (2011) and Keep a Fire (2013) which was nominated for a Juno for Aboriginal Album of the Year. Her roots are very important to her. Where Keep a Fire explored her Métis heritage, the first single off Holding Patterns, “Red Dress”, finds Rheaume honouring the over 1,180 murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

“I had been wanting to write this song for a long, long time but I was never sure of the tone or the message. I didn’t know how to approach it,” says Rheaume. Inspiration would come to her through the tragic case of Cindy Gladue.

Gladue, a 36-year-old aboriginal mother of three, was found dead in an Edmonton hotel bathtub in June 2011. She had bled to death from a demeaning wound while her accused killer, married Mississauga truck driver Bradley Barton, slept nearby. In what many consider to be an extreme indignity, for the first time in the history of the Canadian justice system, a victim’s preserved body parts were brought into the court room as evidence. Barton’s acquittal would spark protests across the country and leave Rheaume appalled.

“I attended a rally for Cindy once the verdict came out that Barton was not guilty of her death. I had never been so disgusted in my whole life,” she says.  “I think that is when the idea and angle for the song started brewing from the perspective of victim blaming.”

“I see the line of all the broken hearts lining up to tell their side to the already one-sided story,” sings Rheaume on the moving track, co-written by Jim Bryson and featuring friend Chantal Kreviazuk on vocals. The video, where dancer Aria Evans moves slowly through a snowy landscape clad in red, was inspired by Jamie Black’s REDress Project where 600 red dresses were placed in public spaces around the country to draw attention to aboriginal women killed in violent crimes. All proceeds from the single are to be donated to the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s Safety and Violence Prevention Program.

Related: Jim Bryson Returns Home.

Activism and awareness for the causes she is passionate about are just as much a part of Rheaume as her music. She’s performed for the Boys and Girls Club and had tracks included on Babes4Breasts compilations, but she looks back to a moment on an airfield in Kandahar that really changed her outlook on what her music can do.

“When I performed for the Canadian troops on Canada Day in 2011 I had an intense epiphany. It really became clear to me that every time I step on stage and sing or perform, it is an opportunity to make some kind of an impact. I started becoming acutely aware of my lyrics and my message. I also really feel that if we all do even just a little bit that some major change can happen in this world. I feel it is so important to be aware and to try and help as much as possible with a cause or group that you feel drawn to.”

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On the song “The Day the Mountain Fell”, like a clipping taken out of an old scrapbook, Rheaume shares a piece her family history.

“In 1958 there was a landslide in Prince Rupert British Columbia that fell onto a small community of houses,” she relays, going on to explain how this event links to her family. “The day the mountain fell there were two workers that saw the landslide. They ran towards the slide to see if they could help get anyone out. These two men followed the sound of a baby crying only to find her little arm poking out of the mud. This little girl was my cousin Selma and they called her The Miracle Child because she was the only survivor.”

Holding Patterns is a powerful release both musically and lyrically. Rheaume, you feel, isn’t holding anything back. Though the album has themes of loss and grieving, she doesn’t leave you dwelling in the negative for long. This is about hope, rising up out of your ashes and dusting yourself off to start again clean. On Holding Patterns, blank pages aren’t things to fear but places to create something new upon. Pick up the pen and just start over. Get in that car and drive. Many of the tracks are leaving way stations, the regrets remain there in the ruins of what once was, and you ride onward down the unknown highway with both a smile and tear, heading into whatever awaits you on the horizon.

When she takes the Fourth Stage on Thursday night for a sold out performance it will be for the last time in this version of the venue. Renovations to the NAC will close the stage down for a year-long makeover. It has been one of Rheaume’s favourite places to perform so it’s very fitting she was chosen to play the final show before the construction crews roll in.

“I have performed there a number of times for songwriting circles, and it is incredible when the lights go down and the curtains are drawn, the candles are flickering on the tables and you can see the faces of the audience lit up from the stage lights. The sound is the best in the city and it is the biggest treat to perform there. The Fourth Stage is a magical place.”

For those who didn’t get to snag a ticket to the show, you don’t have to wait long to hear the new album. Holding Patterns will be released on May 6.

Harea Band Hits a Grand Slam with New EP

April 27, 2016 1:55 pm
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Photos by Sean Sisk Photography.

It’s been a pretty big week for Ottawa’s Harea Band. They have a new EP coming out on April 28 and they’ve just been called up to the majors once again for their second year in a row performing at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival. For frontman Alex Harea, this all must feel like a homerun for a band who nearly didn’t get to play their first gig because their bassist wasn’t old enough to get into the club.

The band has been in a state of constant evolution since forming in 2012. Alex was playing gigs in town solo while attending his first year of music studies at Carleton, when he decided he wanted to get a team together. He first called drummer Mike Giamberardino to bat. Things started to grow from there with the duo adding another guitar, synths and additional vocals to a changing line-up that they may have settled upon with this release.

One spin of the coming EP, All the Hits, shows how the band has matured in the year since their last festival performance. Along with some band tweaks, the sound also has a bit more pop compared to their first EP Hip Hip Harea. Calling your second release All the Hits might seem like a bold move, but when every tune is a solid one the music backs it up.

“For all of us it was pretty clear which songs were going to go on our next release. They were all of our favourites. Recording them was an absolute blast,” says Harea, explaining how the release was the result of one long week in the studio last October.

“We ended up just renting the studio for seven days where we could record our tracks anytime we wanted day or night. Needless to say, we basically lived there. It was a cool experience to work together like that in close quarters and also be able to experiment as much as we want. The whole experience brought us closer as a band.”

All The Hits CoverYou can hear the fun the band had in the recording process in the EP’s first single “Drop and Dance”. It’s a pumped-up tune that gets you moving. It seems of another era, dialled in on the radio while you’re cruising one summer evening in upper 1970’s Manhattan or later on that night while you work up a sweat on the dance floor at Studio 54.  It’s hard to believe this catchy track or “What You Need”, a groove that is so Motown you wonder if Harea got the Funk Brothers to play backup, were first composed on an acoustic guitar.

“I will write a song on my own with an acoustic guitar and bring it to the band’s next rehearsal,” explains Alex, describing his writing process. “Mike and I work really well together at developing the songs to bring out the potential it has. All five of us have a really fun time working out songs together. There usually isn’t too much disagreement.”

Though the band’s camaraderie is clear during their stage performances, they haven’t been immune to some well placed ribbing. Alex says that the recent addition of Cynthia Tauro has reined in some of their off stage antics and made them a stronger group.

“We get along better when there is a girl around. She has become the mother of the group.”

You can hear her on the EP’s closing track, “Our Love’s Been Cookin’” which, as another funky dance number, is sure to translate well live as Harea’s smooth vocals slow you down for a few moments mid-song and kick you back up again into wanting to move your feet.

Related: TD Ottawa Jazz Festival Announces Diverse 2016 Line-Up

The band is planning on a few tours wrapped around their summer gigs but, mainly, they feel they are ready to step up their game.

“We are actually looking to acquire some form of management because we feel we are at that point now where it’s something that would really help us out, and I want to do another release in less than two years,” says Harea. “So really the plan is to keep playing and keep growing our name and our brand.”

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The band’s EP release show takes place on April 28 in the Kailash Mital Theatre at Carleton University. Doors are at 7 p.m. and the party only costs $10.

“This is the moment / this is the time / this is where you run or where you choose to climb,” Alex sings on “Damage.” On a release like All the Hits, one that knocks it out of the park on the second swing, there is a sense of arrival for this young band, that this is their time.

Starmen, Rebels and Heroes Pay Tribute to David Bowie

April 24, 2016 1:12 pm
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All photos by Andre Gagne.

It was January 10, 2016 and local musician Jon Hynes was in his kitchen when he heard the news on the CBC. It couldn’t be right, could it? He stood there in shock at what he was listening to. “No one saw that coming. You always expect someone like that to live forever.”

At that moment singer Jeremy Fisher was lying in bed listening to the same broadcast. Dead? Could that man really be gone? The news would find Fisher contemplating his own mortality. “It made me think how he seemed so vital. I’m on the precipice of 40 and 69 seems way too young.”

David Robert Jones to some, David Bowie to the world, the galaxy and the stars beyond, had died two days after his 69TH birthday and the release of his final, glorious gift to us all, the album Blackstar. The gender bending rock star ch-ch-ch-changed into multiple alter egos like a fine suit -be he Ziggy or be he King of the Goblins- and was never afraid to push his music into any direction he wanted to, the critics be damned.  He was a rebel, Aladdin Sane, all face paint and glamorous costumes, pumping out hits like “Starman”, “Let’s Dance”, and “Heroes” that would influence so many. Cancer may have taken him but the legacy isn’t going anywhere.

“Any time a great musician that has influenced me passes away, it affects me, for sure,” says Hynes. “I started thinking about how I listened to Aladdin Sane obsessively when I bought that record on a whim during my university days.  It was honest and fearless rock and roll.  I loved it!”

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The enthusiastic crowd sang back every word.

Back in 2011, Hynes came up with the idea to tribute the classic albums he loved by performing them live with others. The resulting series was named I Can’t Believe It’s Not and everything from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours to Green Day’s Dookie has been played with a mandate to be as sonically and structurally accurate as possible to the original. But, thought Hynes, how do you choose one album from somebody so iconic as David Bowie. Do you do 1971’s Hunky Dory or ‘72’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars? If you pick just one then there are so many songs that would be missed. No, for this show, Hynes was going to have to break the format, bend the rules a bit, and have an all-out tribute. New rules? No problem! This was to be a Bowie show, after all,  and who better to mix things up for then a man who seemed to bathe in change.

“There was definitely too much golden material to choose from.  His catalogue is massive and his notable works are spread out all over the place,” explains Hynes. “We want this I Can’t Believe It’s Not to really hit hard and remind people that not only was Bowie a great singer with a truck load of amazing songs, but he broke boundaries while doing so.  He was a massive force.  It was impossible to select only one album to play.”

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Rolf Klausener from The Acorn was just one of the many paying tribute to David Bowie.

Hynes began making some phone calls. It wasn’t hard to put together a band for this performance. Culled from members of FET.NAT, Boyhood and the Hilotrons, the event would feature guest vocalists like the Acorn’s Rolf Klausener and cover all sides of Bowie’s storied career. Though the two night event (April 22-23) was held inside St. Alban’s Anglican Church, don’t think that it would be a solemn affair. The crowd would not morn silently. This was a celebration where dancing on the pews wasn’t discouraged, copious drinks were consumed, shout at the top of your lungs singing was a way to make new friends and face painting wasn’t just for the people on stage. Oh yes, there were costumes.

“I wanted to wear white pleated pants, so I went for the early ‘80’s Let’s Dance era,” says Fisher of his Bowie inspired wardrobe. “Somehow I got roped into singing a couple earlier tunes as well so I’ll probably be looking for a spandex bodysuit. What do you want from me, I’m a c-list Canadian musician largely known for my hairstyle?”

The flamboyant New Swears, the Ottawa soul-boogie-funked-up-punky-funboy-power-pop party band, pushed the crowd’s energy to the limits, brought them back, and took them there again. Before the show they vowed to drink 15-20 beers and blast “those mothers right out of the park”. They didn’t disappoint.

“Bowie taught us the secret art of persuading people into magical mazes of adventure,” the band told Ottawa Life before taking the stage in full body paint, wigs and blazing outfits.

“This is a Friday night in Ottawa!” shouted Hynes over a roaring crowd that was packed all the way to the back. It was a show where they knew every word, often overpowering the singers on tunes like “Rebel Rebel”, “Fame” and “Changes”.  The church relics were even bopping to the beats. Even if you weren’t a Bowie fan, you couldn’t help but be floored by the adoration these people on and off stage gave to the man.

Everybody was a sweaty mess by the end of the evening. Nobody wanted to leave. Hynes admitted to the crowd that they had not prepared an encore after the initial set so they would take requests. A nine year old kid wanted to hear “Starman” again. Alas, Hynes believed Fisher, who had sang it early, had gone back home to his newborn. To the surprise of everyone there, Fisher emerged from the crowd to play the tune again.

“He abandoned his child for that,” laughed Hynes!

“Bowie wrote some of the weirdest songs but also some of the catchiest,” says Fisher. “In many cases those two extremes intertwined perfectly and I think that might be his legacy; to demonstrate that there are no rules even in popular music.”

No word on what’s coming up next for the I Can’t Believe It’s Not series but, after a moment of silence for the passing of Prince was held Friday night, one has to wonder if Hynes will be getting a crew together soon for another big tribute. Ready your purple outfits, just in case.

Under the Influence with Philip Sayce

April 18, 2016 10:15 am
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Imagine, if you will, growing up on a musical diet cooked up by you parents’ record collection. The needle drops and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hendrix and BB King, legends of guitar, write the script of your youthful fantasies of one day, just maybe, you would play even a slice of what they did. Your first concert is Eric Clapton. There, in front of you, kid, is the guitar God of Gods, standing alone in the spotlight with his Stratocaster. You get shivers. The lights come up and Clapton does what Clapton does best: he rocks it. As you stand amazed, as so many have in the presence of guitar greatness, you have no idea that one day you’re going to be invited to play your own Strat’ in Madison Square Garden at the festival that legend founded. You’ll play the same stage as some of those greats you used to listen to in the dark including, yes, Clapton himself.

It’s the perfect dream, isn’t it? Only, this isn’t a dream. This is Philip Sayce’s life.

“It was definitely a powerful experience,” Sayce says, looking back on that 2013 performance at the Crossroads Guitar Festival.  “The event was bigger than any individual; it was all about raising awareness and funds for Eric’s rehabilitation center in Antigua. This is truly inspiring; the fact that Eric is doing something in the world with his fame to help others. That’s what it’s all about.”

Philip Sayce - INFLUENCE Front CoverIf you follow blues rock, you know Sayce by now. Born in Wales, his parents, along with a slew of fantastic records, moved to Canada and settled in Toronto. Sayce joined his first band in his teens, emulating the style of the greats like Vaughan and Hendrix he heard on those records. Soon, he’d be playing clubs he wasn’t even allowed to buy a drink in and would become a staple of Toronto’s bar scene. He shaped his skills in places like the famed Horseshoe Tavern and many a night at Grossman’s. People started to take notice. One of them was Jeff Healey, who invited the young Sayce on stage one night to jam with him.

Not long after Sayce was playing with Uncle Kracker to huge crowds, including one in Times Square for a New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. In 2003 Melissa Etheridge was looking for a guitarist. Sayce got the call. Between there and the Crossroads, Sayce supported groups like ZZ Top and Deep Purple, played on the Oscars as well as for the president, and started releasing his own albums with Ruby Electric (2011) and Steamroller (2012). He was also gaining notoriety as one of the best guitarists around. Besting close to 3,000 others and winning the Ernie Ball Play Crossroads Competition to strap on his guitar on Clapton’s stage must have been that cherry on top of it all.

He’s back with a powerful new album, Influence. Aptly titled, the album, with tracks like Graham Nash’s “Better Days”, Ten Years After’s “I’d Love to Change the World” and the Hendrix inspired “Out of My Mind”, is a tribute to those who helped shape his career. You can hear it in every blistering chord but, mainly, what you hear is that Sayce is a guitar force to be reckoned. He signed with his first major record label , Warner Music Canada, last year.

Perhaps one night in a crowd watching him, some kid will be inspired to reach for a guitar and, maybe, move into legend. Is it you? Find out when Sayce plays the Rainbow, Ottawa’s legendary home of the blues, on April 22 and 23.

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Ottawa Life caught up with Sayce on his current tour to talk about the new album, his time with Healey and his recent signing with his first major record label.

Ottawa Life: The new album is called Influence and Jeff Healey was one of your biggest?

Sayce: Yes, Jeff’s music lit a fire in me! It burns brighter now than it ever has. His music really freaked me out! I had the opportunity to meet Jeff when I was first starting on the scene in Toronto. My good friend Corey Mihailiuk planted the seed and originally introduced us. During our first meeting I was, of course, nervous and couldn’t think of anything to say, but Jeff was kind and gracious. Getting to know him over the next few years only endeared me more to him and his music.

Can you describe that first night he invited you up on stage?

It actually wasn’t planned. We both ended up being in Kensington market in Toronto at the same time. I was with my manager and we ran into Jeff. We ended up going into a club there and, of course, as soon as Jeff walked into a club he was immediately invited up onstage, everywhere in the world. Jeff grabbed me and said “Let’s go! You grab the guitar, I’ll play bass.” I was pretty freaked out, having to play guitar for one of my favourite musicians on the planet! We ended up playing a couple of Cream songs, I think it was “Crossroads” by Robert Johnson and “Spoonful” by Willie Dixon, and it was truly amazing. We then walked outside and Jeff invited me to join his band. I was completely speechless.

You did eventually speak to say yes, right?

Of course I said yes! Jeff was a true musical genius. To be in his presence on a nightly basis when I was 19 through 23 or so, was what I call the University of Jeff Healey. It was unbelievable what he could do, there were no limitations. One of the most beautiful improvisers I’ve ever heard, he set the watermark extraordinarily high, and it sent me on a lifelong journey of always trying to get better, always trying to get deeper, and always giving my all. I honestly just tried to be a sponge in his presence and learn as much as I possibly could. It was a beautiful time that I am eternally grateful for.

After that you headed on down to Los Angeles? Seems like that move paid off.

My now wife and I got in our car and drove. I knew a couple of people there, but that was it. I started from the beginning. I went out to open jams like I was doing in Toronto, and just introduced myself to people, and did the best that I could with every opportunity. One of the contacts I knew in Los Angeles, Mike Bradford, was cool enough to return my call and said that Uncle Kracker was looking for someone that could play and sing. So I ended up playing and touring with them for about 18 months while he was enjoying tremendous popularity and success. It was a great learning experience.

With all that going on how did playing with Melissa Etheridge come about?

I went to Westwood Music in Los Angeles to try some Mojave amplifiers one morning. It looked like that scene at the beginning of Back to the Future, and I was having a lot of fun cranking up the amps. In walked producer John Shanks who came right over and introduced himself. He’s a great guitar player, and we shared a bond in old vintage guitars. He just finished producing a Melissa Etheridge record and was mixing it, and played me a couple tracks. A few weeks later Melissa’s camp called me and asked if I would be interested in going out on tour with her. It was super exciting as I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for her. I ended up working with Melissa for four years, and cherish every moment of that experience. Playing at the Oscars, the Grammys, The Democratic National Convention as Barack Obama was being elected are among the highlights, as well as her incredible tours and fans, but also, again, I did my best to be a sponge and learn as much as I possibly could from Melissa’s musical mastery.

How have you been able to showcase your own music while sharing the stage?

The three artists that I’ve mentioned, all went out of their way to make room for me on their stages. I’m so grateful that they gave me an opportunity to do what I personally do with my music. They embraced me and what I was doing, and always encouraged me to keep going further! They are true mentors, true artists.

How did you start putting Influence together?

Influence is an album that I created with producer Dave Cobb in Nashville. I was going through a tough time in the sometimes unscrupulous music business. We had made a few records together before this one, so he reached out to me and said “let’s start making some more music together.” So I took a few trips to Nashville and from those sessions came Influence. Shortly after it was recorded, I connected with Steve Waxman at Warner Music Canada. He was listening to a Spotify playlist and heard some of my music and reached out to say hi. In April 2016, the deluxe Canadian release of Influence was released on Warner.

It goes to show you never really know how you’re going to be discovered, right? However, you’ve been incredibly patient in regards to waiting for one of the big three to pick you up. What kept you going and motivated you to keep plugging away?

I love music. I love the creating from an emotional and spiritual and connected place. I’m just doing the very best that I can to keep getting better keep growing as an artist and as a person, and hopefully put something good into the world.

You seem to have a pretty varied music taste. I gather a lot of that is from listening to those records your parents’ had. What are some of the musicians you are listening to these day now that you’re creating your own collection?

I’m still listening to all the artists that turned me on when I was a little kid! Music is a lifelong commitment for me. When I hear something that I love, I add it to the library of music that turns me on. There’s lots of great music, not only what we hear in the pop mainstream, but lots of artists that are making excellent music today. I really try to look for music that grabs me at an emotional level, or resonates with me in some kind of way. Doesn’t matter if it’s Polka or Metal, I just want to feel something.

What’s on the horizon for you that you’d like to share?

I’ve had a live release in the can for quite some time now. I hope to make some of those recordings available ASAP. I’ve also been writing music and have a lot of ideas started that I would like to finish and release. Ideally, continuing to develop artistically as well. I hope to return to Europe as well. We spent a lot of time touring and releasing records there, and we are overdue for a return. I’m always on the lookout for like-minded collaborators, good people to work with that are working with artists because they love music and also want to put something good into the world.

Hervana: Unplugged in Ottawa

April 16, 2016 12:32 pm
Hervana-17w

All photos by Andre Gagne.

In November of 1993, five months before taking his life, Kurt Cobain and his band Nirvana walked onto the Sony Music Studios stage in New York City for a concert unlike any they had performed before. The Seattle band had helped launch grunge, became the voice of a generation and, whether Cobain wanted it or not, they were well on their way to being one of rock music’s most influential bands. Their live shows were loud thrashed out performances where feedback was just another band member, crowds were surfed and instruments were utterly obliterated. On this night in New York, however, there would be none of that as the band, surrounded by candles and flowers in a scene more reminiscent of a funeral, sat down to play an unplugged set of lesser known tunes and cover songs. Those hoping to hear the familiar opening chords to “Smells like Teen Spirit” would have to blast it back at home. The band’s biggest hit wasn’t even sound checked.

21 years later, on April 15, 2016, Skirt Cobain and her band Hervana walked onto the House of Targ stage carrying plastic flowers and fake tea candles to the sounds of pinball machines and the applause of a crowd who had waited until just a few ticks after midnight for this. The all-grrrl, if you couldn’t catch that from the name, Nirvana cover band would be playing the set from Nivana’s acoustic New York show in its entirety.

“The idea to do the Unplugged in New York album came from really loving the songs but not really being able to fit acoustic songs into our regular electric set,” says Skirt (also known as Carly Beath). “We figured if we were going to do an acoustic set, we might as well take the chance to play the whole album.”

Beath surveyed those who had packed in around the stage filling in whatever area didn’t have a table or game machine. The crowd was made up of a mixture of students, gamers, and those still holding tightly to that revolutionary time in the early ‘90’s where, with torn jeans and flannel shirts, the young collectively shouted “here we are now; entertain us” and Nirvana belted out the angst of a generation. To those of us that listened, it wasn’t a movement. It wasn’t a genre. It was just living.

Carley Beath (aka Skirt Cobain) of Hervana

Carly Beath (aka Skirt Cobain) of Hervana

“You can tell by the fake flowers that we don’t have Nirvana’s budget,” Beath said with a bit of a chuckle. “These are Dollarama specials.”

“Who cares!” somebody shouted near the back. Indeed! Stage accoutrements were incidental here. They crowd was ready for the music. Hervana would happily oblige. The band doesn’t come off as a simple tribute or cover novelty act. When you hear them you feel more like they are celebrating that time and the music from a band that defined it.

They may very well be the first group that was formed primarily because of Twitter. Three years ago Beath, Erin Cousins (aka Miss Novoselic), Michelle Turingan (aka Pap Smear) and Adrian Pasen (aka Dave Grrrl) were playing in various bands around Toronto. Beath was doing a lot of solo electronic music and was itching to play guitar in a band again. How to not get lost in the sea of bands in the city battling to be heard? Inspiration comes from the strangest of places.

“Toronto needs an all-girl Nirvana cover band named Hervana,” Tweeted @groshbarr. Beath read it, loved the name and promptly started to put the group together on the social media site.

“I dug around to make sure Hervana didn’t already exist and then I started roping in various musician friends,” Beath says. Misstallica, AC/DShe and Lez Zeppelin were all taken. Hervana was thankfully free.

The pun was really the genesis of the group but Beath admits that if they didn’t love Nirvana they wouldn’t have gotten into it just for the name. The idea for their stage names was also inspired by an outside suggestion.

“We were in a bar talking about the band and a stranger overheard and turned around and pointed at us and said, “Skirt Cobain!” From there, the rest of the names were previous obvious to us,” recalls Beath.

Erin Cousins (aka Miss Novoselic) performs for the crowd at Targ.

Erin Cousins (aka Miss Novoselic) performs for the crowd at Targ.

For Cousins, learning about Nirvana was a gateway to many all-female bands that formed during the rise of grunge. The feminist hardcore punk movement was called riot grrrl and, like grunge, grew out of the Seattle/Olympia Washington area where a lot of young women started forming garage bands and zines to speak out against sexism and violence against women.

“That was no small influence on my character and my self-confidence as a girl and as a musician,” says Cousins on discovering herself through the music, touching upon how Nirvana helped kick-start that for her. “Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland and Hole, those bands might never have crossed my radar otherwise.”

Though the band has had mainly positive feedback –which could be heard by the Targ crowd that evening – Cousins says they have dealt with their fair share of negativity about their emulation of Nirvana’s songs.

“Trollers gonna’ troll. We’re not doing this for them, we’re doing it for all the awesome people who come to our shows and dance and sing along.”

That was just the crowd that came to Targ to hear Unplugged in New York. To their delight, those gathered sang back every word to tunes like “All Apologies”, “Come as You Are” and “Something in the Way”. Even when the final song on the album was played they shouted for an encore.

“You guys, there are no more,” Beath laughed as the crowded screamed on.

The show was part of House of Targ Year Two Anniversary that saw a performance by Toronto Circus punk band Mineta on April 14 and will include a Burlesque show this evening all cumulating in a free-play pinball party with cake, prizes and more Sunday night. Ottawa Life will have more coverage of the festivities as well as an interview with Targ owner and yogi, Paul Granger, early next week.

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