From the Garage to the Dance Floor: 20 Years of Partying with Sticks ‘n Stones

Photos courtesy of Sticks 'n Stones.

“Brown Eyed Girl”, “Dancing in the Dark”, “Go Your Own Way”, “Satisfaction” and “Free Falling” all sound like songs that would be included in the ultimate rock and roll jukebox. For Ron Warwaruk, Sam Timmins, Craig Kennedy, Peter Kornherr, Sarah McClurg, Kyle Gilbert and Greg Patten, however, all those hits are just part of a typical show.

They all form Sticks ‘n Stones and they’ve been packing local dance floors for 20 years. If you count the amount of band members and sheer depth of songs in their repertoire, you’d have to say that they are one of the biggest groups in the city today. Things started out small, though, for founder, rhythm guitarist and vocalist Ron Warwaruk when he began to build the behemoth band one piece at a time back in the late 90s.

Warwaruk is your typical “All Canadian Boy” with a love for hockey. Not every Canuck hockey fan, however, invents a portable ice-finisher for those days when you just can’t find a zamboni. If that’s not enough for you, he’s also holds the distinction of being the oldest person to play collegiate hockey when he strapped on the skates for McGill at 30. His line mates now coach the Sens so, yeah, he’s pretty close to the game.

When you know his sports background, it’s not hard to figure out how Sticks became incorporated into his band’s name. We’ll give you one guess what legends of rock gave him the Stones half.

“The name had to be something that's easy to remember and include an indication that there’s variety,” Warwaruk tells Ottawa Life. “The member backgrounds and how they came to join is part of that. Some of us are office and industry managers, real estate agents, microbiologists , business owners, retired …so we have some sticks, some stones and everything in between. You get the point.”

Sticks ‘n Stones has moved pretty far away from the original intended garage band roots mainly because you couldn’t fit all of them in a garage these days! Along with Warwaruk, the current incarnation of the band includes a lot of staples in the local music community. Craig Kennedy is one of the most versatile keyboardists around and has been playing for 40 years. Peter Kornherr (bass) has been part of bands like Streetboy and 4 On The Floor in his 35 plus years of performing. Sarah McClurg is an LA Music Award winning vocalist and owner of a music school.

Though that’s just a few of the band’s collective, Kornherr tells us each of them have a passion for playing even if they really pay the bills with other careers. Having had some longevity gigging around town, he knows Ottawa can be a tough crowd but adds Sticks ‘n Stones works quick to fire up their audiences with “some of the finest pros” in the city.

Ron has been known to say that his group is “all in the special ingredients” and when you factor in the versatility of the songs they can perform, Sticks ‘n Stones is a cover band juggernaut blazing through multiple decades worth of tracks. Not every band can lay claim to seamlessly switching from  AC/DC to Adele within seconds. Sure, such a change up might get even a seasoned radio DJ a stern reprimand but, on stage, it works in the band’s favour as the next song is always a mystery to surprise the audience and it can come out of nowhere!

The band members will tell you the only criteria they have in what makes the setlist is how well they know the tunes and how many butts they can get to bounce on the dance floor. Also, they have to collectively like the song which is not always an easy task for such a large group no matter how beloved the tune in question is. Don’t even think about requesting “Sweet Home Alabama”, folks!

Outside of personal preference and the ability to put the tune together live, Warwaruk says that “the sky’s the limit! We try to cover everything with a vocal rich, full complement of instruments with versatile, easy going musicians.”

The band does shape in some different elements of the popular tunes to make it their own drawing on the vastness of such a big repertoire between them. They have a jazz keyboardist, a metal-head drummer, a blues bassist and two classic rock guitarists in a mish-mash melding of genres held together by an immensely satisfying brand of musical duct-tape.

“The focus is on having fun and we do that,” explains Warwaruk.  “The on stage performance is one of high energy, and that is infectious with the audience. The comments on renditions have been unanimously favourable. Songs receive our seasonings whenever possible and the crowd seem to like it.”

Ron looks back on some of the hardships every band has to face now as learning experiences. There was the low pay, the low gigs and the sad passing of guitarist David Brun that were all tough mountains to get over but the sticks never splintered long and the stones in their path were jumped over. The band would go on to open for some of the group’s whose songs are included in their repertoire. They’ve twice played before Canadian Hall of Famer Tom Cochran as well as being on the line-up with groups like Nazareth, Trooper, Chilliwack and the Stampeders. Outside of their energetic local gigs, the band has played in Europe. If you’re a Sens fan you may have caught a glimpse of the group as they’ve been the house performers at the Canadian Tire Centre for the last three years.

With many years in the business, band members have seen the city change from a time when “there was a bar with a band on every street” to today where they feel “there are still some good acts to be seen but not enough people are out enjoying” them. 

Warwaruk says the band has been able to keep their heads above the water for so many years because the word of mouth about their shows keeps spreading. He also says that having a band where all members are good friends with one another helps form their likability in their audience. It’s not work, it’s more like one big party jam session where the crowd knows nearly all the words to the songs.

“I would describe one of our shows as an experience,” he adds. “We want everyone to feel like they are part of the party!”

Now, if you don’t think you can fit a 7-piece band with over a hundred songs in their arsenal at your party, recently the band has stripped down into SnS Mini. The 3 or 4 member version provides a light acoustic show for a more intimate crowd. Consider it the appetizer to the powerful main course you could be sampling.

Though they primarily play covers, Sticks ‘n Stones have written some of their own tracks and released a single here and there over the years. They plan on recording a full album in the next year or so. Still, their main focus on being the ultimate party band remains with at least one band member suggesting a name change.

“We want everyone to have fun, including ourselves. In fact, we probably should have called ourselves the Ice Breakers! When we look like we’re having fun, the crowd jumps onboard the ship and we just sail away.”