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St. Lawrence Stage bright with stars at opening concert

During an earlier interview, St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage board president, Sandra Whitworth, could only speak in superlatives when she described the performers who will kick off the 2012-13 concert year at the Stage on Saturday evening, September 15.

“Jadea Kelly has a pristine voice,” she said, “absolutely clear as a bell. And Catherine MacLellan is an established, versatile performer with a dark, husky voice. The two will be a dynamic singer/songwriter combination on the stage.”

These artists have shared venues before; this concert should be an exhilarating start to the new season at the St. Lawrence Stage.

“Jadea and I met through a mutual friend, David Baxter, and I asked her to come in on my album, Silhouette,” MacClellan said. “She did some background harmonizing for me, and she was just incredible. Since then we’ve branched into concerts together, often singing on the same bill.”

“I did sing backups with Catherine,” Jadea Kelly said. “She’s become a good friend, and we’ve worked together now for about two years. Our styles and voices complement each other. I admire her song writing and her wonderful way with words.”

Catherine MacClellan comes from a very musical family (her father, Gene MacClellan, was a renowned performer,  and composer of many songs, including Anne Murray’s mega hit ‘Snow Bird’). “I grew up hearing a lot of folk music. I remember listening to everything, even,” she laughed, “some really bad 80’s pop music. But what I remember most is how strong an influence my dad was for me. I’d watch him writing and I found it inspirational.”

The love of performance, and the love of writing are dominant forces in this artist’s life. 

“I started writing, I think, to express myself, my feelings and emotions. I was always very shy, and music became an outlet for coping with life’s issues, like when I lost my dad at age 14. It is a challenge to sing full time, and I don’t always like the life on the road, but the playing itself is wonderful. Music is simply part of me.”

MacClellan’s Dark Dream Midnight came out in 2004, Church Bell Blues in 2006-7, and Water in the Ground in 2009. Her current album Silhouette, was launched in 2011, and is garnering a lot of attention from both fans and critics. Nominated for a number of prestigious awards, she was named solo artist of the year in 2009 by the Canadian Folk Music Awards, and number one Roots Artist on iTunes Canada.

Still, MacLellan doesn’t care to be pigeon-holed into a particular musical style. 

“My taste is eclectic. I love 60’s folk, but also old country and blues, and currently Indian music. I pull from all those sounds when I sing and write. I don’t have pre-conceived ideas. I let the emotions and the feelings I am currently experiencing determine my music. There are definitely themes of love and relationships, interactions between people in my music.

I’m not sure I’ve made the record of my dreams just yet. There’s always another hill ahead, something new to accomplish.”

She is looking forward to the St. Lawrence Stage, and performing with Jadea. “It’s going to be fun. It always is.”

Like Catherine, Jadea Kelly was surrounded by music growing up. “I sang before I talked,” she said. “Music is a strong, almost therapeutic, part of my life. I love it. There is no alternative path in this world for me. Singing is what I am meant to do.”

Kelly’s sound has been described as folk/country, but “that is somewhat in the past. People say there’s always been a little bit of ache in my words. However, my style is undergoing change just now, with darker undertones to it. There are some new rock influences, and I think I might describe my emerging style (laughing) as creepy country.”

Also a prolific song-writer, Kelly, who spent time in the country growing up, says her songs often “bridge the divide between working on a farm and being a musician. And I am very much in love right now,” she laughed, “and that is definitely spilling over into my writing and my music. Of course, there are writing dry spells, but ideas and inspirations can come to you at any time. I have post it notes all over my place ready for those ideas.”

She has recently spent two years touring her album Eastbound Platform (2009) in North America and Europe, and is developing Clover. She, too, is looking forward to Morrisburg. “I hope Catherine and I get to sing a little harmony on the stage at some point. Like her, I just love making music.”

Tickets for the Catherine MacClellan, Jadea Kelly concert Saturday, September 15, at the Meeting Centre, are $20 in advance, and $25 at the door. Contact the Basket Case, Strung Out Guitars, or go on line at


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St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage presents brilliant new season


“This is going to be our greatest concert season yet,” said St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage board members, Sandra Whitworth (president and treasurer) and Derek Hunter (vice  president). “The stage is a place where the audience and the performers can strike up a real relationship. People know that in our musical line ups, there will be something in the season that will delight them.”

Fresh from setting up their new office at the OETIO (Operating Engineers Training Institute of Ontario), site of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage, Whitworth and Hunter shared funding and performance news about the 2012-2013 season.

This is the St. Lawrence’s Stage’s seventh year in Morrisburg. In May of this year, MP Guy Lauzon presented the Stage with a Heritage grant. The board also learned that the Ontario Arts Council would continue to maintain the Stage’s Arts Council grant, while the Township of South Dundas will also continue its support. 

These grants are vital to the Stage’s ability to book performers early, and to establish a season.

“When we first began this venture,” Whitworth explained, “we could only plan our concerts one show at a time. Even three years ago, we were not able to set up a full fall line up in advance. This funding allows us now to create the fall and the winter concerts, and to book performers ahead. We have the security now of being able to envision different types of music and to seek out interesting performers.” 

The ongoing support of platinum sponsor Coffey’s Coffee also ensures the kind of quality concerts the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage is becoming well known for.  “We hope to increase our business support for the Stage,” Whitworth said. “This is an area we are seriously exploring.”

Whitworth reports that audience sizes have doubled in the last couple of years at the Stage, with two shows, Serena Ryder and Don Ross, actually sold out. The board hopes this trend will continue in 2012-13, as more people realize the incredible musical jewel right on their doorstep.

Joining the 2012-13 volunteer board, which also includes Bill Carriere, is Tony McCadden, a Morrisburg resident, who plays in the Ottawa-based percussion ensemble, Kunundrum.

Jeanne Ward, “the last of the original founding members of the St. Lawrence Stage,” said Derek Hunter, “and our former president, had to leave the board this year. While she has moved out of the SD&G area, she has promised to attend our shows.” To honour her dedication and hard work for over seven years, the Stage presented Ward with a special plaque and gave her a “life time” pass to all future St. Lawrence Stage concerts.

And if the concerts booked for this fall are any indication, audiences can look for premier entertainment at the Stage.

Those who attended Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe at the Playhouse this winter, will be delighted to hear that Jadea Kelly (who appeared on that show) is opening for Catherine MacLellan on September 15. 

“Jadea has a pristine voice, clear as a bell,” said Whitworth. “And Catherine MacLellan (whose father Gene wrote Snow Bird) is an established, versatile performer with a dark, husky voice. The two will be a dynamic singer/songwriter combination on the stage.”

In October, the phenomenal Kevin Fox, (“our first cellist,” Whitworth laughed) will headline. He is a singer/writer/composer of note, who performs both original music and covers, using a looping pedal to create a full, rich sound. His CD, Songs for Cello and Voice, is truly “an experience.”

Opening for Fox is Dave Simard, first seen at the Stage in an emerging artists show case in 2010-2011, where he drew audience raves. Simard has since gone on to build a strong career with his unusual approach to music. He even created his own term for it, “avant-garde folk.”

Terra Hazelton and Her Easy Answers explode on stage in November when she brings her jazz/swing band (with a taste of blues added to the mix) to the St. Lawrence Stage. Jeff Healey’s vocalist of choice with his jazz band,  Hazelton and her quartet will perform a wide range of exciting music from classic to modern jazz. 

Unique in performance and unique to the St. Lawrence Stage is the second performer in November, Evalyn Parry and her show, Spin.

“I saw Evalyn Parry perform Spin, and she was simply an incredible presence on stage,” Whitworth explained. “Her show actually uses a bicycle both as a metaphor and an instrument. Her concert will involve the spoken word, wonderful music and theatre. She literally draws audiences in. What a show hers will be!”

The winter line-up at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage is being finalized, but tickets for the outstanding fall season (as well as season passes) are available at The Basket Case, Strung Out Guitars and Compact Music also carry tickets.

Some of the best musical entertainment in Eastern Ontario is here at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage. 


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Hotbed Hotel offers hot comedy at UCP


Audiences ‘checking in’ to Hotbed Hotel, Upper Canada Playhouse’s 2012 summer season opener, can anticipate a ‘stay’ that’s filled with zany guests, colossal misunderstandings and impossibly funny situations.

The only guarantee at this one-star hotel is that you won’t actually die laughing: it may just be a near thing. 

The production, which features a large and talented cast of nine, is being directed by Playhouse artistic director Donnie Bowes, and opens on June 7 running until July 1.

“This is a very funny Michael  Parker farce,” Bowes said. “It’s the third one we’ve produced at the Playhouse by Parker. The other two, which audiences thoroughly enjoyed, were the Amorous Ambassador and the Sensuous Senator

Parker, an Englishman now living in the United States, has all the gags and the crisp dialogue of traditional English farces in his very popular plays.”

Bowes has assembled a stellar cast for the Playhouse’s summer opener. 

“This show demands every skill an actor has,” Bowes said. “The pace is vital. The characters never have time to stop, think or reason, because that, of course, would destroy the humour.”

As the owners of a  dilapidated ‘one star’  hotel in the Florida Keys, Terri and Brian Cody are desperate to convince a New York buyer to commit. The problem is, he hasn’t actually seen the property. He is also under the impression that there are lots of paying guests staying at the hotel as well as a functioning and efficient staff.

And he is showing up to inspect the site within the hour, not in two weeks as originally planned. 

“That sets up the problem,” director Bowes laughed. “The characters begin making decisions that they will definitely come to regret. Those hasty decisions lead to ever increasing misunderstandings and confusion.”

Debra Hale, who plays Terri Cody, explained that her character “wears the pants”  where this husband and wife are concerned.  She is determined to see the sale through and ropes some of the hotel’s more colourful characters into the scheme. 

“I’m the manager in name only,” laughed Timm Hughes. “Poor Brian, the husband, has no control over anything at this hotel. He just ends up going along.”

Retuning to the Playhouse is AnnaMarie Lea, in the role of maid Maureen. “I think she’s just off the cabbage farm, in her first job, with no idea how to do it. When they also make her room service and reception, well, it’s more than she can handle.”

New comer to the Playhouse but a renowned stage veteran is Mo Bock, as maintenance man Hopkins. 

“Hopkins’ primary objectives in life are to stay employed, to stay drunk and to get it on with the ‘Barracuda’,” Bock grinned.

“The Barracuda” is played by Susan Greenfield. “She is actually a real guest at the hotel, who returns yearly for a week pursuing any and every man within reach.  They’re all fair game,” Greenfield said.

“The Barracuda is a character totally unlike Susan, of course,” Bowes immediately said, to much cast laughter.

Doug Tangney returns to the stage in the role of the long-winded, often befuddled Major Posenby, a retired guest staying at the hotel. “He really wants to help the Codys, it just goes very wrong,” Tangney explained.

Richard Bauer is Sam Lewis, “the prospective New York buyer and a bit of a prude. Although he does have a secret or two of his own.”

“I’m one of those secrets,” laughed newcomer Erin MacKinnon, who plays Sam’s travelling companion, Ashley. “While I can’t say too much, through no fault of her own, Ashley keeps misplacing her clothing.”

Brenda Quesnel, as Dorothy, also can’t “say too much. I’m sweet and charming. Is that cryptic enough?”

The impressive set for this show was designed by John Thompson, with lighting by Sean Free. 

Backstage at Hotbed Hotel is “almost as exciting as on stage in a farce,” Bowes explained. “There are a number of physical gags that have to be rigged (audiences love these) and the set itself is very complex with multiple doors leading to multiple areas. It takes a long time to lift this kind of show off the page.”

“There are complicated props and tricks and hand-offs,” said stage manager Liz Campbell. With ASM Alice Barnett and production intern Liam Collins, this crew is very busy. “Timing is vital, and everything has to be precise, everyone in place. It’s like trying to track a pinball at times.”

What this all means for audiences, however, is side splitting fun in a top notch theatre production. 

Contact Upper Canada Playhouse (613-543-3713) and check in to Hotbed Hotel.


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St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage receives Heritage grant


MP Guy Lauzon was on hand on Thursday, May 24, at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre to formally present the board of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage an $8,000 grant through the Canada Arts Presentation Fund of the Department of the Canadian Heritage. “This is the best part of my job,” Lauzon said, “giving a worthy organization a bit of help financially. I am proud of our government’s commitment to supporting the Arts in Canada. The Stage actively encourages professional and amateur musicians, and generates economic growth in this area.” “We really appreciate how much the Stage does for our community,” said Charles “Chuck” Barkley, president of the South Dundas Chamber of Commerce. “We encourage everyone to support their shows.” “This grant was very good news for us,” said board member Sandra Whitworth. “It allows us to book artists in advance, and set up attractive packages for our next season. We really appreciate the support of the government and of our community.” Left to right are Sandra Whitworth, MP Guy Lauzon, Jeanne Ward, Bill Carriere, board members, and president Chuck Barkley.


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Terrific Trio ends St. Lawrence Stage season


The St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage finished off its 2011-2012 season in a big way on Saturday, May 26, at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre.

Not only was the Stage the recipient of a Canadian Heritage grant, presented by MP Guy Lauzon earlier in the week, but three outstanding artists rang down the concert series curtain on a very special high note.

Ambre McLean, Fraser Anderson and Tara Holloway  did not know each other before they shared the stage Saturday night. 

“We were a little mean about this,” board member Sandra Whitworth laughed, just before welcoming the trio to the stage. “We threw these three artists together, performers who had never met each other, just to see what would happen. However, the singers assure me that they are going to enjoy this.”

So did the audience at Saturday’s concert.

It was, as Tara Holloway had suggested in an earlier interview, “some sort of combustion, a magical moment when these song writers (came) together to sing.”

The individuality of each of the performers’ vocal styles made the on stage mix a very interesting  and unexpected one.  

While none of the artists can be pigeon-holed into a particular genre, Ambre McLean’s soaring, beautiful voice has a  rich, jazz/blues flavour colouring it. Fraser Anderson, a slight Scottish burr underlying his wonderful,  seemingly effortless vocals, might, in another era be described as a balladeer, a romantic. Tara Holloway is a powerhouse on stage, her vocals strong and uninhibited and daring.

Anderson, born in Scotland, but now living in France, often prefaced his music with anecdotes. (“My son is attending school in France. He came home shortly after he started classes and announced, “Dad, I learned to say something in French!”  “Wonderful son, what is it?” “I can say sit down and be quiet.”)  

It led to an Anderson number, an hilarious musical blending of French and English lyrics (“I just can’t choose ce soir…is it masculin ou feminin?”) and brought Tara and Ambre in on the chorus, creating a truly spontaneous magical moment.

To considerable audience approval, McLean performed her beautiful award winning song, “Me, Myself and the Moon.” 

“I got the idea for this song when I overheard a woman in a restaurant say that she knew she was in love, because she felt it ‘with her whole body,’” Ambre explained. “Doesn’t that make you weak? When you fall in love, it is the simplest, most amazing time in the world.”

Tara Holloway, who creates some very unusual harmonies, powerfully delivered on “Girls, Girls, Girls,” and was joined, again spontaneously, by Fraser and Amber, on  “The Heart Goes” from her newly reissued CD Sins to Confess

Throughout the evening, I was repeatedly impressed with the lyrics of the songs I was hearing. Anderson, Holloway and McLean are genuine originals. Their  individual themes, their plays on words, their ability to express even traditional ideas in the most unexpected of ways, was a source of real pleasure.

At the end of the evening, Fraser Anderson, Tara Holloway and Ambre McLean united their voices in a beautiful ballad by Anderson. Music really does bring strangers close together. 

We all saw that on Saturday evening.

Look for the upcoming 2012-2013 concert series at the St. Lawrence Stage this September.


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Trio to headline at final concert of the season at St. Lawrence Stage


The final concert of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage’s 2011-2012 season is going to be one for the records.

Three great artists, Fraser Anderson, Tara Holloway and Ambre McLean, will be performing “in the round”  on the St. Lawrence Stage, in a program that will be a true mix of styles: folk, blues, country and even a bit of pop.

“We’re the ones who have put them together in this mix,” explained Sandra Whitworth, on the board of the St. Lawrence Stage. “They don’t tour together. We’ve kind of thrown them together to see what happens. 

What they all share, besides their impressive musicianship, are absolutely stunning vocals and song-writing chops. We think the synergy that gets going among them in an ‘in the round’ format is going to make for a spectacular end to our season on Saturday, May 26, at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre, at 7 p.m.”

The opportunity to talk to all three artists simply confirmed for me Whitworth’s prediction that this is going to be a great show.

Fraser Anderson, a renowned performer in his native Scotland, makes his home in France, where his music has been winning fans all over Europe. He is looking forward to Canada. 

As an artist, Anderson refuses to be musically confined. “I wouldn’t like to even try to describe my style for fear of restricting something. I have always had a love of soul music and old school hip hop, so grooves and a vibe to make you nod your head is my music too sometimes.” 

Anderson cannot recall a time when he wasn’t singing. “It always made me feel better inside.” A composer as well as a singer, he finds his themes in some unexpected places.

“I feel drawn to old men with their stories and wisdom. Whenever I see an old couple holding hands, I feel my eyes tear up a little. Just a little!”

He loves people watching and creating music about the individuals who cross his path. “I was once told to just write about what you know and that turned out to be very good advice.” He is currently writing lyrics for Terez Montcalm’s new album, a challenge he is enjoying. 

I caught up with Tara Holloway while she was enroute to a rehearsal. 

 “As long as I’m able to travel, I’m going to stay a gypsy,” she laughed. “I have a blast standing in front of different audiences. The sharing of the music, the intensity of the moment are wonderful. You don’t get 10 tries to get it right. When you make that connection with an audience, it’s awesome.”

Like Anderson, she chooses not to be stereotyped.

“I’m one of those professionals who doesn’t like sounding the same every time, or doing a song the same way every time. I change songs vocally and melodically when I perform. I call it,” she added with a laugh, “my creative side. I simply love to sing, live to sing.”

As a lyricist, Holloway finds “the intimacy of life the basis for most of my writing. My music seems to come out of those challenging times in life.” 

She is excited to be sharing the Stage with Fraser and Ambre. “This was a neat idea of the St. Lawrence board to put the three of us together. I suspect there may be some sort of combustion, maybe a magical moment when these song writers come together to sing.”

Music has always been part of Ambre McLean’s life, but she admits that she only made it her full time career in the last few years. With a mother who sang folk, a father who was a rock musician and a godmother who was a jazz singer in Toronto, McLean  (trained classically herself) refuses to be “locked into a particular genre. How I perform, my style, may often be based on just how I’m feeling that day.”

Like many young artists, Ambre gained a lot of experience with the ViaRail “On Board Entertainment” program, which showcases up and coming Canadian musicians. She travelled throughout Canada, honing her musical skills, developing her unique voice.

“I write a lot from a very personal point of view. Feelings, and dealing with the emotional issues of life are reflected in my writing. Although,” McLean said, “as a very new mother, I have recently added lullabies to my repertoire. I often end up writing my songs on napkins or receipts or into my cell phone,” she laughed. “When musical inspiration strikes, it’s a right now thing with me.”

Past winner of a CBC song writing challenge, McLean loves the challenges of composition, and of performance. “I think my performance in Morrisburg may be a bit fluid, perhaps a little unexpected.” 

Tickets for this spectacular final concert, in a series of stand-out shows this season at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage, are $15 in advance or $18 at the door. The concert begins at 7 p.m at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre. Contact the Basket Case or Strung Out Guitars, or go on line at


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Trio launch new CDs at St. Lawrence Stage


 It was a champagne (or at least bubbly punch!) send off for the artists from friends and fans at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage on Saturday, May 12. Local musicians Stephanie Coleman, Jeanne Ward and Sandra Whitworth each launched their new CDs at a special concert on the stage. 

“So much work and time went into these CDs,” said Bill Carriere, a member of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage Board, “that it was wonderful to see all these people come out to support our amazing singers.”

Stephanie Coleman, who first performed at the stage over three years ago, led off the evening. 

Appearing very confident on stage, Coleman’s strong clear voice is a beautiful instrument. Accompanied only by a violinist, she relied on her guitar and her lyrics to convey her themes and ideas. 

I would describe her style as a vibrant mixture of country and folk. Her songs reflect her interest in the challenges one must face in any relationship. “This road is hard/We’ll walk it together…Best foot forward/There’s better times ahead.”

She joked that she had to use on stage notes (“I really did write all these songs!”), as she shared her amazing musical talent with an appreciative audience. I found Coleman’s very lovely “Every Road” the perfect ending to her set.

Jeanne Ward, a seasoned performer, who worked with Easy Pickins, and is now striking out as a solo artist, starred in the next set. 

Backed up by bass, guitar, drums and sax, with vocal support from musicians Marc Muir and Barb Ward, Ward opened with what she laughingly described as “my one and only rock song,” an upbeat number called “The Way Out.”

A singer with a broad vocal range,  blessed with a mellow, easy soprano, Ward’s musical style is fairly unique. She swings from rock to thoughtful folk, each approach chosen to best reflect her themes. 

Ward performed one of her older, popular compositions, “Painting Walls” then segued into a joyful, optimistic  love song (with Marc Muir) about how “Love will come to you if you call it in. And it might just save your life.” 

At ease on stage and with the audience, Ward was a delight to hear.

Sandra Whitworth closed out the concert with a set that was versatile, unexpected and fun.

She was a little bit country in “I Live on a Country Road,”  a little bit bluesy in “Hound Dog Home” and a little bit (my description) Brazilian beat in “What Kind of Fight Do You Have in You.”

Whitworth’s voice is equally versatile, more into the alto range, and well suited to numbers like “Hound Dog Home”. Marc Muir of Cornwall, and a group of talented musicians backed her up during her set. Although she confided before the concert that she was nervous, there was little sign of that as she delivered great music in “Kite on a Line” or (with Jeanne Ward singing accompaniment) charmed the audience with “To Be More.”

In one of her songs, Whitworth sang “It takes a lot of courage/ To say what you mean..” 

Those words seem to sum up the honest, the sincere, the often beautiful words and voices of these three new artists.

Look for the new CDs by Sandra Whitworth, Stephanie Coleman and Jeanne Ward. 

It’s worth the search.  


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Joanne Laurin getting ready to hit the stage


MORRISBURG-Since she was a young girl, singing has brought her joy, and now Joanne Laurin has decided to share that joy.

“I can remember being a child in church, about seven years old, and an older couple tapping me on the should to tell me I should keep on singing, that I could be a professional one day.” 

“Then in high school, I remember being asked to sing on stage. But I was way too shy back then to let out what has been buried all my life.”

Now,” says Joanne, “here I am, in my late 40’s and finally ready to let people hear what I have been hiding.”

After receiving encouragement from a friend at work, John Mondoux, Joanne signed up for singing lessons and is now preparing to sing in public.

What she didn’t know, when she set out on this “magical” journey, was how much there is to learn and how much hard work there would be.

But Joanne is extremely happy balancing her home life with husband Mike, a demanding career as a Health Care Aid working at the Villa in Long Sault and the demands of her singing.

“After work each day, I do exercises for my throat and on my days off, I sing for upwards of four hours.”

“It’s more than I ever thought. How you learn to find your voice is magical.”

One of her first lessons involved learning where her voice was coming from. “I was actually singing in my speaking voice. There is a lot of homework and a lot of practise.”

Joanne says she owes her decision to pursue her singing to Mondoux, a co-worker and also a very talented singer and guitarist.

After Mondoux heard Joanne sing at the nursing home, he encouraged and worked with her as did Ingleside singer Candy Rutley, “who spent hours teaching me how to find my chest voice.”

“And John really helped get me on my feet. He mentored me.”

With their encouragement, Joanne is now enrolled in singing lessons with “a highly gifted and professional teacher, Siaca from Melody Makers”. She attends one lesson each week.

“It’s all about learning about your vocal chords, the do’s and don’t’s. I am learning what phrasing is, and tempo, and working on my facial expressions, making my eyes match the song. There are so many things to learn. It is so interesting. And, oh my gosh, breathing is so important when you sing.”

“There is also a lot of memorization. I started school in January, and I have now learned eight songs. So in four months, I have done a lot of work.”

“I never thought in a million years there would be so much to learn. But I love it, and I can’t wait to make this happen.”

As for finally hitting the stage and sharing her joy of singing with others, Joanne says she is taking baby steps. She says her band is named “It’s Just Joe”, that being herself, a CD, and a microphone.

“The patients (at Woodlands) are my little rookies,” she says of her first gig set for June. “They are all excited for me to come and sing for them in June. They are going to hear my summer road show before anyone else.”

At this point, Joanne’s summer road show will include a performance during a St. Lawrence River cruise with the Thousand Island Cruise Line in June, and a July 1st Canada Day performance on the Lost Villages’ stage.

She expects her ultimate experience will be when she sings a solo on the professional stage at Aultsville Hall in Cornwall next spring during the annual Festival of Music.

Down the road she would like to sing at local events, perhaps at weddings and funerals.

“The reason I like to sing is to put happiness and joy into people’s lives. I want to make people feel happy because I’m happy when I’m singing.”

“I want to sing anywhere people can hear me,” she concludes.


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Crooked Brothers and Manitoba Hal rock St. Lawrence Stage


It was an unconventional evening featuring unconventional musicians. 

That just made the April 14 concert at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre more memorable. The Crooked Brothers and Manitoba Hal thoroughly rocked the Centre at their Saturday concert.

Hal Brolund, better known as Manitoba Hall, opened.

A man with an enormous talent, he instantly charmed the audience with his unique, unconventional approach to the blues. 

Performing with his old ‘friend’, a special double-necked, “radio sonic” ukulele, Hal was a one-man band on stage. 

Soft and sweet on “Baby, please don’t go,”   husky and hurt on “You know boys/she fool you once/she gonna do it again”,  and foot-stomping and fun on the classic “I Owe My Soul to the Company Store,” Hal quickly won the crowd.

The transplanted Maritimer’s sense of humour took the fore when he performed the very unconventional blues piece, “When life is like a hot dog.”

Enticed once by a $2 hot dog deal at a concert,  already holding the steaming ‘dog’ in one hand, he discovered the catch: customers had to somehow cut open the buns themselves. 

“I was instantly inspired to write a song about this,” Hal explained to mounting laughter, “and originally included the line, “with one hand on my weiner, Lord, and one hand on my bun.” I gradually realized how that line might play with audiences however, so I changed it to “Life is like a hotdog bun/No matter how you slice it, you’ve gotta do it yourself.”

Yup, this is really a song about self-reliance and helping your fellow man.”

Singing selections taken from his latest release, Flirting with Mermaids, Manitoba Hal played the whole range of blues: all of them his way.

In an earlier interview, Brolund talked about the “good and true” qualities of the blues, how hard living and troubles often lead to religious imagery in blues songs, including his own.

“If I could, I surely would/Stand on the rock where Moses stood..”

An artist who readily shares his musical knowledge, Manitoba Hal held a Saturday workshop for ukulele students.

Chuck Leclair, a participant, said the workshop had been a great experience. “Hal is an interactive person. He broke songs down in ways we could all understand, even more advanced techniques. You’ve just got to love him.”

Cheryl Lanford, another participant agreed.  “I’m a novice player, and Hal taught me seven incredible things just in the short time we had. He was a compassionate teacher.”

In the second half of the St. Lawrence concert, The Crooked Brothers took no prisoners.

Whatever your idea of a prairie band singing Canadian songs might be, The Crooked Brothers  shatter all traditions.

Unconventional in appearance, unconventional on stage, Jesse Matas, Darwin Baker and Matt Foster are absolutely original.

The masters of harmonica, guitar, mandolin and dobro, with voices that shift in and out of conventional vocal ranges in unexpected ways, including  performing acapella, they step way outside regular genres.

In an earlier interview, Baker described their sound as “roots”, but rock and roll, country, blue grass, gospel, they’re all mixed in. “We twist and stretch our sounds our own way,” he explained.

There is a distinct and passionate “Canadian” feel to their music. This was never more evident Saturday than in the stunning, “17 Horses”, about the building of the 44 highway across the prairies, or in  the angry “Farmers Feed Cities”. “You’re tearing out my heart/And selling it for scrap…” 

The sheer power of their performance can actually catch you off guard.

Yet the Brothers also share a disarming sense of humour on stage and in their music. 

“We’re from Winnipeg, where it’s flat,” Matt deadpanned. “You hop in the car, put on cruise control and pop in the back seat for a nap. You only wake up in Regina long enough to refuel.”  

“Standin’ Still,” hilariously describing travelling through the Rockies at 3 a.m., painted a true  and funny portrait of the life of musicians on the road. So too, did Matt’s ironic, but oh-so-Canadian observation, “We are now going to try and play our nicest songs…yup, winter and sadness.”

Their unique brand of music has been shaped and honed in venues ranging from living rooms to concert stages to smoky, rowdy bars. It is memorable, exciting, unexpected.

The Crooked Brothers are, quite simply, a powerhouse on stage. 

Don’t miss the final concert of the spectacular St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage 2012 series coming on May 26. 


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The Crooked Brothers and Manitoba Hal headline at St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage

 Sandra Whitworth, board member for the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage, could only talk in superlatives as she described The Crooked Brothers and Manitoba Hal as totally “fantastic musicians.” 

“I saw them both at this year’s Ontario Council of Folk Festivals and was blown away,” Whitworth said. “I am personally, let me underline this, really looking forward to this show.”

The  artists will be performing  at the Stage in Morrisburg on Saturday, April 14, part of the St. Lawrence 2012 concert series.

Manitoba Hal, who will open the concert, is an accomplished guitarist, song writer and ukulele player. His is a unique and striking blues style: his ukulele finger picking and strumming has won him Canadian and international awards and election to the Ukulele Hall of Fame in 2001. 

The Crooked Brothers,  Jesse Matas, Darwin Baker and Matt Foster, are brothers spiritually and musically, brought together four years ago by a shared passion for music, song writing and performing. They have released critically acclaimed albums including 17 Horses and 2011’s Lawrence Where’s Your Knife, a mixture of old and new works. “I guess you’d have to say that, with us, music is a virus that never goes away,” explained Darwin Baker.

The Leader had the opportunity to talk to Hal and Darwin about their music.

Hal laughed when I asked him how an East Coast native, who plays a completely non traditional blues instrument like the ukulele, became Manitoba Hal. 

“About 17 years ago, my grandfather handed me a 1955 Martin ukulele and made me promise to learn to play it.  I learned to play, on my own, strictly by learning to read sheet music. I love the blues, and to me the ukulele carries a huge amount of melancholy under the surface. It creates a bittersweet sound that is utterly remarkable.”

Now using a specially built double neck ukulele, a “radio sonic” built for him by Fred Casey, Hal is able to loop his music to create a literal one man band on stage. 

“Blues is honest and true music,” Hal said. “It’s music based in raw human emotion. I think the Crooked Brothers also tap into this emotion.

After all, a bluesman might sing of evils as a way of driving them away, making listeners feel better. There’s a lot of hope in this music. Since I learned my blues at the feet of Big Dave McLean, that distinct prairie sound is still part of me.”

His newest release, January 2012, is Flirting With Mermaids, of which Manitoba Hal says, tongue in cheek, “imagine the blues meeting an East Coast side show, and you have a sense of this album.”

Manitoba Hal will also be holding a special workshop on Saturday afternoon.

“I work at the level of the  workshop participants,” he said, “because when I teach I also learn. I am passionate about making ukulele knowledge available to others.” 

The Crooked Brothers, who will soon be leaving on a European tour,  starting in Paris, are versatile western artists, for whom, as spokesman Darwin Baker put it, “music is our life.”

“Our dream has always been to be genuinely touring musicians, going to new places and new cities, keeping our music and ideas fresh.”

 In four years of performing across the country, band members got into the habit of passing instruments around. “We all play acoustic guitar (love the unique sound of wood and metal vibrating together), mandolin, banjo, dobro and harmonica. In Morrisburg we will also have Zoe on the bass.”

Matt Foster and Darwin had performed together in other bands when they were joined by Jesse Matas. “We began playing together but twisting and stretching the music a bit for a unique sound. And eventually,” he laughed, “while we were waiting for a ‘real singer’ we all began singing by default.”

The Crooked Brothers describe their music as “roots, but that is kind of a blanket term. There is a strong blue grass flavour to our sound, and we like to actively seek out new sounds and instruments.”

Baker described the Brothers’ music as a “kind of catharsis, with some sadder and darker themes underlying, but there is also a lot of imagery from nature and our travels mixed in. We all write: then our jamming sessions in the lake cabin (Falcon Lake, Manitoba) can turn into something new and exciting like 17 Horses.”

The Brothers are looking forward to the St. Lawrence Stage. “We love playing live, whether the audience is in a rowdy bar, or in a concert hall. I think we are going to perform some more intimate and introspective songs in Morrisburg. And of course,” Baker added, laughing, “we’ll also play our rockers.”

Registration for the ukulele workshop and tickets for the 7 p.m., April 14 concert, at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre ($15 in advance, $18 at the door) are available at the Basket Case, Strung Out Guitars or