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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 


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Upcoming artists will shine at St. Lawrence Stage concert

They come from a variety of backgrounds; some are just starting out, others have more professional  experience. Some are primarily singers, others primarily mu-sicians. They are composers and song writers in a number of genres ranging from folk, rock and bluegrass to Celtic. 

They all have one thing in common, however.

These artists, who will be performing at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre as part of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage concert  series, each possess exceptional and striking talent.

On Saturday, March 24, at 7 p.m., the St. Lawrence Stage is presenting a showcase concert. 

Among the artists will be Sandra Whitworth an accomplished and gifted musician. She will be backed up by Marc Muir and Noureddine Ismag. Whitworth has helped bring some great talent to the Meeting Centre. Now, performing  songs from her new CD, Water on the Moon, she will step into the spotlight.

Joining her in the line up will be Brockville based artist Brandon Roderick. His group, Simply Skyline, has been building a reputation for stunning vocals and striking lyrics. 

Japhy Sullivan is only 15 years old, but he is already generating a lot of attention. Awarded one of the coveted youth mentor showcase spots at the 2011 Ontario Council of Folk Festivals, Sullivan brings his incredible talent on the fiddle to the St. Lawrence concert. 

“Everything about fiddle music appeals to me,” Sullivan, who comes from a very musical family, said. “My tastes are definitely eclectic. I love traditional, bluegrass, classical, Irish. I compose, and I am also a singer.”

He performs on a French fiddle dating to the 1750s,  currently on loan from the Shubert family. “It has a beautiful, rich sound,” the artist said. “ With it I find musical inspiration in many, many things. Music is my future.” 

Andrew Aguiar, an Ottawa based musician who has just released a new EP, Ghosts, is a powerful vocalist and performer. 

“I chose music for my life,” Aguiar explained. “Creativity, inspiration, has always come to me in flashes. Much of my music is relationship based, reflecting perhaps a little more on the darker side. I try to make my song-writing simple, built around a central idea that I develop through the song.” 

Although he withdrew for a short time from performance, Aguiar said “I now feel fully reconnected with the joy, the sheer fun of performing. I would say that my voice is sort of multi-dimensional, soft and deep at times, sometimes more aggressive and raspy. Something inside tells me how my voice should approach the music. I’ve learned to go with that inner voice.”

Andrea Simms-Karp is a veteran performer, winner of the Beth Ferguson Songwriting award at the 2004 Ottawa Folk Festival, and featured on Vinyl Cafe in 2009.

“I think I would describe my music as a mixture of folk and pop,” she laughed. “But since I play the banjo, some non-traditional bluegrass comes in too. I like to combine my musical interests to create something new when I write and perform.”

She enjoys the opportunity to connect with people in her performances. “I want to offer an audience something new each time they hear me. Life events, travel, people, they are all sources of music to me. Inspiration is an always changing thing, but music is the one constant in my life. There is nothing better in life than to perform, to do what I love.”

Bruce (Liam) Ciccarelli, a Cornwall based artist, is returning to the St. Lawrence Stage. A regular and popular performer in the region, Ciccarelli will be bringing songs from his new CD, Beyond the Illusion, to the concert.

“Music chose me,” he laughed. “Once I had the musical bug, I knew I wasn’t going to walk away.”

A performer for two decades now, Ciccarelli released four earlier CDs with the band Rapunzel’s Power, but now performs solo. He has his own home studio.

“The acoustic guitar is the predominant instrument to me, just the purity of your voice and the guitar on the stage,” he explained. “Everything else you do around a piece is spice, flavouring to the song. Song writing really is an elusive art. I write about the human condition, spiritually connecting or discovering yourself. My songs aren’t preachy, but I think we each are the creators of our lives, not the victims. I love the energy you get from an audience, the joy of feed back when you perform. I look forward to the Stage.”

To add to the audience’s pleasure, a number of area visual artists including Mi-Sun Hunter, Bradley Pennell and Marc Carriere will be staging exhibits outside the concert hall.

Tickets for the Intimate Acoustics Concert March 24 are $10. They can be purchased at the Basket Case, Strung Out Guitars or by contacting


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Swing into comedy with Foursome at UCP


 Spring is coming, and so are the laughs at Upper Canada Playhouse.

It’s only two weeks to the start of the new season at the Playhouse. A rip-roaring and hilarious production of Norm Foster’s The Foursome will kick off 2012, with a special two week run, March 16 to April 1. 

“We wanted to introduce a new spring time slot into our season,” said artistic director, Donnie Bowes, at a recent press conference. “People have been asking us to run a spring show, and we thought why not a familiar, funny and popular play like The Foursome? We’re starting right now to get out our brochures and publicity, especially as this initial production will only have a two week run, rather than the four week runs in the main season: there are still some good seats available.

And this play is such a fun time for the audience and the actors too. People will really enjoy seeing it.”

It was evident at the press conference, from the closeness of the cast, that The Foursome is going to be a show no one will want to miss.

Jesse Collins, who is directing this production, is a veteran actor and director. He has worked extensively on television (he starred in Katts n Dog), on stage and on screen, and appeared at Upper Canada Playhouse in The Affections of May.

It’s going to be great doing double duty as the character Ted and as the director. Our initial read through of the play was wonderful,” Collins said. “The camaraderie and relationships between the four guys are crucial. This play is an ensemble piece where everyone is out there the whole time. There are terrific one liners and rich comedy in Norm’s show. That makes it even better to have such experienced and collaborative actors to work with.”

Richard Bauer, who plays Rick (“slightly obnoxious with a lot of bravado”) has acted in The Foursome before. (“He’s taken the same role again so he doesn’t have to learn any new lines,” Collins chimed in to laughter from the cast) “This is a wonderful show, a real treat,” Bauer said.

Brian Young, as Cameron, the “cheerleader” of the group, admits that he loves the show and  “playing non stop golf. I’ve always wanted to do The Foursome.”

Sweeney MacArthur, who plays Donnie, the only character in the group who has no idea how to golf, describes him, with a grin, as the “doofus.” “But it’s great to work with friends in a show about friends.”

The Foursome is about so much more than just golf,” Donnie Bowes said. “It carries so much of the trademark Foster hilarity that appeals to both men and women, whether they play golf or not. Actually there isn’t much in life that Norm loves more than golf. He wrote the script in six weeks, following a round with three old friends. I actually like to think that Norm may have named his character Donnie after me,” he added.

“Yup,” said MacArthur, to cast laughter, “the one who absolutely can’t play golf.”

The cast has been rehearsing the show on a striking set especially designed by Playhouse technical director, Sean Free. 

“We wanted a golf course on the set, and we wanted it to mimic a real course,” Free explained.

By actually removing parts of the existing stage to open up the space, Free has been able to skillfully “suggest literal items on a golf course,” director Collins said. “He has been able to create  levels, depth and a versatile, workable and practical set for the actors.”

And by using a black scrim as part of the set design, Free will be able to bounce light, creating sun movements and sky effects throughout the play. “It allows me to create the passage of time. It should make the entire golf game very interesting for the audience.”

With its strong cast and direction, performed on a breath-taking set, brimming with the  memorable characterizations and non-stop laughter so typical of Norm Foster, The Foursome is the ideal way to start the new season at Upper Canada Playhouse.

For tickets and information, contact 613-543-3713


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Lynn Miles wins ovations at St. Lawrence Stage Concert


 Two minutes after she stepped on to the St. Lawrence Stage on Saturday, February 25, Lynn Miles made it crystal clear why she is the winner of numerous music awards, including a Juno, and one of Canada’s best regarded singer/song writers. The Morrisburg audience loved her voice, loved her music, loved her show. 

Backed by the inimitable Keith Glass, singer and guitarist from the renowned group Prairie Oyster, the Lynn Miles concert ended much too soon. We could have listened to her rich voice all night. 

Miles’ voice, described by Jeanne Ward of the St. Lawrence Stage, in her introduction, as “utterly beautiful,” can surprize as well as delight. Miles has an incredible vocal range. Sometimes  she sings softly with a deep sense of melancholy, sometimes her vocals are upbeat and jazzy: and sometimes she simply belts out good old rock and roll. 

She and Glass shared the stage with the ease of professionals who have worked together long enough to be completely comfortable with each other. The banter between them, at times, seemed as much a part of the concert performance as the music.

“It’s really lovely to be back here at the St. Lawrence Stage again.” Miles told the crowd (she performed here in 2009) with a grin, “but I have to tell you that we had to drive all the way up from Collingwood in that snow storm yesterday. When we left, I had black hair.” 

“When we left, I had hair,” Glass shot back as the audience roared its approval.

Miles performed a wide range of music at Saturday’s concert. She  definitely cannot be fitted into any one “category” or genre. The strong country sound of Three Chords and the Truth was followed by the soft, almost romantic approach of Everybody’s Given Up On Me.

In an earlier interview with The Leader, Miles said that she primarily sees herself as a song writer, one for whom words, and the feelings and images they create, mean a lot. 

She said that while she often writes about difficult or challenging themes, she sees her role as an artist to take such issues and “turn them into a kind of beauty, and to touch people in the process.” 

In Love is Red, she sang “I wish I could take it back/fix this broken side walk crack…You loved me, I loved you/We said things that were not true..”

Miles poignant reflection on domestic abuse touched the audience as she sang “Love doesn’t leave its mark on you/Love doesn’t leave you black and blue/Love doesn’t push you down in the dirt/Love isn’t mean and love doesn’t hurt.”

Earlier in the day, Miles gave a song-writing workshop for nearly 20 aspiring students. 

“The workshop was fantastic,” said Francine Leclair, who came down for the workshop and concert from Ottawa. “It was great to hear her philosophy. I remember most that Lynn said ‘you have to live your life as an artist.’ 

She shares so much of herself with you when she works with you.”

Sandra Whitworth, on the board of the St. Lawrence Stage, also attended the workshop, and said she gained “such insight. You learn how an artist composes, how she handles challenges. Lynn’s advice really helps.”

“I’ve written about 680 songs,” Miles laughed. “Three are happy.” Then she proved her point with an unexpectedly sweet little piece “Never the grey sky/Never the gloom…Open the windows/ Put your joy on display/ It’s time for the sun to have its day…”

Throughout the entire concert, Miles was beautifully accompanied by Keith Glass both on vocals and on guitar. 

Her musical insights, her sense of humour, her powerful voice made Lynn Miles’ performance at the St. Lawrence Stage an evening of pure joy for a very appreciative audience.


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Lynn Miles at St. Lawrence Stage February 25


 She even sang as an infant in her cradle, her mother once said. 

An overwhelming passion for music has never left artist Lynn Miles in a performance career that has spanned 40 years. Instead, it has taken her from her home town of Sweetsburg, Quebec, to the major stages of North America and Europe. It has won her numerous music awards and honours as well as critical accolades. It has ensured her a devoted and growing fan base. 

On February 25, the extraordinarily talented Lynn Miles will return to the St. Lawrence Stage, the Morrisburg Meeting Centre, for one concert only at 7 p.m.

“Lynn is an artist that some people regard as one of Canada’s best singer/ song-writers,” said St. Lawrence Board member, Sandra Whitworth. “She came to us in 2008, and the audience reaction then prompted us to bring her back this year. It will be a great show.”

I had the chance to talk to Miles about her music, her career and her concert here in Morrisburg. 

“I kind of think my professional career was actually decided for me,” Miles said. “I was simply passionate about music. It still remains the chief love of my life. Over my career I have written some 600 songs, and I still feel that there is lots of music in me. 

But if ever the music stops,” she added, “I think so will I.”

An accomplished performer on  guitar, piano, and harmonica, her rich voice classically trained, Miles has seven albums to her credit and averages over 100 concerts a year. (She’s just back from Europe.) Her 2001 album, Unravel, won the 2003 Juno award for Best Roots and Traditional album. Her most recent CD, Fall for Beauty, was nominated for a Juno in 2011, and did win her the prestigious English song writer of the year at the Canadian Folk Music awards. With time spent in Nashville, she has also been described as a country artist. She is currently working on volume 3 of her Black Flowers Project.

“I see myself as a singer/song-writer, and to me that means I can make any music I want,” she said. “Others can interpret my music the way they want (I sometimes call it roots), but I find inspiration for my writing everywhere. I find it in the people I meet and in my family. I am a voracious reader; I wander art galleries; I listen to other artists. They all inspire my songs.” 

Some critics have commented on the “gritty honesty” of her songs, on their deep, hard “sincerity.”

“I do write about life’s problems and issues,” Miles said. “I write of things like addiction, heartache, the challenges out there. But I also believe that the one rule of an artist is to take something unattractive or challenging or dark and turn it into a kind of beauty, finding a way to touch people in the process. Many things find their way into my music.”

The power and poetry of her lyrics have always been inspiring.

I asked her about writing.

“My first rule is that there are no rules in music and writing. You must be open to what happens around you and willing to go in unfamiliar directions,” Miles said. “Each song is an experience. Some take half an hour to write; some cannot be finished in 10 years. You have to let the music simmer, then come out when it’s ready. Of course,” she added with a ready laugh, “all my pieces are my babies. And even if they prove to be ugly babies, I still love them very much.”

Miles will hold a song-writing workshop in Morrisburg on Saturday afternoon, just before her evening concert. It is capped at 20 registrants and is nearly full. 

Lynn Miles is looking forward to her  February 25 St. Lawrence Stage concert where she will be accompanied on stage by Keith Glass of Prairie Oysters

“It’s a great stage and always a great audience. It will be a fantastic time,” she said. 

Tickets are $15 in advance or $18 at the door. They are  available at or 613-543-2514, at the Basket Case in Morrisburg or Strung Out Guitars in Cornwall. 


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What a night! What a show!


The stars were certainly out in force at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage Saturday, January 21. 

Renowned guitarist Don Ross, with Graham Greer opening for him, performed to a packed and cheering house.

“What a great night,” said Sandra Whitworth, a member of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage board of directors. “We had a sold-out audience, our second this year. Don and Graham were just terrific.”

Don Ross’ diffidence and self-effacing sense of humour won Saturday’s audience over before he even picked up his guitar. 

“Morrisburg at last! Yes!” He laughed. “I’ve arrived! Now that my family and I are relocating to Montreal from Halifax, why I’ll be able to come here by car instead of flying into the Morrisburg International Airport!”

When Ross picked up one of his on-stage guitars and started to play, the Morrisburg audience was thunderstruck. 

Don Ross is simply that good.

Two time winner of the prestigious U.S. National Finger-style Guitar Competition (he is still the only player to have ever won the competition twice), Ross literally created magic on the St. Lawrence stage. 

His music is fluid, complex and often wonderfully exuberant. Though he performs alone on the stage, his seemingly effortless artistry makes you believe that a whole group of musicians is backing him.

Although he would describe himself as primarily a composer, Ross (who laughingly suggested that his voice “isn’t much”) is actually a very talented singer and song-writer as well.  He sang a love song, “If I Could” (included in his album Any Colour), that he wrote when he was just 19.

“All I ever needed was just a glance/If I could only see inside you/If I could only be beside you…”

Later he also delivered a powerful arrangement of an old John Martyn song “Head and Heart”.

During the concert Ross used three different guitars on stage, as well as a digital effects processor. One of his more unusual instruments is a specially designed baritone guitar, tuned somewhere between a regular pitched and a bass guitar. Ross, who loves the instrument’s “throaty, feet planted sound,” employed it for many of his numbers.

Performing compositions ranging from a new, still untitled piece with strong blues undertones, to the jaunty “Dracula and Friends, Part 1” and the romantic and exotic “From France to India,” Ross gave ample proof that he is a true Canadian virtuoso. 

His incredible artistic talent, his humour and grace on stage, and his strong connection with the audience won Ross deserved ovations Saturday evening.

Graham Greer is also an artist who makes a powerful connection with his audience. 

“Graham is a phenomenon in this area,” said board member Bill Carriere. “He’s an accomplished, award-winning artist whose music speaks for itself.”

Like Don Ross, Greer is a natural on stage, easily sharing anecdotes about his songs and his life as a performer. 

A  musician to whom intelligent lyrics matter, Greer’s work is thoughtful, humourous, and, occasionally, pointed, as in “May You Never Know” which describes the “sharks” that constantly circle young artists trying to break into the industry. 

Greer’s  “I Know a Pigeon Toed Girl,” written for and about his wife, Laurie, (“the constant good thing in my life”) was both gently teasing and loving. “I found out the things that she dislikes about herself are often the things about her I love the most.” 

His voice warm and strong and clear, Greer points out the upside of life in his music.

“I’m on a lucky streak/To hell with the blues/ I’m rolling out sevens now/when it used to be twos…”

Much of his material on Saturday came from songs he has been developing. The Cornwall performer clearly struck a chord with the audience. 

In fact, as he laughed from the stage, “I’m going to have to do another record now. You’re making me feel good about my new songs.”

Passionate about his music, and just as passionate in his support of the arts in this area, Greer was a delight to hear again in concert. 

The St. Lawrence Stage will welcome the multi-talented Lynn Miles to the Morrisburg Meeting Centre on February 25 for a performance. Check for information.


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Don Ross, Graham Greer starring on St. Lawrence Stage


If you don’t already have a ticket for the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage concert Saturday, January 21, featuring award-winning guitarist Don Ross, with singer Graham Greer opening, you should know: very few seats for this incredible evening still remain.

And it would be a real shame to miss this show: Ross and Greer are both powerhouse musical artists and performers.

I had the privilege of talking to the musicians earlier this week. 

Don Ross is an acclaimed Canadian guitarist who has already won an unprecedented two United States Fingerstyle Guitar Competitions. He has toured throughout North America, Europe and Asia winning over critics and fans alike. In 2003, Bruce Cockburn wrote, “Nobody does what Don Ross does with an acoustic guitar. He takes the corners so fast you think he’s going to roll, but he never loses control.” 

Ross has released a number of albums, most recently 2010’s Breakfast for Dogs, under the independent CandyRat Records label. He has composed music for theatre productions and for the CBC. When he is not performing, Ross is a Dalhousie University professor, teaching the history of guitar and techniques.

“Performance is a musician’s life blood,” Don Ross explained. “You need an audience. I am really looking forward to the intimacy of the Morrisburg stage. I always think of an audience as a friend I’m happy to see again: to walk on stage to a warm welcome is very gratifying. Frankly, music is the boat I’ve sailed around the world on.”

The phrase “heavy wood” has become synonymous with Don Ross. It is routinely used to describe his performance style and approach to music. However, he laughed when I asked him just what “heavy wood” means.

“Well, nothing actually. I borrowed the phrase from a now defunct 80’s band called Rare Air, a rock band that involved, would you believe, two bag pipes on stage. Nobody then knew what to call their music, so they called it heavy wood. I first used the phrase jokingly to describe my own music, but now it seems to be fully mine. 

I can tell you what heavy wood isn’t. It’s not folk, not rock, not jazz, not blues. But it borrows elements from them all. It has an edge and an energy. It’s uniquely my style now, I think.”

Two years ago, in response to fan requests, Ross produced an all vocal record. However, instrumental music is what he primarily writes and performs.

“A change of scenery, meeting a new person can inspire an idea. But I really believe that music exists just as music. It doesn’t have to mean something. I like to think that people who hear my music can interpret it in their own way.”

Of Scottish and First Nations heritage, Ross grew up in a musical household. In university he studied fine arts and philosophy, then started his novitiate for the Franciscans. In the end, however, he felt the call of music to be too strong to ignore.

“When I decided to be a musician, I went into it with all my heart. I love this life. I’ll probably die on stage” he said, laughing, “at age 97, with a guitar still in my hand. I wanted to be a dad, to be a husband, to be a musician. I take great satisfaction in what I do.”

“We consider it a real coup to be able to bring Don, one of the most respected musicians in Canada and one of the top guitarists in the world to Morrisburg,” said Sandra Whitworth, a member of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage board.

Don Ross will be holding a workshop from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, demonstrating his unique and dynamic finger style. Some spaces are still available. 

Cornwall resident Graham Greer is a familiar face and voice in eastern Ontario. January 21 marks his return to the St. Lawrence Stage following a stellar show in March of 2009.

A former member of the band, Barstool Prophets, and now a renowned solo artist, Greer is opening for Don Ross.

“The last time I performed at the St. Lawrence Stage, I enjoyed it so much I kept bothering the board to let me come back,” Greer joked. 

Board member Whitworth,  however, points out that the Stage is delighted to have a musician of Greer’s calibre coming on the 21st.

Greer is looking forward to working with Don Ross, an artist he has long admired. “I’m a big fan. I think Don attacks the guitar with a totally fresh view point. Sometimes he sounds like three people on stage playing. He’s incredible.”

A critically admired performer  himself, Greer put out a new self titled album in late 2009. He also toured the Maritimes with fellow artist Amanda Rheaume in the summer of 2011.  

At Saturday’s concert, he will entertain the audience with some new material he’s been working on. 

“I have a country twinge, a folk twinge, a rock twinge in my music. I think people can hear different undertones to my music, reflecting their own experiences,” he said. “I consciously try not to make my songs too much alike: nothing I hate more than making every song a reflection of the song that went before. I emphasize creativity, push to be creative.”

Greer’s lyrics are also thoughtful. He writes his songs in what he describes as “batches,” a throw back to his years touring with the Prophets, where time to rework music was often sporadic.  “I’ve never been a prolific writer,” he said. “But intelligent lyrics matter to me.”

Greer commented that in the studio a performer has more of an ability to “direct how something is forming. It’s fun to put the building blocks of a composition together.” 

He described live performance as “an altogether different animal. The overall structure matters more than the building blocks, and there is that element of instant feed back. Working with an audience buoys me up. I look forward to this concert. I think the audience will have a great time.”

He also added, with his irrepressible sense of humour, “I’m going to do my best not to drive people away before Don gets a chance to go on stage.” 

The 7 p.m. Don Ross/Graham Greer concert at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre, Saturday, January 21, is nearly sold out. 

Information about tickets, or to register for Don Ross’ workshop can be found at The Bas-ket Case, Strung Out Guitars, Cornwall and Compact Music, Ottawa, also carry tickets. 

Tickets are $15 in advance, or $18 at the door. 


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Jazz Henriques Style at St. Lawrence Stage


Ben Henriques is a man of few words. He prefers to let his saxophone talk for him.

On Saturday, December 3, at the St. Lawrence Stage, he “talked” to the audience with passion and fire as he performed classic and highly original contemporary jazz during his performance. Backed by the musical artistry of members of Trio Bruxo, Henriques delivered jazz his way.

Alternating between soprano and tenor saxes, Henriques  almost seems to lose himself in his music when he performs. His fingers flying, his eyes closed, he is a study in musical intensity. Whether his style of jazz is necessarily everyone’s taste doesn’t really matter: it is impossible to miss the passion, the artistry in his work.

A quiet, almost diffident speaker between numbers, he seemed comfortable letting David Ryshpan of Trio Bruxo make most of the introductions.

Since this was an evening that featured original compositions by Ryshpan along with many works by Henriques himself, it was an arrangement that worked. 

“You’ve just heard a piece of Ben’s called ‘Paranoia is a Flower’,” Ryshpan laughed, following a number by times dreamy, a little sexy, a little wild. “He called it that because he says both grow the more you put into them.”

Later, Henriques showed a flash of his own humour when he introduced ‘All of Me’.

“This piece has been ‘remelodicized’ into Background Music by Owen Marsh. Remember folks, you heard it here first.”

Expertly backed by bassist Nicholas Bédard, drummer Mark Nelson and pianist Ryshpan, Henriques performed in a way that was often non-traditional, and unrestricted musically. In an earlier interview with The Leader, Henriques said that in contemporary jazz, “we seek to write music in a different way.” He clearly loves the freedom to improvise that modern jazz allows him. 

Numbers like ‘Captain Awesome’ or ‘Fortress of Solitude’ showcased Henriques’ skill and virtuosity. A quiet duet between just Ryshpan’s piano and Henriques’ sax was a memorable moment to me. 

Solo spots highlighting the  formidable talents of Nelson, Bédard and Ryshpan rounded out the evening. 

“Thank you, Morrisburg,” Ben Henriques said, “for supporting live jazz.”

Tickets are currently going very fast for the upcoming St. Lawrence Stage January 21 concert featuring Don Ross, with Graham Greer opening.


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Hot Jazz on a Cool Night: Ben Henriques at St. Lawrence Stage


  Do you like your jazz hot, with pulsating Latin overtones?

Do you like your jazz cool and contemporary, far removed from a paint-by-numbers approach?

Whatever your musical  tastes, Montreal jazz artist and composer, Ben Henriques, promises to present a concert at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage on Saturday, December 3, that will leave audiences breathless.

“I love playing the traditional jazz standards that go back a hundred years or more, and I love playing my own jazz compositions,” Henriques said during a recent interview with The Morrisburg Leader. “When I play, I guess you could say I switch hats to  perform in both genres.”

Henriques, who performs on both the tenor and soprano saxophones, saw his CD, Ben Henriques and The Responsibility Club voted number two album of 2009 by Radio Jazz Plus. A noted performer in North American jazz clubs, Henriques is actually performing at Upstairs  Montreal on November 30, then turning the recording of that show into a new album in late December, 2011. 

Henriques is bringing three talented backup performers with him to his Morrisburg concert. Noted artists themselves, they are no strangers to the St. Lawrence Stage. Accompanying Henriques will be members of Trio Bruxo, who presented their unique Brazilian jazz at a concert last November. 

Pianist David Ryshpan, bassist Nicolas Bédard and drummer Mark Nelson are joining Henriques for the concert. 

“I’ve been playing with these guys for years,” Ben Henriques said. “Mark and Nick actually joined me in The Responsibility Club. I think audiences will find some distinct Latin overtones in this Morrisburg performance. We are all very fluent in a number of jazz genres, so I feel,” he added, “that you will definitely hear a very cool combination of sounds on the stage. Certainly some improvising will be going on. I’m very excited about this concert.” 

Jazz doesn’t fit into neat musical pigeon holes. Performers and music lovers alike talk of smooth jazz, of fusion jazz, of pop-jazz and cross-over jazz. 

When I asked Henriques about this, he admitted that it was difficult for him to “define my style. I guess contemporary jazz is the best description. Traditional jazz sees harmony as functional and logical. In contemporary jazz, you could say that we seek to write music in a different way. You can incorporate a large ensemble in contemporary jazz, mixing instruments, even electric ones, that just aren’t part of the traditional approach.” 

I asked Henriques when he first fell in love with jazz.

He laughed. “I first played the saxophone in the school band. The truth is, I picked what I thought was going to be the least hard instrument to learn, especially when I knew I was not good at reading music at all.”

However, the experience of jazz, and the freedom it gives a musician to improvise, started Henriques on a life time love affair with the sax. He is currently working on a Masters Degree in Jazz performance at McGill University. 

Along the way, a number of artists have had a profound effect on him. 

Mike Allen and Campbell Ryga, West Coast musicians, were Henriques’ teachers and mentors.  “Remy Volduc of Montreal was a big influence. But my absolute favourite artist is Sonny Rollins (a Grammy award winner whose many compositions are considered jazz standards). Rollins has the big sound, and the saxophone was the focus of his performances.”

Whether a person is new to the jazz sound, or a long time fan, Ben Henriques’ December 3 concert should be a must-hear event. 

“Hopefully people will feel that  they have seen something special on the stage,” Henriques said. “I think this concert will be a unique experience for concert goers, especially for those who may not have experienced a lot of the jazz scene. Hopefully, they will be happy. I’m really looking forward to the Morrisburg experience.”

The concert will be held at the Meeting Centre at 7 p.m., December 3. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door, at The Basket Case, Strung Out Guitars or at