January 2005 * Volume 10, Number 3


* Next Old Chestnuts Song Circle Jan 22/05 *

v Happy Fifth Birthday Grand River Dulcimer Club - Jean Mills

Five years ago, in May 1999, a group of dulcimer players gathered in Jack and Lori Cole's living room for a workshop led by Saskatchewan musician Paddy Tutty. Who could have imagined that these 15 people (and their instruments) were the beginning of what has become the Grand River Dulcimer Club, now celebrating its fifth birthday? That workshop convinced me - a devoted mountain dulcimer enthusiast - that there was enough interest to give dulcimers a regular spot on the local musical calendar. Our first official club gathering, on November 4, 1999, drew about 6 people, some of whom were just observers for the evening. Our birthday gathering, on November 4, 2004, drew a crowd of 16 and best wishes from about 10 others. How far we have come!

In the past five years, some of our members have performed at festivals around the area, in churches and on the radio (twice!). We've been in the paper a couple of times, as well as appearing in Dulcimer Players News on the "Clubs" page. We've had visiting musicians such as Rick Scott and Larkin Bryant Cohen show us new tunes and techniques. We've seen one of our members go on to not only play the instrument, but build them, and several of our members have Robin Jones' dulcimers in their collections. We've welcomed beginners and seen beginners turn into proficient dulcimer players. There have been lots of tunes, lots of learning, and lots of laughs. I can't imagine a better way to spend the first Thursday evening of every month.

So thank you Jack, for that initial step. Thanks to Mark Stutman of Folkway Music in Guelph for giving us a home. And thanks to all members of the Grand River Dulcimer Club - past, present and future - who are part of something unique and growing. Happy Birthday to us!


v Last Month and Next - Jack Cole

It was a balmy end-of-November night when we assembled for the last circle of 2004. Thankfully, the predicted 15 mm of rain even held off. We welcomed 4 new people to the Old Chestnuts as well as the return of some old friends. Great to have you all here.

There was a very nice turnout of instruments this month! Besides the usual bunch of guitars, we heard banjo, two fiddles, harp, harmonica, piano, two dulcimers, sleigh bells (although not quite on cue :-)), low whistles, regular whistles and assorted percussion. Not all at the same time, but mostly in the same tune! It was nice to hear some people lead songs for the first time - very well, too, I might add.

There were some really great new (to me) songs - some original - that were my personal hilights. John Prine seemed to be a mini-theme, with three Prine songs being sung. Susan's BIG dark glasses - part of her recently needed disguise :-) - were a nice touch on a Roy Orbison song! We also sang McGann, Gilette, Foster, Haines, lots of Trad and more. A few people remembered "Grandma's Lye Soap", a blast from my past.

There were some seasonal songs too, with a couple of Christmas and Hanukuh songs in the second half. We also tried our hand at closing songs for the first time. That worked so well that we did one, had another fast round, then did another! Maybe we haven't quite got the concept down yet.

One of the highlights came "off the ice" - thanks Dan, for that great and enormous trifle, that I gleefully expected would yield lots of leftovers but somehow DIDN'T (my personal low-light)! There were many other wonderful treats brought - thanks to everyone who helped out. What a way to finish the year.

After taking December off to work on our diets (oh yeah), we get back to singing on January 22, 2005. While I'm getting closer to announcing a theme again, it's too late this month! So bring your voices, your instruments, and your parkas (or sunglasses, or raingear, or...). See you at Chestnut Street on the 22nd!

P.S. February's circle is likely to be cancelled so that some of us (including yours truly) can attend the Winter Songfest in Paris that weekend. Watch the Web site and your mailbox for confirmation one way or the other.


v Tenth Anniversary? - Jack Cole

The Old Chestnuts met for the first time on September 23, 1995 - all 20 of us. That makes this our tenth season, and I had hoped to announce plans for some special tenth anniversary celebrations. Unfortunately, despite many hours of work, plans have not materialized.

First the Wailin' Jennys, after initial interest in a workshop and concert, were unable to finalize a date. As it turns out, they were also regrouping after losing one of their members, so my belief is that they were being very wary of committments. They are now touring again, and I hope that we will see them eventually. Since they are now "big time", we may have missed our chance as an Old Chestnuts event. [ See the Notes section for some interesting statistics about the Jennys. ]

Next, I approached Finest Kind for the workshop/concert doubleheader, and they were enthusiastic. We even had a date committment (May 7) and I was starting to advertise. But suddenly they had three nearby gigs on another weekend (one in Paris) and no others on our weekend, and cancelled because it's a long way to come for one concert. I am still extrememly disappointed, and it will take a lot of convincing to reschedule them.

The story isn't done yet! I received an inquiry about hosting Chuck Brodsky in March or the Tannahill Weavers in April. Chuck is a singer/songwriter about whom I have heard great things, but I do not have an opinion on personally. So he was not a fit (but if any other presenters out there would like to know more, please get in touch with me).

But the Tannahill Weavers are Scotland's premier traditional band - sort of The Cheiftains of Scotland! They are world famous, and it would be a real coup for us to host. Unfortunately, they are also fairly expensive (by our standards, anyway), so I have approached other local organizations about a co-presentation. So far we don't have an agreement, but possible dates that you might want to reserve are April 9 and April 16. I would say that there is a 50% chance that this will be the concert

Finally, the concert that's definate. Cathy Miller is bringing her songs and stories about quilts to Zion United Church on May 22. This affordable concert (only $10) is from a very good friend of the Old Chestnuts. Cathy was part of Trilogy that performed Two Thousand Years of Chistmas for us on several occassions, and she has also performed two solo house concerts for us. Since embarking on her career as "The Singing Quilter" she has released 3 CDs of mostly original songs about that artform. If you love quilts or great songs or stories, or know someone who does, then you should be planning to attend this concert on May 22. Tickets are available from me.


v OCFF Converence - Guelph, October 2004 - Jack Cole

You either love conventions or you hate Ďem. In my "real" life Iíve attended some pretty boring computer and semiconductor tradeshows, where the session topics would send even the most technical geeks running to the bars. The best of them wore pretty thin after 10 hours of tramping about convention floors and getting the identical sales pitch from identical lint-suited sales reps. Everything started to look the same glassy shade of green.

The Ontario Conference of Folk Festivals (OCFF) conference, held recently at the University of Guelph, is not like that. You might indeed run to the bars, but thatís because, after the official showcases, Michael Johnston is kicking off the "Late Night Manitoba Party" at 11:15. The exhibit area, filled with musicians and friends, is covered much too quickly, then itís off to sessions with titles like "A Day in the Life of an Artistic Director" and "Making a Musical Living".

Letís start with a tour of the exhibits, which were set up in the main hallway of Peter Clark Hall. The location was ideal, as students and the public at large could mingle with convention delegates to see what everyone had to offer. I really liked that, and I hope the OCFF continues to let the non-paying public have a taste of "our" music.

This is where the Grand River Folk Community (GRFC) had a table staffed at all times by two dedicated volunteers. Let me pause right there and thank those volunteers from the Old Chestnuts, Mill Race, Waterloo Community Arts Centre, Crooked Penny Sessions, Grand River Dulcimer Club, CKPC and CKWR radio and the Riverside Celtic College. Chatting, mingling, handing out flyers, playing dulcimer tunes - it all added greatly to the atmosphere around our table.

Thanks are also due to the individual organizations that sponsored the booth financially, and paid for flyers and the banners - especially the Crooked Penny, Chestnuts, Dulcimists, Mill Racers and Brian and Sharon Crozier who made and delivered the spiffy GRFC signs and banners.

The booth wasnít exceptionally busy, but I know from the 60+ performer packages that we received (and followup contacts) that we were noticed by the delegates. We gave out a couple of hundred information flyers ourselves, and I believe made an impression on the conference organizers. Well done everyone!

Surrounding the GRFC table were artists, promoters, arts organizations and recording companies. I didnít take notes, but there were about 30 exhibits by folks like Eve Goldberg, Tanglefoot, Quebecois group Genticorum, the Millstream recording studio, the Manitoba contingent, and Live Tour Arts. GRFC was unique in being a community of folk enthusiasts and presenters, which surprised me a bit.

Adjacent to the exhibit area, and also accessible to the general public, was the Youth Showcase - a small performance space for rising young folk-sters. They were all most deserving of the opportunity and received good crowds. I was blown away by one performer in particular; pay attention to Meredith Luce, a 16 year old with tremendous songs and talents.

Friday and Saturday afternoons and Sunday morning were filled with about 40 seminars. I have to confess that other duties prevented me from attending any but my own, but the menu was certainly tempting. I would have loved to have heard what Alex Sinclair and Jory Nash had to say to "first timers", and what Ian Tamblyn found best about being an independant; received performance tips from Lynn Miles and Ember Swift; picked up website ideas from Trevor Mills; learned about recruiting volunteers from Mitch Podolak; or found out what Doug McArthur and Brad McEwen had to offer on Festival Ergonomics. Then there was Recording with Scott Merritt, and Performing in Schools with Aengus Finnan and Ian Tamblyn.

One could also sign up for "mentoring sessions" on Sunday morning, to spend 10 minutes getting advice from 34 well-seasoned folks such as all of the above-mentioned. There was also a session to which one could bring a demo CD to be critiqued by professionals.

Brad McEwen and I were part of a workshop that was originally supposed to be about community folk organizations, but ended up being "Creating Performance Opportunities". We were joined by managers from the National Arts Centre, the Brock University Arts Centre, and an artist manager from Texas. Needless to say, their idea of performance opportunities ("we donít consider concerts with less than a $25 ticket price") differed considerably from ours. The "soft seat" venues pretty much dominated the discussion, and I have to say that I was disappointed at not getting much of a chance to promote free or inexpensive options, such as the Mill Race Festival, Chequegnat, or house concerts.

In fact, the session was hijacked in the opposite direction when one audience member began spouting off against concerts which charge little, or are free to the audience. I wanted to applaud Bradís eloquent response. To paraphrase Bradís point: music has existed for eons, and it's only in the last hundred years or so that an industry has developed to make money from it. Music is part of our cultures and our souls, and to make it something that must always be paid for is wrong. Society has a duty to make the music of the people accessible.

Itís a different world out there, in which I guess Iím pretty naive. I was astounded when the artist management person told one particular story. It happened that she had a deal with a presenter, who had agreed to the guaranteed fee of one of her performers. So far so good. But the presenter wanted to offer a ticket price below what their ego-level allowed, so she refused to do the concert. Funny, but I always figured that if I was able to pay the musician what he or she asked, my next obligation as a presenter was to give my audience the best value I could. Apparently not.

The Gala Dinner was the showpiece of the weekend, and featured two of the main events. The first was the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award to Sylvia Tyson. A short film about her life was followed by a very moving speech, encouraging those in the room to start speaking out and "protesting" again. Personally, this was the hilight of the weekend.

This was followed by performances of winning songs from the Galaxie Rising Star awards of the "Songs From The Heart" songwriting competition, which the OCFF sponsors every year. This yearís winners were Michell Rasky, Darryn Grandbois, and Michel Payment. The competition awards prizes in several other categories too, and it would have been a treat to hear a few more of the winning songs; maybe some other year that will be possible.

Showcase concerts filled both Friday and Saturday evenings, running in two rooms until about 11 pm. Showcase performers were largely unknown to me, but I can guarantee that you will see most of these people at Ontario festivals this summer. The showcase performers were: The Creaking Tree String Quartet, Nathan, Foggy Hogtown Boys, Ember Swift, Tasa, House of Velvet, Amy Nodwell, Gerald Leroche, Shiloh Lindsey, Genticorum, Kendra MacGillivray, Eliza Gilkyson, Khac Chi, The McDades, Michael Johnston, Jorane , The Dope Poet Society, Justin Rutledge, Hunnay!, Andy Stochansky, Sandy Scofield, Swing, and Beyond the Pale.

I managed to see nearly half of these performers. Among those, Eliza Gilkyson from Texas was a standout. If you get the chance to see her this summer, you must do so.

Not to forget the special events - none of which I made it to either - such as the Penguin Eggs Breakfast, the Sunday morning Fun Run, the Thursday night Kick-Off concert, and the SOCAN reception. And even more regrets - the jamming at the hotels apparently went on most of the night.

I have to tell my favourite story about the weekend. One of our Old Chestnuts, Debbie Carroll from Toronto, was intending to attend the conference, but took ill. Since she had already paid for the weekend she offered the pass to me, to in turn offer to another Old Chestnut, Merrick Jarrett.

On Saturday afternoon I picked Merrick up and took him to the Gala Dinner, where Sylvia Tyson herself came over to say hello. Later I spotted Merrick zipping back and forth between showcases, reminiscing with Kenny Palmer, and jamming with Eve Goldberg and friends. He had so much fun that he came back on Sunday, and, after everything was done, I found him swapping stories with two performers from Thunder Bay, one of whom had "raised her kids on Merrick and Kate Jarrettís childrenís album".

At the end of it all, Merrick joined the OCFF for the next two years. I overheard Ken Palmer recommending to Chris White and Doug McArthur that Merrick be given a lifetime membership.

So - thereís the real difference between a semiconductor trade show and the OCFF conference. Real people, no lint.

This was the 18th OCFF conference, and #19 will be in Kingston next fall. I feel very privileged to have participated both as a panelist and part of the GRFC booth. Thanks to the OCFF and GRFC for the opportunity. [ Photos courtesy of www.whitetrashink.com ]


Closing Notes - jc

# "Singing The New Tradition: Songs, Singers and Instrumentalists of the Folk Revival" is a Riverside/Folklore CD that I recently discovered on the Web, which features recordings from 1955-1958. It contains songs from Oscar Brand, Jean Ritchie, and more, including a pair from our very own Merrick Jarrett! It can be purchased in the US from Best Buy, whose Web site also has song samnples. Just Google the name.

# Harry Bryan does an amazing job of compiling statistics on Canadian folk artists, from play lists posted by radio stations. Vic Bell massages these into some pretty fascinating year end information. For example...

Some recent statistics about The Wailin' Jennys ascension in 2004. They now hold positions 3 and 7 in the list of "Highest Monthly Airplay" among Canadian folk artists since 1996, with 129 and 88 spins in August and July 2004, respectively. Only Stan Rogers is higher at positions 1 and 2, with Fred Eaglesmith (4) and James Keelaghan (5 and 6) in between. This year they had the highest monthly play of any Canadian folk artist in combined US and Canadian stations, higher than Bruce Cockburn, Keelaghan, Gordon Lightfoot.

The top five, and seven of the top eight most-played songs in 2004 were from the Jennys. A total of 12 appear in the top 36. Their album "40 Days" was the most played. (The top song, "One Voice" has even been sung at the Old Chestnuts, although somehow that statistic was missing from the report. :-) )

We were very fortunate to have them as singing teachers at Celtic College! Pity that we couldn't get them for our concert and workshop - but maybe someday. Hmmm...the 10th anniversary is really in September.....

# Tanglefoot tickets are nearly gone for January 29. Don't be disappointed! Check out the News section at the Mill Race Web site for ticket information.

# Songwriter's Cafe is a new venture from Mary Anne Epp, affiliated with the same sort of event in Guelph, which has been running successfully for about a year now. The cafe happens "almost every Monday" at the Scott Street Grill in Kitchener, from 7 - 11 pm. The first hour features two songwriters, with the remainder of the evening open for performance of original material. For more information contact eppm_@hotmail.com .

# SPECIAL CD OFFER! At the OCFF conference we collected about 60 CDs from potential performers. Now that I am out from under the weight of full time(++) work, I've got them catalogued. I would next like to get these reviewed as soon as possible. A review would consist of listening to a recording at least once, identifying the genre and style of music, and venturing an opinion on the suitability of the artist for an opening or main concert act, regardless of their particular genre. A few words on the CD would be welcome as well, and full reviews for the newsletter would be great (but certainly not required!).

The CDs would then be returned to me to stay in our "library", for other GRFC folks to check out in the future. After all, that's the reason they were given to us. But after a while we will purge the library, and people who did reviews will get chances at the CDs. Plus you may discover some great new songs or artists in the process - songs to bring to Sing Circle!

So, if you would like to review 1, 2 or 10 CDs, please let me know!

# There are many more great concerts coming up, besides the afore-mentioned ones. In February and March you can catch Tommy Makem, Willie P. Bennett, Harry Manx, David Francey, Brenda Lewis, Wendell Furguson, Juan Martin, Ferron, Heather Dale, Allison Lupton and more. Support Live Music! See the GRFC site for information.


About this newsletter..... Itís emailed. Itís on the Web at http://www.mgl.ca/~jhcole and available at Circles. Call 578- 6298 or write jhcole@mgl.ca for more information. It's been a pretty wild ride trying to wheel and deal concerts. Good thing I'm hardly working at anything else! But I have a feeling it's going to get even wilder soon. Stay tuned.

Back to Old Chestnuts Home Page.