May 2008 * Volume 13, Number 4

* Next Old Chestnuts Song Circle May 24 * Dixie Flyers May 10 * Chequegnat June 7 *

v Old Chestnuts - Last month and next - Jack Cole

We've had two of the most spectacular song circles since I last wrote!  March's circle featured an amazing array of instruments – dulcimers, autoharps, double bass, 2 mandolins, 3 fiddles, 3 banjos, guitars, whistles, harmonicas, harps and assorted percussion. Several first time visitors added greatly to the quality of the night.  The singing was fantastic, the music was well chosen and well played, everyone was witty. and it could have lasted all night for me!

Only two weeks later we managed it again!  A few less folks, but no less fun.  Newbies, including a couple from London who met us at the Stan Rogers concert, and another couple with a lovely Irish lilt, again helped raise the bar.  Some of the songs that night (with apologies to those I missed) were:

The Wild MacLean Boys
Walk Her Round (Shanty)
Across The Great Divide
Canadian Tire Song *
Blowin' In The Wind
Dublin In The Rare Old Times *
Country and Western Super Song
We Have Seen the Wind *
Mary Don’t You Weep
Dance, Grandma, Dance (?)
Island In The Sun (?)
We Are One (?)

Going To The Country
Angel From Montgomery
Night Rider's Lament
John Kanakanaka
The Erie Canal
Dream a Little Dream of Me
Grandma's Feather Bed
Spanish Is The Loving Tongue
Sweet Forget Me Not
Sammy's Bar
Handful of Songs *
Lunenburg Town *

Two Hearts
Go Down Moses
There Will Be Music
In The Shade of the Old Apple Tree
When The Sun Goes Down (?)
Catch The Wind
The Traveler's Song
Redwing Blackbird
Augustus & Catherine *
Roseville Fair
Blue Eyes
I'm On My Way *

The last circle of year thirteen is coming up on May 24.  Rather than singing songs just about the Queen, I'd like people to consider songs about special occasions in general.  Wedding songs, birthday songs, funeral songs, graduation songs, and even coronation songs, if you have them. But see below for an extra challenge.  I hope to see lots of you there!

Now the challenge.

After the last circle I was approached by a couple of folks with a concern. We had a nice talk, and here is what I propose.

While the musicianship was incredible both months, the singing has been slowly taking a back seat to the instruments.  I'm guilty of this myself – perhaps the most guilty – as I have been discovering mandolin and fiddle over the past year and can't resist playing.  And what I have been doing is ceasing to sing as much, in favour of trying to play along. In fact, many of the strongest singers in the Circle have been picking up fiddles, harps, banjos, guitars, wooden blocks, shakers, mandos, and whistles and noodling along with the song, instead of lending their voices and minds in the pursuit of harmony.  We all lose when these folks aren't leading us!

The secondary impact of this is that some people have trouble hearing the song leader, which makes it harder for them to join in.  Some playing, like that of my squeaky fiddle, has such a loud and distinct voice that it can, in fact dominate the song leader.  The outcome is that the singing that might have developed from the less strong singers, just can't.

So I'd like to make some proposals. 

First, let's back off on the instruments a bit.  During songs that everybody can belt out, play along with reckless abandon!  During only moderately familiar songs, sing on the verses and noodle on the choruses.  During unfamiliar songs, or quiet ones, or when the leader's voice is soft, help with all the singing instead. In any song, go for instrumental breaks whenever they are announced.

There is also that rare time when the whistle player (say) knows the tune and the song leader is struggling; in that case the whistle player should make eye contact and use judgement to help out or not.

Second, the song leader should take responsibility and announce when he or she does (or does not) want instruments.  Be specific, or you may get a shaker egg setting a tempo that you don’t want!  That doesn't preclude having planned accompaniment – it's always the song leaders choice! (And if the leader starts it a capella, don't try to play along!)  This has always been the suggestion, but it's rarely done.

Third, let’s have a round with only bare bones accompaniment to start May's circle.  That means lots of a capella songs, or with just one or two instruments.  Let's really put an effort into finding harmonies for that round, and see how we sound.

And fourth, I invite anyone wanting to do a bit of jamming to come at 7:40 next month, and we will get in 15 or 20 minutes of just instruments.  Bring a tune that we can slow jam on.  I'll recommend Burnt River Jig to start things off.

Finally, on the topic of unfamiliar songs, I'd like to suggest that people try to bring at least one familiar or "easy" song each month.  New songs are great – they're what I crave to hear most, in fact – but if they are difficult to lead then they are also hard to sing with. 

Of course, this is YOUR song circle, and feel free to disagree with me!  I'm just happy that there's music in the house, but it's up to all of us to evolve the Old Chestnuts in the direction that suits us.

v Bil Gallaher - Jack Cole

If you look close, you'll notice several Bill Gallaher songs in the list for April (in italics).  It occurs to me – by the blank looks on some faces that night – that some of you may not know Bill's music, and that's such an unbelievable shame.  Bill lives in BC, and is, in my opinion, the finest writer of historical songs in the country.  He and Harmony Road made one trip east a few years ago, and we were lucky enough to have them for a house concert.  I'm trying to get him back, but Bill is presently writing another book and contemplating building a home, so no commitments any time soon.

Bill has the good sense to write a lot of very singable chorus songs, and they are such a great fit for song circles.  His albums have been out of production for quite a while, but  Bill has recently re-released them plus a couple more compilations, and his songbook. I've ordered in 2 copies of each, and the first have arrived.  Trust me – if you do not already have these, get them now!  You will play them hundreds of times, and they are not easy to get!

So far I have Across the Divide and The Last Battle available ($15), plus a copy of the songbook ($20).  For more on Bill and the albums see .

By the way, this time around the songbook is on CD, and consists of digital photos of the original book (including the covers and the very nice Forward, in which he credits us with helping get the project started) as well as MIDI files of every song.  So the handful of songs that we don't know because they were not on the only two available albums, we can now learn!  Hooray!

v Concerts

There are a few concerts coming up that I promised to talk about. The first is this very weekend – Friday the 4th - when Fig For A Kiss is playing in Guelph at the Albion Hotel.  The very (very) talented Duncan Cameron, Sahra Featherstone, and Joe Phillips "playfully explore the rhythms and expressiveness of Celtic music".  You'll hear fiddle, flute, guitar, voices, and more.  An open stage (at 7pm) precedes the concert and a session follows.  Tickets are $16 in advance, from Ground Floor Music in Guelph, 519-767-9933. 

General Store continues the Mill Race Friday (and sometimes Saturday) series at Cafe 13, Folk @ The Cafe, on May 30. The night is also a limited open stage opportunity. This 5-piece bluegrass band has won "Gospel Band of the Year" 3 times now!  The Mill Race folks are very busy these days. They are also part of British Isles Day in Rockton (May 18), and East Meets West (Light of East and Tethera) on May 24th.  Full details are at the Mill Race website, .

Andy Webster is presenting two concerts over the summer. The first is June 13th, at the Rum Runner pub in downtown Kitchener, with Flat Fifth.   Andy writes: "From the heart of Nova Scotia's South Shore comes this pianocentric band loaded with creativity, energy and incredible talent. Flat Fifth play a curious mix of pop and jazz that is accessible and very infectious. With a desire to create exciting and stimulating music, this experienced group of performers are an explosive combination. Acoustic piano, guitar, fiddle, double bass, harmonica, percussion and vocals all work together to approach music from a direction that is both refreshing and exceptionally enjoyable. The band was recently nominated for two 2006 Music Nova Scotia awards - new group/artist recording of the year and jazz/blues recording of the year."

Andy's other concert is August 12th, the Emily Smith band, at the same location. "Though only in her mid twenties, award winning Scottish singer and songwriter Emily Smith has firmly established herself as one of Scotland’s leading lights in folk music."  This I know to be true - she's got quite a reputation.

And of course, I am also going to tell you more about the Dixie Flyers – that's next! J

v Folk Night:The Dixie Flyers Wrap it Up!! - Jack Cole

“The Dixie Flyers play good bluegrass, they play it the right way."  ~ Bill Monroe
“These guys play bluegrass like they invented it. "  ~ Artistic Director, Mariposa Festival

 Since 1974,the Dixie Flyers have been entertaining audiences coast to coast in Canada and the U.S. with their original Canadian bluegrass. I've sat in many of them, including a memorable night in a bar in London in about 1978, during a huge snowstorm, with my friend Dave.  Willie P Bennett was on harp, and Dennis LePage on banjo, and it cooked.  I have the first Flyers' albums on vinyl, and its hard for me to believe that their new album "Right On Track" is already their ninth recording.

The Flyers remain Canada's most prominent bluegrass band, performing at folk festivals (like Mariposa and Winnipeg), fairs, nightclubs, and universities across the country – even The National Gallery of Canada. They were the host band for TV's 'Bluegrass Express', had their own radio show for 5 years,  and appeared on 'The Tommy Hunter Show' and many other Canadian TV series.

Gospel, blues, country, folk – it all comes out bluegrass.  The Dixie Flyers are Burt Baumbach (guitar, vocals),  Ken Palmer (mandolin, vocals), Paul Hurdle (banjo, vocals), Blair Heddle (dobro, fiddle, vocals) and Chris Ingram (bass).   They will entertain you with stories and songs, and some amazing picking.

 Nonie Crete will perform an opening set.  If you haven’t seen Nonie at Chequegnat, then you have missed one of the best parts!  Come hear Nonie, with Eugene Rae, on May 10.

This concert, the final one in the 2007-2008 Folk Night at the Registry series, is also the 2008 Merrick Jarrett Concert in memory of our friend and mentor, who passed away in December 2005.  Merrick's contribution to the Old Chestnuts cannot be measured, and we miss him every month.  Ken Palmer of the Flyers has promised us some Merrick stories, and his family will be present – come on out and help us celebrate Merrick's life.
The lineup for the 2008-2009 Folk Night series is now on the Web site, and tickets – including series passes for $85 – are now on sale.  Surprise your loved one for Victoria Day, with tickets for Archie Fisher, Ron Hynes, Finest Kind, Dave Gunning, Maria Dunn, Girls with Glasses, the Riverside Celtic College,  and more! 

I am pleased to report that the series passes are already selling - nearly a third are either sold or spoken for!  As a special offer, buying a series pass also entitles you to buy a ticket for Archie Fisher at a 10% discount. Email me today! ,,

Closing Notes - jc

# Chequegnat has a Web site - !  And so do we - - but it just brings you back here. The Chequegnat site, though, has pictures from some of the previous 7 festivals. "Cheq" it out!  See you June 7?
# Reminder - The Old Chestnuts have been asked to do a Circle (maybe 2) at the Latitudes Storytelling Festival in Victoria Park, June 21-22. Ballads and story songs are the (mandatory) theme.  I need some volunteers please who sing ballads and story songs!
# The Old Chestnuts have also been asked to lead a singaround as part of the Mill Race Festival. We did this a couple of years a go and it was a lot of fun.  This year we have the Saturday 7-9pm slot (to be confirmed), at the Legion just up the street. Plan to come and have a short but mighty Circle!
# Crucible returns to the Mill Race and Goderich festivals this year! A cause for celebration.  They are also on faculty at the Celtic College, along with folks like  Brian McNeil, Jaime RT, Steafan Hannigan, Archie Fisher, Emily Smith, Loretto Reid, Brian Taheny, and many more.  See the Celtic Festival website for details.  Early tuition rate is under $300.
# Speaking of the Mill Race Festival, their lineup is on the web site, .  Other performers this year include G. Doc Rossi, Rallion, Foxtail, Tiit Kao, Farewell To Erin, Mel M’rabet Ensemble, Rant Maggie Rant, Johnny Collins, Jim Mageean & Graeme Knights, Crucible, Zubrivka, Rembetika Hipsters, Silk Road Duo, Roger Scannura & Ritmo Flamenco, Deborah Quigley & Martin Gould, Allison Lupton Band, Robert Davis, Relative Harmony, Crumbly The Clown, Zoe The Clown, Andrew Queen & The Fuzzy Fellers, Jake, Cambridge Splinters, Toronto Morris Men, Forest City Morris, Oakville Ale & Sword, Orange Peel Morris.

About this newsletter..... It's on the Web at . Call 519-578- 6298 or write for more information. Life, don't talk to me about life.  Genticorum was incredible - thanks to all who came and shared! To those who missed it - tant pis pour vous!!!

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