Highlights from Home County Music & Art Festival (Part 3 of 3)

Home County - Open Road Workshop

In this third and final installment of our features on the 45th annual Home County Music and Art Festival, we concentrate on some of the musical events taking place during the afternoon on various stages across Victoria Park.  With some great collaborations taking place in the singer-songwriter workshops, there was plenty of wonderful entertainment on offer for fans of great folk music.

The Open Road: East Stage, Saturday.

Commencing the musical festivities at noon, the East Stage proved to be a big draw for music fans to start their day.  When you can boast a stage that is comprised of Rose Cousins, Donovan Woods, Rachel Beck, and Tom Wilson in a singer-songwriter circle, how could anybody want to give this one a miss? Each artist would share three songs and offer tales to the rapidly growing crowd in front of them.

After her amazing main stage performance on the previous evening, Rose Cousins took advantage of the smaller stage to connect and converse with the audience.  After sharing stories of seeing some ladies wearing amazing outfits in her hotel, her curiosity led her to learn that there was a ‘square dancing’ convention taking place in the city. Opting to dig into her musical past, Rose would call upon her 2009 “The Send Off” album, and perform “The Dancers” as her first number and tribute to those ladies.  She also added “This Light” from her 2012 “We Have Made A Spark” album, and tied both together with a brand new, untitled composition in which she encouraged her stage friends to join in with harmonies and instrumentation.

After following Rose Cousins on the main stage, Donovan Woods would continue this trend and be the second to volunteer some music and humor (as only Woods can).  Always possessing a tale to share, Woods commenced by questioning why artists use the word “crazy” too much in country songs these days.  Leading nicely into his first track, Donovan performed “What They Mean” from his 2016 “Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled” album, complete with the opening lines, “Little boy in the back seat asking / Why do all these songs keep saying / Baby, you’re driving me crazy.”  Taking the lead from Rose Cousins with an untitled track, Woods would jest, “I didn’t realize we were doing new tunes … thanks Rose, but now the pressure’s on to do a new one too.”  The audience appreciated “Think Of Me,” an unreleased track, and would also appreciate his final number, the popular hit “What Kind Of Love Is That?” from his 2016 album once again.

As one half of the PEI duo The Beck Sisters, Rachel Beck recently took time to write and record her debut solo album earlier this year.  Appearing on the East Stage with her friend and cellist, Natalie Calhoun, Rachel discussed her self-titled solo album, and was happy to share this new material.  Opening with “Nothing In Between,” Rachel offered that the context of this song was kind of a self portrait.  Combining her clear vocals with her keyboard skills, and the haunting cello courtesy of Natalie, Rachel’s second track “Reckless Heart” had an indie-folk (almost pop) sound that was well received by the Home County crowd.  Wrapping up with a new single, “Heart’s On Fire,” Rachel shared her experiences about the music video recently made to coincide with the release.  Filmed on location in PEI, Rachel recounted a pivotal scene in the video where she and some close friends leapt from a bridge into 4 degree water.  “Thankfully we had wetsuits underneath our clothes,” admitted Rachel, “But it was still freezing cold water.”

Opting for the fourth and final slot in this singer-songwriter circle, Hamilton’s Tom Wilson definitely had a strong contingent of fans congregating around the East Stage.  Using his allotted time to share three of his popular tracks, Tom also narrated some passages from his recent “Beautiful Scars” autobiography.  Having recently seen Tom Wilson live in Grimsby, ON, as part of his current “Literary Recital” tour, Tom’s natural charm and charisma draw you into his world, with no feeling of repetition when hearing those same passages and tales once again.  Warming up the audience with tales of his sexual exploits with a much older female taxi driver (and careful to not offend those with young children in attendance), Tom would launch into his Lee Harvey Osmond track “Firecracker” from the “Beautiful Scars” album.  Reciting a passage about trying to sell a song to George Thorogood in Los Angeles, Tom recounted how “Blue Moon Drive” epitomizes his experiences as a young man living and surviving on the streets of the city.  And how apt, that as the final artist with the final song, Wilson would perform “Back To Me Again” to close this workshop on the East Stage to a strong ovation.

 

From The Heart: East Stage, Saturday.

Like us, many attendees opted to stay at the East Stage for the second workshop of the afternoon, which would feature The Cedar Sisters, Raine Hamilton, Kris & Dee and Mama’s Broke.  For us, we know and love the music of the Cedar Sisters, we had prioritized catching Raine Hamilton live, we loved what we heard from Mama’s Broke on the Friday evening, and Kris & Dee were strongly recommended to us.  Say no more; we were ready to enjoy another 90 minutes of songs and stories.

With the recent release of their debut EP, and a music video for “Fire You Burn,” The Cedar Sisters have had a busy few months performing and promoting their ‘electro-folk’ brand of music.  Comprised of Jane Carmichael and Elle Hermansen, and with Kevin Kennedy on electric guitar, this trio commenced the ‘From The Heart’ workshop with “Forgive My Heart,” a single that they released in late 2017.  With their second choice, Elle announced that they wanted to share a cover version that they have played live from time to time, before launching into their rendition of the Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly penned hit “I Drove All Night” (popularized by both Cyndi Lauper in the late 1980s and posthumously by Roy Orbison in the early 1990s).  With their haunting vocal harmonies, Jane and Elle certainly stamped their own identity on this timeless hit.  Rounding out their set would be the new single, “Fire You Burn,” complete with a tale about how time spent in an incredibly cold late night outdoor pool for the video shoot eventually wound up on the cutting room floor.

Following The Cedar Sisters, we were treated to music from Raine Hamilton, whose latest album was featured here earlier this year, and who quickly became a firm favorite that we knew we did not want to miss during our visit to Home County.  Raine would perform solo on this stage, but was also scheduled as a feature artist on the main stage later that evening with her String Trio, presenting an opportunity to hear different musical interpretations of such songs on this day.  Alternating between acoustic guitar and violin for her musical selections, Raine would open with “Aurora In The Meadow,” and opt to share “Starlight” and “The Cedar Cabin Song” on this stage.  With her string trio later that evening, Raine would also add the tracks “Lift Me Up,” “For Hildegard (Canon in b Phrygian),” and her bilingual tune, “La Pleine.”  One particular highlight was the performance of “January,” preceded by the tale of how the inspiration for “January” was born whilst sat at a departure gate in Winnipeg airport, leaving both a failed relationship and the town behind. “I was sitting under a blinking fluorescent light and it came to me,” stated Raine, “I wrote the first part of this song right there on the back of my boarding card.”

Rounding out the “From The Heart” workshop were Kingston, ON duo Kris & Dee, and Mama’s Broke, two duos that we were not familiar with, but who left great impressions upon us and prompted us to add their names to the continually growing list of artists that we would hope to catch live again one day.  Kris Abbott (best known from indie rockers The Pursuit of Happiness) and Dee McNeil grabbed our attention immediately with their beautiful harmonies and lighthearted folk rock.  Indeed, these self proclaimed “non-conformist, neo-hippie architects of peace and love” charmed everybody with their tales of songwriting, life, ‘mason jars of wine’ and ‘the rollout couch.’  Kris & Dee would draw  upon their “A Great Long Game” album for their first two performances, sharing both “Cold Chisel” and “Beach” from this 2015 release.  For their third and final track, the duo would recall one of their earlier songs, ending with “Making Ends Meet” from their 2013 “Bloom” album.

Equally as impressive were Mama’s Broke, the duo of Amy Lou and Lisa Maria.  Having opened the festival on Friday night, this Halifax, NS duo demonstrated their distinct Americana inspired music, complete with gritty instrumentation, stunning vocal harmonies, and a little traditional foot percussion courtesy of Lisa.  Pulling three tracks from their 2017 “Count The Wicked” album, Mama’s Broke delighted the audience with “True False True Lover,” “Wrecking Need” and the title track itself.  With music that is moody and vocals that are hauntingly dark, both Amy and Lisa frequently assured the audience that everything is good, given their tendency to gravitate to edgy and depressing material for the basis of their music.  We certainly appreciated their stunning musical skills and willingness to push the boundaries of this genre.

 

Home County: Honorable Mentions.

With so much musical variety across several stages at any one time, it was impossible to catch every artist that we had hoped to see at Victoria Park this year.  We did happen to sample live music from several artists that we could not cover in our three articles about the event, and felt it necessary to thank them for their performances with an honorable mention here to close our review of the 45th anniversary of the Home County Music and Art Festival.

Donovan Woods – Main Stage Performance:  His dry sense of humor and unique observations will always endear him to an audience, and once again Donovan brought his A-Game.  Having the opportunity to finally catch Woods with a full band, and the addition of guest vocals from Rose Cousins, made this an incredibly enjoyable way to spend a rain-filled Friday evening.  Tracks such as “Truck Load Of Money,”, “Portland, Maine,” and the ode to his father, “Next Year” are always well received and loved.

Murder Murder – North Stage Performance:  Mixing contemporary bluegrass with alt-country and a little punk, this talented collective from Sudbury, ON brought their incredibly raw and highly-contagious brand of music to the North Stage on Saturday afternoon.  With some exceptional picking, and complete spontaneity at times, Murder Murder demonstrated a highly charged energy level that thrived on the feedback and encouragement from an appreciative and equally fired-up crowd.  How could you not love a band that are clearly overheard stating “okay boys, let’s keep it tight” one moment, and then purposely (and effectively) playing completely out of tune the next.  A live Murder Murder show has very rapidly risen to the top of our desired concert going plans for the future.

Credits:  we would like to thank those who spent some time with us, whether with a brief ‘hello’ in passing, or time spent chatting away.  This list includes, but is not limited to:  Bill Needham, Paul Aitken, Dave Jury, Marty Kolls, Bob Klanac, Darin Addison, Ken Yates, Miranda Mulholland, Andrew Penner, Tom Wilson, Rose Cousins, Jane Carmichael, Kevin Kennedy, Elle Hermansen, Raine Hamilton, Melanie Brulee, Kevin Neal and Liz Stringer.  Home County 46 is firmly etched into our musical calendar for 2019.

 

 

Martin Noakes

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.