Team GDW returned early to Victoria Park on Sunday for another day of live music at the Home County Music and Art Festival. There were two workshops in particular that we had bookmarked for the day, along with a couple of other events prior to the Main Stage concerts later that evening. Stretching our legs with a walk around the park, we spent a brief moment witnessing The Once going through their sound-check on the main stage. Heading south from the stage, we happened to see Ron Hawkins at a park bench, tuning his acoustic guitar. A quick exchange of pleasantries, and we continued our circuit of the park before settling down at the East Stage for the first workshop of the day.
“About The Song” Workshop:
This workshop provided us the opportunity to once again catch up with both Emm Gryner and Dayna Manning, as well as Ron Hawkins and AHI, an artist with whom we were not yet familiar. With an emphasis on both the singer/songwriter, and the origins of such self-penned tunes, the workshop proved to be another successful ninety minute event.
Ron Hawkins was singled out as the artist that should commence the workshop, and stepping up to the microphone with his acoustic guitar, led off with “Saskia Begins” from his “Garden Songs” album. When the spotlight cycled back around, Ron would also add “Spotlight” from the “Rome” album, and use his final slot to perform a new composition titled “Sister Jude” (which we recall hearing in Peterborough just a few months ago – the tale of the Irish grandmother putting a headlock on the bully is not one that you can easily forget).
AHI (pronounced ‘eye’) was also armed with just an acoustic guitar, but from the moment that this Brampton, ON, native sang his first line, we were hooked. Described by the curator as having a voice sounding like “gravel on silk,” AHI delivered three wonderful pieces of indie-soul music that tugged at the heartstrings. It is fair to say that I had not been this impressed by an unknown soul singer since our discovery of Charles Bradley last winter, which puts him in great company. AHI took time to promote his most recent album, and performed “Alive Again,” “Closer From A Distance,” and “Ol’ Sweet Day.” Seated adjacent to AHI on stage, Dayna Manning summed up what everybody must have been thinking when she declared that he had the most amazing voice.
With Ron Hawkins and AHI both making references to their children during their segments, Dayna Manning offered that she could simply dedicate her music to her cat, and joked that her first song was called “Smelly Cat.” Dayna used her time to portray her life experiences with a failed relationship, dealing with a broken heart, and the joys of a newfound love. The most notable track here was “Charlie Lake.” and the accompanying tale of how symbolic the lake was at a particular moment in her life. While her choices in songs reflected sadness, some brief off-the-cuff banter with Ron Hawkins provided laughter that balanced such emotions.
Emm Gryner pulled out two pieces from her solo catalog, borrowing Dayna’s guitar to perform “Summer Long” before being able to correctly tune her own instrument (humidity caused issues for several artists when tuning) for “Top Speed.” Emm encouraged those on stage to play along during the second track, advising all that it was simply in the key of D. For her final piece, Emm articulated how she spent time living south of the border, and how good it had been to finally return home to Canada. She would then invite Dayna to join her for a rousing rendition of the Trent Severn track “Bluenose On A Dime.”
With a few minutes to spare, all four artists were given the opportunity to provide one final number. Dayna immediately rose to the challenge, advising her companions that she knew a couple of cover versions. A quick succession of nods amongst them, and Dayna launched into a cover of the Beatles’ “Yesterday.” Ron Hawkins stood up to his microphone to add harmonies to the chorus, while Emm and AHI strummed along to maintain the tune. As spontaneous as this piece proved to be, we both felt that Dayna and Ron sounded so good together, that a future collaboration ought to be something they’d consider doing if given the chance.
“East Coast Road Trip” Workshop:
Our fifth and final workshop for the weekend, this would focus solely on the music from the Canadian east coast region. Three provinces would be represented: Nova Scotia (Ben Miller and Anita MacDonald), Prince Edward Island (Dylan Menzie) and Newfoundland (The Once).
Having seen Ben and Anita the previous day, it was great to see that they continued to bring different tracks to this workshop. Performances of “Montrose’s March” and “My Home Town” would be played alongside the traditional Scottish/Cape Breton sound that they displayed on Saturday. Anita would also take an opportunity to partake in some Highland dancing, which encouraged some younger members of the audience to join in.
Dylan Menzie was the only true ‘solo’ artist on the stage, but with some ad hoc accompaniment from those around him, the feeling of a bigger stage presence was easily created. Not that Dylan needed any assistance. His casual demeanor, well-crafted lyrics, and vocal delivery easily captured and held your attention. Coming straight out of the gate with his radio hit “Kenya,” he would also share a new track “Deep In My Bones” and “Lost In Dreams.” The addition of melodic whistles, vocal effects pedals, and the incorporation of some classic Bob Marley material further demonstrated the versatility of Menzie’s music.
The Once happen to be another band that we’ve longed to see live for a while, and were certainly the highlight of this workshop for us. As a recipient of the 2010 Canadian Folk Music Awards for Traditional Album of the Year, the trio of Geraldine Hollett, Phil Churchill, and Andrew Dale dazzled with a wonderful selection of their material. Opening with “You Lead, I Will Follow,” they would also perform “Ode To A Broken Heart,” “Glow Of The Kerosene Light,” and “The Town Where You Lived.” Andrew, in particular, seemed to just want to play music, and was often strumming along with the tunes offered by the other two acts on stage. We really wanted to hear more than just four songs, and remain grateful that The Once would headline the Main Stage later that evening. An opportunity to meet The Once presented itself later in the day, and we want to thank the band for taking time to chat with us.
Emerging Artist Stage: Kaia Kater
With plenty of time to fill between the last workshop and the Main Stage concerts, we had previously determined that we wanted to take time to check out Kaia Kater and her unique brand of banjo/roots music. Promoted on the “Emerging Artist’ stage located centrally in the park, Kaia would share her amazing banjo playing skills and appreciation for a good song with those in attendance. Throughout a nine-track set list, Kaia offered up some traditional banjo pieces and original material from her “Nine Pin” album, along with a selection of cover tracks too.
Kaia Kater Set List:
- Little Pink
- Fine Times At Our House
- Harvest And The Plough
- Let Me Fall
- Signs And Wonders (a capella)
- Everything Is Free (Gillian Welch cover)
- Paradise Fell
- Swim Good (Frank Ocean cover)
- Hangman’s Reel
North Stage: Ron Hawkins
As the crowds scrambled to avoid a sudden short burst of rain, we settled at the North stage to catch the latter half of another performance by Dylan Menzie. Relieved that the rain passed quickly, with no negative impact on the festival, we enjoyed another opportunity to catch Ron Hawkins live on stage. Over the course of a 13 track set list, Ron reached deep into his musical bag of tricks, mixing his solo works with some Rusty Nails material, and some popular Lowest of the Low tunes. Given that the Low have recently reunited, and have a brand new album set for release on September 8th, we were naturally curious to see if Ron would be road-testing the new material. Fortunately for us, he did introduce us to a new track titled “Something To Believe In,” a Low track written originally for the debut “Shakespeare My Butt” album, but ultimately cut due to already having enough material for that release. Ron informed the crowd that he wanted to resurrect this song for the new album to see if it stood the test of time, and after hearing it at this festival, I strongly believe that it remains crisp, fresh and modern. Indeed, for me personally, all 17 tracks from the debut album show no signs of their true age. Like a fine wine, they simply continue to get better with age.
Ron took time to provide tales behind specific tracks, notably “Strum and Drag” (“my manager says that the CBC will not play it”) and “Peace and Quiet” (memories of growing up around Kensington Market in Toronto). There were clearly Low fans in the crowd, easily spotted singing along to “Salesmen, Cheats and Liars” and “Black Monday.” Ron would appease everybody by closing with the popular track “Rosy and Grey,” before bidding a farewell to all those at Victoria Park. Ron Hawkins once again delivered a great set, and we are so happy that we have tickets in hand to see Lowest of the Low in Toronto for the album release party.
Ron Hawkins Set List:
- Bite Down Hard
- Salesmen, Cheats And Liars
- Turned Around
- Bleed A Little While Tonight
- Something To Believe In
- Strum And Drag
- Straitjacket Love
- One Hundred Five
- Black Monday
- Peace And Quiet
- Rosy And Grey