The city of London, Ontario, recently held its 44th annual Home County Music and Art Festival on the grounds of Victoria Park in the heart of the city. Forty-four years of music and arts, and completely unknown to us until a recent tweet from one of the performing artists brought the event to our attention. And once we researched and discovered the lineup of artists that would be performing at this “admission by donation” event, we knew we did not want to miss this weekend. Given that the weekend provided musical entertainment pretty much from noon until nightfall on both Saturday and Sunday (we could not make it for the opening festivities on the Friday evening), this article will focus on the workshops that brought artists together for sets based on specific themes throughout Saturday afternoon.
“Two Hearts” Workshop:
Arriving in London on a glorious sunny late Saturday morning, we made our way to the South Stage for our first of three workshops that day. More of a musical ‘in the round’ format, this particular workshop brought together four sets of musical couples who would not only perform their original tunes, but also be dealt questions by the curator about how they met, their favorite self-penned tunes and how their domestic partnership impacts their musical profession. We chose to attend this workshop primarily because one of the featured acts happened to be London’s own The Marrieds, whose most recent “Fire in the Flame” album was previously reviewed by Team GDW, and left us wanting to see this duo for ourselves in a live environment.
Accompanying The Marrieds for this workshop were Tragedy Ann (Guelph, ON), The Young Novelists (Toronto), and Westminster Park (London, ON). With the honors of opening the workshop, The Marrieds (Jane Carmichael and Kevin Kennedy) would commence with “Bungalow,” and go on to add both “The Life I’ve Wanted” and “Rita” each time their turn came back around. Jane was kind enough also to tell the tale of how Team GDW discovered their music, and thanked us for taking a chance on them. We appreciate that both Jane and Kevin took time to chat with us both before their set, and again the following day when they had returned to enjoy the festivities as music fans too.
Announced as emerging artists, both Tragedy Ann (Liz Cazzola and Braden Phelan) and The Young Novelists (Laura Spink and Graydon James) would delight the crowd with their up-beat material. Tragedy Ann performed their catchy “College and Church”, and also debuted a new piece titled “Regulars” (a song of observations made by Braden from his job as a server). The Young Novelists played with high energy, cranking out “Hear Your Voice,” “Couldn’t Be Any Worse,” and “Come ‘Round Again.” Westminster Park (Colleen and Steve Murphy) would round out each set with their tracks “Promises,” “Records In My Room,” and a new, unreleased track that was inspired by cicadas (per Steve).
With enough time remaining at the close of the set, an impromptu collaboration between all eight artists would lead to a fantastic cover version of “The Weight” (The Band). Graydon handled the lead vocals with ease and enthusiasm, while everybody else pitched in with instrumentation and backing harmonies through the well-known chorus. This first workshop was a wonderful 90 minutes, and the bar was set high for the next set of artists to follow.
“Bodies of Water” Workshop:
We remained settled at the South Stage, as this next workshop featured Oh Susanna, an artist that we wanted to catch up with after a recent interview we had done with Suzie Ungerleider to promote her most recent “A Girl In Teen City” album. Accompanying Oh Susanna for this particular workshop were locals Anne Moniz and Carly Thomas, and the nomadic singer/songwriter Dana Sipos.
Oh Susanna used her time onstage to perform both “Puget Sound” and “Tickets On The Weekend” from her new album, as well as adding the popular “Alabaster” from her 1999 “Johnstown” release. Suzie also took time to provide tales behind each track, especially with the newer material based upon her memories of growing up in the 1980s ‘small town of Vancouver.’ We want to thank Suzie for chatting after the workshop, and for being so gracious to autograph the mountain of CDs that we had brought along, and would catch up with her again on the main stage later that evening.
London native Anne Moniz opened up with “O Thou,” and added “Little Hands” and “Black Eyes Blue.” With a vocal range that bordered on the classic rock genre, an additional fourth track (title unknown) had me drawing similarities to the sounds of the Melissa Etheridge track “Come To My Window.” Anne would be followed by another London artist, Carly Thomas, whose modern interpretation of folk-rock music drew immediate comparisons to the likes of Brandi Carlile. Carly would perform “California,” “Sink Or Swim,” and “The Lions Gate” during this workshop, as well as announcing that she would be playing on the main stage for a full set later that evening.
And last (but not least) was the well-travelled Dana Sipos, whose selection of tracks tied in beautifully with the theme of this workshop. With tales of exploring both Canada and the US by bike, boats and trains, Dana’s haunting vocals would delight all during her performances of “Blue Ridge,” “Sea Of Our Origins,” and “Meditations On The Tide.” Of all the musical purchases we made over this weekend, Dana’s “Roll Up The Night Sky” album was one of the first that we added to our collection.
“Breaking Traditions” Workshop:
After spending some time taking a break from the music to check out the vendors and food trucks, we made our way across Victoria Park to the East Stage for our final workshop of the day. Hosting fourteen musicians on stage, ‘Breaking Traditions’ would feature The Bombadils, Ben Miller and Anita MacDonald, Rant Maggie Rant, and Trent Severn. Once again we were fortunate enough to have an opportunity to spend a little time with Emm Gryner, Dayna Manning, and Lindsay Schindler (Trent Severn) prior to the workshop, and appreciated their warm personalities and conversation.
The Bombadils (Sarah Frank and Luke Fraser, plus cellist Eric Wright) opened the workshop with their musical interpretation of traditional folk music, offering up “The Fountain,” “Lone Journey,” and the humorous tale “Squirrels Rule The Day, Raccoons Rule The Night” from their 2016 “New Shoes” album. Sarah performed flawlessly with both her vocals and fiddle playing prowess, while the addition of Eric’s cello certainly added to their authentic take on such traditional music.
From Nova Scotia, Ben Miller (Scottish border pipes) and Anita MacDonald (Cape Breton fiddle), along with guest keyboardist Tyson Chen brought their love of traditional Gaelic music to London. With stunning instrumentation, Ben and Anita displayed a very energetic and infectious sound that remained true to the sounds of both old Scotland and the Maritimes. Interweaving their own compositions (“The Mathematician” and “Joe Bain’s March”) with original shanties and jigs, the end result was an amazing spectacle to behold.
Rant Maggie Rant also remained true to the traditional East Coast sound, demonstrating impeccable musicianship across a wide range of instruments. They also proved to be very humorous, endearing themselves to the crowd with their creative song titles. “Hold The Candle” became ‘Granny hold the candle while I shave the chickens lips,’ and “The Lemur’s Femur” was extended with ‘and a bee on a string.’
Trent Severn were the primary draw to this workshop for us, as they were yet another band whom we had never managed to catch live until now. The trio would take one track from each of their albums, starting with the most recent “Newfoundman,” and followed by “Snowy Soul” and their popular tune “Nil Visibility.” With their always amazing harmonies, and with Lindsay simply outstanding with her violin (she would also perform with Rant Maggie Rant during their pieces), Trent Severn hit a home run with the crowd from their opening verse.
All four artists were given the opportunity to close the workshop with a collaboration, and opted to simply perform a wonderful ‘jam’ session of traditional music. Our final workshop on Saturday proved to be a fantastic experience, and only exacerbated our desire to catch up with Trent Severn again the following evening when they played the main stage.
More workshops and highlights from the Main Stage events will follow in subsequent articles – stay tuned…