Quite often in life, we reflect upon material things that are long overdue. Take, for example, a Canadian NHL hockey team going the distance and hoisting the Stanley Cup once again. Or driving that stretch of Highway 400 between Toronto and Barrie with no construction work taking place. Yeah, that one’s a long shot, I know; it seems that the 400 is destined to never be construction free. And how about the iconic singer-songwriter Ron Hawkins performing in wine country at the Jackson-Triggs amphitheater for their summer concert series? Oh, you didn’t realize that he’d never been invited to play at this prestigious event? That the legendary co-founder of indie-rock bands The Lowest of the Low, The Rusty Nails, The Do Good Assassins, and a solo artist in his own right too, had yet to grace this intimate stage? Definitely long overdue, but for the 500 or so fans lucky to obtain tickets to his show last weekend, one that proved to be incredibly memorable.
Originally announced as ‘Matt Mays with special guest Ron Hawkins,’ Ron would ultimately be handed the opening duties, which made perfect sense given that he was performing solo, versus the full band that Matt opted to bring (separate concert recap to follow). Welcomed onstage by a noticeable gathering of fans amongst the crowd, Ron would delight all with a 55 minute non-stop performance. Sharing both tales and a great selection of his material, he mixed both solo works and Low tunes (new and old alike) into his twelve track set-list. Strapping on his trusty (and well travelled) acoustic guitar, Hawkins would once again impress us with his outstanding skills, leaving us amazed at how one man alone can get so much sound from a singular six string instrument.
Opening with “Bite Down Hard” from his 2000 “Crackstatic” album, Ron was eager to converse with the audience following the song. “Now I hope you’re not squeamish?” he asked. “You’re gonna see one man try to do the work of a whole bunch of men, so there’s gonna be a lot of over-compensating.” Adjusting his guitar capo and re-tuning, he would continue the conversation. “I may do some karate kicks. If you’ve never seen a 54 year old man do karate kicks, I’m not telling you it’s gonna be pretty, but it may be necessary.” Earning positive feedback from the crowd, Ron would perform “The Hand of Magdalena,” the first of two tracks found on his 1991 Lowest of the Low album, “Shakespeare My Butt.” And with the recent reincarnation of the Low, newer tracks “Powerlines” and “The Barricade” were added into the mix too.
“This is my first time here at Jackson-Triggs,” he would announce, receiving cheers in return. “There’s a beautiful spread. A beautiful dinner. Look at this (gesturing to the crowd and vineyards). Which is awesome, but it makes it very hard to go back to playing at the Horseshoe Tavern, and my free domestic beer tickets.” Encouraging the audience to sing along to the popular Low hit, “Bleed a Little While Tonight,” Hawkins was truly in awe of the audience participation. “Very nice,” he commented during a momentary pause in the song. “I can see the poster now. Ron Hawkins with special guest Matt Mays,” he joked, eliciting laughter, and a theme he would return to later following a rousing version of “Permanent Revolution.” “Do we have any lovers in the crowd?” he asked. “I begged Matt; I said ‘Can we make a poster that says, Matt Mays and Ron Hawkins: Songs for Lovers?’ He wouldn’t go for it. He’s got that veneer he has to keep up, the tough guy.” Ron was more than happy to devote “Prairie Girl” to his own true love, his Winnipeg girl, his life partner, Jill Riley.
Of course, no live performance from Ron Hawkins is complete without “Peace and Quiet,” taken from his 2015 “Garden Songs” album (which continues to be one of my all-time favorites to this day). “You might know this one as a hockey song,” he shared, signaling the significance of this track and it’s connection to the Toronto Maple Leafs. “And don’t tell the Leafs, because they keep paying me, but it’s not about hockey whatsoever!” Feeding off the audience vibe some more, he would continue. “I guess it is. It’s about survivors,” he added. “So I guess it’s as much about the Leafs as it is about anything, if you consider maintaining a franchise surviving. I expect a little more!” Granted time for just one last tune, Hawkins would wrap up his Jackson-Triggs debut with a phenomenal performance of the Low hit, “Black Monday.” With just 500 seats in the amphitheater, we were ecstatic (or Crackstatic) to be privy to this long overdue event, and thoroughly enjoyed an amazing hour of music from one of Canada’s finest. Just imagine how much fun it would be to have the Lowest of the Low rock this stage next season (hint, hint, Jackson-Triggs artistic director).
- Bite Down Hard
- The Hand of Magdalena
- Bleed a Little While Tonight
- The Barricade
- A Little Rain
- Permanent Revolution
- Prairie Girl
- Peace and Quiet
- Black Monday