Muskoka Music Festival: Friday Songwriter Circle

Friday Songwriter Circle

The fifth annual Muskoka Music Festival got off to a fantastic start on Friday afternoon with a songwriter circle comprised of local favorites (and festival alumni) Bet Smith, Briar Summers, and first-time invitee, Jade Hilton. Combining for a 70-minute performance in a traditional ‘in-the-round’ format, each artist would share five songs and several stories behind the music. We’ve summarized each of these performances below.

Bet Smith

A popular performer here in this part of Ontario (and an artist who opened a Gravenhurst Opera House concert during the inaugural Sawdust City Music Festival – which would later become Muskoka Music Festival), Bet Smith was happy to kick off the festivities once more. “Hello, it’s lovely to be here. I wandered down the hill about an hour ago, so I thought I’d play first and warm the stage up because this is very familiar ground for me,” she offered, prior to performing “North Ontario.” “I was living out in BC for a few years … and I kind of knew I was permanently coming back to Ontario, and was having all sorts of feeling about the people I was leaving behind, and the relationships there, and trying to start a new life where once I had an old one, and feeling like a new person. This is definitely reflecting on some of the things I left behind.”

Adding in a couple of unreleased tunes that she was still fine tuning in preparation for future release, Bet also took a cue from similar themes introduced by her on-stage companions. “So, Briar sang a song about strong women who inspired her, and Jade sang a song about a murderer who inspired her. I’m also going to sing a song about some strong women,” she offered, leading up to a performance of “Signs of Hostility.” “I don’t think any of them ever murdered anybody. This song is inspired by meeting people and learning about [their] lives.”

Bet Smith

We happened to catch Bet in concert just a couple of months ago with The Currie Brothers, albeit on a slightly larger stage and scale, and at that time, witnessed a full-band performance of “Bakesale Angel, BBQ Queen.” Here on the smaller stage, and with just her vocals and acoustic guitar, Bet presented the tune once more. “This is a song I wrote while I was working on a farm for a friend,” she reminisced. “On this particular day, I was spending most of the day shoveling a barn out, and every hour or so she’d call me in to try some delicious sweet thing she’d concocted – upside down cake, lazy daisy cake. So, I was out there doing my labour, and the chorus for this song popped into my head, and that week I just kept working on it until it was done.”

  1. North Ontario
  2. Long Road (sic) (Unreleased)
  3. Signs Of Hostility
  4. Bakesale Angel BBQ Queen
  5. I’ve Got Dreams (sic)

Briar Summers

It is hard to fathom that the last time we saw Briar Summers, she was belting out “Oh Canada” during the first Sawdust City Music Festival, and was barely into her teens at the time. Skip to the present day, and Briar is not only already at university in Toronto, but is gearing up to release her third studio album in the not-too-distant future. “This first song is going to be on my upcoming album, “Resonance,” and this one is all about growing up as the older sibling,” Briar offered. “You know, being the first for everything. The first child, the first to go to school, to university, all of these firsts, and leaving that first footprint for my younger brother to fill in. Sometimes it can be hard to live up to an older sibling’s path in life.”

Prior to performing “Stronger,” an incredible power ballad found on her 2021 “From The Ashes” album, Briar took time to discuss the origins of the inspiration for this tune. “I have a lot of young female fans, and growing up, I had those super strong women in my life. Songwriters like Nikki Yanofsky, Serena Ryder, Avril Lavigne. But then, also people who have been doing what I inspire to do, like Miranda Mulholland, Bet Smith – who I’ve been following for years – and now I’m going to add Jade to that list as well,” she stated. “But this is a song I wrote for those young fans so that I can kind of be inspiring to them as well. It’s also a little encouragement to myself to keep me going on.”

Briar Summers

When I reviewed Briar’s second album for GDW in October, 2021, I made reference to “Wingless Angel” as being a standout track – one that you would hit repeat on many times – so was delighted for its inclusion here during this event. “When I was little, I really wanted to be an author, but I could never even finish a chapter. I had a whole bunch of Chapter One’s, a whole bunch of stories I never finished,” Briar recalled. “And then I discovered songwriting, and suddenly it clicked. I could combine my love of music with my love of storytelling, so this is a song that I wrote, and I created two characters that feel like they don’t belong anywhere in the world, except with each other.”

  1. Take Your Blame (Unreleased)
  2. Stronger
  3. Wingless Angel
  4. Roller Coaster
  5. Want Me

Jade Hilton

Hailing from Toronto, R&B-pop artist Jade Hilton was unfamiliar to us prior to this songwriter circle, but made a long-lasting first impression, and left us craving much more from this talented performer. “I was inspired to write this song when I took a trip to London, England,” Jade offered, building up to her first number, “Camden.” “I’m always inspired when I travel places and I went to this place called Camden Town. It’s this quaint little party town by the water, and I went on a date there with this guy. We ended up dating for a year, but we broke up. I was twenty – young love – but I always think about that moment we had in Camden town.”

With a cool breeze and some occasional showers on this Friday afternoon, Jade took a cue from the weather as a segue into the coming change of season. “I feel that summer is ending real soon, sadly, but one season I really love is fall, because Halloween is in the fall, and I really love crime stories,” she shared. “I learned the story of Evelyn Dick when I went to Hamilton, ON. She was a murderer, it’s a very tragic story, but I learned about it because I was looking at this old mansion, and apparently, she used to live in it in the 1940s. I thought it could be a cool song. I tried to use a lot of imagery to describe where Evelyn was living. The architecture was very gothic-era, there was lots of painted glass. It was very haunted.”

Jade Hilton

Jade’s remaining songs all revolved around a theme about falling in and out of love. “So, this song is about dating someone who isn’t your type, and I’ve done that many times, because I thought that they were really cute, but it never works out,” she shared, leading into “Not My Type.” And with her final performance of a song titled “I Would,” Jade once again preceded the tune with a brief synopsis of its origins. “This is one of the first songs I ever released, it’s kind of a throwback,” she recalled. “I was super heartbroken, and young, and naïve, and every time it broke, I thought it was the end of the world. But, as you get older, you kind of look back and [learn] it’s not really that bad.”

  1. Camden
  2. Evelyn
  3. Falling
  4. Not My Type
  5. I Would

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.

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