We have mentioned several times lately that no matter who we’ve seen live, we have been fortunate to find new artists to explore simply due to hearing their music as an opening act on any given show. In the last 12 months, both Ron Hawkins and The Sadies have opened shows we’ve attended, and become permanent additions to our listening pleasures. Back on St. Patrick’s Day, it was Ontario native Donovan Woods who would embrace the warm-up duties for Alan Doyle, and with his comical, folksy demeanor, Woods became the most recent opening act whom we wanted to see again soon.

Labelled as the “Writes of Spring,” Donovan Woods recently embarked on a singer/songwriter tour with three other Canadian artists (Hawksley Workman, Amelia Curran and Tim Baker). We knew that this would be a perfect opportunity to hear more from Donovan in a relaxed, ‘in the round’ environment, and it certainly didn’t hurt that we were familiar with his three companions too. And so, after some last minute good luck in obtaining tickets, Team GDW spent this last Saturday evening at the sold-out Avening Hall in Creemore, ON.

Who knew that this ‘off the beaten path’ venue just northwest of Barrie, ON would provide an amazing concert-going experience? With its rural setting and charming, friendly volunteers, both the building and the lively crowd that packed it would prove a perfect recipe for an evening that would be enjoyed by performers and audience alike. This was certainly duly noted by the artists throughout the evening, “unlike Picton and Ottawa” (stated Donovan), and regardless of “how short the drapes are” (right, Hawksley?).

As the four-piece took the stage, Hawksley would lead, followed in succession by Curran, Woods, and Baker. Even with a “contractual” intermission midway through the show, each artist took the spotlight for five individual songs, before all collaborated with an encore to close the show. Hawksley Workman set a comical tone from the beginning, noting how wonderful it was to see a picture of HRH Queen Elizabeth located on the wall above the stage, and how this triggered memories of boy scouts, nude pictures (not the Queen, no, not the Queen), and polishing apples (complete with double entendre hand gestures). Having endeared himself immediately, Workman took the opportunity to provide more laughter during his segments, most notably his dislike of having to debut a new song (to keep his agent happy), and observations of true love being measured by the interactions between ‘homeowner’ couples as seen on the “Home & Garden” channel.

Hawksley Workman Set List:
1. Safe and Sound
2. Birds in Train Stations (new, unreleased)
3. Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off
4. Autumn’s Here
5. Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky

Knowing Donovan’s comical talents from the St Patrick’s Day show, we knew that he would not be outdone by Workman. Woods would take every opportunity to engage the audience with tales of “Tim McGraw’s skinny legs,” staying connected with friends via a “Sarnia Text Group,” and the “cutting and pasting” from a friends’ bad-relationship emails as fodder for one of his songs. Woods would excel, however, with his feelings towards other fellow musicians. Tales of how he had to follow Bruce Cockburn in a singer/songwriter circle (“who came out of the gate with his BIGGEST hit – how am I supposed to follow that?”), his newfound opinion of Cockburn due to that – I won’t repeat it here (“ask Chantal Kreviazuk”), this tour drawing a larger crowd than Ron Sexsmith in Picton, ON (“don’t tell him, I don’t want to duel with him on Twitter”), and being brutally honest, “I really hate (name omitted)” – hey, you asked us not to share that statement.

Donovan Woods Set List:
1. What They Mean
2. Truck Full of Money
3. Portland Maine
4. Put on Cologne
5. Next Year

It was left to both Amelia and Tim to keep things on track, with Curran preferring to stay low key and with Baker admitting to all that he’s simply not a humorous guy. With both artists hailing from Newfoundland, it was Hey Rosetta! front-man Tim Baker that had personally invited Amelia Curran to be the final addition to this musical troupe. With a temporary hiatus from his band, Tim would use this opportunity to promote some new solo material, although he did treat the audience to a few acoustic versions of popular Hey Rosetta! hits. With a rousing rendition of “Welcome,” Hawksley would mock-scold him with a pleading “how am I supposed to top that?” statement.

Being drawn into a comical moment would not elude Tim, however, as Workman would invite him to provide a keyboard solo (“play anything, as long as it’s in E”). Finding a “church organ” sounding solo during “Warhol’s Portrait of Gretsky,” Workman would shift into an impromptu role of a crazy preacher (hands covering his face) and engage his congregation with a gospel of “Gretzky” that was not for the faint-hearted.

Tim Baker Set List:
1. A Spirit (new)
2. Welcome
3. New Song – Title unknown at time of article
4. Kintsukuroi
5. Bandages

Rounding out the group, Amelia Curran would follow Workman, and used the spot considerably well to calm things back down with her wonderful brand of East Coast folk music. With the announcement of having just released her latest album, Curran was able to showcase two new tracks during her five pieces. Seated between Workman and Woods, Curran only needed a couple of well-timed anecdotes of her own to get by, opting instead to let her music do the talking. And with her gift of almost perfect diction and vocal delivery, she certainly did not disappoint, belting out every line of her popular hit “Song on the Radio” and closing with a great version of “The Mistress.”

Amelia Curran Set List:
1. Every Woman Every Man
2. Song on the Radio
3. Watershed
4. Time Time
5. The Mistress

Encore: Naturally all four artists would return for ‘one more song,’ and collaborated with a wonderful cover of the popular Traveling Wilburys’ hit, “Handle With Care.” Workman, Curran, Woods, and Baker raised the roof with this number, before taking their bows, and bidding us a good night. The on-stage chemistry between these musicians shone through all evening, as did their spontaneity and natural ability to bounce jokes and ideas off each other with ease. Not once did any joke feel forced, or any conversation seem canned. I certainly left with a strong impression that these are not simply four performers thrown together to create a show, but are indeed mutual friends with a shared passion for their music and time spent honing their craft on the road. Team GDW are certainly grateful for their performance at The Avening Hall, and hope to catch up with each and every one of them again later on down the road.

~ M