Monday, September 30, 2019

Folk Music Ontario Impressions

I might have told a few folks that I was done with music conferences.  Lots of standing and little sleep for a long week-end takes a lot out of me nowadays.  Anyway I took in some showcases and poked my head into a couple of panels at this year's Folk Music Ontario Conference.  I made a little 5-minute video montage of some personal highlights.

This clip starts with a horn band and ends with a horn band - and the last one is the Dirty Catfish Brass Band from Winnipeg. They put on a great set.

Then there's a murder ballad by banjoist Hannah Shira Naiman, which inspired me to start writing a murder ballad...

Hearing Australian blues star Lloyd Spiegel live for the first time was probably the highlight of the festival for me. I had recently listened to his new album and thought it was great. He's a big deal in Australia and I'm sure he'll be a big deal in America.  I was so mesmerized that I forgot to turn on my camera till he announced the last song.  Saw him later and turns out he knows Clayton Doley and his brother Lachy very well. He's got a lot of sold-out shows in Ontario but Hugh's Room is not one of them so if you want to experience what will be the best blues and most entertaining evening of the year, book your ticket at Hughs.

A young artist called Jordana knocked me out with her hi-tech performance.  When I do my looping, I don't get into a lot of "layering" but she was doing it very well, building up a track with vocal harmonies and percussive sounds.  I saw her at 2am pushing her bundle buggy and shouted down the hall "I like what you're doing!" and she stopped in her tracks, walked back over to me and shook my hand and said thank you.  Electronica is not exactly welcomed with open arms at the folk music conference but it's 21st Century folk music and it's here to stay.  Remember when the traditionalists were trying to keep out the singer-songwriters? Well, we saw how that turned out.  There's more and more of them and they're writing more songs.  I remember the first time I saw someone showcasing a bit of electronica at Folk Music Ontario (back when it was called OCFF).  This poor young gal came with a looper pedal and some other effects & drum machine. After her first number, there was a stampede to the exit. Not so much this time.

Don't know why I put two clips of dancing... but I was watching those dancers thinking "they have turned their feet into musical instruments", then one of those Fitzgerald sisters started playing her fiddle backwards and doing other cute tricks. The sweet eccentric Catriona (she pronounces in "Catrina") was charming as ever (I watch a lot of her Facebook Live webcasts). Then it was time to head upstairs to the private showcases where it was a blur of folk activity...yet seemed a little calmer than previous years. 

For the first time ever, the Toronto Musicians Association Local 149 had a room which was hosted by TMA business representative Quique Escamilla who made very authentic tacos for everybody and, because it's the union, all performers got paid. How radical is that?  That's where I got to hear my friend Brenna MacCrimmon doing her solo (Turkish) thing for the first time- totally different than when I saw her with Bill Westcott at Sauce where they were doing Tin Pan Alley songs. 

And electronica folk had a home in Marc Merilainen's "Silent House Concert" room where everybody was handed a cordless headphone when they walked in.  Marc himself is a fine guitarist producing some beautiful textured layers of sound in those headphones. They only thing that might have enhanced it further would have been some "special" brownies or something - but it was quite psychedelic on its own.  Jean-Paul DeRoover from Thunder Bay also had some tasty looping going on.  Every year there's more of that and I'm hoping next year I might be doing a set there.

And I made a couple of stops at the Guelph room where I heard Laura Bird, kind of a Godmother to the Guelph music scene, which abounds with talented and typically very nice people.

The video montage ends with the Dirty Catfish Brass Band from Winnipeg doing the obligatory brass band march through the hall.  I bet they got a lot of offers from the festival buyers in the house.

Maybe there were fifty buyers to accommodate that group of 500 or so earnest young folkies looking for attention.  And young and fresh is still what seems to catch they eye of festival directors.  And it's all well and good that the gigs go to artists whose career is mostly ahead of them, but we had a little confab of seventy-something folkies commiserating how maybe it's time to speak out against the creeping "ageism" that is (sub-consciously) prevalent in people booking acts or handing out grants and awards.  At this conference, they seem to have achieved 50/50 gender parity, and nearly 50/50 Franco/Anglo parity among the performers (though it's probably closer to 5% Francophone among the buyers). A very high proportion of Indigenous performers too, but that's OK. Maybe it's time for us old-timers to get some special consideration.  Everybody wants new faces, but some of us with old faces still have plenty to offer, even if we're moving a little slower.

Pickin Up Some Licks (Lick Picking?)

Just watched a couple of phenomenal guitar instructional videos by Mark Knofler. I don't think he even intends them the be "instructional" but I'm discovering that the more carefully you listen,  the more you can hear going on. I've been trying to play one of the blues riffs he demonstrates - expect to hear it in the next Brian Blain composition. Did I mention that I never had a guitar lesson in my life (though I did have a teacher for string bass when I was 14-15).

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Saturday at the Shuffle

I didn't have an official gig at the Southside Shuffle but I always go and this time I brought my guitar because Mark Stafford had invited me to sit in at his Saturday afternoon show with Jackson Mississippi's Chris Gill.  Another Mississippian, Stan Street got up and sang a couple of tunes - he does the artwork for the Shuffle and also has a storefront gallery/music venue in Clarksdale, Miss called the Hambone Gallery.  Nova Scotian Joe Murphy played a few tunes and I did a couple of blues standards and one of my new tunes, "I'm Not Fifty Anymore."  (ALERT: blatant self-promotion coming up).  A few days later I was at Sue Foley's gig at Hugh's Room and a woman came right up to me and said "I'm not fifty anymore! - I don't know your name nut I remember that song"  Always nice when that happens....but I digress.

After my session with "Bird," I put the guitar back in the car and did a little walkabout.  First thing I saw was Kim Doolittle and Chuckee Zehr doing "Angel of Montgomery" on the stage where I played last year.  Samantha Martin was on the big stage and rocked the house.  Then I caught a little bit of Lance Anderson's Tribute to Woodstock with Harrison Kennedy channeling Richie Havens.  Last thing I saw was Murray Porter on the "Indigenous" Stage (a first for the Shuffle)

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Blainletter #115 - September 2019

Old Mill Campfire Kick-Off with Ken Whiteley this Sat | Blues Revival at Antikka next Thurs | Recording Update | Ancestry Revelations | Out and About

September 2019

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Greetings Blainreaders!  Never got around to an August edition, but that's summer for ya. Now we're back in the swing of things kicking off another season of "Second Saturdays" at the Old Mill Home Smith Bar.  My very special guest for the Blues Campfire Jam on Saturday, September 14th is the wonderful Ken Whiteley who has done this with me on a couple of occasions.  He brings good energy to the Campfire Jam and great (multi)musicianship. Michelle Josef will be at the drums and Patrick Merner on bass. Next month, October 12, my guest will be pianoman Jesse O'Brien who has been one busy bluesician, planet hopping with Colin James, Harrison Kennedy, Tom Wilson and I think a few gigs with Blackie and the Rodeo Kings (and numerous recording sessions, no doubt).  And November 9, it will be the indefatigable Lance Anderson sitting at the Yamaha grand.  Oh did I mention that my birthday is this week, so come out to the Old Mill on Saturday and raise a glass to my 73 years above ground.

Other Gigs this Month

I'll be playing (probably solo) at the Antikka – a new venue at 960 Queen Street West – just a block away from the Blues Society office. The TBS is now co-producing a series of Blues shows there and calling it "Blues Revival" so I'll be reviving the blues on Thursday, September 19.  8pm start.  Check out this cute place.  It's a record shop/café/and now music venue.   Also on Monday, Sept 16, I'll be joining my friends from Belleville, Peggy Voight and Ken McColm to entertain the folks at the Princess Margaret Cancer Lodge in Toronto.


Kitchener Blues Blast

August was pretty quiet except for my big show at the Kitchener Blues Festival – that was pretty special.  Great production, great hospitality and a terrific audience.  Big Time! It went great except for me forgetting to plug in an FX cable, forgetting to give the band their beer tickets and forgetting (though I was told a couple of times) to go to the CD signing table after my set. Apologies to any Blainfans who waited patiently for me but we had so much gear to clear off that stage and my sister who I hadn't seen in ages was waiting to talk to me…and I totally forgot about the most important people in my career, you…the fans!  Thanks to the few who bought a CD even after my no-show. Thanks to Kitchener Blues for giving me a shot  - hundreds of great blues artists whose careers are mostly ahead of them want to play that festival and they gave this old boy a spot – and I think we put on a couple of great shows for the folks and made some new fans (including my sister!) I've been going to this festival forever but I discovered that when you're playing it, you don't get to see a lot of music.  I got to hear this season's buzz act, Lachy Doley from Australia – I've played and recorded a lot with his brother Clayton and they're both organ virtuosos. Rushing to my own gig, I did hear a couple of tunes from Vanessa Collier and was knocked out by her and her band, especially guitarist Laura Chavez.


The next night I was at Sauce on the Danforth sitting in with Paul Reddick and Steve Marriner and when I looked over, there was Lachy Doley again.  We had a nice chat.  Paul's "signature" is the title of one of his albums, "Ride the One," and it was a special moment when Steve leaned over at the end of one of the tunes and said "ride the one" to signal that I should stay on the same chord.  Perfect! Steve is pretty amazing on guitar these days – I'm talking Roy Buchanan/SRV good. 

Recording Update

Speaking of Steve Marriner, he just did a harmonica track for my album and it sounds great. That was the last overdub and now we're mostly mixed and getting ready for mastering. Last night was my first time listening to the (mostly)mixed tracks all together and I'm digging it. I'm sure you will too. 


I am working with a young filmmaker to create a video for the Water Song and I guess you could say I'm getting a little political in my old age. This tune is a bit of a departure from my usual lighthearted fare. It's got a message and I'm going to create a video for it.  We are forging ahead with the video even though the funding is not entirely in place.  One generous Blainbacker has put up enough to get us started but we could sure use a sponsor for the video. If water conservancy is something that concerns you, take a listen to the Water Song and if you or someone you know (person/organization) could help us spread the message about the water crisis across the planet (and close to home, too), we are looking for partners who could help by providing some content (video footage), some opportunities to share the video and of course, some $$$.

Ancestry Revelations

Regular Blainreaders will note that since I registered with Ancestry DNA, I've had cousins coming out of the woodwork and many hints to who might be my birth parents and as more of my new relatives sent in their DNA.  The answer came closer and closer until a few days ago I found myself looking at a picture of my birth mother, who regrettably passed away in 2017.  What a journey (and still a ways to go) but amazing to learn that she played guitar and always had country music playing on the radio.

Out and About

After all the great African music I've heard this summer it was wonderful to top it off with an artist I never heard of but I knew she would be great (because she's from Mali). Her name is Djely Tapa. See video clip below.


Before Djely I heard a bit of the young gal who was a runner-up in the Blues Society's Talent Search  - Avery Rakel. All I heard was two ballads in a row but I know she can rock - she's a big talent. She was playing on that round stage and they've made that into a more pleasant space for music.  And then I got to hear a set from one of our musical treasures, Kellylee Evans.  Not just her artistry but her humanity is so impressive. Maybe she was a little over the top when she thanked, by name, the entire production and programming team and even the driver who picked her up at the airport - but that's the kind of girl she is.  Beautiful music from a beautiful human being.


Harbourfront is such a great place to hear music in the summer – though I must say it's the only music destination in this town where I feel obliged to take public transit – parking has become prohibitive.  For many years I always had a "spot" somewhere  but no more.


I've seen a lot of other great shows, African and otherwise, and last Saturday it was Snarky Puppy, an amazing musical collective.  I did a Facebook Live video and you can check it out on my Facebook page.  For those who don't use Facebook, I'm going to put together a YouTube playlist of my compilations and I think I will resume the "Blaincast" that I was doing during the CD fundraising campaign. Except now it will be to promote the release of the CD.  And how's this for an idea: Each Blaincast will feature a live performance of one of the songs that didn't make it onto the CD!


That's it for now – I'm off to see Sue Foley – and boy has her guitar playing come a long way since I first met her.  Maybe I'll have a little video clip for the next Blaincast.

Djely Tapa at Harbourfront

Thanks for reading this far.  Feel free to forward this to any friend you think might enjoy my occasional ramblings (and maybe my music, too). Every couple of days I get a notification that someone has just subscribed to the Blainletter - I don't recognize any of those emails and I don't know where they're coming from, but a hearty welcome to you. These clips and more are always available on my blog,

See you out there, 

BrianB, aka Butch, Nappy, Shaker, Two-Lane Blain, Colorblind Brian, Stringbuster, Buddha of the Blues



Saturday September 14, 7:30-10:30pm Brian's Blues Campfire Jam starts a new season of "Second Sarurdays" at The Home Smith Bar at the Old Mill Toronto. Special Guest Ken Whiteley. 21 Old Mill Road.  No Cover ($20 min food & beverage)

Thursday September 19, 8-11pm Brian Blain (solo).  Antikka Vinyl Café, 960 Queen Street West (at Shaw) Blues Revival Series. Cover $15/$10 advance & TBS members

Saturday October 12, 7:30-10:30pm Brian's Blues Campfire Jam starts a new season of "Second Sarurdays" at The Home Smith Bar at the Old Mill Toronto. Special Guest Jesse O'Brien. 21 Old Mill Road.  No Cover ($20 min food & beverage)

Saturday November 9, 7:30-10:30pm Brian's Blues Campfire Jam starts a new season of "Second Sarurdays" at The Home Smith Bar at the Old Mill Toronto. Special Guest Lance Anderson. 21 Old Mill Road.  No Cover ($20 min food & beverage)


I call it my "living" album because it started life as a solo "live" recording with bassist George Koller and has now been "sweetened, stacked, mixed and mastered" with new instrumentation on all the songs. It starts with New Orleans marching horns from Alison Young and Colleen Allen on "Forgotten",  “Alice“ gets violin and banjo from Drew Jurecka and Tim Posgate. There's a reggae percussion workout with Trinidadian Wayne Stoute and the wonderful Michelle Josef, some sweet slide from Harry Manx on the French tune, barrelhouse piano from Toronto expat Patrick Godfrey and organ grooves galore from Australian B3 sensation Clayton Doley. "The Ghost of Clinton's Tavern" is a full-tilt electronic ambient remix by my son the DJ. 

Copyright © 2019 Brian Blain, All rights reserved.

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