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That old-time, down-home sound

When iconic fiddler Don Messer hosted Don Messer’s Jubilee on the CBC from 1959 to 1969, he specialized in the kind of music that rural Ontarians knew from their local dance halls. On Saturday nights, they would clear out the one-room schoolhouse and have a good, clean romp to country, folk, and band music.

Scott Woods was immersed in fiddle music since his childhood, when he was raised as part of his father Merv Woods’ family band.[Submitted]
Scott Woods was immersed in fiddle music since his childhood, when he was raised as part of his father Merv Woods’ family band. [Submitted]
Maybe your tastes run towards club beats and salacious grinding, but as musician Scott Woods notes, “those kinds of entertainment venues were what made rural Canada survivable, especially in a winter like we’ve had this year.”

When Woods brings his ‘Old Time Jubilee’ to Calvary United Church on March 29, he’ll try to evoke the spirit of Don Messer, and the atmosphere of the old dance hall. “Folks got together and had an old-time dance, it was all fun,” he says of those bygone days.

“The kids often came with parents and would fall asleep on a pile of coats, which I did when I was young – if we didn’t have a babysitter, and mom and dad were off at a dance somewhere playing, sometimes I’d curl up on a pile of coats and fall asleep.”

The Old Time Jubilee is structured as a tribute to Messer and his show, with Woods taking on the part of the host, bass player Tommy Leadbeater filling the shoes of Charlie Chamberlain, and pianist/vocalist Lynda Lewis summoning the spirit of Marg Osburne. Like its spiritual predecessor, Woods says the performance is “a true variety show, and we’re trying to give a little something for everybody – some vocals and some fiddling and some step-dancing and lots of family humour mixed in there as well.”

Much of the show involves music of the sort that resides mostly in the memory. “We do one that Gene Autry did called ‘The Good Old-Fashioned Hoedown.’ Well, you can’t find that on commercial radio anywhere these days. But when we play it, the smiles that come on the faces of the audience. They light up and go, ‘I remember this tune.’”

The Jubilee show is taking Woods and his colleagues across the country. “We kind of feel like gypsies,” he laughs. “Every weekend we pack up the RV and drive to another town in rural Ontario. They set up the arena and fill it with fiddle fans, and then we pack up and do it all again.”

Woods grew up with this music thanks to his father, Merv Woods, an old-time song stylist and founder in 1956 of The Merv Woods Orchestra. As young Scott and his three siblings joined the band in the ‘60s and ‘70s, they learned classical violin and piano to maintain their father’s standard.

“I started studying classical violin, because my dad was a fiddle player and he knew that classical music was what was required to give you a technical foundation: to play in time, to play in tune. All of us kids were given classical education in violin and piano and theory.”

In the ‘80s, the torch was passed and the Scott Woods Band was christened, with father working as manager until his death in 2003. “Right from the get-go, I think I was groomed to take over the band,” says Scott Woods. “I showed early a very strong interest in the music, and I would say my attraction to the old-time music has only strengthened in recent years.”

While it’s hard to collect the whole family on the same stage these days, Woods says he continues to carry on the spirit of old-time music.

“It was kind of a throwback to that simpler time in life, and that’s what we try and maintain,” he says. “Entertainment is so different now with television and video games and cell phones and all of this stuff – everybody’s got a gadget in their hand or hanging off their belts that keeps them connected. In those days there wasn’t any of that stuff; there was just simple music, and the crowd that we attract is taken back to that time.”

Scott Woods’ Old Time Jubilee hits Calvary United Church (48 Hawkesville Rd.) March 29 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults, $10 for students, and are available by calling the church office Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at 519-885-5012 or 519-669-5912.

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