This may come as a relief to Russwurm’s guests, who often find themselves hop-scotching over piles of LPs. But at 84, Woolwich’s own legendary singer/songwriter/historian/collector is far from packing it in.
“I’m still buying records,” he laughs. “It’s looking for the records that’s the fun part. My son is thinking of taking it over, so if he does, I’ll probably be doing the buying for him. It’s a hard thing to leave alone. I’ve done it for 30 years now, and I enjoy it.”
For the fifth year, Russwurm will share his enthusiasm for traditional country via the Elmira Summer Concert Series, sponsored by the Observer. Since its first year under Russwurm’s guidance, the series’ weekly audience in Gore Park has swelled from 200 to more than 600, and proven that the demand for old-time country is alive and well.
“They used to have Sunday night concerts, and we’d be lucky to get 40 people out, but I could see the potential,” says Russwurm. “We’d be a country band, next week they’d have a jazz band, or something else – it wasn’t a steady thing, and people just didn’t bother coming out. I figured we could do better than that, if we’d kept a certain kind of music.”
He continues, “If you go to a concert for most of these groups, you’ll pay $30, $40. So, what can you get better?”
Plenty of familiar and unfamiliar faces are on the bill this season. Randy Morrison and Flatt River will kick off the series on June 1. A relatively young group from Niagara Falls, the Peace River Band, will take the stage on June 15, with Rural Appetite on June 22; Ridin’ High with Amberley Beattie on July 20; Steve Parkinson & Stony Lonesome on August 3, and Southbound 1,2,3,4 on August 10.
Among the younger faces, Russwurm is most excited about Steve Piticco and South Mountain on August 17.
“Steve Piticco has won awards a number of times for Top Guitar Player in Canada, and South Mountain are coming back from tour of Europe – they should be pretty hot by then. They’re the ones I’m really excited about.”
The rest of the series is padded with long-established acts. Earl Fries, a veteran of the Toronto bar scene who regularly plays locally, will perform his biggest show in years on June 8; Rescue Junction and the Muir Family will return on June 15 and 29 respectively; the Commercial Tavern’s Paul Weber will drop by on July 6 (“Paul has a big following – every time we have him here, he gets 200 more people than anyone else,” says Russwurm.) On August 31, the legendary Larry Mercey Trio will close out the season.
And on July 27, Russwurm and longtime collaborator Bob Tremblay will return to play as the Two Plus Who, joined by Jimmy Phair, Linda Elder, and Carmen Butchard.
“It’s a great crowd to play for – the crowd is really appreciative,” says Russwurm. “We used to play in bars a lot, and you’re part of the furniture there. Here, people come to hear what you do.”
One thing that won’t be on the bill is the country music you’ll likely find on FM radio. “Rural Appetite put in some new country last year, and the reaction of the crowd was … lower. Much lower than the traditional stuff. … I’m not saying it’s not good music, it’s just not country music the way us old-timers know it.
“The crowd is an older crowd,” he adds. “I have people ask, ‘What’s going to happen when these older people are gone?’ Well, I think people grow up and change their musical taste as they get to that certain age. There’ll be a new generation taking their place.”
The Elmira Summer Concert Series kicks off at the Elmira Gore Park bandstand June 1, 7-9 p.m., and continues every Sunday until August 31. Admission is free. For more information, visit lynn.russwurm.org.
Randy Morrison & Flatt River
Peace River Band
Ridin’ High with Amberley Beattie
The Two Plus Who with Jimmy Phair, Linda Elder and Carmen Butchard
Steve Parkinson & Stony Lonesome
Steve Piticco & South Mountain
The Two Plus Who with Harry Busby, Maryanne Cunningham and Lance Russwurm
Larry Mercey Trio