A late-summer cold adds a bit of a rasp to Jack Cole’s voice. Luckily, he’s got a couple of weeks before he needs to be in fine voice for the next get-together of The Old Chestnuts Song Circle. He’ll have another week after that before he introduces the first act to kick off the ninth season of the popular Folk Night at the Registry series.The series features six concerts covering a variety of folk sounds, opening October 4 with a performance by John Gorka.
From New Jersey, Gorka is a renowned singer-songwriter who got his start in the late 1970s at a neighbourhood coffeehouse. He soon found himself living in the club’s basement and acting as MC and sound man, encountering legendary folk troubadours like Stan Rogers, Eric Andersen, and Tom Paxton. Their brand of folk-inspired acoustic music inspired him, and before long he was performing his own songs.
“He’s kind of the Bruce Cockburn of the northeast United States – he’s that popular and has that kind of following there,” said Cole.
While Gorka makes the occasional foray north of the border, it’s usually to play larger venues than the intimate confines of the Registry Theatre.
“He doesn’t generally play small venues, so that’s a big name for our series.”
Folk Night’s second concert November 29 showcases Joe Crookston, a performer who made his first Canadian appearance to open the series’ seventh season, making a return after wowing the audience last time around.
Born and raised in rural Ohio, Crookston now makes his home in Ithaca, New York. Known for his hypnotic guitar sound, bubbling banjo, wailing fiddle, and his gripping short story lyrics, Crookston’s music draws from his urban adventures and rural roots. The songwriter incorporates a great respect for traditional music into his performances.
“He’d never played in Canada before when we brought him up two years ago. We filled the theatre – the audience was really receptive.”
Contemporaries of Peter, Paul and Mary, Mustard’s Retreat, performing February 14, bring an old-school folk sensibility to their shows.
The members of Mustard’s Retreat, David Tamulevich and Michael Hough, met in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1974 working as short order cooks, both on hiatus from their studies at the University of Michigan. Discovering a mutual interest in music/writing and performing, they put together three songs one day after work, and took them to the legendary Ark Coffeehouse’s open mic night. They were a hit, and were invited back to do a 45-minute set. Within a year and a half they were doing music full time. Forty years later, they have 12 highly acclaimed recordings of their own, plus three more CDs with their songwriting collective, The Yellow Room Gang.
Mustard’s Retreat has performed more than 4,000 shows over those years, traveled more than a million miles and in doing so, have earned a dedicated and loyal following, many of whom have been coming to hear them since the 1970s.
A month later, on March 14, a decidedly younger trio of women take the stage at the Registry. Trent Severn is the collaboration of Emm Gryner, Dayna Manning and Laura C. Bates.
Emm Gryner is an acclaimed singer-songwriter with several albums to her credit. She won the Canadian Music Publisher’s Songwriting scholarship, the Radiostar Songwriting Contest and has been nominated three times for a Juno Award. U2’s Bono named her song ‘Almighty Love’ as one of six songs that he wishes he had written. She was a member of David Bowie’s touring band.
Dayna Manning has released three solo records, one Juno-nominated. Manning has toured the country with 54-40, Joe Cocker, Burton Cummings and opened for Radiohead.
Laura C. Bates is the first violinist to receive a Bachelor in Jazz and Contemporary Music from Humber College. She has performed at Massey Hall, The Glenn Gould Studio, The West End Cultural Centre, on Canada’s Got Talent, live on CBC Radio, four national tours and folk festivals including Mariposa, Hillside, Shelter Valley, Northern Lights, and Blue Skies.
Together, the sound is very much Canadiana. Their self-titled 10-track debut album was nominated for two 2013 Canadian Folk Music Awards.
Trent Severn’s performance is part of the Roots Weekend, which will also see a concert by the acclaimed Kruger Brothers. Though not part of the Folk Night series per se, the Kruger Brothers will be performing at the Registry. Both groups will be taking part in workshops that weekend.
The fifth show in the series will feature Annie Patterson, Peter Blood & Guests on April 18.
Organizers of the Rise Again Songbook Project, Blood and Patterson have played a central role in helping to promote group singing in North America in recent years. They used this wealth of songleading experience to create a completely unique song collection entitled Rise Up Singing. Their book contains a mix of 1,200 songs covering a wide range of genres.
Hundreds of community groups, including the Old Chestnuts Song Circle in Kitchener, get together regularly for “singarounds” using the Blood-Pattersons’ songbook, said Cole. In the 26 years since it was published, the songbook has taken on a central role in the folk music community throughout North America. The pair is currently working on the creation of a new songbook, Rise Again, with words and guitar chords to 1,200 more songs, and the Old Chestnuts has had a hand in the selection and arrangement of songs in the new book — “it’s quite an honour.”
The season wraps up May 30 with a concert by Ian Tamblyn, whose career started in 1972. He has released 36 albums of his work as well as acting as producer for dozens of other artists. Over the years he’s written “too many songs” and has given up on counting them. He has also written 13 plays and more than 100 theatrical soundtracks.
Tamblyn has received a number of awards and nominations throughout his lengthy career. In 2012, he was made a fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society for his guiding work in the Canadian Arctic.
“It’s a pretty wide-ranging season. I’m looking forward to it,” said Cole of the new series. He’s already busy lining up acts for the 10th season, made easier by the series’ growing reputation. The Registry Theatre has become known for its intimate qualities, and a supportive audience helps with that.
As perhaps might be expected in a series presented by a group called The Old Chestnuts Song Circle, the audience has been known to join in on more than a few occasions.
“We have a singing audience. We tell the performers before they go on stage that … singing along may happen,” he laughs, noting the great energy in the venue.
All shows take place at the Registry Theatre, 122 Frederick St., Kitchener. Tickets are available at the Centre in the Square box office by calling 578-1570 or toll free 1-800-265-8977 or online at www.centre-square.com. For more information, check out www.folknight.ca.