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Tuning up for an afternoon in Maryhill

Johnny Burke kicks off the Commercial Tavern’s new Saturday afternoon concert schedule this weekend

Country music aficionados don’t have to wait until Sunday to get their fix anymore.

Maryhill’s Commercial Tavern owner Paul Weber has started offering a Saturday afternoon show.

He’ll kick it off this weekend along with Johnny Burke and guitarist Joe Howe as they provide their own brand of traditional country tunes. Howe has been strumming with Burke since 1977.

Born in Rosaireville, New Brunswick as Jean Paul Bourque, Johnny Burke later moved to Toronto and started his musical career with country rock band Johnny and the Bees. He usually plays the Tavern twice a year.

“It’s perfect. It’s like a nice country atmosphere. The fans that he draws in there are the kind of people that like my music, the traditional country music, and they’re just sitting there loving it. This is what makes us keep doing it,” Burke said.

Burke avoids club shows as a rule, but he makes an exception for Weber’s venue. Now in his 56th year in the country music business he continues to perform at fairs, jamborees and even senior homes across Ontario. He toured the Maritimes last year and will be heading out east for another tour this October. One of his claims to fame is hosting the TV show “At The Caribou” for seven years after forming the Caribou Showband in 1967.

The audience can expect to hear a selection of songs from his 14 albums, along with some covers. They’ll even get to hear a new song he recorded earlier this year, written by Michael Smith called “Before God.”

“It’s a great song, I’ll be doing that for sure,” Burke said.

Smith wrote it as a wedding song for his daughter. Burke and PEI singer Lisa Logan recorded it together. It’s on Burke’s latest CD.

He’ll also be part of the Canadian Country Music Awards in London this year. He was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012, and the New Brunswick Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005.

“I’m doing the Legend Show because every year they have what they call a Legend Show, which they will team up a Hall of Famer with a young, new artist and then we’ll do a song together and then I’ll do one of my hits and the new artist will do one of his,” Burke explained.

He says the shows always sell out fast.

Burke, Howe and Weber are so in tune with each others’ musical styling that they don’t even need to practice beforehand. Burke says he may write down a list of songs he’d like to do, but the rest of it depends on what the audience is digging.

Johnny Burke kicks off the Commercial Tavern’s new Saturday afternoon concert schedule this weekend. Burke is flanked by the venue’s owner, Paul Weber (left), and the guitarist who’ll be joining him on stage, Joe Howe. [Submitted]
Johnny Burke kicks off the Commercial Tavern’s new Saturday afternoon concert schedule this weekend. Burke is flanked by the venue’s owner, Paul Weber (left), and the guitarist who’ll be joining him on stage, Joe Howe. [Submitted]
As the number of artists who play traditional country music continues to dwindle, this show will be a perfect opportunity for country music lovers to hear from a trio of musicians who grew up on it.

“There’s just a few stations that might play the odd ones here and there, but it’s not heard on radio anymore. I think some of the fans from long back to maybe in the ‘50s and ‘60s are starving for that stuff, so they go to places. And this is what I do and this is what Paul does, and even the guitar player plays it the way it was played back then instead of the screaming guitars and stuff like that. And that’s what usually draws what we do,” Burke said.

He says his aim is for the audience to leave feeling good. They’ll make time for hand shaking and autographs, as he notes meeting fans is one of his favourite parts of what he does.

As he and his wife Teresa prepare to hit the road again in their motorhome this fall for his Maritime tour, he shows no signs of quitting the business any time soon.

“I’m 76 years old, I still feel good and I don’t plan to slow down at all,” Burke said.

Johnny Burke, Joe Howe and Paul Weber hit the Commercial Tavern stage on Aug. 27 from 3 to 6 p.m. The doors open at 2:30 p.m. and tickets are $10. Their next Saturday show is Sept. 24 with Jamie Spurvey and Clayton Mark, with the same time and price.

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