Wed, Jan 23, 2013.
Shivering yet? I thought so. One thing you can count on in January, it's frigid temperatures. Another thing is a great music festival. Now in it's third year, Fredericton's Shivering Songs has become a musical highlight in January. Launched back in 2011, it was first just a one-shot deal. The gang at Olympic Symphonium, and their record label, Forward Music, were going to hold a concert to release the new Symphonium disc. But then they thought, heck, why just us, one show? Why don't we invite some friends, and make a weekend out of out? It went so well, that they've continued. It's grown already. Instead of two days, it stretches now to four. Instead of just happening at the historic Wilmot Church, a beautiful venue, they now include shows at Cedar Tree Cafe, The Capitol Complex, and the Boyce Market. And the line-up? Well, that keeps getting better and better.
This year features major Canadian favourites Sarah Harmer, The Sadies and Royal Wood. The East Coast gets a strong representation, with Rose Cousins, Mo Kenney, The Backyard Devils, Acres & Acres, Paper Beat Scissors, Heavy Meadows, The Modern Grass and more. Of course, the Symphonium will play, and that's a free show Thursday night at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, the kick-off event. A unique feature of the festival is a yearly representative of the written word. Instead of all music, there's a spoken element, and this year Jian Ghomeshi from CBC's Q is in town, with his new memoir, called 1982. There are several other performers as well, so check out the website at shiveringsongs.com for the details.
One of my very favourite parts of the festival is called the Bluegrass Brunch. It started two years ago at the inaugural festival, and proved so popular it was picked up by the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival too, with the same star. That's bluegrass performer Alan Jeffries. Jeffries is a guitar whiz, and bluegrass has always been his first love, playing the Maritimes circuit with his dad since he was five. He fronts his own band now, 50 Shades Of Blue, and when this bunch makes music, it's sweet, hot and wonderful. You might know Alan as the lead guitar player in David Myles' group, and when those duties don't keep him on the road, which is often, he goes out on his own. The Bluegrass Brunch features Al and the band, plus a huge, delicious full buffet, so popular an event that they had to move it to the Boyce Market. It happens Sunday, from 10 AM to 1 PM, and is always packed.
This year is special too, because it is the launch of Jeffries' first-ever album. It's called Coffee 'til Midnight, and features his band and some friends too, some of the best bluegrass players and singers in the land. Kyle Cunjak anchors the bass, another of the Myles band members, and also from Olympic Symphonium. There's Calvin Deleavey on banjo, Ron Girouard on mandolin, Andrew Sneddon on dobro, and a couple of very special guests. Ray Legere is quite simply a monster. If you're not familiar with the guy, he can play anything with strings, has worked with some of the country's top performers, and here answers the call for a fiddle player. There are some amazing licks throughout, it's such a joy to hear his work. And even David Myles shows up to add to the group harmonies on one tune.
The album features a mix of Jeffries originals, and some bluegrass classics. Jeffries knows the old traditions of the genre, and features songs that go way back in folk and blues roots, including John Henry, House Carpenter, and Sitting On Top Of The World. He brings his own take to them though, John Henry more fast and furious than most versions, with a great high-lonesome vocal from Alan, and some fireworks from the band. Everybody gets to take a solo, and also there are some wonderful short answering breaks.
All the band will be at the Bluegrass Brunch on Sunday, even Legere is going to join in, and word is Myles is going to be in town, so ... just sayin'. And Alan Jeffries will have the new album there, an essential East Coast purchase this year I'd say.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).