Wed, Jul 24, 2013.
There's a homecoming happening this week in the province, a musical one. It's a guy originally from the province who, admittedly, does visit here a lot, pretty much every year. However, this time he's coming back to tour New Brunswick, with a series of shows, and that definitely is a first. And it's a big deal for Glenn McFarlane, a man who, even though he lives in Ontario, has written, recorded, and performed lots of music about this province, until now sharing it with his audiences around his new home.
Glenn McFarlane is a folk performer from Brampton, Ontario, but still considers New Brunswick home. That's because his family goes back several generations here. "Mom's from Hampton, Dad lives in Bayside," explains McFarlane, "and when I grew up we were literally right across from St. Croix Island. My dad was in the army, and when he retired he went back to that farm where he was from, and the family has held since 1819." But his father left something behind. His last posting was in Ontario, and Glenn was just graduating from school, so he stayed there, and eventually settled in Brampton.
McFarlane has long had a day job, he works in aerospace, a company that makes software for the International Space Station among other things. But he also is a keen folk fan, and became the driving force behind the folk community in that area, co-founder and president of the folk club. He plays all he can, solo, in a duo called Brown Ale, and a trio called Celteclectic. He has something that most musicians there don't have, which is the direct East Coast connection, and that has inspired his music, both in the Celtic sounds, and in lyrics, and humour. He sings about the Maritimes, and often writes witty, downright funny stuff about the area. Like, for instance, dulse. He has a couple of dulse songs; Dulse, The Maritime Treat, and Chicken Bones, Alpine and Dulse. McFarlane says that last one came directly from a true story; his brother Keith had returned from an eastern visit: "I was really happy to see him, and he said to me, Glenn, I brought you back Chicken Bones, beer and dulse." McFarlane has even become known as the Dulse Guy to some audiences, and likes to spread it around: "I've always loved giving it to unsuspecting mainlanders here. They say write what you know, and to this day my wife orders dulse for me and gives it to me for Christmas."
Glenn's disc Food For Thought has several of those types of songs, including I'm As Happy As A Clam, Lobster Roll, and God Hates Shrimp, and then there's his great tribute to home, Let's Talk New Brunswick. That came about because he wanted to sing more about this province: "I didn't know that many NB songs. There's tons of songs about Newfoundland, for instance, but really not about New Brunswick. So I took a (local writer) Dorothy Dearborn book for inspiration, and starting writing songs about my province."
Now finally, McFarlane gets to play them here. He says "While I was doing the Food For Thought shows, my first solo show disc in 2012, I realized I was doing a lot of East Coast stuff. I thought I could do a show down east that would be a lot of fun." So he spent over a year putting a tour together for this summer, to go along with a big visit. First off, he says "It was important for me to play where my relatives could see me. It will mean the world to me. I'm sharing my music with the people who it was intended for. I'm writing these songs, and they're meant to be shared. And when I write about the province I love, it's great that the province i love will get to hear them. So it will be chicken bones, beer, dulse, but it will also be about music, family, friends, hugs."
McFarlane's Prodigal Son(g)s tour begins this Friday evening, July 26, at the Tay Creek Folk Festival outside Fredericton. Then he'll do some visiting, but the next Friday, August 2, he's back to work at the Shiretown Publicans in Hampton. On New Brunswick Day, Monday August 5, you can find him at the Chocolate Festival in St. Stephen. Wednesday August 7 he's doing the Arts and Culture Park Summer Series in Quispamsis, and the tour wraps up in Grand Manan on Friday, August 9 at the Grand Manan Museum, and I'm betting there will be dulse there.
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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).