Download my press kit

Download a .zip file of my press kit

Press_Kit_v2.zip

Roots Music Canada

The Folk Music Ontario conference: the FMO award-winners showcase

Gathering Sparks perform at the FMO award-winners showcase with Katherine Wheatley. Photo by Heather Kitching.

12:10 p.m.: I settle into the York Ballroom as Sarah Hiltz is setting up her song “Retching in the Wings,” inspired by Sinead O’Connor’s performance of Bob Marley’s “War” at a 1992 Bob Dylan Tribute at Madison Square Gardens – just days after famously tearing up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live. The redo of the Marley number was an impromptu response to boos from the crowd over her SNL performance. Sarah explains to the crowd, as she did to me a few days ago, that the sight of Sinead standing defiantly in front of the audience then appearing to dry-heave in the arms of Kris Kristopherson after walking off stage moments later, reminded her of her own inner conflict at facing anger when standing up for what she believes is right.

Sarah won the Folk Music Ontario Songs from the Heart award for political music for the piece, and she is performing right now as part of the award-winner’s showcase, a rapid-fire event that will see each winner perform just one or two numbers, including the winning song. A couple of the winners were not able to make it here, but most are here, so buckle up; there are going to be a lot of acts to sample in a short period of time.

Listen to your 2019 Folk Music Ontario award-winners

12:19 p.m.: “It’s OK; you already won,” jokes a voice from the crowd as global folk award-winner Jorge Miguel halts his winning song, “Sin Verguenza,” a few bars in to deal with a sound issue. After a quick fix, he launches into it a second time, and this time, the guitar is coming in loud and clear. The piece sounds about ten times more powerful on stage than it does on the rough mix he recorded about a year ago and shared with us at Roots Music Canada. And for all of Jorge’s self-effacing jokes about his perceived lack of skill as a vocalist, the truth is, you’d never know by listening to him that this is his first kick at the can. He’s been playing Flamenco guitar for more than 25 years. He’s got the soul of it running through his veins now. I can’t profess to be a Flamenco conoisseur, but he sounds great to me. And it sure is great to see him playing on stage with his now-teenage son, Iggy – who I have to say, has great hair.

12:37 p.m.: Jane Lewis of Gathering Sparks has just given a shout-out to all the climate marchers taking to the streets today while intro’ing their award-winning number, “Bringing in the Light,” which is once again giving me goosebumps. Katherine Wheatley has joined them for the number, turning it into a full three-part harmony affair. The song won the award in the singer-songwriter category, and it’s not hard to hear why. It employs a well-worn metaphor – light in darkness – transposed onto a simple, memorable melody that I imagine we might all find ourselves singing to ourselves a few months from now.

1:00 p.m.: Eric Stein’s Jewish Balkan folk fusion band – it’s tough to find the right descriptor for them – Beyond the Pale has just finished performing two numbers, including Eric’s piece, “The Whole Thing,” which won the award for instrumental music. Now Julian Taylor is up on stage solo performing a killer soul-drenched rendition of his blues award-winning song “Gone.” But the first thing he did when he got up there was credit his cowriters. Two thumbs up, Julian; one for the song and one for being such a great guy.

1:08 p.m.: “I didn’t name myself ‘the lyric doctor,’” Danielle Knibbe tells the audience after workshop host Magoo introduces her as such. “That would be weird.”

I’ve been enjoying the songs that Danielle and her entourage have been submitting to Roots Music Canada over the past year. She has an expressive, sometimes haunting voice. The songs have all been really strong, and the award-winner she’s performing now, “Absence of You,” is my favourite of the bunch so far – as I wrote in my piece on the FMO award-winners earlier this week. What I didn’t know until this moment is that Danielle is also a heck of an entertanier, and the story behind this stirring love song is – well – actually kind of hilarious: she’d never written a love song because she was an awkward teenager who hadn’t had much experience with love. And when she did fall in love, it was with a bandmate, so that felt awkward. But then people started questioning whether her relationship with Connor Walsh was in trouble because, after all, she was a songwriter who hadn’t written a song for him yet. What was up with that? So finally. she used the occasion of a songwriting workshop in Banff to come up with one. She played it for him, and a month later they were engaged, she said. What’s more, a friend used the song to attract a partner too!

“This is why they give you eight minutes for one song,” Danielle jokes after finishing the story – before launching into a flawless rendition of the number. Festival folks, have you booked Danielle yet?

1:23 p.m.: The winner of these year’s Colleen Peterson Songwriting Award, Suzanne Jarvie, is on stage now with her daughter on backing vocals and Burke Caroll on lap steel, and man does she ever sound good. She just sang “In the Clear,” the title track from her new album, and now she’s singing “All in Place” – about anxiety, fear and self-realization and how the first two get in the way of the last, she explains. Suzanne has a rich Americana voice and a great set of songs. It’s hard to believe she’s only been at this for five years – and only after a family tragedy opened up a well-spring of creativity in her (more on that in a separate story to come!)

1:35 p.m.: Rosie and the Riveters have taken the stage awash in black and white in every pattern under the sun: stripes, polkadots, and I believe the other one is called dog tooth.

“There’s a new award this year. It’s called Best-Dressed. We take it every year,” Allyson Reigh jokes with the audience. “It’s not hard at folk conferences.”

After a quick technical tune-up, they launch into a boisterous rendition of “Let ’em Talk” that’s every bit as polished live as it is on record. No suprises here. These gals were strong when I saw them at Folk Alliance, and they’re just as strong now.

1:51 p.m.: “You’re a lion / ain’t that dandy. You’re a lion / ain’t that dandy,” Matt Gerber sings while strumming away on a ukulele and punctuating the song with growls and roars. This is actually the start of the family showcase here at the conference, but I missed Matt when he played first during the award-winner’s showcase, so I’ve stuck around to catch a couple of songs now. Matt won the award for children’s music for his song “Buzz Off, Mosquito,” but seriously, how can anyone not have fun being this silly? By the end of the number, he’s got the audience singing along. There aren’t a lot of people in the room at this point, but the ones that are here are getting a kick out of it.

2:05 p.m.: With the award-winner’s showcase over, I’m off to meet Suzanne Jarvie for a cup of tea and a chat. Then it’s time to fuel up for tonight’s marathon evening of music.

Roots Music Canada

When the Folk Music Ontario conference unfolds in Mississauga this weekend, two of the highlights will undoubtedly be the Sunday morning awards brunch and the Friday afternoon awards showcase. Each year, FMO salutes up-and-coming artists by offering a range of prizes for outstanding songwriting and then fetes the recipients during the conference. There is also an award for the recording artist of the year. Inevitably, these awards provide a great opportunity to discover artists we’re likely to be seeing on festival stages in the next couple of years – if we haven’t already – and to hear some great music that might otherwise fly under our radar.  

Here at Roots Music Canada, we’re more than happy to contribute to this process of discovery.  Here below are all of this year’s Folk Music Ontario award-winners along with the songs for which they are being celebrated. 

Stingray Rising Star Award-winners

English: Danielle Knibbe – “Absence of You”

The moose was pretty impressed with Danielle Knibbe when she sent us a couple of songs last year, and we’ve had the pleasure of featuring her stuff since then – and everything we’ve heard from her has hinted at greatness to come: strong songs, an expressive voice and a beguiling minimalist sound. But THIS song, this is the most wonderful thing I’ve heard from her yet. The lyrics are simple yet profound, almost in the way that David Francey pulls off that balance; it’s a love song that communicates its passion in a totally original way – and let’s face it, that’s pretty hard to pull off – and the performance is stirring. A rising star Danielle certainly is.

French: Moonfruits – “Les Marins”

Moonfruits is the Ottawa-based bilingual art-folk duo of Alex Millaire and Kaitlin Milroy who’s debut album, Ste-Quequepart, is a fascinating concept piece about a town trying to stay hopeful in hard times. “Les Marins” is a song from Ste-Quequepart that’s downtempo and melancholy and marked by subtle harmonies and some lovely violin-playing. I had a chance to catch the fruits at the Folk Alliance International conference in February, and their stage show was both original and captivating, far exceeding my expectations. They are part of a new generation of folk artists who are taking the genre in new directions by imprinting a millennial esthetic onto the music. It’s exciting to watch.

Songs from the Heart award-winners

Blues: Julian Taylor Band – “Gone”

Julian is no stranger to the Ontario music scene, and his range and versatility are such that he could probably qualify for half a dozen of these Songs from the Heart awards. His sound draws from funk, soul, blues, jazz, folk – even a bit of country, to my ears – and his overall sound straddles a magical divide between vintage and contemporary. It’s not hard to hear what the Songs from the Heart jury heard in this number here. “Gone” is a downtempo bluesy pop song with way groovy keys and a smoking horn section that’s just drenched in emotion and soul.

Children’s: Matt Gerber – “Buzz Off, Mosquito”

Matt Gerber is an avid camper who once sang in a barbershop quartet, and both of those influences come to the fore on “Buzz Off, Mosquito.” It’s a jaunty little number with an old-time string-band feel and harmonies straight out of said barbership quartet – all of which is to say that you really don’t need to be a child to appreciate it. Heck, you’ll never really appreciate a song about how annoying mosqitoes are until you’ve lived long enough to have had one stuck in your tent. It’s been a long time since I was a child, but I can totally imagine singing this on my next camping trip.

Global Folk: Jorge Miguel – “Sin Verguenza”

Jorge Miguel has been devoting himself to the study of authentic, capital “f” Flamenco guitar for the better part of 25 years now, after selling his worldly possessions and returning to his ancestral home of Seville in 1995. But this new song is special in two big ways. First, it’s the first song to ever feature Jorge on vocals, and there’s a reason he’s singing this one: the song is his own story – about being the son of a Spaniard and a Pole, who came to Madrid after the war, and about those who cast doubt on his skill and authenticity as a Flamenco artist. In fact the title of the track translates into “Shameless.” Secondly, the song is special because it features Jorge’s 15-year-old son, Iggy, on bass – one of the first times father and son have recorded together. So all told, this is a very personal number for Jorge, and it’s nice to see him rewarded for taking a risk and putting himself out there like this. Thumbs up too to the splendid percussionist Luis Orbegoso, who co-produced the track and also performs on it.

Singer/Songwriter: Jane Lewis and Eve Goldberg – “Bringing in the Light”

We’re stoked to be featuring this brand new song from Eve and Jane, better known as Gathering Sparks, who are actually launching their new album, All That’s Real, at this weekend’s Folk Music Ontario conference. The angelic harmonies on this track are enough to give you goosebumps, and the metaphoric message about persisting through times of despair – a message one can interpret on many levels these days – seems a propos at a time when 16-year-old Greta Thunberg is touring the US pleading for politicians to put aside their differences to solve the climate crisis. Eve is a well-known figure in the Toronto music scene and a versatile folk singer-songwriter and interpreter in her own right, with a sizeable repertoire of original and traditional numbers. But when she joined forces with author-turned-musician Jane, she created one of those magical musical unions where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I can’t wait to hear the full new album from these two.

Instrumental: Eric Stein – “The Whole Thing”

Eric is perhaps best known as the founder and leader of the Jewish fusion group Beyond the Pale, with whom he recorded this particular number. But make no mistake about it; that’s not the only thing he does. He also leads the Brazilian choro ensemble Tio Chorinho, is a member of the international super group the Ger Mandolin Orchestra, performs with the acoustic classic rock cover band King Harvest and the Allman Brothers cover band Eat a Peach, and is a member of the jam band Electric Meat. Oh! And he’s the artistic director of Toronto’s Ashkenaz Festival. All of that to say, I’m not really sure where he found the time to write this piece, but it’s really quite lovely. It’s a sophisticated, relatively down-tempo and slightly cinematic number that features the lead instruments – clarinet, violin, accordion, and Eric’s mandolin – trading a similar lick before coming together in harmony, at times reaching triumphant crescendos.

Political: Sarah Hiltz – “Retching in the Wings”

Here’s another song you won’t find anywhere but here on Roots Music Canada – at least for now – and we’re super thrilled that Sarah has shared it with us.  If you’re not yet familiar with Sarah, she’s an artist whose style ranges from jazzy pop to contemporary folk-pop and who launched her music career in epic fashion around eight years ago by quitting her day job to perform on a Via Rail train as part of their Artists on Board program.  It’s Sarah’s jazzy stuff that I’m personally most enchanted by, and this song is a great example of it.  It also has a great story to it, which I’ll leave to Sarah to tell:

I was inspired to write this song after I saw a video of Sinead O’Connor’s performance at a Bob Dylan tribute concert that took place in New York in 1992. The concert was less than two weeks after Sinead ripped up a photograph of the Pope live on SNL, and people were still pretty upset about that. When she walked on stage, the crowd started booing her, and they were so persistent, she was unable to perform her selected song. Instead she stood there, staring out at the audience as they sent all that hatred at her, and eventually shouted the same protest song she had done on SNL into the mic, before walking off-stage, dry heaving and nearly collapsing.

When I saw the video, I recognized myself in her experience—the defiance in her eyes, as she stood her ground in full conviction of the rightness of her own anger (she had torn the photograph as an act of protest against the Catholic Church’s perpetuation of child abuse). I also recognized myself in her collapse, because that is how I feel when I choose to express anger; it always costs me something, both energetically and emotionally, and often socially too. I’ve found that’s a common experience for a lot of women, but it’s a cost I am more prepared to pay these days.”

Roots: Jane Carmichael – “Reason”

I admit it. I was starting to sing along with the lyrical hook of this song before I was even done listening to it for the first time. The easy-going vibe and simple message – everything happens for a reason – masks just how darned catchy it really its. This song is performed by Jane’s duo, the Marrieds, which is comprised of her and her husband, Kevin Kennedy, and it comes from their brand spankin’ new album, Heavy Hearts, which just came out this month. They describe it as a more melancholy affair than their previous efforts, but I wouldn’t describe this track as melancholy. Far from it really. It’s relaxed and hooky and the kind of thing you’d sing to yourself walking along the waterfront on a carefree day.

Recording Artist of the Year award-winner

Rosie & the Riveters

Rosie and the Riveters have been performing together since 2011, and, as their name suggests, they’ve always been about women’s empowerment. Rosie the Riveter, after all, was the iconic headscarf-wearing, bicep-flexing working woman declaring, “We can do it” on posters recruiting women for tradtionally male occupations during the Second World War. But the Riveters really turned heads last year with the release of their sophomore album, Ms. Behave, a collection of numbers with more of a political bent – chief among them, “I Believe You,” whose inspiration likely needs no explanation. These gals’ sultry, harmony-rich, 40s-inspired music is a whole lotta fun both live and on record, so it’s no surprise they’re taking home this prize this year.

Kinderling Kids Radio

High Five: Lady Bugs and Dandy Lions by Matt Gerber

Each week Kinderling gives a HIGH FIVE to music, artists, albums and other stuff we think is awesome!

Kinderling’s High Five feature album this week is the quirky, relatable and heart-warming Lady Bugs and Dandy Lions by Canadian songwriter Matt Gerber!

With upbeat harmonies and adorable stories, it’s a future family favourite. You’ll love the barbershop harmonies in ‘Buzz Off Mosquito’, the calming, relaxing sound of the harp in 'Hide and Seek' and the spunky, toe-tapping tune ‘You’re A Lion, Ain’t That Dandy’.

Lady Bugs and Dandy Lions is an album that infuses a bit of Vitamin Joy into family life, a good reason to celebrate it as our High Five feature album this week.

Six String Nation blog

SongStudio 2014′s Bumper Crop

- See more at: http://www.sixstringnation.com/?p=2170783#sthash.GaunDTFA.dpuf

I remember once hearing Robbie Robertson saying of his hometown, Toronto, that music just seems to be in the air and come from the city's pores. I happen to agree with him. But it doesn't happen by accident. Being a songwriter or a musician – especially in Canada – can be a discouraging vocation. There are only so many people who make it and the competition is pretty tough for what may seem like a big audience in the big city but a surprisingly small one when you look at the whole country scattered across all that territory. Imagine having to build your audience by touring across it. You'd better have something very special to offer. Of course, it's exceedingly rare that someone emerges from nowhere fully formed as a songwriter. It's a craft and there's a lot to be learned and a lot that can be taught to help hone native inborn talent. And unless you have people and institutions that support developing artists and help nurture those talents, you're going to nip your music scene in the bud pretty quickly. SongStudio is a collective of amazing Toronto songwriters, musicians and music biz pros who provide that nourishing environment that helps up and coming talent to blossom. And for the past few years I've been very proud that SongStudio founders Bill McKetrick and Blair Packham have asked me to make Voyageur available to participants in the program at the performance showcase at Hugh's Room that is the culmination of a very intense week of songwriting, critiquing, insight, instruction and collaboration. I was honoured to be asked again this year and I have to say that it was a stellar year for songwriting talent among some new faces and some returning students.

 

One of the things that I think provides the biggest encouragement to the participants – no matter how developed they are as songwriters or how polished any given song might be – is that they are all backed up by the most amazing band of musicians and mentors. I can just imagine what it must be like to have a song that you've put a lot of effort into as a budding songwriter and you've got master writer/arranger/producer Allister Bradley doing piano and keyboard accompaniments, League of Rock mastermind Topher Stott on drums and Steve Goldberger on bass effortlessly handling whatever groove you want them to create, and legendary guitar hero Rik Emmett comping your song and stepping up with a tasty solo with a nod from you. I mean, seriously, who wouldn't feel supported and capable and encouraged with that kind of established talent ready to give their best to what might be your second draught of ten?

 

And that's just one reason why I'm glad to take part in these showcase events. Bill thought it would be nice – while some of these songwriters are stepping on the public stage for the first time – to give everyone the opportunity to include a cameo turn with Canada's most storied guitar as part of the experience. Not everyone on the bill uses that opportunity: some play piano or keyboards, some play electric, some need the comfort of their own guitars... and all that is just fine. But I was thrilled this year that so many of the participants took advantage of Voyageur's availability – from first-timers to returning participants to guest faculty members taking a turn at the mic: first up was Elena Hudgins Lyle; next up was Matt Hersack (and my apologies to Matt as somehow the iMix wheels at the top of the sound hole got changed after Elena's performance and the guitar sounded a bit quiet and brittle for him – we can try again, Matt!); Jordan Smith (pictured) who really has an extraordinary voice and a really unique songwriting style that was a bit of a highlight for me; Spoons founder and SongStudio instructor Gordon Deppe who gave me a real thrill by using Voyageur for a rendition of his '80s hit "Romantic Traffic"; SongStudio returnee Matt Gerber with a new song, "Caledonia" (which managed to finally displace his uber-catchy "Mr. Furious" that he performed at last year's showcase...until he reprised it for the show finale and stuck it right back in my head. DAMN YOU MATT GERBER!!!!!); Brian Volke with Sherry Jacoby with a new co-write; Steve Postill, who gave Voyageur its most rigorous workout complete with rock-ready vocals and accompaniment from Darren Akai; young Sean Bertram who proved a very capable chip off the songwriting block accompanied on keys by his dad, Allister Bradley on a Brazilian-inflected gem; and the final act on the bill, Manny Manolo, who did an evocative song in remembrance of his father – complete with synchronized dance moves from Rik Emmett!

 

There were lots of other great performances that didn't use Voyageur and taken all together it was probably the strongest collection of songwriting talent I've seen over the course of my association with SongStudio. Whether you're a budding bedroom songwriter or a more seasoned talent, the reviews for this program attended by folks from around the world are phenomenal and I can't think of a better way to take your songs to the next level. Follow the SongStudio link to find out about next year's session.

 

Thanks as always to Bill McKetrick, Blair Packham and the folks at Hugh's Room. - See more at: http://www.sixstringnation.com/?p=2170783#sthash.GaunDTFA.dpuf

Duncan Armstrong Review

Music feature Matt Gerber was a delight. Accompanying himself on ukulele, tin can ukulele, kazoo he channeled the fun and politics of Pete Seeger, Jim Kweskin – made the 60’s folk style fresh for this decade. His spelling song about the difference between US & Canadian spelling was hilarious ‘there is no flavour without u.’ Even if he is Mr Furious he brought us a set of bright summer-perfect music.