By Grace Oborne
Earlier this summer, the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization (OHTO) launched a campaign to promote local tourism and support area businesses.
The campaign consisted of a video series shared to social media that featured stories on seven locals, describing their personal connections to the area.
Nick Russell and Benton Brown, Haliburton-based musicians were the focus of the series’ second video.
“We were very fortunate to be selected as one of the seven locals. We spent three days with a really great crew in Haliburton, sort of filming what Benton and I do every weekend, so we did a gig, we went to the cafe, we went out to dinner, and did some interview time. They [OHTO] took it back and edited a really beautiful mini [documentary] that showcases not only our music, but just some gorgeous shots of the lakes and county of Haliburton,” said Russell.
Russell and Brown have both grown up in Haliburton County and both attended Guelph University but growing up, they didn’t know each other very well.
“We didn’t really know each other too well. We knew each other a little bit in high school and in university, but we were never super close, because we were in different worlds because we were different ages as well,” said Brown.
It wasn’t until a few years ago, in 2019, when Russell and his family moved back to Haliburton and Brown invited them over for dinner. It was that night, at dinner, where the duo officially decided to become a duo.
“Benton knew that we were a young family moving back to the area, so he kindly invited us over to his place for dinner. We brought our one-year-old at the time, and had a really great dinner. Benton, at that time, brought out a guitar and said, ‘Let’s play a tune.’ So we just very naturally sat down and started playing a bit of a blues and we actually ended up writing our first blues song that night,” Russell said.
“Nick loves improvising with his guitar, and I love to improvise with my voice, so this blending of two different worlds, where we’re both kind of masters of our own domain, just fit naturally,” said Brown.
Shortly after realizing their talent as a duo band, Russell and Brown created a platform for live music in the cottage country, which they call Bonfire Sessions. Bonfire sessions is where people can hire them to come to their personal properties in the Highlands area and they bring a concert to their dock or bonfire.
“It is a cool thing and I think it’s what has helped our success so far. It’s our platform that we created, in which people can hear us. A lot of musical groups stick to going to play the same bars, but for us, this idea of creating the venue to be at home, has really allowed people to really get into it. Everybody loves to host a party on the lake or their home, and we’ll come in to take that party up a notch,” said Brown.
Asides from nature and art being inspirations for their music, to both Russel and Brown, family is the central inspiration and focus of their creativity.
“Family is a big part of what we do, and we’re really fortunate where, we’re musical partners, but we’re also great buddies. So even when we’re not creating music together, our families are often getting together for dinners or just to hang out. I think that, that vibrancy we experience in having a young family contributes to the liveliness of the music that people perceive when they’re watching us play,” said Russell.
“I would totally echo all Nick said. I also think that most musicians are absolutely influenced by other musicians and listening to the type of music that they’re into. I can definitely relate to that from a vocalist perspective,” added Brown.
Russell and Brown are a due, electric guitars voice that is described as a merging of soul pop and blues.
“The sound is just raw in a really nice way, in an interesting way. They’re fun songs. They’re songs that catch your attention and their songs that have a little bit of depth if you listen to them carefully. Sometimes they are easy to pass off as just a funky tune, but if you listen to the lyrics, there’s some real depth to them. Our music definitely has layers of meaning to them,” said Russell as he described their musical style.
Though the two have only been playing together for a few years, they’ve built unforgettable memories together over that time.
“Benton and I took days off from our regular schedule to travel to the city for a video shoot, and we just had such a great time while we were in the city that the video didn’t turn out that great. None of the footage worked out, and the performance wasn’t good. We just partied for a couple days instead of doing what we should have been doing and so we came home empty handed, but it was the best time,” Russell recalled.
“That memory stands out, but from a musical standpoint, we had a couple of the videos that we did this summer that have been really cool. We shot two amazing videos with Boshkung Brewery and Ontario Highlands that we’re really proud of. These sort of extracurriculars that sort of complements the music that we’re doing have been really special,” added Brown.
Those living in the Highlands are encouraged to seek out Russell and Brown’s work for the ultimate dockside concert.
“People can expect a very relaxed, laid back, but enjoyable entertainment experience. For Nick and I, part of the vibe that we create, or the fun and energy that we bring, is that we’re just two nice guys that like meeting people, so we’re very informal in our setup. We end up getting to know people and before long, we’re playing their party every year, because we almost become part of their family,” said Brown.
“We show up, have a couple of drinks with them, then play great music for them. People can just enjoy in a relaxed atmosphere in their home. People are so naturally relaxed, laid back and kickin’ it at the cottage, so it’s set up so perfectly for people to listen to music, to hang out and have a great time. We don’t have to do much to get people into that mode because they’re already there,” Russell concluded.
For more information on Nick and Benton visit www.nickandbenton.com and follow their Instagram at nickandbenton as they update frequently.