By George Farrell
Published Feb. 15 2018
On the eve of Jan. 27 I finally made it to a Homemade Stew concert the annual celebration of local musicians presented by the Haliburton County Folk Society. Held at the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion this fifth edition was dedicated to the talent influence and memory of Johnny Burke the beloved country singer who passed away on Sept. 21 2017.
To say that this was a special show would be an understatement and Burke himself would have appreciated the talent that the evening provided and the outpouring of love from those performers who knew him. For instance Ryan VanLieshout revealed that he owed a debt to Burke who became a friend and taught him a few things. VanLieshout who sang a fine rendition of Burke’s Dixie Road and who has all the necessary nuances required for a country singer revealed the fact that he was actually wearing a jacket that once belonged to Burke.
Mark Christiano who closed the show also talked about his family connections to Johnny Burke. The Christianos were apparently responsible in part for the Burkes moving to the Highlands. For a while the Burkes lived above Christiano’s Hair Lounge in Carnarvon while their own home was being built.
Christiano was not in top form because he wasn’t feeling well but he really wanted to be part of the tribute and his song Hello and Goodbye which he wrote was a particularly appropriate song for the occasion.
The evening was divided into two sets. The first set opened with Falling From Stilts a group consisting of singer/songwriter Albert Saxby Brendan Burgess and Richard Joudrey. With Give me Blood a song about a vampire Saxby gave us fans what we’ve come to expect from his off-kilter sense of humour and engaging lyrics.
Dan Riley was next up with his electric guitar and his instrumental rendition of Georgia On My Mind was a tour de force and just might have been the highlight of the evening for me. The Moontones with Bethany Houghton Kris Kadwell and Ian Pay followed and in spite of a nagging cold Houghton sang a fine version of the Irving Berlin classic Puttin’ on the Ritz.
Duo Prosecco consists of Laurel McCauley and Kim Quigley but for this occasion they were accompanied by Shannon Neville for fine renditions of a piece called Requiem written by Eliza Gilkyson and I’m Just Me by Charlie Pride. Nick Russell and Rob Muir both from that arts hotbed of Gelert were next to perform and they were superb especially on a jazzy rendition of the standard All of Me.
Lunar Bloom a trio of young women consisting of Jocelyn Regina Kelly McNamee and Brittany Robinson closed the first set and if you like sweet harmonies then these young women gave you what you wanted; and they are talented enough to make some headway commercially down the line.
The second set opened with Nick Russell again this time teaming with Benton Brown. Brown sang Boshkung Blues which he co-wrote with Russell and then performed a great rendition of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy. Brown has a fine voice which he showed to full advantage and his acting background showed through in a confident performance which was brilliantly backed by Russell’s guitar.
Up next was audience favourite Kate Hall who was ably assisted by guitarist Andrew von Zuben. The duo’s second number Moth into the Flame which Hall wrote really showed off her vocal chops as well as her talent as a songwriter.
Then it was the turn of Karl and Terry Upton and friends Bob Long and Ted Scholtes with their version of You Ain’t Dolly You Ain’t Porter which was a favourite of the country fans in the sold out-audience. After them it was Jeff Barry and friends Maggie Harris and Don Stiver with great renditions of You Comb Her Hair and Blackboard of my Heart.
The previously mentioned Ryan VanLieshout and Mark Christiano were the two closing acts before the grand finale which featured about a dozen of the evenings performers singing a heartfelt Burke song Wild Honey.
The Folk Society seems to have this annual gig down pat and the sound quality was spot on. Commendations are in order for all the volunteers technicians sponsors promoters and providers of intermission refreshments. And the evening was tied together seamlessly by Mike Jaycock who does such a great job as a master of ceremonies.
Yes it was my first Homemade Stew but with such a tasty varied mix of musical ingredients on offer it surely won’t be my last.