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Here I am lounging on a beautiful screened-in porch, listening to a chorus of insects, overlooking the queen-anne’s laced fields on the outskirts of Westport. That would be in Leeds County, north of Kingston, Ontario. This is one of my favorite homes away from home – in no small part due to the great community of people I know here, starting with my friends Chuck and Carolyn, with who I usually stay while in the area. They have built a large off-the-grid home and performance space a few kilometers from town but sleep year round out on their (now) screened in porch.
Chuck has been a long time proponent of, expert on, and purveyor of alternative technologies - this building puts it all into practice – wind-generation and solar collection maintain a perfectly modern building as well as providing the power for the nights that plugged-in musicians are performing in “the room”. Carolyn is one of those performers as well as a great artist - she also took the photo of me on the back of Walking with Wolf in the snow in a field at their place.
I came down for Music Westport – a daylong free outdoor event that Chuck and others in the community started last year. Highlighting music from the general Kingston/Perth/Ottawa Valley area, last year was a great success – beautiful day, great attendance, increased business for the little boutique town, and amazing performances in a variety of musical genres. This year’s crazy storms and downpours will hopefully make themselves scarce for the day – the weather report is good but I guess if it does rain, it will send the people into the restaurants and stores and that will be good for business, if bad for music lovers. As always, I’m sure it’ll all work out.
One of the main attractions in this town are the musical twins, the Cowan brothers. Their family owns The Cove, a bed & breakfast inn, which sits prettily by the lake and has that old Ontario charm. They have a nice restaurant with many special dinner occasions and a great staff who provide real good service. Jeff and Seamus, the twins, returned a few years ago from Montreal where they both studied music, and have brought their energy and musical talents home with them and amped up the entertainment in the Cove- now there are monthly blues concerts throughout the winter, featuring the best in Canadian blues performers (via the Blues on the Rideau music series) which fill the house. The rest of the year features regular nights of music.
One of these is the trio of the twins with the eccentric Spencer Evans from Kingston. He is a multi-instrumentalist, and manipulator of tunes – he creates song mixes that leave you speechless (I think last year he put Led Zeppelin and Feelings together), performed with a great amount of spunk and attitude. But the backbone to all the schtick (a very talented schtick it tis) are the twins – Jeff drumming, Seamus on stand-up bass – they keep the jazz licks rolling while Spencer rolls across the keyboard, off the lyrical map, or through the audience with his clarinet. I came in last night to catch the show and do some dancing – the place was packed and rocking. I couldn’t help but notice that the little Cove is growing – getting a name for itself with the quality of music being played and the friendly ambience.
Jeff and Seamus play in other bands as well – I saw them recently in Toronto as Spoon River - along with sitting in with the musicians who grace the stage at the Cove – and I’m always impressed by their talent. Even more so because they not only play music but mix drinks, serve tables and then play more music – they do it all, with big smiles and obvious intelligence and an easy manner with their clientelle. I would say that just these two alone will create a buzz in Westport that’ll bring folks from far away – and there is no shortage of other talented folks and interesting businesses in this community, as well as the classic beauty of lake-filled scenery.
I dropped some books off at Stillwater Books in town. When I walked by a little later, there was Walking with Wolf on display in the window – how cool was that! I tell you, I’m very new at this book peddling business, and I get a thrill each time I sell one, I see someone reading one, or I see it on a shelf somewhere. Now in a window! May I never take this rush for granted. So thanks, my new best friend Steve, for being a fine purveyor of my book….
…..I’m now back in Hamilton, the weekend a huge success and the return trip highlighted by picking my sister Maggie up at the airport in Toronto. She has come for my big 50th birthday bash on Saturday. I did some business in Toronto as well, trying to get a poster together for my book events coming up, working with the lovely Bruce MacLean on computer stuff.
Music Westport flowed beautifully. The day was clear, sunny, not too hot or cool, just perfect. The bands were varied and all entertaining. The highlight for the audience seemed to be The Abrams Brothers – the hottest bluegrass band in the area, I think they are from Peterborough – three young brothers, their father and a couple of others (not sure if they were family or not, maybe grandpa and cousin - I missed the introductions).
They travel in a bus, have been all over North America, including Nashville at the Grand Ol Opry, and Israel in the last year. A huge crowd came out on the lawn behind the Foley House to hear them. The brothers play stand up bass, fiddle, and guitar – as well as a second fiddle at times. And sweet harmonies they sing.
The day started with the very silly Bald like Dad, amusing the kids, getting the folks on their feet, demanding a little class participation. A lot of talent disguised as a free-for-all of fun. My pal Cocky showed those young kids how to shake it.
Carolyn’s eclectic trio, Romeria, were this year’s roving band. Carolyn, Isidora, and Rob put their accordian, drum, recorders and a variety of stringed instruments together to play gypsy music and old minstrel pieces – they are purveyors of the ancient and exotic. They played a set on a small stage at the Victorian B&B on Church Street and then spent a couple of hours roaming the streets, playing their unique brand of european pop tunes from the 16th century…give or take a hundred years.
The Cowan brothers joined in with their old bandmate and friend Eric Lawrance – together they were a band called Bullmoose, a rocking band with great licks based in Montreal. Eric did a solo performance and the twins played a couple with him.
Then there was Lance Anderson,a well-known player of the B3-Hammond organ. It took a team to wrestle that baby around. The show was worth the effort – that rippling down your back organ thing, makes ya shiver. Made me think of Garth Hudson and Richard Bell. The trio also played inside at night, with Teresa Holierhoek singing – apparently just off a tour with Dream Girls - a hot smokey bar room sound.
A big treat for me was seeing my pals MC Rapper and Stu the Pike reunite with David Bull in their Buddy Holly Live act. I have known these boys for years but they stopped playing this show about five years ago and I had never caught it. They have a whole historical commentary going on, each taking turns playing their parts, covering the history of Buddy Holly and the Crickets, their short year and a half life as a band before he was lost in an airplane crash. Buddy Holly Live does it all justice and insists that you dance. It ended out the perfect afternoon beside the lake, under the blue sky, soaking up the sun, groovin’.
The last of our energy went out that night to the sounds of the band Pica de Gallo from Kingston. Hot hot latin rhythms, a great singer, samba, rumba, salsa, all heavy-handed and piquante. It was down to the diehards at the end of the night – even my pal Chuck, who was still working sound at the end of the night, after a long day on the boards, was out there dancing. Gotta love that man, the attitude keeps him going.
Great work Chuck, Brin, Norman and all – alot of folks get a free afternoon in the sun with great music because of all that effort of yours.
Besides my book-in-the-window experience there were three other Walking with Wolf moments on the weekend. One was a short visit with Turid Forsyth, who lives near Westport but also has a home in Monteverde. I took her a book but couldn’t stay long. Turid’s stunning art and photographs have graced many books, most recently a book, Tropical Plants of Costa Rica: A guide to the native and exotic flora, with Willow Zuchowski.
The second was a small world moment. At the end of the day of music, we were on the lawn at the Cove, talking with friends, including a woman named Barb. Cocky and I left to change our clothes and later meet up with everyone for dinner at Marty and Sandy’s. After I left, Sandy was explaining to Barb who we were, saying that I had just come back from Monteverde, having written a book there. Barb’s jaw dropped – she said, “I was just in Monteverde and I know about this book. My friend has a copy of it and was telling me about it.”
Turns out that Barb and I had met about a month ago in Santa Elena, on the street, under umbrellas in the pouring rain, so we didn’t remember each other well. She was down with a student group from Toronto, with Jim Reed and his partner Tanya, part-time residents of Monteverde. JR was on the big hike to Arenal with me last year, the story that makes up the last chapter of Walking with Wolf. And Barb had met him just last winter in Whistler, B.C. and had ended up substituting for a teacher on the excursion. She came to Sandy’s for dinner and as soon as we started talking, we knew that we had actually met recently. She has lived in the Westport area yet we have never met here, even though I’ve been there often over many years and know many of the folks that she does. We had to wait to be in a rainstorm in Costa RIca for that event.
Walking with Wolf continues to make community connections even up here in the north country. It is a side effect of this project that I didn’t anticipate but am enjoying daily.
The third book-related event was the fact that it was Wolf’s 78th birthday on Sunday. So I called him and we a good chat, catching up on family stuff, hearing of the birthday celebrations, and a little book business. Happy Birthday my friend, and many many more…it is now time for me to get busy with my part of the preparations for my big 50th birthday party – Mike and Freda Cole are pulling out all the stops for a big celebration at their place – really, all I have to do is invite people, give directions and show up – the Westport gang are coming to provide music – there will be many purveyors of all fine things purveying that day - it is starting to be known as Kaystock! So if you are in the area on August 23, come on over, and bring your dancing shoes!