Another Great Homeport Concert

We attended another stellar concert

Lennie Gallant, along with his immensely talented nephew, Jeremy Gallant, was
last night’s guest at the Homeport Historic B&B, in their “Homestages” series.

I have been an avid and adoring fan of Lennie’s since the release of his first recording, Breakwater, somewhere around 1990. Bill and I have travelled to PEI to see his show, Searching for Abegweit, four years in a row. His recordings, in both French and English, are the soundtrack for many of my road trips.

I love the experience of Lennie’s full band. Their sound is tight, yet they convey a sense of passion for the music. The generosity in their performance fully engages the audience. That being said, I wasn’t sure if the two Gallants could provide the same calibre of musical experience, but they pulled it off and then some. They filled every molecule of air in that elegant, high-ceilinged salon with their vocal and instrumental virtuosity. With a guitar, a harmonica, and an electronic keyboard, they wove Lennie’s poetic lyrics into a textured tapestry, embellished with stories that elicited laughter and the occasional tear.

Although Lennie chose to do several ballads, with Jeremy’s solid back-up vocals and skilled keyboard accompaniment, he did full justice to some of the more lively songs in his discography. The audience was treated to a number of fan favourites as well as some songs which will be included on his next recording.

There are many reasons Lennie Gallant is recognized as one of the finest singer-songwriters this country has ever produced. The range of themes in his lyrics is extraordinary, from youthful romance to the constancy of mature love; from social and environmental issues to the supernatural; from historical events to a story about a wronged wife who changes her life with the help of concrete lawn ornaments.

Lennie Gallant is a consummate performer whose authenticity comes across whether he’s playing solo to an audience of fifty, or as the front-person for his band before an audience of hundreds.

There are more noteworthy musicians appearing at the Homeport over the next few months. To be included on the mailing list contact Ralph Holyoke at:


Ralph and Karen also host house concerts at their home in Millidgeville. You can find out more about the line-up at Dancing Tree Listening Venue by contacting Ralph at the above address.

Murder in the Backyard – originally posted 20/7/17.

Do these look like the faces of cold-blooded murderers? I don’t think so. Well – they had me fooled, as I’m sure they did you. Behind those perky ears and benign expressions lurks a dark psyche. Not only did these deceptively sweet dogs ruthlessly kill, but the murder was a premeditated conspiracy.

The day started off well. I had seen a couple of clients, then did some writing. Mid-afternoon I went out to do some yard chores. As I headed to the outdoor tap to swill out the compost bin, I spotted a small mound of fur with two lifeless eyes staring at me from a distance of a couple of metres. I froze.

Insects, spiders, and reptiles cause no aversive reaction in me. In fact, I find them quite interesting. But dead things are entirely another matter. Once a creature is dead, no matter how cute, cuddly, or scientifically significant it might have been before it left this mortal coil, I am repulsed. So, how did I handle the discovery of the corpse in the back yard? You might wonder.

I did what any sensible, smart, capable woman would do. I dropped the compost bin and ran into the house yelling “Bi-i-i-i-ll! There’s something dead in the yard! I think Chieftain killed a squirrel. You’ll have to deal with it! Right away! Please!”

I slammed the door behind me, worried that the carcass might suddenly spring to life and come after me.

I’ve often told Bill that one of the main reasons I married him was to insure I had in-house dead critter disposal.
I didn’t insist on including it in the marriage vows, but it did cross my mind. Anyway, he recognized that this was a true emergency. He stopped what he was doing and grabbed a compostable poop bag.

“I think you’ll need something bigger than that,” I informed him.

He looked skeptical. “For a squirrel?”

“It’s a big squirrel.”

A few minutes later, he returned.

“You’re right. I need a bigger bag. That’s a groundhog. I think Ceilidh had some involvement in this.”

Upon hearing her name, Ceilidh, who has slunk through the door when I ran into the house, ambled over to us. Her muzzle and paws were filthy, covered in loose soil and bits of cedar mulch – the smoking gun.

We pieced together a likely scenario. Ceilidh, the blonde curly culprit, dug into a groundhog hole to flush the poor beast out. Then, when the terrified victim made a dash for safety, Chieftain, the heavyweight, moved in to deliver the coup de grâce.

And there was the handsome brute, lying in the shade next to a path of day lilies, looking nonchalant and showing not one iota of remorse.

So I gave both of them a lecture about peace and love to all the earth’s creatures. They just licked their paws
and wagged their tails. I don’t think I succeeded in making them reflect on their evil ways.

I cringe when I think of sharing our home – and our bedroom – with such heartless killers.

Kitty Comfort

We went to a lot of trouble to keep our cats out of our storage room after we put the addition on the house. We searched the Internet and bought a fancy gate which we installed at the bottom of the stairs. Three out of our four cats recognized it as an obstacle and didn’t try to get around it. Casper saw it as a challenge, one that he has conquered. He’s laid claim to a sunny window ledge and reigns supreme over his kingdom. We’ve given in and provided his own private litter box and a thick pad for his perch. #sassycat #toosmartforhisowners

Lunenburg Folk Steps Music Conference 2017

Folk Steps Music Conference 2017

The Folk Harbour Festival started with the Folk Steps Music Conference, an all-day combination of information/education, and performance. This year’s theme was “Something to Sing About – Celebrating Place in the Atlantic Region.”

The keynote speaker was Shelley Posen, an excellent choice. Posen is a noted folklorist and author, as well as a songwriter and singer of traditional songs and his own compositions. He was a member of Folk Harbour favourite trio, “Finest Kind,” a group based in Ottawa. Posen hit just the right balance between academic and historical background and passion for his subject. He charmed the audience with his rich and effortless a cappella renditions of Canadian songs which convey a strong sense of place.

Bill Plaskett, a Lifetime Friend of the Festival and one of its founders, and a charming man, hosted the day-long conference.

The first performers were Alan Siliboy and the Thundermakers, a band that includes highly- respected Mi’kmaq singer Hubert Francis. Francis’s voice is full and rich, like melted chocolate with a dash of espresso. The band works traditional drumming and chanting into their songs. Evan Siliboy, Alan’s son, brought a contemporary element to their music with his skillful riffs on the electric guitar. Lukas Pearse, on electric bass, provided the glue that held it all together.

Next up was Canadian folk music legend in the making, Lennie Gallant, along with his band, consisting of PEI singer, dancer, instrumentalist and all-round performer, Patricia Richard, violinist Sean Kemp, and two of Lennie’s immensely-talented nephews, Jeremy and Mitchell Gallant. Lennie Gallant is a masterful storyteller and he displayed an insightful grasp of the theme of the conference. He struck the perfect balance of narrative and performance. The degree of musical virtuosity flying off the stage was memorable.

Amelia Curran, representing Newfoundland and Labrador, has a lyrical, understated style. Her songs are poetic and require the listener to pay attention. She is not totally comfortable in front of an audience, but her slight awkwardness makes her all the more likeable.

Rob Lutes was born and brought up in Rothesay, just east of Saint John. He moved away to Montreal for a number of years and built an impressive career as a solo performer with six albums to his credit. He has recently returned to New Brunswick and has teamed up with world-class jazz vibraphonist, Michael Emenau, also from the greater Saint John, NB area, to form the duo Sussex. Rob Lutes’ style is reminiscent of the smokey, whiskey-drenched voices of singers such as Louis Armstrong, but a gentler version. He sings his own original songs as well as covers. For the conference, he composed three fabulous songs about his home province.

The last performer was a bit short of time. The host seemed to have misplaced his notes and stumbled over the introduction. Nonplussed, Chelsea Amber, waited quietly at the back of the church. Then she walked up the aisle, her guitar slung over her back, and with confidence and poise, and not a trace of cockiness, she took ownership of the stage and the audience. Chelsea Amber, a young woman of mixed race from Halifax, is head-turningly beautiful. She has a voice and stage presence that command attention and admiration. She sings with power and emotion, and already has won an impressive array of awards. This remarkable singer-songwriter’s star is rising.

The Folk Steps Conference is now included in the full festival pass. I would encourage anyone planning to attend the Folk Harbour Festival next year to come a day early to take advantage of this informative and entertaining event.

Reflections on Struggle

We have just passed Martin Luther King Day (January 15th). The items on the newscasts started me thinking about the civil rights movement. I was reminded of something I wrote after attending the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival last summer. I went to my River and Bunions blog today to take a look at it and discovered that for some reason it wasn’t posted. So I’m re-posting it today, in the wake of the commemoration of Martin Luther King’s life and work and last weekend’s women’s marches: 

Rev. Robert B. Jones, pastor, storyteller, teacher, musician, and activist was a joy to experience at the 2017 Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival. I use the verb “experience” deliberately. It’s impossible to merely listen to Rev. Jones. Sitting in the audience at the Folk Steps Conference, singing along with him at the choral workshop, and being present for his Mainstage performance and the Sunday morning Gospel Concert, I felt that I was in the presence of an immense talent, a vibrant life force, and a gold mine of knowledge. He beckoned us to dip our toes in a deep spiritual well. When he told the stories and sang the songs of his forebears who lived in slavery, his words came from a place of profound personal connection.

I have attended this festival for twenty-six of its thirty-two years of existence. Every year, I have what I call “a Folk Harbour Moment (FHM)” – a moment that I’ll carry in my heart for as long as my memory allows. Most of my “moments” are shared by many and are readily recalled in conversations with folks who, like us, have been long-time supporters of the festival. My FHM this year was more personal and led me down a path of contemplation.

At the end of the choral workshop on Saturday morning, and then again on Sunday morning at the Gospel concert, Rev. Jones told the story of the origin of the song “We Shall Overcome.” The song probably originated as a spiritual, communally composed and changed as it was sung in the homes of slaves and in labour camps. In the early sixties, folk music legend and social activist Pete Seeger changed the melody to a marching tempo and popularized the version which became the well-known anthem for the Civil Rights movement. It was sung at marches and public protests, and in 1968, by a crowd of over 50,000 at the funeral of Martin Luther King.

As a child living in Canada, I vividly recall watching the supper hour news on television with my parents. I was horrified by the stories of lynchings and civil rights workers who went missing, their bodies being pulled from swamps days and weeks later.

I remember seeing little Ruby Bridges, the first black child to attend an all-white school in Louisiana, being escorted by U.S. Marshals. She and I started school the same year. I didn’t have to walk a gauntlet of vicious white supremacists hurling obscenities and threats. I recall the grainy black and white images of the Detroit race riots in July of 1967, and the throngs of African Americans marching through the streets singing their anthem. And I can never forget the aftermath of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King and the dignity and resolve of the African American people.

I replayed those news stories from my childhood as Rev. Jones led us in song, like an old reel-to-reel tape whirring in my mind.

It became the practice at civil rights marches, for folks to cross their arms and hold the hands of the people standing on both sides of them and sway as they sang,” Rev. Jones explained. “In doing so, they formed a human chain that was more difficult for the riot police to penetrate. Let’s do this now and raise the roof of this tent with our voices.”

So we did. We crossed our arms and held the hands of our neighbours and sang our guts out. And I felt like a fraud – a white, privileged woman who has never had to fight very hard for anything. I looked around at the sea of pale, freckled Celtic faces and thought, “What are we doing singing this moving and inspirational call to mobilize the oppressed? What right do we have to appropriate a song with such historic and cultural significance?

Then I looked a bit more closely. A couple of rows ahead of me, a lesbian couple who appeared to be in their late 60’s stood with their arms around each other, swaying as they sang, tears rolling down their cheeks. They’re justified, I thought. I had an inkling of their struggle for acceptance and respect, and the right to love and marry whomever they wished to.

We shall overcome hatred, fear, and exclusion.

I continued scanning the crowd and recognized a man who travels up from somewhere in the U.S. every year with his adult mentally-disabled daughter. He was singing his heart out, his face contorted with emotion. I could only imagine what he had to overcome on a daily basis, his constant fight for the care and services his daughter needs.

We shall overcome the stigma of mental illness.

I thought of Hubert Francis, the Mi’kmaq singer who spoke of the inter-generational damage done to his people in the residential schools. My mind moved on to the over twelve hundred missing and murdered indigenous women in this country and the heartbroken families left to mourn them.

We shall overcome racism and violence against women.

My mind meandered to the food banks and the money collected at the Gospel Concert that would go to support them. In all likelihood, none of the folks who used the food banks were at this concert. They live with the daily struggle to feed themselves and their families, to stretch every cent from one welfare payment to the next.

We shall overcome the despair of living in poverty.

Then I thought of the horrifying news out of Charlottesville, and I began to re-frame my understanding of the song. We are all walking the same road, although we come to it from different paths. It’s time for all of us, white privileged people with healthy incomes, people of all races, faiths, and ethnicity, people from the full spectrum of human sexual orientation and gender identity, people from the top, bottom, and middle social strata, to cross our arms, link hands, take to the streets and sing with all our hearts, to vanquish the beast that lurks in the dark corners and back alleys of our society, just below the surface of civility.

We shall overcome ignorance, hatred, and fear-mongering.

“Deep in my heart, I do believe

That we shall overcome someday.”

It’s a Manuscript!

Last week I printed off the first complete draft of the manuscript for my book. Then I read it from start to finish, red pen in hand, looking for obvious holes, inconsistencies, wordiness, typos, etc. It’s now in the capable hands of my mentor and I am anxiously awaiting his feedback.

I feel a bit like I’ve just given birth after a long, hard labour. The gestation period for this baby was longer than that of an elephant mama. The seed for my book was planted about eight years ago, but I didn’t start to write it with intention until after my retirement in November of 2014. The book is a memoir, a slice of my life that I hope readers will relate to and find funny, poignant, and heart-warming.

I have a few unlikely people to thank for the impetus to embark on this project.

First, there’s my friend Wendy who laughed at the e-mails I sent her to relieve my stress during one of my parents’ ten-day visits a number of years ago. I discovered that it was easy to get hooked on making people laugh.

Then there’s David Suzuki. And what did this iconic environmentalist, social activist, and media star have to do with my creative pursuits you might well wonder?

In May, 2014 I decided to participate in the David Suzuki 30×30 Nature Challenge. The purpose of the challenge was to encourage Canadians to get outdoors and explore the natural world for at least thirty minutes a day throughout the month of May. Participants were encouraged to post something on social media everyday to track their experiences. On the very first day I hit the jackpot. I stepped out my front door at 6:00 o’clock in the morning, my dog in tow, to see a mama raccoon and three babies waddling across my front lawn.

After sharing that vignette on Facebook, I got all kinds of positive reaction. I warmed to the project and started taking my phone with me to add photographs to my posts. My Facebook friends shared my posts and before I knew it I had a following. When we got to the end of the month, many of my readers commented that they were sorry to see my daily posts come to an end.

I have to say a special word of thanks to an old friend from elementary school in Lachute, Quebec with whom I’ve re-connected via Facebook. Ron Lilly is almost always the first to hit “Like” on my posts. He lives in Calgary now. Severe health problems prevent him from getting around very easily. He wrote one of the most touching comments I’ve had to date. Here is what he said:

I love your writing. Your descriptions are so good that I feel like I’m going along on your walks with you.

I’ve made a cozy space for writing; I have my loyal muse, Ceilidh, who lies in her bed under my desk; and Bill makes sure the coffee is ready first thing in the morning to fuel my creative energy. What more could I possibly need?

There’s still a long way to go, a great deal of editing and revision, but the first leg is DONE. The words are out of my head, onto the page, and in someone else’s hands. (And yes, I know it’s not the accepted convention to spell a word out all in caps for emphasis, but I don’t care.)

Ottawa Trip – December 2017

The past two days have been frantic. As usual, we managed to turn preparations for a simple 9-day road trip into a three-ring circus involving a cat recovering from surgery, furniture moving, toxic paint fumes, and six animals all on special diets with a plethora of medication and supplements. Our circus has more than three rings, now that I think about it. It was 4:45 when we finally headed northwest, ultimate destination Ottawa. We stopped for supper at Ringo’s in Fredericton. After a Picaroon’s Irish Red and a thick, creamy baked seafood casserole, I started to let my breath out. Tonight’s destination is La Dolce Vita, a charming inn and restaurant in Notre Dame du Lac, a perfect place to complete the first leg of our journey. Winter has arrived here. I need to practice my penguin walk on these hilly streets with their stealthy veneer of ice. It’s a beautiful, crisp night. The almost-full moon is peeking out from behind a lacy curtain of clouds. Christmas lights twinkle a cheery welcome. Now we’re on vacation.

A New Love

I have a new love in my life. We met a couple of weeks ago when I found myself in crisis.

I had just come in from a late night walk with Chieftain, chilled and wanting nothing more than a hot cup of tea. I like my tea basic – orange pekoe or English breakfast tea, dark and robust with a generous measure of milk. I rubbed my hands together to warm them before I filled the kettle and placed it on the stove, then waited for the siren song of the whistle. After warming my white china elephant pot with hot water, just the way my granny taught me to do, I reached for the tin of tea bags, breathing in the soothing aroma of orange pekoe as I lifted the lid. Inside, there was nothing but a deep, dark hole. The tin was empty. I had a momentary jolt of alarm. Ah, but I was certain there was a new box, still in its cellophane wrapper in the pantry. I opened the pantry door and turned on the single bulb light fixture which shines directly on the pantry shelves. There, it should be right – oh, no. It wasn’t there. I scanned the shelves. No white box with orange trim and green lettering and the smiling face of King Cole. A miscalculation had resulted in a dearth of that life-giving substance. What was I to do? I was desperate. I considered the alternatives – ginger-lemon tea, green mint tea, camomille, all of them worthy but not what I needed at that moment.

Then I remembered. There was a small box of chai, an item from a gift basket I had won a few months ago. There it languished, lonely and forgotten beside the assorted herbal concoctions I keep for guests who eschew caffeine. I took it down and read the ingredients. Number one on the list was organic black tea. Well, that was an auspicious start. Next came the spices: ginger and cinnamon – two of my favourites. Cardamom and cloves – hmm, good in mulled wine certainly. Star of anise – exotic. Black pepper – what? Really? Oh well, at least it was black tea. If I made it hot, strong, and milky it might just meet my needs.

So I brought the kettle to a boil again and made a pot of chai. At the first sip I knew I was a changed woman. Chai, you have stolen my heart. Your blend of black tea and spices warms me from the inside out right down to my toes. And the mixture of flavours carries me to far-off street markets. I’m sorry King Cole, I have fallen in love with another.

Winter Solstice 2017

The temperature reading was minus 17 with a windchill factor that made it feel like minus 21 when I hauled myself out of a warm, cozy bed at 6:15 this morning to get into a frigid car. It was still dark when I arrived on the southern bank of the Wolastoq/St. John River. That’s where I met up with a group of hardy souls to celebrate the end of the longest night of the year and the return of the light.

About twenty of us encircled the fire. We sang and danced as we greeted the sunrise, a rosy-orange glow that gradually filled the sky. Moon Joyce, who had been there tending the fire since 6:45, led us in song and drummed out the rhythm.

It was a time for fellowship and celebration, a moment to reflect on the things we wished to purge from our lives. It was also a time to contemplate the darkness of this time in history and to gather strength and hope from our connection to Mother Earth.

We were out there in the clear, cold air for about an hour, swaddled in layers of clothing, toques pulled low, hooded parkas and scarves drawn over our faces. Cold is a great equalizer.

Just when I wondered if I would ever feel my toes again, the sun took shape as it rose in the east, peeking over the trees. We sang one more song and headed to the Sunshine Café for hot coffee and breakfast, all of us smelling of woodsmoke. It’s a bit hard to explain, but I felt cleansed. I think we all came away inspired to make our own lights shine more brightly as we journey together on our next turn around the sun.