About a month ago, I was fortunate to catch wind of one of the best-kept secrets in the local music scene of my hometown. Saturday night, I was lucky enough to experience it.
Situated in a small valley, Holland Landing is my tiny rural town of some 25, 000 people that would probably be all but forgotten if not for its proximity to the agricultural powerhouse that is the Holland Marsh. It is, as you could imagine, the least suspecting place one might hope to see the type of award-winning musicians that have graced Toronto’s most respected jazz and blues joints such as The Rex. It is therefore not surprising that I have spent my last ten years here under the impression that in order to fulfill my slightly all-consuming desire for live music I must sacrifice my already dwindling wallet and continue to travel the hour and a half south to scour out venues in Toronto.
Cue Toll Road’s (my own goddamned street!) own Garage Concert Series.
Garage Concert Series is exactly what it sounds like. Invented and hosted by music enthusiasts Tammy Hellier and Gary Blyth in their fierce dedication to “bringing quality live music to the people,” the two convert an auto body garage into an intimate acoustic paradise. Set in the garage are some 65 seats for those lucky enough to know about and get their hands on a ticket. The series itself refers to the rotation of internationally recognized musicians who love and consistently return to play to for them.
The show this past Saturday evening (my first) was kicked off by Newfoundland’s Joel Thomas Hynes, who you may also recognize as Taylor Gossad in CBC’s television series The Republic of Doyle, or as the nephew of Newfoundland’s patriarch of music, Mr. Ron Hynes, the “Man of a Thousand Songs.” Upon arrival we were met at the door by Tammy, whose knowledge of everyone’s name and face set the intimate tone that seems to underlie everything to do with the concert series. After a short introduction, Hynes introduced the audience to their first taste of how brilliant garage acoustics can be. Accompanied by nothing but an aura of hard earned wisdom and an acoustic guitar, Hynes flawlessly interjected nostalgic, entertaining and improvisational anecdotes between folk songs that were anchored by the poetry of his late friends. At times forgetting his own chords and charismatically cursing his own song writing, it was hard to imagine a more honest and captivating half an hour performance than the one delivered by Joel Thomas Hynes.
After a brief and humble thank you, and without further ado, Hynes was followed by the headlining act, Kevin Quain, who began by informing the audience that he had forgotten an essential piece of his outfit, his belt. While I was sitting there laughing at the improvised jokes coming from his softly commanding and beltless frame, I promised myself I would try to avoid falling back on writing about the blatantly obvious beatnik-like parallels between Quain and one of my favourite musicians, Tom Waits. Alas, everything from Quain’s hat, to his persona, to his definitively raspy voice (literally) screams Waits – all he was missing was the never-ending cigarette.
Like Waits, Quain was clearly in his element in dark, unsuspecting environments. While he seemed most at home behind the piano, over the course of the evening the multi-instrumentalist displayed his skills on everything from the banjo, to the accordion to the saw. (Yeah, the saw!) Even though Tammy had forewarned me that Quain was apt to close with what could only be described as a song with a “saw-solo,” there was no way one could prepare for it.
In true form, Quain ended the evening with an impressively humourous rendition of the Wizard of Oz’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” temporarily broken up by improvisational and poetic ramblings in which he threatened the audience with his knowledge of the entire movie’s script. A threat made in vain when he looped the particular chord he was playing, hopped down onto the stage, and joined in with a bow and a saw that was – unbelievably- in key. While at first glance it made no sense, Quain was able to play a solo on the saw in a similar fashion to that of a slide-guitar. In keeping with his humble demeanour, Quain was as appreciative of the audience he held captive as we were of being in his captivity.
What began as a joke almost two years ago has become representative of the unbridled passion for and commitment to the beauty in the unpredictability of live music in its own right, via both the musicians who took part in the series and the audience who came to watch them. An unforgettable evening, to be sure.
Written by Jordan Hodgins