A Little Bit of History and A Whole Lot of Christmas Cheer
December 2011 (posted on ckua.com)
Happy New Year!
Well the holiday season has come to an end, and I sincerely hope that during the last few weeks everyone found themselves in a place where they could reflect on the finer things in life and that we all experienced some time spent with a few of the people who mean most to us in this world.
It’s all about community and in terms of our music community, at least the Edmonton faction, I had the opportunity to attend a couple of events that left me with that appreciation for the contributions so many make to our community.
One of those events took me to The Fiddler’s Roost which is located on 99 street and 86 Avenue; and over the years, make that through the decades, the basement venue has been a home to musicians of all stripes and the funky and inviting room continues to be a gathering place for pickers and singers.
On the Monday before Christmas I attended a gathering in Fiddler’s Roost that was organized by Norm Sliter, who for years has been the driving force of the Blueberry Bluegrass Festival.
Norm also hosts a weekly country jam at Fiddler’s Roost and when he puts out the call for special occasions, he gets the kind of response that sees many of the pioneers of the Alberta country scene showing up for a bit of fun and camaraderie. I’ve had the pleasure of watching terrific artists like Joyce Smith and Bev Munro sing country classics while backed by bands comprised of superb instrumentalists like guitarist Richard Chernesky, fiddle ace Alfie Myhre, drummer Paul Martineau, and oh yeah, another master fiddler by the name of Calvin Vollrath.
Paul and Calvin might be of a younger generation than Joyce, Bev, Jimmy Arthur Ordge or Hank Rodgers and no, they didn't experience the long haul drives on post WW II backwoods gravel roads around the prairies that took them to socials, community dances and service club hall concerts around the time television was first making an impact on this world.
Not all of them made it down to Fiddler’s Roost that Monday prior to Christmas, but there was Joyce Smith, who recorded in Nashville back in the sixties with Patsy Cline’s producer Owen Bradley, at one table enjoying the company of friends while early on in the evening Bev Munro sauntered onto the stage to sing Frosty The Snowman.
As I was sitting at the back of the room listening to tunes and watching a long line of country music fans and musicians move through a potluck buffet, I flashed back to sitting in the Fiddler’s Roost 40 years prior, back when the Edmonton Jazz Society rented the room to present shows by touring musicians like American saxophonist Hadley Caliman or fine local musicians. The rumpus room-like space was known as the Captain’s Cabin in that era.
I was also reminded of the days when the City Media Club was thriving in the mid-eighties and many a great night of music was presented in that joint. I recalled Doug Sahm sitting on stage rolling through a few Lightnin’ Hopkins tunes, Townes Van Zandt singing gems like No Place To Fall and Flyin’ Shoes to a full house of admirers and David Hidalgo and Louis Perez of Los Lobos jamming with members of The Paladins and some of our best local musicians until the wee hours of the morning. As Little Milton so aptly sang on one of his Chess recordings, “if walls could talk.”
Brian Gregg, who recently won the solo performance competition sponsored by the Edmonton Blues Society, has run the Little Flower Open Stage at Fiddler’s Roost for a number of years now. Suddenly there was Brian, all smiles, taking a chair next to mine and when not wishing someone “best of the season” he was telling me about his preparation for the Memphis Blues Challenge which he will be attending at the end of the month. The guitar player and singer is pumped about the opportunity, and for good reason.
As the evening unfolded I talked at length with Paul Martineau who had just returned from a tour in Europe with his sister-in-law Laura Vinson. Vinson’s troupe had another successful run overseas and Martineau has watched the singer, and her European promotion team, build up a following and solid relationships. Over the years Vinson, with a band that also includes Tacoy Ryde’s Dale Ladouceur, Maria Dunn with her penny whistle and accordion and Martineau’s guitar playing brother Dave, has taken her unique show to Lithuania, Denmark, Holland and many other spots on continental Europe.
A little while later Norm Sliter was giving me the lowdown on what bluegrass fans can expect at Blueberry next summer on the weekend of August 2, 4 & 5. Under Norm’s guidance, the festival has injected a touch more “country” music into recent line-ups and those additions represent the actual name of the event, which is Blueberry Bluegrass and Country Music Festival. With that in mind, Norm has booked Michael Martin Murphey who will add everything from traditional cowboy tunes to Celtic-flavoured western songs to superb country-folk ballads, like his big hit Wildfire, to the mix at Blueberry 2012. I’m also excited that Norm inked the group Blue Highway with dobro master Rob Ickes for the Blueberry weekend. You just can’t get much better bluegrass action than the sounds Blue Highway produce.
You get the picture I’m sure: a group of people who have committed their lives to music, and those who continue to support that particular scene and have done so for over half a century. They are part of the cultural fabric of this community, and they just go about their business in a rather low-key manner and all have great stories to tell, even if they are not bandied about on Twitter or Facebook.
Thanks to Bernie MacLellan who keeps the doors of Fiddler’s Roost open and who has done so for 15 years now. It’s a little bit of continuity in our music community, bridging the past with the present.
Fiddler’s find their roost
One by one the fiddlers trickle in. They open their cases to get their instruments ready to go. Once the fiddles are tuned and the bows are rosined, they take their place and begin to play. This has all the makings of a good old-fashioned barn dance, except there is no barn. Instead, they gather at Fiddler’s Roost on 99th Street, located underneath Wild Earth Foods. To get inside this cozy dwelling you have to go downstairs, giving the underground music scene a whole new meaning.
This is a place where music is celebrated and friendships are appreciated. It has an “everybody knows your name” feel to it giving it a comfortable vibe that makes you feel as though you have always been coming here.
Fiddler’s Roost has been around for 15 years and is owned by Bernie MacLellan, who is a fiddle player as well. It is open four times a week, offering different types of musical venues each night. So not only are there performance nights, but there are also jam nights. These nights are open to anyone with a fiddle or anyone who wants to enjoy some old-time fiddling.
These jam nights are multi-purpose to those participating. Not only do they offer a chance for the fiddlers to practice their craft, but they also allow them to get comfortable with setting up microphone and speaker systems.
“It sounds different on stage than just in front of each other,” MacLellan said. “This gives them a chance to learn how to perform with the PA system.”
There is a small stage in the corner with a piano and a large stand-up bass. There is an area in front of it where the fiddlers gather, sitting in a circle of chairs with one microphone in the middle. The mic is passed around, each one selecting a song to play. Whoever the microphone is in front, that’s whose turn it is to select a tune to play. Nowhere does this mean that this is a solo though. Pretty soon there are a dozen fiddles playing as they all join in. Ada, who prefers her last name is not used, has been coming for 10 years. She has always had music in her life, starting with the guitar. She inherited her fiddle from her father and has been playing it for the last 6 years. She said that though she loves coming here for the music, she also loves coming here for the close friends she has made. “It really brings people closer, instead of further apart,” Ada said.
So the next time you are hankering for some bluegrass fiddle music, head to the Fiddler’s Roost. Just don’t be surprised you find yourself with a fiddle in your hand learning how to play a jig.
Once a month Fiddler’s Roost offers an open stage talent night. All genres of music are welcome to participate.
Fiddler’s Roost is located on 8909 99th Street and opens at 7:30pm, Mondays through Thursdays.
Great roots, country music rules the Fiddler's Roost
You can be forgiven for using "underground" to describe the Fiddler's Roost, in the basement of Wild Earth Foods.
BY THE EDMONTON JOURNAL DECEMBER 12, 2007
You can be forgiven for using "underground" to describe the Fiddler's Roost, in the basement of Wild Earth Foods. The south-side venue continues to host fiddle and country jams and open stages as well as the weekly Little Flower Open Stage Brian Gregg organized nine years ago at Rossdale Community Hall.
Fiddler's Roost has hosted music, including jazz and blues for the better part of half a century. During its Captain's Cabin incarnation, the Edmonton Jazz Society present shows by local and touring acts. In the '80s, the City Media Club presented memorable shows, with Townes Van Zandt, Tom Russell, Pinetop Perkins and John Hammond. Gregg's Little Flower Open Stage carries on that same sense of community, and many past performers and patrons are expected to turn out tonight.
"We've had to overcome a few things since we changed locations a year ago," concedes Gregg, who for 35 years, has made music with the Big Dreamer band, as a solo artist and as half of a duo with singer-songwriter Patsy Amico. The two released Blue Rain last year. "In Rossdale, people just used to walk to the show," says Gregg. "But now that we are at the Fiddler's Roost, we have more of a rotating crowd. We manage to showcase between seven and 20 acts a night.
"I remember when we first started doing this, some of the artists thought we were ripping them off because we charged everyone $2 to get in, whether you were listening or playing."
Both established and emerging tunesmiths began to realize that Little Flower offered an environment to network, collaborate and "try out new material" on an attentive audience.
The list of performers who recently appeared at Little Flower includes respected artists such as Ken Brown, Scott Cook, Terry Morrison, the Ranger Creek Wranglers, Mary Rankin and Marv Machura. "We're also doing a big Boxing Day show and we'll all just continue to try to give something back to the community," adds Gregg who, performs with Amico at Little Flower every few weeks.
The music starts at 8 and runs through 11. Fiddler's Roost is at 8906 99th St.