Steel City Jazz Festival
While an Arts and Science student at McMaster University, Chris Ferguson (saxophones) would form Haolin Munk — a jazz quartet playing hip hop standards — with Connor Bennett (saxophones), Aaron Hutchinson (drums) and Josh Wiener (bass) two years ago. As Ferguson further explored his love affair with jazz, a southerly sojourn inspired him to go from budding musician to promoter and create a jazz festival for Hamilton.
“We all met at McMaster University although none of us were studying music,” recalls Ferguson on the origins of his band. “We got together to play a little jazz gig at a birthday party, a house show. We really started playing jazz standards, straight ahead jazz but slowly expanded what we play to be more hip hop oriented. When we approach any song, we pick out the hook or the melody line and arrange it in a more standard jazz style. It’s very hip hop influenced but still very much jazz. The majority of our first shows were house parties; we just did it for fun.
“But last Labour Day weekend, I went to the Detroit Jazz Festival and had a great time and was really inspired,” adds Ferguson. “I came back thinking, ‘why don’t we have a jazz festival in Hamilton?’ I thought that maybe it was something I could try out. I started talking to people and sending out some emails and feeling my way through the process. I don’t want anyone to feel like they wouldn’t belong at a jazz show. Jazz is such a diverse genre of music that there could be something there for everyone at this festival.”
Ten shows spread out across four venues and four days, the inaugural Steel City Jazz Festival is coming through the gates like gangbusters.
“I was blown away by the support and the positive response I got from jazz musicians in Hamilton,” smiles Ferguson. “There were a lot of people that got in touch with me that we weren’t able to include this year, but I’d like to make it an annual event and include more of those people involved.”
Thursday August 22 is the kick off at the Waterfront Trust Stage with Jazz Connection Big Band (7pm) and shows at the Pearl Company, the Baltimore House, and Homegrown Hamilton Thursday, Friday and Saturday and the finale on Sunday August 25 at the Pearl Company with the Hamilton Dixieland All-Stars (6pm).
“Friday night is really diverse,” notes Ferguson. “The bands at Homegrown Hamilton (Fauxhemians 9pm, Eschaton 10pm, Sean Dowhaniuk Group 11pm) are all experimental jazz groups that might be a little more out there. Brian and Sean Browne are two top quality musicians and performers on bass and piano (Pearl Company 10pm) and at the Baltimore House the Cat Bernardi Group are a quartet with vocals, COP are more experimental, and Sound One are a classic ‘60s ska band which kind of fits in with what we’re doing — in their music you can hear the jazz influence.”
Saturday features Carissa Kimbell and more at the Pearl Company, the Vintage Jazz Quartet at Baltimore House and a hip hop infused night of jazz at Homegrown Hamilton featuring Ferguson himself.
“Haolin Munk often plays with Canadian Winter as the Snowbeach Players,” offers Ferguson. “There are a lot of connections between jazz and hip hop. Hip hop really comes out of the jazz tradition, just further down the line. Because we play hip hop but there’s lots of room for improvisation and jazz leanings and that show will show you both the jazz and hip hop sides of the connections. Then we bring the festival back to the roots to end the festival with some Dixieland.”
With a wealth of performers and styles in venues across the cities, music fans can explore a variety of jazz with ticket prices ranging from only $6 to $10 and if Ferguson has his way, we all might learn a little something at this festival.
“I would love it if people who never listened to hip hop get exposed to some jazz or some people might get introduced to some hip hop,” says Ferguson. “Because of the variety of our line up, there is a lot for people’s different tastes, I just hope people come out and give it a listen.”
The Steel City Jazz Festival happens Thursday August 22 through Sunday August 25. For more details and ticket info click on steelcityjazzfest.com
The Southern Ontario Metal Festival
Matt Lewis grew up in the Niagara Region but came to Hamilton to study at Mohawk College where he’d develop his education as a metal promoter as well. Lewis has become an independent metal promoter over the last six years in Hamilton and while his day job has him recently relocating to Sarnia, he brings his love affair with metal and the massive Southern Ontario Metal Festival to Hamilton this weekend.
“I became a metal fan when I was seventeen and had an opportunity back in 2006 to put on some shows so that’s how it all began,” recounts Lewis. “We originally put on the Southern Ontario Metal Festival at a campground in Port Burwell just outside of London, Ontario the last two years. We were told the campground wasn’t going to be open this year, and Port Burwell is kind of in the middle of nowhere, it’s not easy to get to, and I’d been doing shows at Absinthe for a while so it made sense to move it to somewhere more accessible and familiar. There’s a good local scene in Hamilton and there’s always been a good amount of local bands so it made sense.”
Lewis and Leviathan Productions has assembled 45 bands over two days and three nights with Cancer Bats headlining Sunday, Dying Fetus headlining Saturday and Deterrence headlining Friday. A half dozen local bands like Men To Wolves, the Authour, Eaten By Sharks and Prophets are also featured throughout, on an indoor stage at Club Absinthe and an outdoor stage in the parking lot beside it at James and King William.
“It can seem like a daunting task to start something like this and set up an outdoor stage but the process was easy to go through as long as you had all of the answers,” reasons Lewis. “We’ve already had a meeting with the noise bylaw people. It’s not going to blow your hair off but it’s definitely going to sound good. And we have a lot of great bands to check out. Every year we’ve had an application process that gets a lot of interest. We decide in April who would best fit the festival. We want lots of locals but like to bring in bands from all over like Oshawa, Ottawa and a couple bands from Quebec this year. We definitely try to balance the different days and have a variety of the different subgenres of metal to keep it fresh and not all the same thing on any given day. We’ve got some bands we’re unfamiliar with and some big names as well. I’ve always been a fan of Cancer Bats and had the opportunity to work with them. They played our first festival so we’re happy to have them back and they’re great guys to deal with.”
Given Hamilton is the Steel City, its relationship with metal is a long and storied one and Lewis hopes to capitalize on that fact and offer a wealth of talent at a reasonable price for something he hopes to become an annual event that celebrates everything metal.
“The response has been really good so far,” says Lewis. “We wanted to keep ticket prices relatively cheap. Obviously, with this production, the costs are bigger but we wanted everyone to have the opportunity to afford it. We expect upwards of 200 people for Friday and for Saturday and Sunday three to four hundred people to come out.
It’ll be a good weekend for music fans,” adds Lewis. “Metal is a community so it’s going like old friends getting together and experiencing the music they all love. We’re all inclusive: if you want to get in the mosh pit and jump around, that’s fine — if you just want to sit back and headbang, that’s okay, too.”
The Southern Ontario Metal Festival happens at Club Absinthe this Friday August 23 through Sunday August 25 with Cancer Bats, Dying Fetus, Deterrence, the Authour, Men to Wolves, Prophets and more. Tickets are $10 Friday, $30 Saturday or Sunday or a weekend pass for $50. For more info click on soma.ca
While the individual members of Blue Coupe are all Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, Hamilton definitely has a special place in their hearts. In the late ‘60s, Albert and Joe Bouchard helped form Blue Oyster Cult and Dennis Dunaway would help form the Alice Cooper Group but as their musical projects turned otherwise over the last three decades, the trio came together almost by chance a few years ago.
“We’ve been friends since 1972,” recalls bassist Dennis Dunaway. “We had Dr. John opening for [the Alice Cooper Group] and he was coming out with a snake for his show. We told him that was our thing and that if he did it again; we would look for another band. He did it again, and we were at a festival in North Carolina and there were these guys skydiving and stuff and they ended up getting on stage and rocking hard and Alice, Neil [Smith] and I thought we should get these guys to open for us. We got to know the guys in BOC quite well and did our share of partying.
“But it was years later, I was on the train going into or coming back from New York and one time me and my wife Cindy saw Joe just sitting there on the train,” adds Dunaway. “We found out Joe lived in the same neighbourhood and we started jamming off and on for the fun of it after that. We had parties where different musicians would join in. Finally, Albert got an offer for a gig and we decided to do it for the fun of it. We ended up playing three hours with no rehearsal and the crowd went crazy. We said, ‘that was so much fun, we have to make this official.’ That was five years ago.”
Paying homage to their former groups, Blue Coupe was born with that simple intent to have fun but it’s become quite the successful touring group. Originally, they had a wealth of material they helped to originally write and record to play from their respective canons including “School’s Out”, “I’m Eighteen”, “Burnin’ For You”, and “Don’t Fear the Reaper” — the latter would become a worldwide phenomenon due to a sketch on Saturday Night Live featuring Will Ferrell, Christopher Walken and Jimmy Fallon and that only helped fuel the fires for a band featuring the guy that played the cowbell on the original song.
“Christopher Walken was Joe Bouchard’s neighbour — you’d see him jogging on this dirt road in front of his house,” laughs Dunaway. “My daughters just thought Joe was just one of dad’s musician friends, but when that SNL skit aired, Joe Bouchard became this giant mega rock star in their minds and a lot more people ‘gotta fever for the cowbell’ now.”
The new Blue Coupe CD, Million Miles More features guest appearances from Alice Cooper, BOC’s Buck Dharma, the Dictators’ Ross the Boss, Radio Birdman’s Deniz Tek, Tish and Snooky and even Teenage Head’s Gordie Lewis.
“This Ain’t Hollywood owner Lou Molinaro introduced us to Gordie Lewis,” recounts Dunaway. “We hit it off right off the bat. He’s such a great guy and a really talented musician. He sat in with us the first time we came to Canada five years ago and we enjoyed it so much. We’ve learned a lot about Teenage Head, they’re a great band and I really like them. They’re legendary and Gordie seems to really have a following. We loved having him play on some of our songs and even doing a Teenage Head song as well. The crowd really responded well to that.
“But it was in Hamilton when we were set to play New Year’s Eve that we actually recorded one of the songs for the new album,” adds Dunaway. “I had tried to get Joe and Albert to write this song. I had the concept for “More Cowbell”. For two years, I tried to get them to write it so finally I went ahead and wrote it. We were at the house of our friends Dave [Elley, Orphans and Tongue Fu] and Kerry [Wade, Blackbird Studios, the Lorrainas] on New Year’s Eve day and I played the demo for Joe and Albert and they said, ‘we’ve got to record this live’. I said, ‘no kidding, that’s what I’ve been telling you.’ And they said, “no, we mean tonight.’ We ran through it twice at sound check and the recording is the first time we ever played it on New Year’s Eve 2011 at This Ain’t Hollywood in Hamilton.”
Recorded by local musician and TAH soundman Ian Nielsen on a 24-track soundboard and mixed by Joe Bouchard, “More Cowbell [Gotta Fever]” also features Tish Bellomo, Cindy Dunaway, Buckshot Bebee, Lisa Winn, Kerry Wade, Janice Bielski and Lesa O'Connell on backing vocals. The legendary new song that plays up the cowbell theme anchors an album with some classic sounds on all new originals. And Hamilton becomes the official release party city when Blue Coupe returns with the new disc.
“Al and Joe are both prolific songwriters and multi-instrumentalists and music teachers,” notes Dunaway. “Albert teaches at a school in NYC so imagine being the only kid in a classroom and having two teachers like Joe and Albert — that’s what Blue Coupe is for me. We all are writing a lot, we wrote 35 songs for this album and whittled it down to 13.
“So we did once rely a lot on our history of our respective groups but now that our new albums have been so well received, we wrote the album with a very live feel and we can do ten of them and get a very warm reception,” adds Dunaway. “Fans recognize the BOC and Alice Cooper Group style and they can recognize a lot of that in what we do and we can get away with doing that many new songs in a set and they’re familiar with it. But we are known to throw in whatever on a whim. We like to mix it up. I don’t think we’ve ever did the same set twice in five years. This time, we’re doing a few shows in Toronto and Kitchener but love going up to Canada, especially Hamilton. A piece of the new album was recorded there — Hamilton is a rocking town, that’s why we keep coming back.”V
Blue Coupe plays this Saturday August 24 at This Ain’t Hollywood with Top Dead Centre and Rothwell. Click on Bluecoupeband.com