Vol. 20 No. 17 • April 24 - 30, 2014 In Our 17th Year Serving Greater Hamilton
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Hamilton Music Notes

by Ric Taylor
December 19 - 25, 2013
The Fifth Annual JR Digs Acoustic Christmas

Yes, he’s that guy. That boyish face that peers out of the window of a van and hails bizarre comments at pedestrians has a name and it is JR Digs. He’s spent years offering his own kind of quirky comedy on late night television, funding the whole thing primarily by his own sweat, sales skills and sometimes money. While he’s a cult figure, we last spoke with him about being nominated for a Gemini against household names like George Strombolopolous and Peter Mansbridge. While he didn’t win, it seemed a major nod for his comedic efforts. But as life isn’t always fair, JR Digs will remain a man on the scene, well, in his van with new projects but at Christmas, he turns his sights on turning his cult celebrity and famous friends into a benefit show to help the Ronald McDonald House.

    “Like lots of people in television you get nominated for an award and then that show gets cancelled and then you try to get another show and you get that show on the air and then it gets cancelled,” laughs Digs. “Then you try to get another show and in 2014 it looks like I have another show. These people are really, really dumb or I am the luckiest guy in the world. I’m going to be doing a little show on Global in 2014 called, “Bands From My Van” and we’re going to have the Lumineers, Steven Page, Ron Sexsmith, Blue Rodeo, Dallas Green, the Sheepdogs and July Talk. We have them perform, we talk to them, and we make it into a TV show. It sure beats trying to trick celebrities into the van. The new show is all about music.

    “You know I love music,” adds Digs. “Music and Hamilton is what I’m focusing on though this time of year. For the last four years, we’ve done the JR Digs Acoustic Christmas Concert and we’re getting some of my old pals and some of my new pals together and we’re going to be up close and acoustic.”

    A makeshift tradition now five years running, JR Digs simply calls his friends and sells out a very special kind of event that is festive, funny and a fundraiser for a worthy cause.

    “It has sincerely become one of my favourite days of the year now because it’s some of the best people I know, who happen to be the most talented musicians I know join me up on stage,” offers Digs. “Like from last year, Tom Wilson, Max Kerman from the Arkells and the Dinner Belles are returning and they’re going to be joined by some people who have never been part of this. Luke Muldoon from the Dirty Nil, Adam Bentley formerly from the Rest, Sarah Blackwood from Walk Off The Earth and we couldn’t be more thrilled about that. We’ve also added a special guest that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be singing acoustic songs. I’ve done some goofy stuff in my life and made some special friends who are better known for comedy than music so this year we have Spenny from Kenny VS Spenny coming out. He’s actually going to be singing songs and it should be an interesting 15 or 20 minutes at my Christmas Concert this year, but then anything can happen.

    “Eight different acts and all of them are so generous to give up their night at this busy time of year,” adds Digs. “We have a guitar signed by Jim Cuddy from Blue Rodeo and we’re going to be auctioning that off to help raise as much money as we can. With the show basically sold out now, there are some tickets that we are opening up and that we might be making available via my websites. All the proceeds go to Ronald McDonald House and so we hope anyone that wants to help out checks my Facebook or Twitter pages or Jrdigs.com. I hope everyone is inspired to do more this time of year. It’s a very special night of music and for a good cause. It’s a great time of year and we hope to have a lot of fun at this party and what better place to be celebrating Christmas than in Hamilton.”

JR Digs Acoustic Christmas happens this Sunday December 22 at the Casbah. Doors are at 7:30pm. Click on jrdigs.com

The Second Annual Dawn and Marra Christmas

    Dawn Larsh and Marra Koren have gone from being remarkable unrecorded underagers and blossomed into one of the city’s greatest musical exports in a few short years. Witty, engaging and just plain fun, Dawn and Marra are talented entertainers as well as solid musicians. Now old enough to drink legally, and with the success of their 2013 release Teaspoons and Tablespoons, Dawn and Marra have much to celebrate at a holiday event that seems to be developing into a tradition in its own right.

    “Our fans have been so supportive and it has taken our music to places we never could have reached by ourselves,” smiles Larsh. “We will remember this year as the year we got to put out an album we were truly represented us. The album was reviewed across Canada and was nominated for a Canadian folk music award and won us a Hamilton Music Award.”

    “We like to hang out and play music with cool people and, around Christmas time, we can do that and raise money and food for those in need at the same time so that’s how we decided to do a show last year,” interjects Koren. “Our Christmas show is also a little different from other shows we put on throughout the year because we like to put tons of artists and entertainers on the bill and make it a bit of a variety show. Last year was a blast and so naturally, that’s why we decided to do it again.”

    “Our last Christmas show was a blast,” adds Larsh. “It was the first show we’d ever done where it wasn’t just a show but a party. It got us in the Christmas spirit and has become somewhat of a staple of our Christmas as a band and for our families, too.”

    A truly family affair, Dawn and Marra’s Christmas party is expected to have all the things that endear them to their fans with that quirky, wholesome and creative bent that wins fans over wherever they play.

    “It’ll be magic — literally, there will be magic going on that night,” assures Koren. “This year we got a magician performing and everyone is asked to wear tacky sweaters! We will have a tacky sweater contest and caroling and family bands. We picked a lot of the people that we’ve been hanging out with a lot over the past year. People that we just love to sit back and watch perform.”

    “We both love Christmas and really wanted an excuse to throw a party,” smiles Larsh. “So don’t just come for Dawn and Marra music, there will be much more. We get to invite our friends, get some food and just have fun. It’s also a great time of year to give back to the community that has given us so much and all money raised goes to the Hamilton Food Bank. We would love to have this show be a staple in our Christmas season – with each year bigger and better then the last.”

    “Everyone should come because it’s an all ages event,” adds Koren. “It’s an early start so you can bring the kiddies and there is comfortable seating for grams as gramps. And there will be music styles to please everyone in your family. Be there because the music will be so lovely and we will feed you little snacks and we will love you forever and ever.”

The Second Annual Dawn and Marra Christmas happens this Friday December 20 at the Pearl Company with Lori Yates, Hachey The MouthPeace, Kim Koren, Quails in the Nest, Good Anya, Gazer the Amazer and more. Admission is $10 or $8 with a non-perishable food item. Click on Dawnandmarra.com

Sonic Unyon Christmas

    What grew from a group of twenty-somethings in three bands coming together to release music as a collective has grown and mutated over the last 23 years into a long standing important business in the downtown sector and their efforts have been a large part in revitalizing what is James Street North. From the renovated old sporting goods store, Sam Manson’s, Sonic Unyon has rode a wave of success in developing music and distribution channels in Canada from their home in Hamilton, with never a threat of leaving downtown. Sonic Unyon remains a force today but perhaps with different perspectives. The music makers became industry players and now event planners and beyond but this weekend, the Sonic Unyon crew remembers a little of how it all started and returns to their roots for a special edition of a Sonic Unyon Christmas.

    “It was a quiet year for Sonic Unyon Records,” confides co-owner Tim Poticic. “We followed up with some albums from 2012 that trickled into this year and a couple of reissues from Change of Heart and Mystery Machine. We focused on building our live business, adding a new business partner, Lane Dunlop, bringing in some new staff and doing a little bit of a change over. We’re ramping up the event side of what we do but in 2014 we also hope to have some major new releases. A whole bunch of Hamilton bands and some bands in Toronto and Ottawa but I’m not going to go into naming names.

    With a developing label roster, 2014 should prove interesting for Sonic Unyon as a whole that has spearheaded events like SuperCrawl along James Street North and the Roots and Blues Festival in Westdale. Potocic and co-owner Mark Milne have long since used ingenuity and adaptability to define their success. It was 23 years ago that the band Tristan Psionic (featuring Milne on guitar and vocals, Potocic) began the annual tradition of offering what was called an alternative to the Christmas tradition in a renovated warehouse loft on Sherman Avenue North. This year, the tradition continues and the band makes a rare return with only their third gig in the last decade or more and their first in three years.

    “We just love doing the Christmas parties and giving back to the people,” offers Potocic. “It’s our tradition now and it always features a mish mash from some of our bands from town and Tristan is representing the label. Doing it every three years, it’s typical of what we did as a band. We put a record out every three or four years so playing again three years later seems right and maybe we play a show every three or four years. We’re actually pretty energized and looking forward to playing again. The only that keeps us from playing is hectic schedules and four guys that have a whole lot going on outside of being in a band but being in a band is what brought us here and we really love it. We are going to make a serious effort to do some more shows regularly.

    Sandy McIntosh, a founding member of Tristan Psionic and Sonic Unyon, had left the company to pursue architecture but has returned to his Hamilton area roots, thereby allowing the band a more feasible option as well as adding his new skills to what Sonic Unyon is doing these days. With some new building purchases, things have come full circle and McIntosh is lending his architectural skills to the project. He leads the band on guitar and vocals with bassist Pete Kirkpatrick. This Sonic Unyon Christmas offers a different age group a different nostalgia and of course, in hopes of helping the needy this time of year. Kids when they started, they’re now leaders in our local business community but that doesn’t mean they don’t still have their youthful zeal. A Sonic Unyon Christmas is a special event but with the old Tristan Psionic band mates adding that old musical magic together, it should be extraordinary and it might even mean more music from the band that started it all.

    “We encourage people to bring as many food items as they possibly can because we want to bring as much as we can to the Good Shepherd this year,” says Potocic. “Whatever we can find to give away, we will so there’s prizes and surprises. It’s all a part of the fun of getting to do what we do. We feel that we’re pretty privileged to be able to have done what we have done in the music business and done it in Hamilton, supporting Hamilton in all of its glory, so to speak. We do what we can do.

    “And now Tristan Psionic is on Twitter finally,” he adds with a chuckle. “It’s unbelievable our band has entered 2013 in a blaze of glory on twitter… it didn’t exist when we started. We’re just taking our time. Sandy really wants to make new music so if he wants to and he can make the time, he’s the one with the most hectic schedule so if he can make that happen, I don’t think there would be anything that would make me happier than to rip off a couple new tunes to throw out to the world. Now that everybody is here and local, we can do it. Every time I say something to you, Ric, it comes true – so let’s say we are going to release a new 7-inch by next Christmas. I’ll let Sandy know.”  V

Sonic Unyon Records 2013 Christmas Party happens this Friday December 20 at this Ain’t Hollywood with Tristan Psionic, Sensei and WTCHS. Doors are at 9pm and $5 gets you in or a quality non-perishable food item with all money and donations going to the Good Shepherd of downtown Hamilton.
Click on sonicunyon.com
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