If you’re a greater Hamiltonian that’s been out to the venues or festivals, you’d be hard pressed to not have seen Freedom Train perform live at least once over the last three decades but many have done it and hundreds of times.
Carl Jennings (bass and vocals), Tim Jennings (drums and vocals) and Ed Mitchell (guitar) play covers but they are in no way your average cover band. The talent these guys have is incredible and it shows in the amount of gigs Freedom Train has every year that keeps them busy at the bars as well as festivals, public, corporate and private shows. This weekend, they do what they’ve always done — Freedom Train are playing the classics but they’re also offering a special gig to celebrate their thirtieth anniversary as a band.
“In the early days, we used to go hard six nights a week but now we’re doing three or four nights a week, which still runs us at about 200 shows a year,” says Carl Jennings. “It’s the same three members that formed in 1989. We started out doing original shows with some crazy covers and we toured across Canada. In the mid ’90s, we started focusing more locally on Ontario shows. It’s hard to make a living in the music industry and at that time, the music industry had changed considerably but we thought, ‘we’ve never had real jobs before — how can we maintain playing music for a living?’.
“We formed Freedom Train with the concept of playing really cool covers of songs that we love and we were fortunate enough to start getting gigs right away,” adds Jennings. “We got corporate gigs, parties, reunions, night clubs — and we were able to play these cool songs and get paid. That’s all we wanted to do since we were kids so it allowed us to do that. We’re still best friends and having a great time. Every year we hope that we’ll be able to do it again but we’re already booked into 2020 and that’s crazy. We’re very fortunate to play our instruments and be a part of people’s lives — they’re big events and celebrations and we love every minute.”
The band’s first gig was on Thursday November 9, 1989 at Mississauga’s Entex opening up for Rick Derringer (of Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo fame) and Freedom Train haven’t looked back. With a repertoire of over a thousand songs in their arsenal, Freedom Train do hard rock, classic rock, funk, pop, country and beyond. I personally witnessed the band transitioning to a funky pitch perfect Prince tune into a rollick rendition of a riff rocker from Led Zeppelin and if you closed your eyes — they almost sounded like the record and it was just three guys, no loops or recordings — just guitar, bass and drums. There is something definitely special about these three guys and fans know it.
Freedom Train still plays festivals, theatres, clubs, casinos, weddings, private parties and corporate events across Canada but this weekend they’re tapped to play an already sold out Knot–A–Breast Fall Fundraiser Dance and on Saturday, their own anniversary show.
“We don’t do set lists, we never know what we’re going to play at any show — I read the crowd and feel them out and I just call the songs from moment to moment on stage to play the right stuff for the audience in front of us so it’s always different and for us kind of exciting,” says Jennings. “We kind of play the songs authentically with out being a tribute band — we try to make the songs authentic but in our own way. I think how much we love a song comes through when we play it even if we don’t have all of the instrumentation from the original. Nowadays, bands have processors and augmented sounds but we pride us on just the three of us playing live with no tricks.
“We’ve played gigs that we can’t believe we get to play — playing Las Vegas MGM Grand or Massey Hall in Toronto — we’re blessed to play some great music festivals and for some great crowds and the three of us aren’t bored of our jobs and we really love it,” adds Jennings. “And now it’s been thirty years, and who would have thought we would have gone this long? We had to do a celebration and on the very day that we started, on November 9. We’re nearly sold out and we’re getting nearly 600 people there that night. We’re going to do a two hour show with some original songs and some stories thrown into the set. We’ve got some fans that come seeus regularly — some of them a couple times a week. I think a lot of them are coming. It’ll be a good show and I’m hoping that people stick around because we hope to socialize with so many friends and family members that I know are coming already but anyone can come to the show and I’d love to see you. But if it sells out, there will be more shows for Freedom Train you can catch. This is what we do and we love doing it and well, we don’t have a retirement plan!”
Freedom Train play their thirtieth anniversary bash on Saturday November 9 at the OE Banquet Hall and Conference Centre (2245 Speers Rd in Oakville). Doors open at 7:30 pm. Freedom Train starts at 9:30 pm and tickets, if available, are $25 at freedomtrain.ca