Most musicians are dealing with the minutiae of every day life and the creation of their art to realize the legacy their creating. Brian Griffith was a staple on the local music stage for decades. He was born into a musical family and found playing the guitar not only his vocation but his passion. Even after four decades of making his mark in Hamilton and beyond, Griffith was playing some five, six or even seven nights a week at a variety of places. When he passed suddenly some four and a half years ago, the local musical community was devastated but with an annual celebration of Brian Griffith and even a musical bursary, the legacy and musical life of Brian Griffith continues. This weekend a wealth of performers come together for a local tribute to Griffith and to raise funds for the Brian Lee Griffith Guitar Bursary.
“Music is the obvious way to remember Brian because you couldn’t take the music out of Brian,” says his widowed partner Eudene Luther who is the organizer behind the concert and the bursary. “Music was his safe place for him and the whole Washington family. As a boy, he’d watch his uncles and aunts getting jazzed up for a gig and delight in how happy they were. He told me about it many times and from a little child, all Brian wanted to do was make music. He played in Hamilton regularly but also played all over Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes.
“Hamilton has always been a city of music — the Washington family has been here since 1856 and they all played music, all the way down the line to Brian,” adds Luther. “There were other families making music and it made our city. Brian used to say Hamilton is a working class town and the working class needs music as an outlet. With that, there was always a fan base to keep musicians going.”
Griffith collaborated with a variety of musicians and even added his guitar to the likes of Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris recordings but beyond recordings, it’s his continued presence in the people that listened to him and played alongside him that offers Griffith’s greatest legacy.
After his unexpected passing, Luther was bolstered by the overwhelming response to celebrate Brian’s life that the idea for the annual event took shape. The Life of Brian would become a celebration, memorial and fundraiser as it’s not only important to remember Brian Griffith’s legacy but also to foster more like minded Hamiltonians in the future.
“It wasn’t just about my loss because he belongs to the community,” says Luther. “I had a strong sense of that from the beginning. This community loved him and Brian wanted to play here. It was his safe place in an otherwise hostile world. He poured his heart and soul out and said, ‘this is me’. How else could we remember Brian but with a musical event. We carry him in our hearts forward and make him part of our lives and the lives of our city now. Through the community as well as his family friends and carry it forward. We do that by telling stories, writing for him and singing for him and maybe his spirit will come. I feel his spirit especially when I play his music.
“The Hamilton musical community is a natural fundraising body so it made sense to do a guitar bursary for guitar players to offer a submission with Brian in mind,” adds Luther. “It’s absolutely to help these musicians follow their passion. Every year we get amazing submissions but this year, the jury chose Tom VanDeven unanimously for his submission “Grooving to Mr. Griffith”. There was some stiff competition but this track echoed the excitement and driving movement of Brian’s music. There’s a sense of a spiritual journey and Tom had this quality with the music he submitted.”
VanDeven will be joining a wealth of performers that will come out to lend their voice to celebrate Brian Griffith this weekend.
“Your safe place is made by the people you play with and all of the people performing this event year after year were like Brian’s family, — he played with all of them,” says Luther. “We’ve got some new ones like Cootes Paradise called and offered to play and Melissa Marchese is a natural addition. If Brian was around he would have been backing her up because he loved her. Daimon Miles is his son... the whole show is like walking into a family gathering so everyone is welcome.
“The musicians will be grooving all night long,’ adds Luther. “If you haven’t come before, you won’t be disappointed. We’ve got the creme de la creme playing — this is like Hamilton’s best and you won’t hear better music than this anywhere else.” V
The Life of Brian concert happens this Saturday May 25 at the Corktown with Danny Lockwood’s Favourite Grooves with Chris Chambers, Joel Guenther, Jamie Oakes, Lori Yates, Martin Verrall and Raphael Keelan, Daimon Miles, Hachey the Mouth PEACE, Cootes Paradise, JP Riemens, Laura Cole, Melissa Marchese, Riddim Riders, this year’s bursary winner Tom VanDeven and your host Richard Keelan. Doors open at 8pm and a $20 or donation of your choice will get you in. Click on brian-lee-griffith-guitar-bursary.com