A musical duo well known on the local stages across Hamilton and southern Ontario, offers a novel musical night with songwriters celebrating songwriters. Shari Dunn and Jonny Kerr began performing together some eleven years ago, offering up their own originals and a wealth of covers for a show that keeps them playing most nights of the week including their longtime Sunday night residency at the Lionshead. While I’d love to be interviewing the duo about their own album or originals, they admit they’re ‘perfectionists’ and that long wait may still be a while.
But we do get to chat because over their decade plus run in Hamilton, they’ve met a throng of other like minded singers and songwriters, working near nightly to pay the bills and get their music heard and often without a lot of fan fare. With a novel night to offer some accolades and focus on local songwriters, the Play It Forward — Great Song Switch event was started and now in its third year, has become a much talked about event for audiences and performers.
“The idea came to us years ago but it took us a while to get it started and now it’s really taken shape over the last four years,” says Kerr. “The idea is for a songwriter to submit one of their songs and then someone else is randomly given that song with the help of our friends Paul Vermaat and Melanie Olds. They help us organize it and it’s a secret who is going to cover which song and people only know who got whose song — it’s only made known on the night of the show. It’s kind of like a secret Santa for songwriters.
The call out is made in January and performers have a month to study the song that perhaps they didn’t even know previously, perhaps not even they didn’t know the performer and it’s that novelty and awareness that underscores what Dunn considers some of the magic for this show.
“The cool thing for me about this — we’re all supportive of each other in this Hamilton music industry — we’re all good friends and we support each other but because we’re not huge stars, you don’t hear your songs being covered,” says Dunn. “As good as your songs might be, or as recognized by your peers — someone might say I love that Sarah Beatty song or that Ginger St. James song is so good, but it’s not covered by anyone because you’re not in that place, yet. This show is the opportunity to have that feeling of someone else interpreting something that you’ve created and hearing another beautiful version of your artwork. The night is charged with emotion and energy and it’s pretty incredible.”
This year’s contributors include Shari and Jonny as well as the Dunlop Brothers, Alfie Smith, Greyhound, Steve Sinnicks, Deeps, Adam Cooke, Ginger St. James, Sarah Beatty, Shawn Brush, Ryan Morrison and Cory Mercer but demand has been so high that not all the performers that wanted in were able to be included. With such interest from songwriters, the audience is always presented with a novel kind of night and the event is growing in popularity with audiences every year as well.
“Our first year, Sarah Beatty covered one of our fast funky tunes and she changed it to be slow and heartfelt — I was just in awe of what she did —but I think each artists kind of feels that way about their song,” says Dunn.
“It’s so flattering to hear that coming from someone you respect and it’s such a different way to pay tribute to your pals and celebrate their talents,” interjects Kerr. “We’re celebrating Hamilton singers and songwriters and in a very special way.”
“All year, we get asked by people, ‘when are you going to do the Song Switch again?’”, says Dunn. “The concept is unheard of so the people that have learned about it are really excited about seing it again because each time it’s always different. And with every show, we like to give back and we like to support an important friend and Hamilton musician so a part of the proceeds will be going to the Brian Griffith Guitar Bursary to support that cause happening in May.
“This is going to be the best night ever for any local music fan but that’s the cool thing about this because people will come out as a fan of one particular performer but a lot of them leave learning about other cool singers and songwriters in Hamilton,” adds Dunn. “It’s a fantastic night, full of amazing music and a bunch of great people and I think anyone who comes out is going to have a good night.”
Shari and Jonny's Play It Forward - The Great Song Switch happens this Wednesday February 5 at This Ain't Hollywood. Doors open at 8pm and It's a $10 or pay-what-you-can cover with a portion of proceeds going to the Brian Griffith Guitar Bursary. Click on brian-lee-griffith-guitar-bursary.com