The Oscar Peterson Concert Hall was transformed into a swingin’ back porch-style jam session last Friday, as music enthusiasts gathered together for the sixth annual Roots of Rock and Roll concert, an eight act jubilee featuring some of the top players in Montreal’s roots scene.
Craig Morrison, the concert’s organizer, is an ethnomusicologist who teaches a class at Concordia called “Rock and Roll and its Roots.” The event began as an opportunity to bring the music of his class to the ears of his students. After three years the event grew from a one-act piece with Morrison’s band The Momentz into a multi-band spectacle of down-home sounds.
“This is my missionary work in its own way,” he said. “First to let the people of Montreal know that this great music exists, and second to build a sense of community.”
That sense of community was precisely what was unique about Friday night. The hall seemed to shrink as it filled with people. A spontaneous aural communication arose between musicians, instruments, and audience, allowing a head bobbing, knee slappin’ excitement to permeate the air from beginning to end.
Performers joked with their audience and called them by name. The theatre cheered, stomped and sang along from their seats.
Jitterbug Swing’s Danielle Lemieux tapped her tiny toes atop a washtub bass, singing out of the lazy side of her mouth, as she plucked the blues from a single string, accompanied by a sunglassed Brian Edgar on his blinding chrome resonator guitar.
Ron Hayward cradled his stand-up bass as though it were a slow-dancing lady, dipping it as he leaned over to whisper “Whiskey Kisses” into the microphone.
Bob Fuller and the checkered shirt Wandering Hillbillies belted out darlin’ old ballads and hay bale jigs in round jolly voices that tickled a temptation to two-step.
Also dedicated to preserving the tradition of the roots of rock and roll were performers from The Lew Dite Skiffle Group, Craig Morrison’s The Momentz, Slim Sandy, and Blind. The musical conversation was soulful and concise, while the harmonic storytelling of lost loves was enough to make a hound dog howl.
Morrison feels that the human element is what is so special about Roots music. “I think it’s important to maintain the tradition of musical communication,” he said. “There’s always an element of chance, a spontaneity. Audiences feel the sincerity. It touches them, that’s what it’s all about.”
Commemorating the deaths of Buddy Holly, the concert’s “patron saint” and Hank Williams, “the king of country music”, the concert always falls on the first weekend in February.
The theme, “the music never dies”, is a rebuttal to the song “American Pie”, which claims that music died with Holly, at the end of the 1950s. After the last act, Morrison exclaimed to the cheering audience, “We’re here to tell you and show you that the music never died, folks!”
Not with these guys around. Next year the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall may want to clear space for a dance floor.