Concordia professor keeps roots music alive

Craig Morrison is many things. He’s an ethnomusicologist, an author, a teacher, and a performer. Recently, he realized that what he really is, an ambassador for music.

For the past eight years, he has been presenting his annual Roots of Rock and Roll concert, a showcase of Montreal’s roots musical community, at Oscar Peterson Hall during the first weekend of February.

Since the event’s fifth year, it has had a specific theme ranging from The British Invasion’s 40th anniversary to the 50th anniversary of Hank Williams’ death.

This year, the theme is folk and folk rock and its title “Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man,” is a nod to the song, which is known as the first folk rock hit in 1965.

The concert wasn’t conceived as an annual event from the start. Morrison explained the first weekend in February was the anniversary date of Buddy Holly’s death, commonly referred to as the day the music died.

“Quickly on, I realized that one of the things I was trying to do was to let people know that the music never died,” the organizer said over a cup of Earl Grey in his Outremont home.

In his own way, Morrison is like folk song hunter Alan Lomax and John Hammond, the famed producer and organizer of the Spirituals to Swing concert, which brought black music into the white spotlight for the first time.

Interestingly enough, Hammond and Lomax have a direct relation to this year’s theme. Lomax is the most important folklorist of the past century, and Hammond discovered Bob Dylan, the man credited with turning folk music into folk rock in 1965.

The “music ambassador” has assembled a line-up of some of Montreal’s finest roots musicians. These include Lew Dite, Gerry Kandestin, Mike O’Brien and Vintage Wine as opening acts. Craig Morrison & the Momentz will take care of the second half. The night’s musical repertoire consists of songs by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Lovin’ Spoonful, Simon and Garfunkel, Gordon Lightfoot, R.E.M., as well as traditional and newly composed songs.

“It’s evolved into a community event and I’m very, very happy about that,” Morrison added enthusiastically.

Although the annual event’s first audiences were students from the teacher’s roots of rock and roll class, it always attracted outside people as well. Today there are multi-generational families in attendance, from “the grannies with their walkers, to six year-old kids.”

“I’ve been concerned over the years that little kids can’t hear live music. [Also] where music used to be, it’s not there anymore and where it is now is always associated with alcohol,” said Morrison. “So that’s a part of the momentum…to make an all ages show.”

Other than performing and talking about music (he is like a walking music encyclopedia), Morrison loves informing others about it.

“I love to turn that light bulb on for somebody, because I did a lot of it myself by putting the pieces together.”

Being the music advocator he is, Morrison is in the process of editing his rock and roll encyclopedia.

“Who could imagine music would need an ambassador?” For more info, visit

Hey Mr. Tambourine Man happens Friday Feb. 4, 8pm at Oscar Peterson Hall, Loyola Campus

Regular admission, $9
Seniors (65+) $6
Students $4


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