Concordia’s rocking professor

Craig Morrison’s band to perform The Roots of Rock and Roll show at Oscar Peterson Hall

Concordia professor Craig Morrison is a jack of all trades. The Concordia professor is an ethnomusicologist who is also a musician, journalist and author. While his job as an ethnomusicologist is to put music in its cultural context, he also has a great passion for playing music himself. Morrison first played in several bands in Victoria, B.C his hometown. He then played in bands in Toronto, and then finally, in Montreal, where he joined the group, The Momentz.

After being the only original member left, the band then became known as Craig Morrison and The Momentz. Morrison has now been playing in the retro band, Vintage Wine, for the past 14 years. Morrison has also written several books, including an Encyclopedia, entitled American Popular Music: Rock and Roll. He is currently in the process of writing another book about the journeys of an ethnomusicologist.

The book, he said, is a combination of autobiography and music history. “I start with something that I experienced myself, like the first time that I went to Memphis to interview Rockabilly musicians,” said Morrison, “And then I’ll expand it to what music was like in Memphis.” According to Morrison, he will be writing about some of the 150 interviews that he has conducted with artists over his lifetime. “Because I’ve interviewed so many musicians, and I’ve seen so many musicians… I go to concerts like some people go to church,” he said. “And I’ve really understood, experienced, tried to promote, all the music that I love.”

Morrison is gearing to perform at one of his highly anticipated events, The Roots of Rock and Roll.  Organized by Morrison every year, the show takes place at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall at Concordia’s Loyola Campus. This event gives Morrison the opportunity to share his knowledge of music with others. “What I’ve come to learn is that I’m an ambassador for music,” he said.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of The Roots of Rock and Roll. Morrison’s band, Vintage Wine, are the main act of the event, and they are very excited to play, according to Morrison. “It means a lot to them,” he said. “They’re very proud to be up there.” The drummer, Gary Sharkey, has played with Morrison in the band for 14 years. Both the bass player, Ryan Fleury and keyboard/guitar player Alex Nesrallah have been playing with Morrison for 8 years.

Morrison said he will be also be bringing in  14 other musicians to perform as well. According to Morrison, he will bring in Craig Morrison and the Momentz to play and musicians such as John McDiarmid, Samantha Borgal, Pat Loiselle and Terry Joe “Banjo” Rodrigues. “We have, just, a nice mix of people, but we are all friends, and we all love each other, we all have the upmost respect for each other as people and musicians,” he said, “People in the audience see that and feel that, and they’re usually amazed that every year we present an entirely different repertoire, so they appreciate the versatility.” Morrison tackles a different theme for each show, he said. This year, the theme is, ‘Oh Canada, Songs in the Key of ‘Eh?!’ to commemorate Canada’s 150th anniversary and the 375th anniversary of Montreal.

Craig Morrison is a Concordia professor, ethnomusicologist, journalist and author. Photo by Emily Vidal.

As a tribute to Canada, all of the musicians will be playing songs by Canadian artists. Morrison said Vintage Wine has learned almost all new songs by Canadians just for this show. This includes ‘I’m Moving On,’ by Canadian country singer Hank Snow, and ‘Four Strong Winds,’ by Ian and Sylvia, one of the best known songs written by a Canadian duo, according to Morrison. One of the guests, he said, will be doing a tribute to Leonard Cohen, the legendary Canadian singer-songwriter who passed away last year.

According to Morrison, the focus will not only be on Canadian music, but on earlier folk, rock, pop, country and blues music as well. “I almost never go later than the 70’s. I’ve occasionally dipped into the 1980’s,” he said. “But people know that they’re going to hear a lot of songs that will be nostalgic for them.” This year’s concert will be held on both Friday, Feb 10 and Saturday, Feb 11 to ensure that everyone gets a chance to see them perform. “We tend to sell out every year. So if [people] want to go, they need to get their tickets in advance,” said Morrison. “Saturday is getting close to being sold out already.”

The tickets for the show are on a first come, first serve, basis. The regular fee for the tickets are $30, but students may buy theirs for $18. To reserve tickets, email If you want to see more of Morrison, you can always catch him at The Wheel Club every second Friday of the month, for Vintage Wine’s Rock and Roll Dance Party. Admission for students is $5, while regular admission is $10.


Surf’s up for Concordia professor

Talk about music with Craig Morrison and it’s impossible to ignore the passion and joy that overcomes him, especially when he talks about the annual Roots of Rock and Roll concert series, which he performs in and organizes annually.
“Every year, we manage to get a kind of ecstasy or thrill,” said Morrison, a music professor at Concordia. “We lift that place and that’s what people come for. They see all the work we’ve put into it, they see the way we interact, and the music itself. It’s community building.”
This year, the theme is California Dreamin’ (referring to the song by The Mamas & the Papas): Music From the Golden State. However, don’t expect to hear The Red Hot Chili Peppers or Snoop Dogg. The repertoire consists of classic artists like The Doors, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
“When selecting the songs and their order I say, how can I present the story of that? How am I going to be able to show people what California music is and how it developed?” said Morrison. For him, the concert is about providing context to the culture and educating listeners on music evolution in a fun atmosphere.
“Most of the audience comes for nostalgia, but they know when they get here it isn’t strictly a nostalgic show. They’re going to hear a lot of songs they know and some they don’t. It’s part of the mandate,” he explained.
The annual Roots of Rock and Roll concert began with a request for Morrison to participate in a faculty concert series in 1997. He organized the show to reflect the musical styles of the course he was teaching and gave it the same name. His band, The Momentz, played the show at Oscar Peterson Concert Hall and had a great turnout, which helped the concert continue years later despite the end of the faculty concert series.
“We called [the first concert] ‘Old, New, Borrowed, Blue’ because of the borrowed tunes and bluegrass music. It seemed like a good way to advertise it,” said Morrison.
His band was the main act, but opening acts were added in the third year because Morrison thought it was a great opportunity to showcase other roots-oriented musicians.
To keep things fresh, Morrison selects a unique theme for each year, narrowing down the repertoire of the show to a specific era, genre or person. He then picks the song that best represents the theme as part of the concert’s title, giving the audience an idea of what to expect when they attend the show.
The concert’s energy builds with each song and the musicians on stage increase with it. With 11 people performing at its climax, finding time to arrange practice meetings should be a challenge, but Morrison’s band only rehearses three times beforehand.
“I wouldn’t say it is easy,” said Danielle Lebeau-Petersen, who has been participating in Morrison’s concert for three years. Despite her experience—Lebeau-Petersen has played guitar for 12 years and has directed a blues choir—she sometimes wonders how everything will be ready for the performance. “I feel a sense of accomplishment when it’s over,” she said.
The concert is a learning experience for the audience, but the band members learn a lot too. “[I love] getting opened up to music I didn’t know about or know that I liked,” said Lebeau-Petersen. “I will be the least familiar with the repertoire for this show, so there’s a lot to learn.”

California Dreamin’: Music From the Golden State takes place on Feb. 10 and 11 at 8 p.m. at Concordia’s Oscar Peterson Concert Hall. Tickets can be purchased at the Oscar Peterson administration office or at the door. Tickets are $13 for Concordia students with ID.

Exit mobile version