When you consider King Harvest in Collingwood this February don’t think of the great Elvis. Elvis will come later this year when he returns to the building, so to speak, for the annual and continuing-to-get-famous Elvis Festival.
King Harvest is the name of one of many songs in the bounty of rock-and-roll music that emanated raucously from The Band, one of North America’s premiere acts.
King Harvest is now also the name of a tribute to and musical celebration of The Band scheduled to be presented by a group of local musicians at the historic Gayety Theatre on February 19. That will be the day after well-known local radio announcer John Nichols presents his 40th-anniversary broadcast from the Olde Red Hen restaurant in Downtown Colllingwood.
Many music lovers believe that rock and roll is immortal.
At least two members of The Band, bass player Richard Danko and vocalist/keyboard player Richard Manuel, have moved on across the Great Divide to higher callings. The Band’s drummer, Levon Helm, has battled with throat cancer and survived to be interviewed about it. Helm has an upcoming performance at Massey Hall.
The Band’s music lives on and is scheduled to come alive with King Harvest less than a month from now.
In the meantime, things are throbbing musically in Collingwood at the home of Rick Garner, who has a lengthy track record of involvement on the local music scene.
Rick, who plays keyboards, lead guitar and bass guitar, as well as being a music teacher, has joined amplification forces with his son guitarist/singer Aaron, drummer John Hall, keyboard player Drew McIvor and veteran entertainer Jason Redman who also sings and plays bass guitar and mandolin.
For the evening presentation of King Harvest, the local musicians will be joined by Jeff Woods, now of Thornbury, who has a syndicated radio show “Legends of Classic Rock”. Woods is sure to be a perfect fit, in between numbers, to provide details about The Band’s rich musical history and incredibly-deep catalogue of songs.
With a month to go until stage time, I joined King Harvest’s musicians for a rehearsal. I joined to watch and listen, then report to you. I did not join to play or sing (none of that talent!).
Rick’s house has a L-shaped basement and into it he and his companions were lugging and positioning an array of speakers, microphones and instruments.
Aaron was twisting together a microphone and stand as he gave an update about his gigs. He had been playing a private party at the Craigleith Ski Club, performing at Windy O’Neill’s at the Village at Blue. Next, Aaron was heading for the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, to be followed by performances at The Piston with fellow musician Pat Robitaille. He often performs with Pat Robitaille at shows across Ontario.
As John Hall was setting up his drum kit, talk turned to taking King Harvest on the road. Should that take them to Peterborough, they all agreed, they would invite rock-and-roll legend Ronnie Hawkins to their concert. Hawkins lives in that area.
Part of The Band’s climb to musical fame came from them backing Ronnie Hawkins. The Band also backed Bob Dylan and then soared away into a solo career that spanned decades.
When I look down, there are sheets of lyrics scattered across the floor. Looking up I see a drawer-pull-type of cabinet handle attached to the ceiling. Next to me, vegging on the small chesterfield, is Clancy, Rick Garner’s seven-year-old Springer spaniel.
Clancy is taking it all in quietly. He’s not howling.
The rehearsal gathers musical momentum.
It starts with Jason’s bass guitar riffs and Aaron joins with lead guitar licks. John stops printing some lyrics and boosts the beat with his drumwork.
Drew and Rick become busier on the keyboards. The Band had two keyboard players and King Harvest is going to be a faithful rendition of their work.
The tempo picks up as “Jemima Surrender” comes alive.
The music stops suddenly and leaves me wondering about the need for a handle on the ceiling. It seems very out of place and has nothing to do with the music.
“Is that a semi-tone?” asks Aaron, as the musicians exchange comment.
“Do you want me to sing the main and I’m going high?” queries Jason. Somebody suggests that they listen to the song again. It plays from an I-Pod to an E-Band unit and on through a stereo speaker. They guys are joining in at whim.
Elsewhere, somebody is working in an office, or factory, and dreaming of an upcoming musical concert.
Back to the reality of King Harvest rehearsal.
Drew speaks in musical terms. He communicates with musical tones and hand gestures as the musicians help each other. The music and singing start and stop. It’s serious business and their dedication shows. They’re aiming for a perfect performance.
“That’s what I call a gospel G chord,” says Drew, as I scribble notes and tap my toes.
They talk about licks, which have nothing to do with ice cream.
They talk about bridges, which have nothing to do with getting across a river.
Their language of music moves outside my knowledge base but the beat is picking up and the songs are forming in total instead of in bits and pieces.
I’m worried about what the neighbours might think, but realize that these King Harvest practitioners have not yet cranked up to full volume. In fact, they’re tempering things out of respect for neighbours. Drummer John has a piece of chamois stretched over one drum to deaden its sound a bit.
They discuss the philosophy of how the show will present itself.
“Nashville rules are that you start with an up song and end with an up song,” says Aaron who has performed in Nashville more than once.
The rehearsal turns to “Across The Great Divide”.
Suddenly, there’s a need for a “dropped D” tuning. Aaron’s hand flashes across the frets to a tuning key and in a split-second the string is in tune. The electric keyboards swirl with sound and as I’m sitting just centimeters from some big speakers I’m thinking that the fillings in my back teeth are starting to vibrate.
Clancy continues to relax on the couch. Still, no howling. Good Clancy.
The powerful start of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” (Virgil Caine is the name….) erupts as the rehearsal continues. There’s a lot of work that goes into rehearsing – over hours and hours -- as they work to present a show that will make an audience ecstatic and have it swaying and clapping. The focus becomes more intense as each song is replayed and refined. Each musician is immersed in his respective part aiming to bring perfection to the Gayety Theatre stage.
Still, no howling from Clancy who appears to be enjoying the music.
Drew, Jason, John, Aaron and Rick have been enjoying music in their own lives for many years and in many places.
When Drew McIvor is not involved in a stone masonry project he turns to his passion: music. A native of Meaford, he returned to his hometown after 20 years in Guelph, Ontario. In addition to performing, he enjoys writing, arranging, producing and teaching.
Jason Redman, who usually plays six-string guitar, has shared the bill with artists such as Ron Sexsmith, Prairie Oyster and Kim Mitchell. Born and raised in Collingwood, Jason is an indie recording artist with a number of albums to his credit. He takes a “do-it-yourself” approach to recording and is often found performing on the local scene.
Born in Burlington, Ont., John Hall credits an older brother’s influence in introducing him to The Who and the Rolling Stones. He is into his 25th year on his musical journey having first earned a degree in marine biology and then studying drums and percussion in Los Angeles for a year. Music has taken him to China, Australia, the U.S.A., and across Canada.
John considers King Harvest as an opportunity to “honour the music that I grew up on”.
“It was what made me want to pick up the drumsticks in the first place,” he says.
Today, John’s focus is on teaching, performing and “maintaining a healthy family life”.
Aaron Garner began his musical career nearly 20 years ago. Since then, he has traveled across Canada performing with award-winning masters of their craft, blues legends and North American rock and country music stars. He resides in Collingwood and performing with his own band which includes Rick Garner and John Hall.
The Gayety Theatre is where Aaron performed and recorded the CD “There and Back” to a packed house. Accolades resulted, as well as his song “Wide Western Sky” being featured in the CBC’s Calgary Stampede 2008 broadcast. In 2009, he showcased his music on the Samsung Stage at the Wayne Gretzky Classic. He continues to write material for upcoming release.
Rick Garner, the senior statesman of the bunch, has strong bonds with composing, recording and performing that go back to his teenage years. He continues to perform locally and teaches at a studio above the Blue Mountain Music store in Collingwood.
The rehearsal’s participants get encouraging news.
During a break I ask Rick about the handle in the ceiling.
“That’s where I hang the light when I give Clancy a clipping,” replies Rick.
I learn something everyday.
An hour and a half into the rehearsal, the group focuses its attention on the musical energy in “Look Out Cleveland”.
“Look Out Collingwood!” I think.
King Harvest is coming.
Article and Photos by George Czerny.
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