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Florida Festivals

Country Prose

by Charlie Hansen

Connie Smith and Marty Stuart

Lots of things are happening in the south this month. It’s not hard to find country or bluegrass music within a stones throw of home and most of it top rate.

We’ll start this month’s column with a tip of the hat to one of bluegrass/gospel’s most enduring groups, the Lewis Family. This group has performed bluegrass/gospel and comedy, an unlikely combination, for sixty years and although the sisters, except for Janice are long past their prime the show is still quite entertaining with Little Roy’s antics being the center piece. They played the Pasco County fair, (picture the Dundas Plowing Match on steroids), early in March and played to a sold out crowd. Of course the admission was free so that may account for some of the overflow crowd although the love that people hold for The Lewis Family also draws the folks in free or not.

Our next stop was at the Florida Strawberry Festival to see Connie Smith and Marty Stuart. Now since I’m a huge Connie Smith fan, it goes without saying that I enjoyed the show from start to finish. Even though Connie is 67 she still shows the joy of a teenager when it comes to music. Every song is as fresh as it was when first recorded and her band is a top notch country quartet with drums, bass, guitar, and pedal steel that you can actually hear. After Connie opened the show with a half hour set husband Marty sauntered onto the stage and did an hour set of his hits joined by Connie for the last fifteen minutes. What can I say about Marty Stuart except that Marty was being Marty and in fine form. He’s funny, in command and, above all, extremely talented. All in all a very enjoyable afternoon. So enjoyable was the Strawberry Festival that we were nearly tempted to go back to see Jessica Simpson and her new country act but in the end we passed. To most music fans in the Tampa Bay area Brittany Spears’ semi-live performance at the St. Pete Times Forum won the battle of the blondes.

Our last stop on the March tour was Islander Day at Fort DeSoto to see old friends and make some new ones. The eighth annual event was the largest to date and the attendance was estimated at eight hundred. The weather was stellar, entertainment down home and, Cecil MacEachern was at his finest on the fiddle, playing tunes and backing up several singers. Cecil just seems to get better with age.

We’re heading for home in early April and after a stop in London, ON to visit our daughter we’ll be on PEI shortly after Easter so this will be our last column from Florida until next year. Until next time don’t forget to listen to Bluegrass Island every Sunday evening at 9 on CFCY 95.1 or at

Country Classics

Country Prose

by Charlie Hansen

Classic country singer Gene Watson

LeRoy VanDyke, Narvel Felts, David Frizzell, T. Graham Brown, Bobby Bare, Jimmy Fortune (Statler Brothers), Jean Shepard, Gene Watson, and Moe Bandy—does that sound like a great classic country show. Well that’s what we saw at the Florida State Fair on February 11. The show was a sellout and was enjoyed from the first note to the last. Songs like “Walk On By,” “Reconsider Me,” “If You Got The Money,” “Wine Back Into Water,” and “Fourteen Carat Mind” sailed around the Sweet Bay expo hall like distant memories wrapped up in tidy little packages. Each artist took to the stage in turn and performed so many million sellers that no one could count. Many of them have lost some hair and gained some weight but the magic and the desire to entertain is still there.

Jean Shepard was the only lady on the show and even with a lot of years under her belt she still can sing with the best of them. She just celebrated fifty years on the Opry and that’s no mean feat in this day and age where the elders aren’t respected like they used to be.

T. Graham Brown with his powerful, smokey, blues infused voice could still peel the chrome off a bumper and Narvel Felts hits notes as though he were a steel guitar complete with pedals and knee levers. His voice can still sends shiver up your spine.

The audience (mostly gray-haired, like myself), enjoyed every note and every joke that they’ve heard a hundred times.

After the show the autograph lines stretched around the hall and the artists didn't leave until every person that paid the paltry sum of ten dollars to get in was satisfied.

This show is only one of many at the fair. There is a national Elvis impersonator contest, a Vegas style tribute to Super Bowl half-time shows, and all kinds of music from Metallica to Jimmy Buffett and The Coral Reefer Band.

So much for the fair, we’re off to the Strawberry Festival next month to see Connie Smith and Marty Stuart, then to the Dade County Fair for Southern Star Bluegrass and The Lewis Family. On February 18 we’ll be off to the Bartow Civic Center to see Travers Chandler & Avery County and The Bluegrass Brothers.

This year we’re in Zephyrhills the musical heart of Florida. Every park has its jams and a lot of retired professional musicians come here to spend the winter so it is very attractive to anyone who has a musical bent.

March 8 is Islander Day and we’ll be there to report on the activities taking place at Fort DeSoto Park.

The weather is great since we experienced freezing temperatures a week or so ago and everyone is out and around enjoying the winter.

Until next time don’t forget to support live country and bluegrass music and listen to Bluegrass Island every Sunday evening at 9:00 on CFCY FM in Charlottetown or on the world wide web.

Better Late

Country Prose
by Charlie Hansen

Dave Thompson

If you wait 67 years to release your first recording it had better be pretty good and this recording, My Friends, My Fiddle, and Me by Dave Thomson passes the test with flying colours.

Dave was a quick learner as a child. He received his first fiddle for Christmas, a week before his tenth birthday, and by the time New Years rolled around, a week later, he had learned his first tune. He picked up the fiddle naturally as his grandfather, Fulton, and his father, David were fine fiddlers in their own right. Dave was encouraged by those that came before to play the tunes the way that they were meant to be played and that advice has stood him in good stead for all these years.

So talented was young Dave that two and a half years after receiving his first fiddle he won first place in the Shurgain Amateur Cavalcade on June 5 of 1954. Shurgain Amateur Cavalcade, for those of you too young to remember, was an amateur talent contest that covered the island in the 1950s and 60s.

Dave can’t count the number of benefits, seniors homes, dances, and community events that he’s played over the years and he shows no signs of slowing down.

A couple of Dave’s accomplishments of note were playing at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal and the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton. Large stages for an Island boy.

Besides playing fiddle Dave also dabbles in mandolin and plays a fiddle and a mandolin that he made himself. He has also built a couple of guitars and partnered in the building of an upright bass a number of years ago. Although Dave plays left handed, or “over the bass” all his instruments are strung right handed.

Dave lists as his mentors his uncles, Jack and Ray Thomson, Ralph Gay, George MacIntyre, and of course his grandfather, Fulton and his father, Dave.

This CD is a compilation of nineteen of Dave’s favourite fiddle tunes, from “Nellie Gray” to “Paddy On The Turnpike” all played expertly. Dave’s penchant for playing “his own way” is evident throughout the CD and it brings a freshness to the old tunes.

Dave is accompanied on this CD by friends, Alan MacRae on bass and second fiddle, Rupert Vessey on guitar, Vans Bryant on mandolin, and Dave’s cousin Tracy (Thomson) Gallant on keyboards.

If you’d like to get a copy of this CD by one of PEI’s most popular fiddlers you can give Dave a call at 902-566-2324 or drop by the house and maybe Dave will share a cup of tea and a tune on the fiddle.

We’re a little late getting away this year but our next column will be coming to you from the sunny south and until then don’t forget to support live country and bluegrass music and listen to Bluegrass Island every Sunday evening at 9:00 on CFCY FM 95.1 or on the world wide web at

East Coast Promoter

John Gavin—publisher of Atlantic Seabreeze

Country Prose

by Charlie Hansen

John GavinThis month I'd like to introduce you to someone that you may or may not already know. His name is John Gavin and for a great portion of his life he has been a promoter of East Coast music and musicians.

John's roots are in Norway/Tignish near North Cape, PEI . Like many East Coasters in search of work John moved to Toronto some 43 years ago and began a career in manufacturing and accounting until he retired in 2007 and moved back to his roots in PEI.

While living in Toronto, John always had a keen interest in East Coast Music which he freely supported in may different ways. His first exposure to the world of promotion was to get involved with an East Coast radio show where he helped the DJ with commentary and East Coast reports.

It was during this time that John noticed a lack of information in the greater Toronto area as to where and when East Coast bands were performing and generally a lack of information regarding the members, style and substance of these East Coast groups.

John decided to publish a monthly newsletter called Atlantic Seabreeze to keep the public abreast of what was happening regarding the East Coast music scene in Toronto.

The paper contained East Coast news, interviews, club dates and CD reviews until it ceased publication, when John retired.

During the years that the newsletter was published John promoted many East Coast artists in Toronto and helped them to keep in touch with their fans and generally help their careers. He became a great fan of The Eric McEwen Radio Show in PEI. John touted Eric's show as a model for the promotion of East Coast music and began building a website in 1998, with the help of his friend Eugene Ruthven. This website has risen from it's humble beginnings to also become a model for the promotion of East Coast music and has grown, over the years, to become one of the busiest music web sites in Canada with over one million hits per year.

The Atlantic Seabreeze website, although a spinoff from the original printed version, has become more far reaching and is available all around the world due to it's presence on the Internet.

John's latest challenge is the chairmanship of the Red Clay bluegrass festival held annually in Tignish. This is another vehicle for John to promote local and regional bluegrass groups.

If you're interested in taking a look at the Atlantic Seabreeze website the web address is At this site local artists can promote their appearances, CDs, videos, profiles, etc. and let the world know what's happening on the East Coast.

Before I close I'd just like to wish all the readers a Happy Christmas season and all the best for the New Year. I'll be in Florida for the winter starting in January (hopefully) but I'll try to keep you all posted as to happenings in the sunshine state that might be of interest to Islanders, especially Islander Day. There are also several other events that you might be interested in so I'll keep you up to date.

Fiddlin’ Young

Country Prose
by Charlie Hansen

This month the topic turns to a young fiddler from Dartmouth Nova Scotia by the name of Nason Scribner. Nason is a student of the great Gordon Stobbe of “Up Home Tonight” fame and it shows in the precision with which he plays.

Nason has been a summer resident of PEI for a number of years and was inspired to play fiddle by many campfires held at Marco Polo Land and the fact the his great grandfather Vance Balsor bought him his first full sized fiddle at an early age.

Nason was fortunate enough to gain employment at Avonlea Village at the age of eleven as a member of the Barnyard Boys. His employment at Avonlea Village brought him in touch with Neil Matthews who encouraged and mentored him in the business of performing and took him across the island to play shows at many different locations.

Finally, at the ripe old age of fifteen Nason, with Neil’s urging, entered the studio to record his first CD. This CD contains a list of very familiar tunes as well as one called “The Black Dog” that Nason wrote. Beside Nason’s composition are familiar tunes like Red Wing, Ste Anne’s Reel, Maple Sugar, The Westphalia Waltz, and the all-time favourite fiddle show tune, Orange Blossom Special.

Neil Matthews also contributed three of his most famous Island songs to this CD, The Friendly Fisherman, Backin’ Off The Traps, and what should be the new PEI anthem, Beautiful Island. Neil was in fine voice for this effort and his love of the Island way of life shines through. He has been a great inspiration to Nason over their time at Avonlea Village, hence the CD title, Inspirations.

Generally this is an heroic first effort for young Nason and you can tell from his playing that he has been well schooled and that he has a love of music that goes far beyond this first CD.

If you’d like to have a copy of this CD you could call Neil Matthews at 902-892-0430 or Nason himself at 902-435-7198 and I’m sure they’ll only be too glad to see that you get one.

I had the opportunity to take in the Gospel Brunch as part of the second annual Bluegrass Gathering at Marco Polo Land and I was pleasantly surprised by the large attendance. This will, I’m sure, become an integral part of every Bluegrass Gathering from now on. Next years event promises to be bigger and better than this year’s with promises of more off island bands and an overall better lineup to satisfy, not only, bluegrass fans but fans of traditional country and gospel music. This year’s gathering was a far better event than last year and the organizers seem to be settling in for the long run.

A Short Summer

Country Prose
by Charlie Hansen

This month I want to talk about a couple of different things. The first one being that the summer, sadly, is nearing an end and the music community will be going into it’s forced semi—hibernation until next summer with a couple of breaks for the MusicPEI awards and the ECMA convention and awards. It’s unfortunate that the I sland can’t sustain a year round music industry. The MusicPEI folks have gone a long way toward making a viable music industry on PEI a reality. With such a small population base it is difficult but not impossible and with artists having access to better recording studios all the time and with easier means of distribution at their fingertips it’s just possible that more and more PEI artists will see their dreams realized in the near future.

The second thing that I’d like to visit this month is the lack of “real” country music on radio, in stores, and on TV. I know, I know, I’m a hundred years old and living in the past but I still have a love for real country music, not the synthesized, programmed, pseudo-country that pervades the air waves today.

By accident I ran across a CD the other day that proves that real country is alive and well in Canada. Cliffy Short—does that name ring a bell? Probably not for many, but there are a few old timers like me who hear bells every time that name comes up.

Cliffy is a native of New Brunswick but has lived in the Toronto area for many years. He has been a mainstay in the Canadian country music business for fifty years and has recently recorded a couple of CDs of classic country. His latest one is a project called Time That’s Passing By.

The project was produced by Mel Aucoin at Mel’s Own Sound in Owen Sound Ontario and includes some of the finest musicians in the country. The roster looks like this, Mel Aucoin, Todd Nolan, Bob Lucier, Darren LaChance, Tyler Beckett, Linsey Beckett, Christie Smith, and Doug Vendenkieboom.

The CD includes songs like, “Pass Me By,” Another Bridge To Burn,” “Heart Over Mind,”and “I Turned and Walked Slowly Away” as well as a song called “Too Dang Old To Quit” that features Cliffy’s good friend Gordie Tapp.

This CD isn’t for everyone but it sure struck a chord with me and I’m sure it will be a hit with anyone interested in country music delivered in the classic style. Now this project was recorded in 2006 but it’s timeless so it sure won’t go out of style any time soon. If you’d like to get a copy you can call Cliffy at 905-812-0475 or 2429 Yorktown Cir., Mississauga, ON L5M 5Y2.

Until next time don’t forget to support live country and bluegrass music and listen to Bluegrass Island every Sunday at 9 pm on CFCY 95.1 FM or on the internet at

Grass at Red Clay

Country Prose
by Charlie Hansen

IIIrd Time Out from GeorgiaWhile the bluegrass festival season is still with us I’d like to mention the last of the summer series of festivals, The Red Clay Bluegrass Festival. This festival will be held in Tignish on August 15, 16, and 17 at the Heritage Property on Chaisson Road.

This year’s festival features a group that is a true icon of contemporary bluegrass music, IIIrd Tyme Out from Cumming Georgia. IIIrd Tyme Out made their debut in 1991 and were an immediate success. The group had already gone through the Doyle Lawson school of bluegrass as many great musicians before and since have done.

To this day, founding member Russell Moore (guitar), along with Steve Dilling (banjo), Justen Haynes (fiddle), Wayne Benson (mandolin), Edgar Loudermilk (bass) and their excellent sound technician, Donnie Carver, are creating a new tradition in modern bluegrass music.

Russell Moore is considered by many to be the greatest of all bluegrass voices in the world today.

Proof of the groups success is evident in seven consecutive IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) awards for Vocal Group of the Year and Russell Moore’s two IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year trophies. All in all, IIIrd Tyme Out has won over 50 industry awards, the last two being Bluegrass Band of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year (Russell Moore), both from the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America (SPBGMA). As a band, their vocals define them, and their a cappella renditions of many songs can barely be matched. To quote Chris Stuart, “IIIrd Tyme Out has their own brand of bluegrass: unmatched quartets and trios, masterful lead singing, dead-on rhythm, tasteful fills, lyrical solos, and great songs. From stage left to right they are a complete band—perhaps the most complete band of the past two decades.”

The Anita Fisher Band will also be performing and in many ways are an off shoot of IIIrd Tyme Out as their bass player Ray Deaton was a founding member of IIIrd Tyme Out and has recently left the group to join with Anita Fisher and form the band The Anita Fisher Band. The group, for a number of years, was called Fisher and Company. Beside Anita Fisher and Ray Deaton the band includes Shane Blackwell and Jimmy Redden. They have extremely strong vocals as well as excellent instrumentation so that you can be assured of a top notch show.

Anita Fisher was born in Cedarville West Virginia and now lives in Ellijay Georgia. Her debut album was released on Lamon Records and received a Grammy nomination for Best Bluegrass Recording in 2005.

Other groups performing at the Red Clay Festival are The Spinney Brothers, Bluegrass Tradition, Blue Horizon, The Bluegrass Diamonds, Moonshine and Eddy Poirier and Family.

Local groups are Driftwood Harmony, Wayne Brown and Friends, Kick Start Bluegrass, The Grass Mountain Hobos, and Bethany Coughlin and The Bluegrass Angel Band.

Have fun at the festival and until next time don’t forget to support live country and bluegrass music and listen to Bluegrass Island every Sunday night at 9:00 on 95.1 CFCY or on the web at

Please send CDs for review or airplay to: Charlie Hansen, P.O. Box 366 Cornwall, PE C0A 1H0. See


Summer Bluegrass

Country Prose

by Charlie Hansen

Kenny & Amanda Smith BandSummer is bluegrass season on PEI and although the season is already in full swing with the St. Louis camp-out completed to rave reviews there is lots of grass left to be enjoyed.

The oldest bluegrass festival on PEI is the PEI Bluegrass and Old Time Music Festival at Rollo Bay which falls on July 4, 5, and 6 this year. This festival has been around for 23 years and is known as one of the finest in Canada. The lineup this year includes The Kenny & Amanda Smith band from Meadows of Dan, Virginia, Avery County from North Carolina and The Timmons Family from Maryland.

Kenny Smith, formerly of the Lonesome River Band is one of the finest guitarists in bluegrass today. Along with his wife Amanda and their band they can perform some of the finest bluegrass and gospel music that you will hear anywhere.

Avery County are a throw back to the early years of the Baltimore and Washington, DC bluegrass scene that featured the likes of Red Allen, Buzz Busby, and Charlie Moore. The music has a raw edge that is faithful to the founding fathers of the sound.

The Timmons Family are quite active on the bluegrass scene in the eastern US and, although not strangers to the PEI festival, this is the first year that they will be performing. They feature tight family harmonies and solid musicianship.

The festival gets it’s unofficial start on Wednesday July 2 with the first edition of Stan’s jam. The same event occurs on Thursday night and over the years this has evolved to be one of the favourite activities of the campers at the festival.

The weekend following Rollo Bay is the Evangeline Bluegrass and Traditional Music Festival in Abram Village. This year’s festival features The Abrams Brothers from Ontario. The Abrams Brothers burst onto the Canadian Music Scene in 1999 at the ages of 6 and 9. They quickly created a stir in local, national and international music communities. The boys, now ages 16 and 13, demonstrate a talent for music beyond their years. The Abrams Brothers have had return invitations to many prestigious venues including The Station Inn, Nashville, Tennessee, and The Midnight jamboree, also in Nashville. They opened for Ralph Stanley at the opening of The Ralph Stanley Museum in Clintwood Virginia October, 2004 and have also played the Grand Ole Opry.

The Timmons Family will also be making a visit to Abrams Village and I’m sure you’ll enjoy their brand of bluegrass. The Final festival of the summer is the Red Clay Festival in Tignish. Since I’m running out of space I’ll be telling you about that next month.

Events Calendar

January 2019
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