Friday night, drive to Toronto, park at the grocery store, walk across Dundas St. to Hugh's Room and get seated. Order dinner, maybe a cold pint. Definitely a cold pint. Say hello to A Man Called Wrycraft who will be our self-described "loveable emcee" for an evening of Johnny Cash tunes as interpreted by by a cadre of fantastic musicians. Is there a better way to spend a Friday night? OK, Valdy was playing at The Pearl Company back in Hamilton, but let's face it...you can't do everything!
The pesto pan chicken is tender and tasty, and Ralph said that the eggplant rolls were excellent. The Mill Street Tankhouse was icy cold. Mmmm. But enough of this...when does the music start? Wrycraft moves to his perch near the foot of the stage. Dave, the soundman, hands him his mic. Michael welcomes everyone, and it's a full house tonight, and introduces the first act. There are eight acts listed on the poster. Each one will do two songs from Johnny Cash's repertoire. Dear Sister comes up first, they joke about being dressed like Johnny and June, but they look much younger to me! They do Beck's "Rowboat" and "Ain't No Grave". These are from the Rick Rubin era of Cash's legacy, and the close harmonies of Bri and Raven start the evening on a high note. They are followed by QuiQue Escamilla who adds a little chili pepper to the stew. "Home of the Blues" gets things rolling but QuiQue really starts shaking on "I Walk the Line". I have to see this guy's band!
When Ginger St. James takes the stage she owns it, and she brought her band with her. They perform "Tennessee Flat Top Box" and "Orange Blossom Special". Kudos to Snow-Heel Slim on guitar, and Greg Brisco on piano. Next up is LeE HARVeY OsMOND. I had heard that Tom Wilson (LHO's alter-ego) was going to do three songs, because Wrycraft wanted him to do "Folsom Prison Blues" (which Blackie & the Rodeo Kings had covered on the Johnny's Blues CD) and Tom does his three songs. But he doesn't sing "Folsom"! Instead, after a couple of colourful stories (don't ask!) and rocking renditions of "Rockabilly Blues" and "Ring of Fire" accompanied by The Claytones, he invites Tracy Brown (from The Family Brown) onstage for an impassioned "Jackson". It was extraordinary. After that energy, we all need a break. The Claytones are everywhere on Friday night, singing backup, playing stunning guitar or mandolin solos. Tom mentions that he wants to use them as his band on tour, after meeting them that night at the Hugh's Room DayCare Centre!
The break is only 20 minutes, because there's lots of music left. Galliano Island's T.Nile opens the second half. It's the first time sound is a problem. There are loud electronic pops, and T.'s fiddle accompanist seems distracted by something on the floor. The DI box? They manage their way through an interpretation of Johnny's version of NIN's "Hurt". It works. After another sad tune in A minor, they leave the stage to The Claytones. The electronics issue continues through their first number, a beautifully sung and played version of "I Still Miss Someone". Then they have to pay their debt to Tom Wilson, who traded them "Jackson" for "Folsom Prison Blues". This is a song lead singer Kelly Prescott says they "don't know!" Well...it sure sounds like they know it. The Claytones are the surprise stars of the evening, popping up all over the place and adding brilliance everywhere they appear.
This leaves just two more acts. James Keelaghan is first with powerful versions of "Sunday Mornin' Coming Down" and "The Long Black Veil." Then it's all down to Cindy Church to close the show with "Big River" and "Flesh and Blood". Cindy's pure voice is enhanced by some remarkable guitar picking from Wendell Ferguson. And finally the whole cast, or what's left of them, join together on-stage for a rousing take on "It Ain't Me, Babe". We all sing along. It's the perfect closer for a perfect night. Ralph looks at me and says, "This was fantastic!" His daughter (who has been listening from the front door after arriving from the Blue Jays game texts, "next time bring ME!"
The next Wrycraft tribute? It's The Rolling Stones in September. Don't miss it!