Canadian Songwriters Honored In US-Based International Songwriting Competition (ISC)

Faouzia

“Knock On My Door“ – Faouzia Ouihya (Faouzia) Carman, MB, Canada – Teen


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
 

Contact: Candace Avery
International Songwriting Competition
615.251.4441
press@songwritingcompetition.com
www.songwritingcompetition.com


Canadian Songwriters Honored In US-Based International Songwriting Competition (ISC)
Judges Include Lorde, Hardwell, Tom Waits, Nancy Wilson (Heart), Ziggy Marley,
Kaskade, The Mavericks, Martie Maguire (Dixie Chicks), Bastille, and More

April 18, 2018 — The International Songwriting Competition (ISC is pleased to announce its 2017 winners. Created in 2002, ISC is widely recognized as the most prestigious and respected songwriting competition in the world and received more than 16,000 entries from almost 140 countries. Prizes include more than $175,000 in cash and merchandise.

The Grand Prize winners this year are Nicholas Miller (better known as Illenium), Annika Wells, Kate Morgan, and Michael Biancaniello for the song “Crawl Outta Love Ft. Annika Wells.” The Grand Prize consists of $25,000 in cash (USD) and over $35,000 in additional prizes.

Winners hail from all over the world (61% of this year’s winners come from outside the USA) and range from talented amateurs to seasoned songwriting veterans. The 23 categories include all genres of contemporary music, from Rock to Pop to Country to R&B/Hip-Hop and more.

Canadian songwriters fared extremely well in ISC, garnering four First Places and three Third Places. Canadian winners also received 39 Honorable Mentions.

“This marks the first time in the competition’s history that Canadian songwriters have scored four First Places in categories,” says Candace Avery, ISC Founder and Director. “It takes a lot of dedication and hard work to write great songs, and ISC is honored to throw the spotlight on these talented Canadian songwriters and their achievements.”

Over the years ISC winners have included: Vance Joy, Bastille, Passenger, Kate Miller-Heidke, Lindsey Stirling, Gotye, The Band Perry, Kasey Chambers, Lupe Fiasco, Rachel Bloom, Gin Wigmore, Kimbra, Gregory Porter, Kehlani, For King & Country, and many more.

For a complete list of ISC 2017 winners and to hear the winning songs, go to: https://www.songwritingcompetition.com/winners.

The complete panel of judges includes:

Recording Artists
Lorde; Tom Waits; Ziggy Marley; American Authors; Nancy Wilson (Heart); Martie Maguire (Dixie Chicks); Booker T. Jones; The Mavericks; Sara Evans; Bastille; Keane; Hardwell; Danilo Perez; James McNally (Afro Celt Sound System); Billy Cobham; Gerald Casale (Devo); Natalie Grant Lee-Phillips; ; Krewella; Matt Nathanson; Amadou & Miriam; John Tibbs; Kaskade; John Mayall; Joe Louis Walker; Nicholas Gunn; Ashwin Batish; Lonnie Liston Smith; Walter Trout; Trilok Gurtu; Tommy Chong; and Tony Joe White.

Industry Executives
Gregg Nadel (President, Elektra Records); Seymour Stein (Chairman/CEO, Sire Records); Daniel Glass (President, Glassnote Records); John Esposito (Chairman/CEO, Warner Music Nashville); John Burk (President, Concord Label Group); Ed Vetri (President, Wind-Up Records); Bruce Iglauer (Founder/President, Alligator Records); Steve Yegelwel (Sr. VP, Island Records); Nate Albert (Executive VP of A&R, Capitol Records); Jacob Edgar (Founder, Cumbancha); Aaron Bay-Schuck (President of A&R, Interscope Records); Mike Easterlin (President, Fueled By Ramen/Roadrunner Records); Josh Bailey (Senior VP of A&R, Word Entertainment); Gordon Kerr (CEO, Black River Entertainment); Richard Stumpf (CEO, Atlas Publishing); Steve Greenberg (CEO, S-Curve Records); Kim Buie (VP of A&R, New West Records); AJ Tobey (Head of A&R, Rough Trade Publishing); Cory Robbins (Founder/President, Robbins Entertainment); Angel Carrasco (Latin Music Consultant); Julie Kertes (Editor/Manager, Hot Diggity Media); Laura Margolin (Publishing, Glassnote Records); Leib Ostrow (Founder/CEO, Music For Little People); Katherine Danes (Co-President, The Children’s Music Network); Claire S. Green (President, Parent’s Choice Foundation); Benjamin Groff (Founder, The Brill Building); Sas Metcalfe (President, Global Creative, Kobalt Music); Golnar Khosrowshahi (President, Reservoir Media Management); Carianne Marshall (Partner, Songs Music Publishing); Tamara Conniff (EVP, Roc Nation); Dara Frank (Head of Comedy Central Records/Viacom); Carl Caprioglio (Founder/CEO, Oglio Entertainment); and Elena Epstein (Director, National Parenting Product Awards).

ISC is sponsored by: AKG By Harman; Berklee College of Music; Celebrity Access; D’Addario; Dark Horse Institute; Disc Makers; Eventric; Gig Salad; JBL Professional by Harman; Lurrsen Mastering; Merch Cat; Musician Wellness; Musician’s Institute; ONErpm; PreSonus; SongU.com; Sweetwater Sound; PAWW Premium Sound; and Tunedly.

Entries are now open for the 2018 competition. For more information and to enter, go to http://www.songwritingcompetition.com.

For low-res photos of all winners, go to http://www.songwritingcompetition.com/winners

For high-res photos, please contact Candace Avery at press@songwritingcompetition.com

The list of 2017 Canadian winners is as follows:

First Place Winners

“Knock On My Door“ – Faouzia Ouihya (Faouzia)
Carman, MB, Canada – Teen

Born in Morocco and raised in the Canadian prairies, Faouzia is a young artist who is wowing audiences and industry alike with her contemporary pop hooks and heart-wrenching lyrics, not to mention a voice that is truly distinctive with a huge range, taking on subtle trills and stylings. Her first single “Knock On My Door” found its way onto regular rotation at Canadian radio, and the follow up “My Heart’s Grave” is already seeing adds in both Canada and her native Morocco. Already a multiple award winner in ISC, as well as the Grand Prize winner of the 2017 Unsigned Only Music Competition, Faouzia is an up-and-coming artistic force whose star just keeps shining brighter.

“Sheep“ – Darrelle London
Toronto, ON, Canada – Children’s Music

A piano pop singer/songwriter, Darrelle London is known for her clever quirkiness and has performed at festivals such as Lilith Fair, Canadian Music Week, Pop Overthrow, and more. She was named the Toronto Lilith Talent Search winner and the BellMedia Emerging Artist. London has attracted some celebrity supporters along the way, including fellow Canadian songstress Chantal Kreviazuk who discovered her music and collaborated with her on several songs for London’s album Eat A Peach. The celebrity blogger Perez Hilton has also been a vocal champion of her music. Her latest album is a lullaby EP entitled Sing To The Moon.

“This Little Light“ – Jaylene Johnson
Winnipeg, MB, Canada – Christian

Jaylene Johnson, is a singer/songwriter based in Winnipeg, MB. Her song, “Fallin'” took second place in the ISC last year in the Christian category. Her work has been heard on network TV shows including “Pretty Little Liars”, “So You Think You Can Dance”, and “Degrassi: The Next Generation”. Co-written songs have been recorded by artists including JJ Heller, ‪Amy Sky, Brian Doerksen and ‪Luke McMaster among others. Her most recent album, Potter & Clay, was nominated for a Juno Award, a Western Canadian Music Award, and several Covenant Awards. Two of her songs earned songwriting trophies at the Covenant Awards this year.

“Untouchable“ – Dylan Edward Roberts (King Dylan)
Calgary, AB, Canada – Music Video

The winner of the Music Video category for his stop-motion animation video of the song  “Untouchable,” King Dylan (the King didn’t give himself that name – it was written in his high school yearbook) is best described as if Blink 182 had a lovechild with Eminem and Lady Gaga’s backup dancers. This one-man machine has performed live for thousands across Canada and released a handful of albums and music videos. Previously he played bass guitar in the hard Rock band Broken Ride (Regional Radio Star winners 2013), performed in and produced the hip hop group The DC Show, and played piano for the band Lost In Film at CMW 2014. Dylan has also just finished a new full-length album featuring “Untouchable” and eleven other hard-hitting tracks. The award-winning video utilized over 4,000 photos of legos taken over the course of 450+ hours.

Third Place Winners

“Backroads” – Jimmy Zee (The Jimmy Zee Band) – Vancouver, BC, Canada – Blues

“Never Have Time” – Jared Salte, Bethany Salte (The Royal Foundry) – Sherwood Park, AB, Canada – Rock

“Tequila” – Johnny Simmen, Hunter Leath, Matt McGinn – Toronto, ON, Canada – Country

Honorable Mentions

“A Flat Miner” – Troy Kokol – Calgary, AB, Canada – Comedy/Novelty
“Ambition” – Soul – Toronto, ON, Canada – R&B/Hip-Hop
“Ask Too Much Ft. Spence Holden” – Spencer Heaslip, Spence Milne-O’Neil (Taabu) –  Dundas, ON, Canada – EDM (Electronic Dance Music)
“Baby, I Understand” – Kat Goldman – Toronto, ON, Canada – Folk/Singer-Songwriter
“Beautiful Thing” – Aaron Buchholz, Ian Eskelin – Langley, BC, Canada – Christian
“Booger Song” – Tim Machin (Sing Along Tim And The Pacifiers) – Toronto, ON, Canada – Children’s Music
“Campfire ” – Dinah Desrochers, Aaron Cadwaladr, Phil Wipper, Jocelyn Hallett (The Kerplunks) – Gabriola Island, BC, Canada – Children’s Music
“Chills” – James Barker, Donovan Woods, Travis Wood, Gavin Slate (James Barker Band) – Toronto, ON, Canada – Country
“Ciento Viente” – Roman Smirnov – Newmarket, ON, Canada – Instrumental
“Don’t Give Up” – Maggie Szabo, Stefan Lit, Chaz Mason – Dundas, ON, Canada – Pop/Top 40
“Eleven! ” – Dylan Bell, Ed Hanley, Suba Sankaran (Autorickshaw) – Toronto, ON, Canada – Children’s Music
“Fall In Love Again” – Chris Graham, Mikalyn Hay (Xtro And Mikalyn Hay) – Toronto, ON, Canada – Teen
“Firetruck Firetruck” – John Donnelly (Rockin’ Robin And The Magical Tree) – Delta, BC, Canada – Children’s Music
“Freedom” – Ariana Gillis – Vineland, ON, Canada – Folk/Singer-Songwriter
“Gamblin Man” – Richard Tichelman – Surrey, BC, Canada – Teen
“Good Thing Go” – Powell Peebles, Brett Sheroky, Andy Wills (Powell Peebles) – North Vancouver, BC, Canada – Country
“House On Fire” – Don Oriolo, Jason Gleed, Chris Bolger – Toronto, ON, Canada – Rock
“I Don’t Want To Lose You” – Luca Fogale – Burnaby, BC, Canada – Performance
“Knock On My Door” – Faouzia Ouihya (Faouzia) – Carman, MB, Canada – Unsigned Only
“Lay It Down” – Jordan St. Cyr, Jaylene Johnson, Ben Calhoun, Taylor Watson – Niverville, MB, Canada – Christian
“Love It Up” – Tyler Lorette, Roberta Quilico – Courtice, ON, Canada – Performance
“Lowdown” – Matt Zimbel, Doug Wilde (Manteca) – Toronto, ON, Canada – Instrumental
“Move On Down
The Track” – Spencer Mackenzie, Rich Mackenzie (Spencer Mackenzie) – Ridgeway, ON, Canada – Blues
“My Heart’s Grave” – Faouzia Ouihya (Faouzia) – Carman, MB, Canada – Pop/Top 40
“My Heart’s Grave” – Faouzia Ouihya (Faouzia) – Carman, MB, Canada – Teen
“Nosotros” – Christopher Alexander Gaitan Valencia (Ness El Digital) – Montreal, QC, Canada – Latin Music
“Roses” – Gus McMillan, Robyn Dell’Unto – (Gus McMIllan) – Toronto, ON, Canada – AC (Adult Contemporary)
“Sanctuary City” – Cat Toren (Cat Toren’s HUMAN KIND) – Vancouver, BC, Canada – Jazz
“Sing For Kwanzaa” – Chris McKhool, Richard Bona (Sultans Of String) – Toronto, ON, Canada – World Music
“Summer” – Paula Eve Kirman – Edmonton, AB, Canada – Lyrics Only
“Temptation” – Debra Power – Airdrie, AB, Canada – Blues
“The Pee Song” – Jason Gleed (Redd Butts ) – Toronto, ON, Canada – Comedy/Novelty
“This Little Light” – Jaylene Johnson – Winnipeg, MB, Canada – Unpublished
“Three Words” – Sara Diamond, Austin Tecks, Noah Barer (Sarah Diamond) – Montreal, QC, Canada – Unpublished
“Unsure” – Sara Diamond, Austin Tecks, Noah Barer (Sarah Diamond) – Montreal, QC, Canada    – Unsigned Only
“Untouchable” – Dylan Edward Roberts (King Dylan) – Calgary, AB, Canada – Unsigned Only
“What’s A Boy Gotta Do” – Sean Thomas – Langley, BC, Canada – Teen
“When You Think No One Loves You ” – David Leask, Daryl Burgess (David Leask) – Mississauga, ON, Canada – Performance
“Worth It” – Wes Mason – Rockwood, ON, Canada – AC (Adult Contemporary)

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Women’s Music Weekend with Katherine Wheatley, Linda McLean & Jane Lewis May 29-31, 2015


Women's Music Weekend

Canadian singer-songwriters Katherine Wheatley, Linda McLean and Jane Lewis are the resourceful women’s trio who will stretch and challenge you through an unforgettable Women’s Music Weekend (May 29-31, 2015), hand-crafted to deliver a rewarding, enlightening, and fun-filled experience. You’ll leave nurtured, inspired, and with a song in your heart!

Experience the joy and the power of making music with other women. Create, share, enjoy, listen, learn, stretch, play, harmonize, heal, sing. Sing your heart out. All weekend long.

Choose from workshops that include vocal play, creative mining, song writing, jamming, restorative yoga, vocal and performance techniques. Join the weekend chorus, play in a pick-up band or write your own song.

Katherine, Linda & Jane are going to keep the focus on morning yoga and group singing, and open up Saturday afternoon to a series of optional workshops on a range of topics, such as Freeing Your Natural Voice, How to Sing Harmony, Girl Jam, Creative Lyric Writing… Join the weekend chorus or put together your first rock band. They’ll have a Friday night concert & singalong, a Saturday night “open mic,” and a Sunday concert by participants. You’ll have lots of opportunity to make music, explore, and connect.

The weekend is designed to help you explore your musical side within a supportive atmosphere. If you need to unlock your voice, Linda’s heartDSC_1360 opening yoga sessions can help dissolve the blocks to your singing. Her workshops focus on connecting your creative voice to what is in you, and around you. If you’re tentative about making music, Jane is your guide. She has years of experience helping people find the place inside themselves where they can find great joy in music. If you’re up for a good challenge, count on Katherine to pinpoint the part of your music-making that could use a little shake-up. Whatever stage you’re at, Women’s Music Weekend will inspire and ignite your musical passion.

Join them in May for another dynamic weekend of inspiration, creativity, empowerment and community!

Their May 2015 retreat will be held at the Ignatius Retreat Centre, located in the beautiful countryside 2 km north of Guelph, ON. The Centre is the perfect setting for Women’s Music Weekend, known to be a place of beauty and sustenance, ‘where nature gives strength to mind, body and soul.’ The estate is home to the internationally acclaimed Loyola House, and surrounded by the Ignatius Farm, 650 acres of hiking trails, ponds and streams, fields and forests. Loyola House is spacious and comfortable with private bedrooms and spacious meeting rooms. The kitchen serves fabulous organic food, most of which is grown on the property, and alongside delicious meals, the kitchen is always open for snacks and refreshments.

The fee per person includes all workshops plus accommodation (private bedroom), meals from Friday night to Sunday lunch, snacks and refreshments throughout the weekend, and full access to Ignatius Centre grounds.

Fees & Registration for May 29-31, 2015

Early bird fee: $475/pp before February 14, 2015
Regular fee: $525

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER!

Jane Lewis, Linda McLean & Katherine Wheatley

Join Women’s Music Weekend on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WomensMusicWeekend or Twitter at twitter.com/womensmusicwknd.

www.womensmusicweekend.com

And I’ll Let That Big Old Whistle Blow My Blues Away by Jay Aymar

Jay AymarJay Aymar is a self-described ramblin’ Canadian songwriter who mixes elements of folk, roots & country music with thoughtful, often poetic lyrics. I’m thinking that he’s the natural successor to Stompin’ Tom Connors in fact. There aren’t many singers like Jay Aymar – an honest journeyman of music – and there aren’t many bloggers out there like Jay either. His blog Road Stories reveals this Gen-x troubadour’s musings on life, love and livin’ on the road. I like to think of Jay as my friend and I try to read his blogs whenever I can find the time because they’re like sitting round a campfire and listening to him wax philosophical with me over a few beers. I recently read this one and loved it so much that I told Jay and he said I was free to pass it on in any way I wished. Now, it’s true, he’s long-winded, but believe me, he always has a point, and the journey to that point is always fun.  ‘And I’ll let that big old whistle blow my blues away’ was originally published on Jay’s Road Stories blog on October 23, 2013.

A recent review from the bible of roots magazines in Canada – Penguin EggsJay Aymar Overtime on Jay Aymar’s latest CD, Overtime:

 Judging by the maturity, sophistication and clever bent to his lyrics and delivery, he has not been resting on his laurels, such as they maybe….there is no quibble about raising him to the higher rungs on the steep ladder of Canadian singer/songwriters, not just his contemporaries but of all time.” Doug Swanson, Summer 2013, Penguin Eggs Magazine

 

‘And I’ll let that big old whistle blow my blues away’

“I was conceived in the summer of love
a little bundle of joy sent down from above
and while a half a million hippies left Yasgur with some trash
I was rockin’ in the cradle to the sweet Johnny Cash”

This is from my song ‘Seriously Delirious’ which I put out in 2011 on the CD ‘Passing Through’.

It’s 100% autobiographical and was written as a result of meeting the legendary John Prine.

My girlfriend at the time bought some tickets to Massey Hall to see John perform and somehow managed to get us backstage to meet him. Was it George Bernard Shaw who suggested being wary of meeting ones idols for fear that it will only lead to future disappointment for the fan? I believe it was.

We lined up backstage to acquire autographs, one by one. He signed my copy of Fair and Square – ‘All the best  Jay’ … John Prine.  All the Best – being a song from his comeback album The Missing Years. Still one of my favourite CD’s of all time. I rank it next to Graceland for the surprise comeback and enjoyment factor. (well maybe that’s a stretch but it’s one hell of a piece of work). While we posed for photos with him and the band we were encouraged to stick around for some food and to simply hang out. Wow! What a nice gesture. I believe my level of knowledge about his catalogue and back story was enough to ingratiate ourselves into this party for an extended hang.

Then I was afforded some time to just sit and talk with John himself.  After our conversation (during which he had learned that he was a major influence on me as a writer) he shouted out to the band “Bring these two out for a few drinks tonight and tell them some lies about us!”

“I can’t go out drinking right now but these guys could be into it Jay.”

At which point, his guitar player Jason Wilbur said he was obligated to call his wife for a long chat and couldn’t go out, however, Dave – his double bass player said “Sure…sounds like fun!”

So we went out to a local martini bar and discussed the Nashville music scene with Dave for about three hours.

So much of what happens to us in life is by sheer coincidence or luck. Dave mentioned that the go-to bass player for a few shows in Nashville (where Prine lives) was unavailable and he ran into a guy on the street that same night who tipped him off and suggested he might be able to get him in as a filler. Long story short, he’s been touring with John ever since. That’s going back about ten years now. I believe Dave’s married with children and finally taking deep breaths knowing the financial ‘wolf is finally from the door’.

At the end of the evening, he’d likely heard my girlfriend going on about my songwriting and John’s influence to the point where he took some pity on us and offered us to come along for the next show in London. Wow! What a guy.

“Just show up at the theatre tomorrow and pick up your backstage passes at the window and come join us after the show!”

Done.

We arrived in London (ON) the following day and were escorted to the fifth row from the front of the stage. Remarkable seats. I took it all in and sat transfixed like a kid in a candy store drooling over the embarrassment of riches. From ‘Hello in There’ to ‘Lake Marie’ (Dylan’s favourite Prine song) to ‘Grandpa was a Carpenter’ and on and on.

We reconnected again after the show and another great visit. It was during this conversation where the discussion of autobiographical writing came up. Writing a song specifically about oneself. The idea being that if you write a few of those songs ‘specifically’ about yourself, then you won’t have to waste precious time explaining to folks after the show exactly who you are – what your purpose is – what you’re all about…essentially.

I went home and started the song Seriously Delirious.

Verse 2
“My old man engineered that train
Like a streak bolt of lightning right through the rain
He said keep your head steady son and don’t look back
and that’s how you keep the train on the track”

After my dad (John Delbert Aymar) returned home from serving the entirety of WW2, he wanted to explore the world away from his village near Saulnierville, NS.  Still in his early twenties, he decided to head into Toronto with his cousin. The point being, whenever anyone of us has leaned on him for advice or felt down about things, he’s always said “The past is the past. Look forward. You can’t change the past. If I were to have dwelled upon the events of that war then how could have I managed to move on?”

It always seemed like such a dial-in answer for many years, but as always, these types of sentiments as simple as they appear, hold powerful truths for a reason.  I often saw my dad as the engineer of his train. He was pulling eight box cars and mom holding down the Caboose and keeping it all together. (Perhaps it’s the female spirit that looks back and keeps our history into perspective – I’m not sure, but I do know my mom was amazing at grounding us in family tradition.) So, I wrote those words about my Dad as a train engineer and made the “rockin in the cradle to the sweet Johnny Cash” reference quite deliberately – as a bit of an inside joke within the family.

You see, my dad has this old Hawaiian guitar he picked up from a guy he visited in prison. As the story goes, he visited an old acquaintance in the Comeauville jail.  During the visit, the guy wanted five bucks for his cheap guitar (evidently for a carton of cigarettes). The transaction went down and this was ultimately become the first guitar I would see in my life. 

It had painted palm trees and various birds and a Hawaiian sunset on the front of it. It was a Spanish guitar with nylon strings. It seemed more of a prop or a toy then a real guitar. My earliest childhood memories are of my dad popping his collar, pretending to play that guitar while gyrating his hips like Elvis – screaming ‘YOU AIN’T NOTHING BUT A HOUND DOG’  in front of all of us. I was transfixed.

I remember the very, very first record player was a small stand alone player with just a few records in the rack below it.

Johnny Cash’s Greatest Hits sat amongst the few gems. I believe it was of his early Sun recordings and it was incredible.

For the longest time, it all just made sense to me. The cheap guitar from a guy in prison – was that Folsom Prison? The train songs the rockabilly beat. The joy it brought. It taught me so much.

That said, our family was not even remotely into country music.

My dad’s true passion was swing jazz and crooners. At 92 he can still sing Nat King Cole’s Mona Lisa and send the shiver up the spine of anyone who’d care to listen. The only reason that album ever made it into our house was through my brother Dave (likely) or Bob (also likely).

So as time marched on, I learned that it was all connected. Everything. Prine was influenced by Cash. Cash didn’t really do time in prison other than for a few public intoxication’s. Our family guitar was from a guy in prison. I eventually discovered the epic Live from Folsom and Live from San Quentin Cash albums. I eventually discovered the entire world of fiction based on these themes – from Voltaire’s Candide to Crime and Punishment …oh hell…it goes on and on. From learning about Mandela to watching movies like Cool Hand Luke.

It can seem like a romantic notion in some ways to think that Johnny Cash performed for the incarcerated. A selfless gesture indeed. Those live recordings capture the palpable energy of a man in his prime, singing to those without a lot of hope.  What could that be like? Wow…only Cash could have pulled that off.  Until it was asked of me. I said ‘ABSOLUTELY YES!’

Wait…what? Really? What just happened?

Early last week I received an email from Jill Zmud, a talented folk songwriter, community activist and all around cool girl from Ottawa, ON. She coordinates a program called Art Beat which connects folk musicians with local schools and hospitals (for starters). During a previous conference, for example, I volunteered to discuss ‘FOLK MUSIC’ and ‘SONGWRITING’ and ‘LIFE ON THE ROAD’ to about 60 grade 7-8 students at a southern Ontario elementary school. It was amazing! As always, these gestures always pay us back ten-fold. The discussion with the kids slowly turned into me talking about how folk music has always represented the underdog.

“You kids want change? How we gonna do that? Folk music?”

and the kids screamed out “YEAH!”

“OK… I propose we have big speakers playing music during lunch break in the cafeteria! Why don’t we have music playing during lunch?” Who wants music?”

Repeat after me “WE WANT MUSIC…WE WANT MUSIC!”

“LOUDER…STOMP YOUR FEET…I WANT YOU TO ALL STOMP YOUR FEET AND SCREAM SO LOUD THAT THE PRINCIPLE WILL COME UP HERE AND FINALLY LISTEN TO US!”

And they did. And the principle arrived at the door a few minutes later. Strapped with my guitar, I whispered to him in the hallway, ‘Just play along, I’m teaching them how to protest!”

And he was brilliant. He stormed into the classroom to become a perfect foil.

“What’s all this about?”

“We want music in the cafeteria during lunch hour!”

The kids laughed, the teacher laughed, I laughed and I had them sing my one and only children’s song ‘Apple Pickin’ and we all walked away richer for the experience. I’ve often thought if I were to retire from music, teaching would be such a noble profession.

Art Beat had worked it’s magic. Everyone benefited from the experience.

Now this time, Jill’s Art Beat email was a bit different. “Jay, we’ve been trying to have a correctional facility sign up for Art Beat for many years…and it finally happened! They’ve agreed to let a performer come in and sing! We thought of you immediately.”

“Why did you think of me Jill? Have you been looking through my past? lol…”

“No we were just discussing your record and …”

“My RECORD! How did I know it was illegal to smoke weed in Cuba?”

“No Jay, your latest record – OVERTIME

“Oh yeah…of course – Overtime!” (Thank you Tommy Chong)

I guess word had spread a bit about my Johnny Cash fixation. Playing tributes on occasion and singing Cash songs long – long before he was cool again. In fact I remember singing his songs during the late 80′s and early 90′s when people would grimace. Yes, there was a time for a while when he was dismissed and this always seemed strange to me.

Regardless, I agreed to perform in the Brampton Correctional Facility last Thursday as a part of Art Beat.

Without thinking about it too much, I simply romanticized the task at hand and embraced the concept.

Hey Aymar (I said to myself), you’ve been singing about this stuff for so long, now it’s time to embrace the fact that the river has led you here. This amazing journey has actually brought you to this place. Ok here we go.

I arrived at the front desk on Thursday at 1pm. Without giving this any thought whatsoever I mentioned my name and purpose and they led me to the recreation room. In came the men who sat in a circular format in front of me. Several guards were on hand to brief me in a room prior to the concert.

They introduced me as a Canadian songwriter who tours ‘all around the world’ and ‘has just finished a 120 show tour’ which was all true, but it seemed to really give the guys (perhaps) a sense that I WAS Johnny Cash as someone immediately screamed out “CASH!”

As I prepared for the first song, the warden leaned into my ear and whispered “You’ll be fine son…they’re an appreciative audience!”

As I was about to hit the first chord, I looked up and saw the crowd. Something happened when I looked into the faces of the guys staring at me. I was grief stricken. Can’t explain it. I began to tremble on the inside. This wasn’t a nervousness or fear, but in fact a deep, deep feeling of empathy. I didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t prepared for this. After thousands of shows in my life, I’d never felt this stuck. This feeling became overwhelming. This wasn’t a fucking joke – nothing about this was like Johnny Cash in Folsom….my dad buying a guitar from a guy in prison…Cool Hand Luke. Those fantasy images were just that. Fantasy! This was reality – I was in the middle of it – and I was suddenly grief stricken by the stark realness of it all.

Behind the men was a booth where two guards watched the proceedings from above everyone. It was all cool and controlled. I played my first original song then quickly got back to the CASH request. I said ‘Who was requesting Johnny Cash?” Someone from the back raised his hand. I said “Ok man, how about A Boy Named Sue!”

And off it went. During that Silverstein classic is a verse where the father ‘took out a knife and cut off a piece of my ear” …at which point everyone laughed out loud and FINALLY the tension was cut.

I was beyond relieved.

I looked up into the tower and saw two of the guards clapping and dancing a bit which eased my mind a bit more.

Then I asked if there were any guitar players in the crowd. Someone yelled out “Honky-Tonk!”

“Where’s Honky-Tonk?”

And he was right there off to the side. Humbly raising his hand.

“You feel like playing a song for everyone Honky-Tonk? Who wants to hear Honky-Tonk?” The place erupted and much like the elementary kids pretending to protest,  the guys began chanting “Honky-Tonk! Honky-Tonk!”

It was just then that I realized I may have been breaking protocol but they allowed Honky-Tonk to come and join me for the rest of the show. He was escorted to a room where his guitar awaited and arrived ready for showtime. He was a great player and was happy to sit back and simply accompany me with some picking on the songs.

Then, as though time evaporated, I looked up at the clock to realize the concert was over and my John Henry was required for a few pieces of paper.

Before I left, the staff and I had a brief conversation about ‘simple gestures of kindness’ in this type of environment. On how there may be an outside chance that ONE inmate may have seen light in all of this…a seed may have been planted in some soul…enough to hold on to…HOPE. I welled up.

I finally made it out to my car – shaking. I sat in the parking lot for twenty minutes, closed my eyes and said some prayers to the great universe asking for my own redemption. “Save those souls and give them hope. Thank you for bringing me into this world with all of the advantages of love. Thanks for allowing me to have the opportunity, strength and gift to do this.”

Then I thought about my own dad. Not the guy from “A Boy Named Sue” but the guy who stood up in front of me with his Hawaiian guitar, shaking his hips, screaming “HOUND DOG!” That guy. The same guy who said “Never look back – you can’t change the past”, the guy who provided for his eight children day in a day out without ever complaining. The loyal husband and father who kept us all on the straight and narrow. The same guy who bought the record player for his family (when we didn’t have a lot of extra money) so he could play his trad jazz and we could play our rock and roll.

I left the parking lot and drove to the four day conference where like-minded folkies had converged on a hotel in Mississauga.  Remember: GIVING BACK – PAYING IT FORWARD -this is all run of the mill kind of stuff for people in this community. It’s all part of the tradition. It’s part of the spirit. I felt safe here amongst this tribe. There were times over the weekend though that I couldn’t ‘shake’ the feeling of what had transformed me during that prison concert. In fact, there were times when I couldn’t stop smiling about it – and times when I couldn’t hide my grief. Never have I carried around so many mixed emotions from one incident.

Upon my arrival home the first person to call me up was my dad.

“Good morning son, I just wanted to know how the concert in the prison worked out?” I gave him detailed account of the events and asked “Dad, I’m not sure why I have these mixed emotions about it all? It’s like I don’t understand how I feel about what happened? Strange isn’t it?”

“It’s not strange at all. I really did expect this. Sometimes we don’t have answers for how we feel.  Just move on. It’s over!”

Just like the song:
‘Keep your head steady and don’t look back
That’s how you keep the train on the track’

In a few short months, I’ll be back at home sharing Christmas with the family. We’ll enjoy music and laughter once again.

As always I’ll be performing a local show, only this year I’ll have a new song to be added to my repertoire: John Prine’s Christmas in Prison. Dedicated to my Dad, Prine and his band, Cash, the Brampton Correctional Facility, Art Beat, Folk Music Ontario and the great healing power of music.

Next stop…

FURTHER DOWN THE LINE.