SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION: GigCity launch jam a roaring success

(Photos by Fish Griwkowsky)

When you don’t plan what you’re going to do at a jam with people you’ve never played with before, there is no way to avoid the blues. It is the common ground, the musical glue that brings us all together. Lovely image.

Bobby Cameron

Our GigCity Launch Party and Jam Tuesday  night (Feb 22) at the Empress Ale House proved to be a great time hammering order from chaos. Nobody had a clue what was going on – and this was the whole point. It was a jam, hey? It’s supposed to be spontaneous, unrehearsed, unplanned. It’s supposed to liberating. It’s a chance to feel the excitement that only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.  In short, you’re not supposed to know what’s going on.

This was the first and maybe last gig by the Critical Rhythm Section – whose members are all music critics. The band featured GigCity writer Tom Murray on bass, myself on keyboards, drummer John Berry (local TV commercial producer who once had a very short job as a newspaper entertainment writer, so we let him in) and Jeremy Loome from the Edmonton Sun on guitar and vocals. Jeremy has long since quit being a blues guy (local fans may remember his Hardline Blues Band), but we convinced him to come out of retirement for one glorious evening. We’d never played together before. Spinning tunes after the show (we only ended up doing one set) was DJ Fish Griwkowsky, our GigCity arts writer and resident photographer, who is also a music critic, among his many other talents.

We started with something easy, a little Booker T and Green Onions to warm it up. Then came something funky in the key of D. Hipsters in the crowd were overheard to mutter, “I told you they’d play the blues.” Tom Murray, who fears the blues like many of us secretly do, was nonetheless thoroughly bluesed – and appeared to be having a great time.

Tom Murray is bluesed

“As long as I can stand next to the drummer, I’m happy,” he said. No choice there, dude. The stage was 10 feet wide.

Critical reaction to the Critical Rhythm Section was an overwhelming vote of approval: We didn’t suck. Ruth Blakely, local artist manager and music publicist, offered this short review: “What they lacked in talent they made up for in volume and enthusiasm. Thankfully they had many talented friends who saved the night.”

Providing a fresh dose of originality and taste to the event was Blakely-represented recording artist Al Brant – our first advertiser – who took the stage to play two of his own songs solo, from his latest album Wide Open.

Another friend was singer Kennedy Jenson (current president of the Alberta Recording Industries Association). She jammed with a guitarist none of us never met, some guy off the street, for all I knew, who turned out to Wendell Ferguson, winner of the best guitarist at the Canadian Country Music Awards (CCMAs) six years in a row. Man. No wonder Treat Her Right rocked so good. Yes, more blues.

Six-time CCMA best guitarist winner Wendell Ferguson

We also tried to do Brenda Lee’s Sweet Nothings, which Jenson was amazed to learn that most of us had never heard of – but hell, we did it anyway. Said Jenson later, “There’s more than one chord in that song, you know.”

It was great to see Bobby Cameron again. I played in his road band back in the day. Still a terrific showman and guitar picker of the highest order, Bobby is a master of pulling order from chaos. I appreciate that he stuck to the plan of having absolutely no plan at all, and just started playing without telling any of us what song he was doing or even what key it was in. Can’t remember what we did. I think there was a train wreck. All I know is that it included blues in the key of E.

The crowd was great. These distinguished and multi-talented guests represented just a small slice of Edmonton’s booming arts and entertainment scene that GigCity is dedicated to serving – people like Peter North, who’s promoting the Winter Roots and Blues Round-up II this weekend; Katherine Huising, manager of the Jubilee Auditorium; Anthony Furrauto from Sony Music, Mike McDonald from Permanent Records, Terry Evans from K-97, City of Edmonton Councillor Kerry Diotte, the shameless name-dropping goes on. Point is: We’re lucky to have these people living and loving to live here, these tireless boosters of Edmonton’s arts scene. And we were lucky to be able to entertain them for a while. It was fun.

Al Brant

Say, maybe we will do this again. Next time we’ll make a plan. And next time we’ll make a strict rule: NO BLUES!

Nothing personal, Peter.