Traditional folk song concert in Havelock Sunday

·2 min read

HAVELOCK — Traditional folk songs of rural Peterborough County and the rich background stories of Irish immigration and more that have been passed orally from generation to generation will be shared in Havelock on Sunday when Peterborough’s Backwoodsmen quartet performs in the village’s historic Stone Hall.

The concert will feature “great songs from the pioneer settlers of this stretch of Ontario — songs the poor working people made up and sang about their lives,” according to organizers.

Along with their own contemporary arrangements and adapted lyrics, the Backwoodsmen will be telling the back stories of the songs on Sunday, such as “The Ballad of Bill Dunbar” and how he and a friend drowned in1894 at Gannon’s Narrows.

The members of the Backwoodsmen met while playing traditional music as volunteers at Lang Pioneer Village Museum, north of Keene in Otonabee-South Monaghan Township.

They are Al Kirby on dobro and guitar, John Bird on recorders, banjo-ukulele and washboard, Rob Cory on guitar and harmonica and Rob Niezen on guitar and mandolin.

The group went on to create contemporary arrangements and adapted lyrics, resulting in Cross Cut — a double CD and an illustrated songbook by Niezen released a year ago.

The source of the songs and stories come from the research over the past 20 years by Kirby, a musical historian and longtime Peterborough musician, who has written a biography of CBC’s Edith Fowkes who collected folk songs in rural Ontario during the 1950s, many from Peterborough County. It is the only biography of Fowkes in existence.

“Edith Fowke would not have achieved her international recognition if she had not come to Douro in1956 and recorded members of the Town’s family,” Kirby told The Examiner.

The songs cover everything from stories about eastern Ontario lumbering, a song about the Peterborough Jail, two ballads about famous Ontario 19th century murders, songs about an 1860s eastern Ontario highway; a lonely Scottish immigrant, a disgruntled Irish immigrant; an eastern Ontario 1838 battle with American invaders and a political song that was a prelude to the 1837 rebellion. Also included is a song about an Omemee youth looking for a party.

“The underlying themes are of a timeless nature, as they deal with human existence and love, deception, politics, war, immigration, work, leisure, murder, and death,” according to the organizers.

The concert is at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Stone Hall at 6713 Highway 7 in Havelock. Advance tickets are $15 and are available at until midnight Saturday. Tickets at the door are $20.

Brendan Burke is a staff reporter at the Examiner, based in Peterborough. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Peterborough Examiner