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  • Ian Mattey

That's a Wrap - Wits End 2021 Backyard Season

Let us start by saying a big THANK-YOU to the wonderful audiences and musicians for the 11, count 'em, 11 shows we hosted this season. In the end, these shows put nearly $10, 500 into the pockets of the musicians who graced our stage this year. We still sometimes have a hard time believing how well things have gone, and how fortunate we've been in every regard.


Several bands did double-headers, playing Wednesday and Thursday night. The double-header concept was a response to restrictions limiting us to 25 persons at the time we booked the bands. Then the restrictions were lifted and folks responded by filling up the 'bubbles' in the yard. Most of our shows were sell-outs - thanks again!


We got off to a late start this year because last Fall we put in a completely new back lawn and it needed time to establish itself this Spring. Each show we hosted was a little different and each one its own gem.

Kris Ulrich and Band opened the season on August 11 & 12 with Kris' brand of poignant folk-rock including songs from his recent albums Braemar Avenue, January 2021 and Pacific Central. We first met and fell in love with Kris in 2020 when he twice accompanied other musicians in our yard; Sol James and Orit Shimoni. Liam Duncan (Boy Golden) played keys for Kris (and Kris plays guitar for Boy Golden) and at Thursday's show they even played a Boy Golden song off the new album Church of Better Daze. (We're hoping to book Boy Golden for next summer!)


August 18 & 19 saw the Dust Rhinos fill the stage - literally and figuratively with high-energy Celtic rock. Always a great show, they certainly did not disappoint anyone those nights as everyone left the yard dancin' in the pants! The Thursday show was extra special because it was Blair's birthday and we had cupcakes!


Brent Parkin followed on August 25 & 26. Al Simmons joined Brent on stage for a couple of tunes on the 26th...Al was Al! As many of you know by now, Trudy and I have a special connection/significance with Brent: our first date in 1981 was to see a band called Houndog, led by Brent, at the Royal Albert Arms. Brent, Kenny, and Kerry laid down the Blues for all in attendance, including Trudy's favorite: Beep, Beep - I'm a Roadrunner Baby. Brent played Wits End last year and we had a noise complaint then. This year he had two - on the same evening! These are the only complaints we have had so far. We owe a special debt of gratitude to our neighbours for their understanding and, often, appreciation for what it is we're doing.


September 2 was a cold and gloomy day with a forecast for rain in the evening, so the Stanley County Cut-Ups have the distinction of being the only show rescheduled due to the weather. The forecast rain never materialized, but we're still glad we moved the show because September 14 turned out to be a beautiful evening for music. This Bluegrass quintet is a relatively new outfit of season veteran players who we first saw, pre-COVID, at another house concert venue, the awesome T&A Garage. The Cut-Ups played music from their recent EP Frisky Fingers as well as a deep catalog of Bluegrass favorites and originals.


What can we tell you about Ego Spank, who played here September 8 & 9? Yes, they are four stellar musicians who play great covers and originals but we gotta tell you it's as big a joy to just hang with these funny, caring, intelligent, and down-to-earth guys. Murray, Gilles, Marc, Daniel - you guys are beautiful!


Our first ever Sunday afternoon show happened with The Burs out of Toronto on September 12. actually the show was 1/2 of Burs, just the duo of Lauren and Ray, who were busking their way out West. We also had the good fortune to have them and a couple of their friends Shea and Avery (also musicians) stay with us. These young musicians brought a delightful lightness to the backyard with their twin acoustic guitars, sweet voices, and blend of originals and Canadian covers. I must say that I've never heard anyone handle Joni Mitchell as well as Lauren did. A big shout-out to Stu Reid for promoting their music and show on his radio program on CKUW 95.9FM Twang Trust and for coming out for the concert!


Our second Sunday show closed out our season with an afternoon of perfect weather and the intensely moving music of Orit Shimoni. You all know the connection by now with Orit, our adopted COVID daughter - this is the third time she's played here at Wits End. It was very special to us and to her that this show set a new record for attendance in our backyard! Orit played songs from many of her albums, including her most recent Lorem Ipsum and Strange and Beautiful Things. She beautifully closed the show and season with a haunting Hebrew folk song from her album Songs for my Father.


So, what's next for Wits End?


This year was very different than 2020. Back then, we didn't know much about COVID, CERB didn't exist (at least at first), there wasn't any vaccines, comfort levels were down, restrictions were tight, so there weren't many options for live music - we were one of the few. This year ALL that changed, except the restrictions and, maybe, comfort levels. Last year shows sold out quickly; this year it was a lot more work to sell tickets because folks had options.


Trudy and I were reflecting a short while ago on the change from 2020 to 2021 and realized it was probably time to return to our original concept - a venue for local and travelling up-and-comers (like The Burs for instance) with a smattering of established artists we particularly like - and, honestly, not as many shows. Even though the house-concert style show is a very different listening experience to show venues and patios, we really don't want to compete, or take away from, those established venues/businesses. We'd prefer to help other musicians find and build their audiences.


Another lesson learned is that despite my liking the alliterative Wits End Wednesdays, it is much harder to draw an audience on Wednesday nights, as compared to Thursdays. We were quite happy with the two Sunday afternoon shows we held, and so there's a good chance that future shows will either be Thursday evenings or Sunday afternoons.


We decided to test the so-called waters and host a show in our living room. So, November 18 we have Chris (Chopper) Carmichael solo with very limited seating. We'll decide after that if we want to do any more living shows over the Winter.


We're already looking forward to next summer in the backyard and thinking about who we might like to book. We already have our eye on Juvel, Elle McAndrews, Ridley Bent, Big Dave McLean, Boy Golden, and others for next summer.


We started this blog thanking the audiences and the musicians who came to Wits End this past summer and we'll end the same way, because none of the goodness can happen without you, so THANK-YOU from the bottom of our hearts!


Trudy and Ian Mattey





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