Monday, April 1, 2013

Jesse Winchester is coming to Toronto, Hamilton and Montreal

Once upon a time I got to see a bunch of Jesse Winchester concerts every year. That was back in the days when I was running the Golem, a folk club in Montreal, and Jesse was playing three night stands there two or three times a year and selling out virtually every show. This was before the amnesty for Vietnam War-era draft resistors which allowed him to return to the U.S. to play concerts after 1977. So although he was already becoming known as a major league singer-songwriter, and although he occasionally ventured off to play in other Canadian cities, it was almost like he was all ours in those days.

Jesse moved to Montreal in 1967 and I began to see him early on when I started going to folk clubs and concerts as a teenager in the late-1960s. In 1972, I began producing folk music concerts in Montreal and Jesse became one of my favourite artists to work with. He played at Dawson College at my first concert series and was a regular headliner at the Golem, the folk club I ran in Montreal for much of the 1970s and ‘80s. And more than just one of my favourite artists to work with, he’s remained one of my very favourite artists to listen to. I never pass up opportunities to be in his audience.

Jesse, true to his Southern roots, is as soulful a singer as I know and there is a quiet power to his
performances that is unrivaled by any other performer I can think of. He silences and draws in the audience no matter what the circumstances or conditions. I’ve seen him do it in small coffeehouses, at outdoor festivals, in concert halls and in big rock clubs. In 1999, he played the Spectrum in Montreal when he returned to performing after a 10 year hiatus. More than 1,000 people were packed into the place and I never, in all the many shows I attended there, heard it be so quiet and the audience be so riveted. It was like being back at the Golem in 1974 – the only time I ever thought that at the Spectrum.

That Jesse is one of our greatest songwriters is without question. As well as his own fine recordings, his songs have become staples in the repertoires of so many other artists over the past four decades.

There was a major health scare in 2011 when Jesse was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. But, he fought the disease and won. And he returned to the concert stage sounding as great as ever. When I saw him a year ago, none of that quiet, intense power in his singing and performance seemed diminished.

Jesse remarried and moved back to the United States about 10 years or so ago – so Jesse Winchester concerts can’t be taken for granted as in those old days when he was all ours.

Jesse will be performing at Hugh’s Room in Toronto on Thursday, Friday and Saturday April 5, 6, and 7 and at the Pearl Company Arts Centre in Hamilton on Thursday April 11.

Then he comes home to Montreal when Hello Darlin Productions brings him to Petit Campus on Saturday April 13. And I’ll be coming home for that one too.

You can read an earlier post of mine about the quiet power of Jesse Winchester, which includes a great video of Jesse singing “Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding,” by clicking here.

You can read my Montreal Gazette review of Love Filling Station, Jesse’s latest album, by clicking here.

And you can read my review of Quiet About It: A Tribute to Jesse Winchester, by clicking here.

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--Mike Regenstreif

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