Oh Susana Digs Americana Traditions

Growing up in Vancouver in the post-punk days, singer/songwriter Oh Susanna – a.k.a. Suzie Ungerleider – was surrounded by a generation who harbored a lingering attitude that it wasn’t cool to have ambitions. Thanks to her parents and her belief in her music, the giggly and gregarious woman with the engaging voice overcame this slacker mentality.

“When I was growing up you had to act like you really didn’t care about your future or becoming successful,” she says.

With a voice as powerful as Dolly Parton’s and an attraction to the Americana tradition, Oh Susanna has taken her music to a wider audience. Her latest album – a self-titled effort on Nettwerk Records – features an all-star backing band that includes producer Colin Cripps, Blue Rodeo’s Bazil Donovan, The Sadies’ Travis Good and Luke Doucet. To date, her previous disc (the independently released Sleepy Little Sailor) has sold 20,000 units worldwide. While it’s still too early to compare life with Nettwerk versus doing it independently, Ungerleider clearly sees the advantages.

“It helps me to relax and not have to organize so much,” she says. “With Nettwerk, I feel that there is this whole structure supporting me. I feel now I am ready to trust someone else to do it, whereas when I first started, I didn’t know that much of how labels worked and all I heard were horror stories.”

Ungerleider was born in the United States and moved to Canada at a young age. While she feels Canadian, she has always been drawn to our southern neighbors; to their culture, their history and to their music.

“When I was a kid, I was very aware that I was from another place,” Ungerleider says. “My dad lived in New York and Miami Beach, and he met my mom in California. American Graffiti was set in the town where my parents met and at the time, they were graduating from high school, so they told me, ‘That’s what our existence was like.’ They felt this Hollywood interpretation was their life. I was envious of that and I developed a fetish for ’50s cars, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean.”

It’s not surprising that Oh Susanna often draws from these American pop culture traditions as the muse to her songs.

“The expression of woe and despair and being trapped in this factory job or murder ballads … that was all a part of the imagery that I grew up with,” she says.

Americans love myths and creating figures that are larger than life; this is what attracts Ungerleider to the U.S. culture.

“All the stories of America are so flamboyant,” she explains. “I find Americans are braggers, so they’re masters at propaganda and storytelling. That’s the whole thing about the great figures in American history. They’re almost charlatans; they created this myth about themselves so they would be successful. I think Canadians are more humble, so they’re not as good at publicity and manipulating.”

Charlie Mars: Southern Rock Talk

A southern drawl drips from Charlie Mars’ lips between sips of coffee as he deconstructs the South – the musical milieu from where his songs were spawned. Over lunch at Toronto’s Rivoli, a day before his show at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern, the 29-year-old songsmith looks like a man that has been surviving on little sleep. The rock singer is a little haggard since he’s been on the road for more than six months, averaging six shows per week and eating a few too many cheeseburgers. Sporting a Willie Nelson tour T-shirt and a black jean jacket, Mars drowns himself in caffeine.

Mars released three independent records from 1995-2000 and recently signed with V2 Records. Since his self-titled big-label debut was released this past May, rave reviews in major music magazines such as Rolling Stone and Tracks have followed. In his early days of touring, Mars followed the well-traveled path of rock ‘n’ roll excess, but wisely realized that this couldn’t continue.

“You start a band, you make a record, and the next thing you know you’re being paid to play rock ‘n’ roll and there’s free alcohol and a lot of time to drink it,” he says. “I was a little younger and wanted to have a good time, meet people, get drunk, party and experience all that that had to offer, but hey, at some point the party is over. “I think I have a much better balance now.”

Like his name, Mars’ sound is a little otherworldly; it features an atmospheric ambience that echoes Coldplay, mixed with vocals that emulate U2’s Bono to create a hook-laden Southern Rock opus. Mars hails from Oxford, Mississippi, a rich cultural area where Nobel Prize-winning writer William Faulkner spent most of his life. Mars’ blood runs deep in the South. Raised on chicken-fried steak and sweet-potato casserole, his great, great grandfather was from Mississippi and his family still calls the area home.

As he jokes, “If you ever get arrested down there, give me a call and I can help out.”

This same rich artistic landscape, which once inspired Faulkner fuels Mars’ muse.

“The tradition of secrecy that exists there is conducive to the confessional aspect of singing and writing songs,” he says.

“If you read Faulkner or a book by any Southern writer that’s what comes into play. To a large degree, that’s why I started writing songs. If all you’re seeing is the sunny and the light it’s [the dark side] there somewhere and nobody’s talking about it. The artists usually end up being the ones that carry that weight.”

“I also think that the humidity, the heat, the climate of repression and the shame that is carried culturally from slavery, and the need to compensate for that provides further inspiration,” he continues.

While Mars is enjoying the rock ‘n’ roll ride – adding his own chapter to the South’s songwriting history – he has no false aspirations about his musical future.

“You got to roll the dice and then when everything falls apart you pick up the dice and roll them again,” he concludes. “That’s the way the music business works – expectations are just a resentment waiting to happen.”

Cycling is Like a Drug For Jeremy Fisher

Over coffee at Toronto’s Rivoli, Vancouver songwriter Jeremy Fisher happily chats about his new album and his love of riding on two wheels. After getting lost the night before driving back from Buffalo to a show in Kitchener-Waterloo the Hamilton-born guitar-slinger is feeling a little fatigued to say the least; nothing a little cup of joe can’t cure.

“You caught me at a good time, after my morning coffee,” he says. “The first sip is like a placebo effect for me, really. I think the caffeine manages to dull out the headache I would otherwise get.”

Listening to Fisher’s major label debut, Let it Shine, released October 12 on Sony Music, headaches aren’t likely. Fisher’s music literally shines with hook-laden melodies, smart, honest lyrics and a soulful delivery that would make even the most curmudgeonly critic smile. Think the early folk tales of Bob Dylan mixed with the pop sensibilities of today’s troubadours such as Jay Farrar and John Mayer and you begin to picture Fisher’s muse. The 11 tracks that comprise Let it Shine are heartfelt compositions that showcase Fisher’s reflections on a life that he often doesn’t understand.

“I find that I don’t understand my life at the moment,” he says. “It’s only when I can look back five, 10, 15 years that I can gain an understanding for what was really going on in my psyche.”

During the past decade, Fisher’s music has allowed him to travel many roads and delve into the profundity of life. From busking on the sidewalk in Seattle to playing cover songs for drunken jocks, Fisher has traveled across the country several times. He’s no different than the average aspiring rock star, but what makes Fisher’s journey unique is that he’s crisscrossed North America on his bicycle. During his last trek across country, entitled One Less Tourbus, Fisher performed more than 30 shows and covered 7,500 kilometers from Seattle to Halifax over six months riding his two-wheeler.

“It changed my life the first time I did it,” says the perpetual pedaller. “It gave me faith in humanity and it makes you feel great. Getting to a show after riding a bike 50 miles may sound rough, but you get all the endorphins going and it’s better than sluggin’ back a few beers.

“Cycling is like a drug,” he adds. “It really gets your energy level up, and it also gives you something to talk about on stage. I feel really alive when I’m touring around that way.”

With Sony’s backing, Fisher’s days of pedalling from show to show will be more limited as the demands on his time increase, but this major label support is welcomed. It allowed him to film his first video – “Lemon Meringue Pie,” which was taped outside Toronto in a man-made western town called Dockville. The video was added to MuchMoreMusic’s play list in mid-September.

“It was tons of fun,” he says of the experience. “I was dreading it because I’m not a big fan of photo shoots. I thought it was going to be like that, but worse. We had a cast of 25 people and because it was a fairly plot-heavy video and there was such a big cast, I just got to watch for a lot of the day.”

With dogged determination and sincere stories, watch for Fisher to continue to shine for years to come.

Erin McKeown: On Latin And iPod Love

While attending college at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, Virginia-born singer-songwriter Erin McKeown lived in an art co-operative; this is where her true education occurred. Earlier this summer, following an early morning wake up for an appearance on Canada AM, and prior to killing time before her headlining show at the Drake Hotel later that evening, the cerebral 27-year-old songsmith took time to chat about her university education, her love of Latin and her iPod.

ChartAttack: Did attending college influence your musical career?

Erin McKeown: What helped my musical career was to be in classes with people that didn’t think anything of the fact that I would leave to go on tour with Ani DiFranco. I needed two weeks off in my senior year because I had been asked to go do that tour. The other people that I was in class with were leaving to go make a movie or their father was the King Of Monaco. It really wasn’t a big deal because of the kids that were at the school that I went to, so it just drove me to work harder.

Providence is an amazing city. I didn’t live in the part where the university is. I lived in another part of Providence, in the downtown, which is a redeveloped Arts District. I was a resident artist in a cooperative space there for three years. It was there that I learned how to have a daily life as an artist and to figure out what I needed to do to pay my rent, to have regular shows, to meet other people who for the last 20 years had made their lives as artists; even something as simple as there was a seminar they offered us once on taxes for the self-employed, functional things about being an artist and then more life-sized things. I wouldn’t have found that if I hadn’t gone to college in Providence.

Why all the Latin phrases on the album?

The whole record is built around a phrase “Per Ardua ad Astra.” It’s the motto of the Royal Airforce and it means “Through struggles to the stars.” At the time that I was starting to formulate my ideas about this record I heard that phrase and I had taken a lot of Latin at school and it just kind of hit me. It’s just a sentiment that I really liked. The word ardua means hardships and another word for hardships is “aspera.” It’s more of an adjective than a noun. It can mean rough or difficult, and it can also mean thorns or brambles. So, “par aspera through brambles to the stars” forms a theme for the whole rest of the record. “Through troubles, through hardships to the stars such that birds in flight and the sky” this idea of lifting through difficulties is carried through on all the songs. I think it developed into a more spiritual thing.
There is a second part of the phrase that literally means “my body may change, but my spirit will stay” which is the words to the middle section of the song “Aspera.” Again, that is something that is carried through on the rest of the record. There will always be these changes that happen in your life, but at the centre of it there is still something that’s you.

Why did you choose to record the album in New Orleans?

A friend of mine who lives there came to see my show and afterwards she said “let me show you New Orleans,” so we took about a day and a half not sleeping and just visiting all these great places. It made me fall in love with the city. It was important for me to see it during the day and it was also important for me to see it at night.
There’s a real spirit to the city. It’s rundown in a lot of ways, but not defeated. It’s just a really beautiful place architecturally and even in the most dilapidated parts there is still a lot of beauty. It seemed like the right place to come back to and spend a month making a record.

Tell me about your iPod?

My iPod is my best friend. I love to put it on random and just see what comes up. I don’t have a TV and I only just recently got high-speed Internet, so iTunes is a new world for me. I’ve been enjoying that a lot. I’m likely to download any kind of song. As a musician it made me like music again. So much of how you hear music for the first time is about the context of it. That’s the great thing about the shuffle. All the time stuff that’s on my iPod that I didn’t remember is there or hadn’t listened to in a long time will come up and I think “Man this is so good.” If I had sought it out or someone had put it on my desk and I had to listen to it, I probably wouldn’t feel about it the same way. It’s just in that set up of complete surprise when you are open to the newest things.

David Poe: Seeking Artist Sanctuary

Once you find the right subjects in which to engage singer-songwriter David Poe in conversation, you’ll find the critically acclaimed musician has no shortage of opinions.

Catching up with Poe via cellphone in Newmarket, NH, where he was prepping for a show that evening with fellow songsmith Duncan Sheik as part of the Yellow Umbrella Tour, the New-York based artist chatted about his new record (Love Is Red), the new project he’s involved with ( www.theartistsden.com) and his views of the current state of the mainstream music industry.

ChartAttack: I understand you recorded your most recent record Love Is Red in Germany in the middle of winter. How did you choose this location and tell us about the experience?

David Poe: It kind of got chosen for us. We had plans to make a live album on our last European tour and logistics dictated that we hunker down in a studio and do it there. I think it was the German label guy that found this strange, old studio in Berlin near where the Wall used to be. It was basically a glorified studio for heavy metal bands. It was funny because we went there and the guy who was in the heavy metal band and also the engineer said “I have 50 amplifiers…” we said “great,” but what he didn’t mention was that he had 49 Marshall Stacks and one Roland jazzcore amp that was in disrepair in the corner… another reason why it became an acoustic record. That combined with the cold and general greyness of Germany in winter. The cool thing about it was that [the engineer] had a bunch of old vintage gear that really lent themselves to making a record like that, which is essentially a live record. We maybe put four overdubs on the record.

Tell me about The Artist’s Den [theartistsden.com]?

This is a group that believes that great music deserves a great audience. It’s doing independent, strategic marketing for amazing musicians and basically getting those songs and those performances out to the people that still care about this “thing.” This is the thing… you have a lot of people that will pay $100 to go see Neil Young at Madison Square Garden and they have never heard of Ryan Adams, Regina Spektor, Ed Harcourt, Duncan Sheik or whoever. I mention those artists specifically because they are artists we have worked with and put on this compilation.

We are getting sponsorship from non-musical, hopefully non-evil companies to underwrite some of these tours and some of these shows. What it [theartistsden] is, is that we put on concerts in unusual and intimate venues: lofts, galleries, black box theatres. We have done one at the Apple Store in Soho and Christie’s Auction House in midtown Manhattan. So far we have launched in eight different cities and we will probably be 15 by the end of next year, including Canada and parts of Europe. It’s really about getting the music to the people that are going to like it by building up databases in each town. So if we are trying to fill a 500 seat venue we’ve already got 5,000 people that want to come to the show even if they don’t know who the artist is, but trusting us as a curator for something that is significant. If you are living in the suburbs or not in an urban area or you have kids or you are out of college or you don’t have time to surf the internet for the latest Modest Mouse download. It’s very difficult for those folks to find out what’s happening and thus every once in a while you have a gorgeous record like the Norah Jones record or the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack and then all these people, after repeated impressions, poke their heads up and buy the record in droves because it has been vetted by the culture. But, there is nothing on the radio for the most part, there is no MTV for people who write songs with great words and great melodies and for people who are really fantastic songwriters and bands.

What do you think of the mainstream music industry today?

The record companies figured out a long time ago that most people don’t like music. Record companies figured out a way to sell music to people that don’t really like it. They can’t really be blamed for being the arbiters of taste for a culture because they are businesses with shareholders and now more than ever businesses with shareholders need to show a fast return or if not you are going to get fired. The heyday and zeitgeist of Elecktra Records in the ’60s and ’70s or the way Capitol used to be or the way IRS was in the ’80s or Sub Pop was in the ’90s is pretty much gone. The record companies put out a lot of crap and they spend a lot of illegal payola to get stuff on the radio. They do all those things, but they are just businesses, so we shouldn’t expect more from them. Now, not only because of the internet, but because there is a part of the mass culture that really is interested in something genuinely good. Whether it is an amazing glass of wine or a special coffee, or they want to make sure their sweaters were not made by sweatshop workers, so they pay a little more for it; the same thing is true of music. You do the math. I sold 100,000 of my first record and the company was not particular interested in taking it from 100,000 records to one million because so much money has to be spent. But, to me, I was like, “I just sold 100,000 fucking records!” It blew my mind. There is 100,000 people out there that are ostensibly listening to my shit. If I put up the money to make that record and then made the money from selling that 100,000 records everything would be groovy.

Colin Cripps helps craft Maple Leaf Forever Guitar

Colin Cripps love of guitars was first kindled as a Steeltown teen. The musician bought his first axe – a Telecaster copy – at Reggie’s Music when he was 15. Cripps ended up working at Reggie’s (which is no longer in business) on and off, from age 14 until age 23. “I was so enamored with guitars from day one,” he recalls. “The place had a big impact on my early guitar obsession.”

Today, Cripps, 54, lives in East Toronto, but his heart still often pines for his Hamilton home. While much has changed since those formative years, the one constant is his guitar obsession. As Blue Rodeo’s guitarist, Cripps is still a “Tele guy,” but his guitar collection is filled with an ever growing, ever changing variety of vintage instruments. The latest acoustic he adds to hAis arsenal – at least for the next year – is pretty special. Known as the Maple Leaf Forever Guitar, the idea for this instrument was born out of a conversation the musician had in May 2014 with his local MP (Craig Scott, NDP for Toronto-Danforth) while attending the Governor General’s Lifetime Achievement Awards in Ottawa with the rest of Blue Rodeo.

“While seated at a luncheon I was introduced to Craig and we began talking about his riding, Ward 29, which happens to be where I live as well, and through talking about music, we got into a discussion about the ‘Maple Leaf Forever Tree,’” recalls Cripps, over a croissant and tea at Patisserie La Cigogne. “It is a 170-year-old Silver Maple, which inspired Alexander Muir to write ‘The Maple Leaf Forever,’ unofficially considered Canada’s first national anthem.”

Flash back to July 2013. Cripps heard of the massive windstorm that felled much of the tree. As a wood enthusiast, and guitar lover, his mind immediately wondered what was going to happen to all this wood. Through his conversation with his local politician, Cripps learned the fallen lumber had been cut into pieces and had been sitting in a kiln drying for almost a year. The wood was then to be tendered for projects that would reflect the tree’s cultural history with Toronto, and the rest of Canada.

Cripps proposed to have a friend craft an acoustic guitar using the wood from the Maple Leaf Forever tree. The proposal is that the finished guitar would be passed on to a different musician each year, build its own story, and forever remain in the public trust. Dave Fox, a luthier friend, was brought on board to build the guitar with Cripps’ guidance.

“I had very definitive ideas about the style, construction, and details of the acoustic guitar, and having known Dave and his guitars for quite some years, was confident that we could put together a great instrument,” Cripps explains. “We modeled the acoustic after a classic 1944 (Banner era) Gibson J-45.”

Other features of the acoustic include: a $10 Canadian silver coin on the back of headstock, a Vintage Canada luggage decal on the back of the body and twin maple leafs inlayed at the fifth fret.

In the fall of 2014, Tom Bartlett, another friend of Cripps offered to build an electric guitar using the Maple Leaf Forever wood. Both guitars were completed this past February. For the first year, Cripps will play the acoustic with Blue Rodeo and Paul Langlois will play the electric with The Tragically Hip.

“They are a testament to our passion for great craftsmanship, music and art, and a chance to further both Toronto and Canada’s history through such an iconic treasure,” Cripps concludes.

Meeting of the Minds

Jeff Mingay recalls a recent trip to Mountain Ridge Country Club – a historic Donald Ross design in New Jersey, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012. What struck him most was how the superintendent and his crew maintain some creative and unique design features such as twelve-inch collars that surround the small, push-up greens that are extended to the edge where Ross’s trademark false fronts and greenside bunkers are located.

“It’s so cool how far they have taken the contours of the putting surfaces out to the edges of the fill paths,” explains the Toronto-based architect. “You can get pins really close to the outside edges of the greens. It just looks really distinctive and unique.”

This feature would not be possible if the course superintendent didn’t challenge his agronomic norms and think outside the box on how he and his team could keep and maintain these historic design features. That’s where the artistry to a greenkeepers’ role comes into play; it’s also just one aspect of the crucial role that is needed when it comes to the unique relationship between architects and superintendents.

“When guys appreciate that aesthetic and they are interested in creating something that is unique, rather than just status quo, that’s when the true magic happens,” says Mingay. “Of the half dozen projects I’ve got going on right now in various stages, the ones that are the most fun – and then as a result the most successful – are the ones where not only do you have a good relationship with the superintendent, but the superintendent is actually interested in the architecture.

“That’s the difference I find between superintendents,” the architect continues. “Certain ones are not that interested in the architecture. When you’ve got someone that knows how to maintain a golf course and grow turf, but they are also interested in, and knows architecture, and is willing to maintain things that are maybe a bit more unconventional or a bit more of a challenge, that’s when the golf course goes to the next level. I can have all the ideas that I want to turn the course into something special, but if the guy who is left to take care of it doesn’t want to push the greens as far out as I want, or doesn’t want to take that tree down, or doesn’t want that many bunkers … that’s when the architecture suffers. That’s not to say that I don’t take into consideration things like maintenance costs and limitations with certain budgets.”

Mingay admits he’s currently working on a few projects where the superintendent has pushed back on his design ideas and asked questions such as: ‘How am I going to turn my mower around?’ and the conversation closes. Not an ideal relationship or situation when you want to create the best possible golfing experience for your members and public players alike. When Mingay asked the superintendent at Mountain Ridge CC how he accomplished this, he simply said, ‘there is always a way.’

“I appreciated that. You could tell he wanted his golf course to be distinctive and he appreciated the architecture. You just have to figure out how to do it and do it differently. It’s really cool to see guys trying to create something unique, working hard, and being innovative.”

Innovation has always been a key ingredient to Tom McBroom’s designs. Known for such award-winning golf course properties from coast to coast such as Tobiano, Bell Bay, and Rocky Crest, the architect also appreciates the importance of the relationship between himself and the course superintendent of whatever property he’s working at — whether it’s a grow-in, renovation, or restoration.


The Links at Brunello, which just opened to rave reviews outside Halifax this past June, is a recent example; McBroom worked closely with the course superintendent: Chris Wallace, whom he says is doing a wonderful job.

“It’s important the two get along,” says the acclaimed architect. “Each has a big responsibility. The architect in getting the design implemented and the superintendent in growing in the course and making sure the course is properly constructed. It’s a pivotal relationship. If the two are butting heads or disagreeing it’s not going to be a very pleasant or fruitful relationship.”

So, how do you make sure there is a meeting of the minds and not a sparring match or word of words? First, you might not be working together if there wasn’t a match of personality. “Usually both get to first base because there is a mutual respect,” McBroom adds. “Then, the relationship grows from there.”

As for Wallace, McBroom has nothing but compliments for the monumental task he has handled of growing in a new course. “He blew everyone away with his skillset, his enthusiasm, and his ability to manage a complicated grow-in,” he comments.

Constant Communication

When it comes to the success of the superintendent architect relationship, clear, constant and open communication is essential. For the Brunello project, McBroom chalked up many frequent flyer miles to Halifax to be on site. “It was a pet project of mine,” he says. “I was probably in Halifax 40 times in the last two years … it’s got my fingertips on it that’s for sure!” The same goes for Mingay. Last year when he was working on the renovation of The Derrick Club in Edmonton, he moved there for a few months. “I was on site shaping and Darryl was the construction manager so he and I were basically on site almost every single day of the project,” Mingay says. “Not only was I talking to him about stuff I was building, but he was seeing what was going on day to day, would approach me with concerns he had and vice versa. I believe being there on site and creating in collaboration is critical. When you have a superintendent who is not involved or interested in the construction and an architect that is more of a paper guy mailing stuff in, you don’t get that synergy.”

In big projects you are talking every day, e-mailing, talking on the phone, on you are on site. There also needs to be a mutual respect for the others job and expertise.

“It’s not just you accepting what the superintendent says or does and vice versa,” says McBroom. “It’s a sharing of ideas and getting each other to stretch their perspective and think of better and sometimes alternative ways of doing things for the betterment of the project. In a good relationship you pull the best of your skill sets out of each other.”

Mingay also learns a lot from superintendents and speaks to the reciprocal nature of this relationship. “I’ve made some stupid mistakes with construction years ago when I did not consider the maintenance,” the architect admits. “It’s very helpful to have a superintendent around and have an open, friendly relationship. If you are building something, he can say ‘Whoa, there’s a logical reason why that will not work.’ That is essential to learning golf course architecture.”

CGSA President Christian Pilon, Master Superintendent at Mount Bruno Country Club in St. Bruno, Quebec, has worked frequently with McBroom over the years and he’s learned a lot from the golf course architect. McBroom has been involved at the prestigious private club since the 1990s. He put together a master plan, analyzed the course and as Pilon says, sketched out, “how we can get the course to step into the 21st century.” This is an example of a relationship where there is mutual respect. “He’s a very articulate guy,” says McBroom. “He’s really into the details and the artistry of the project.”

Pilon stresses that you can’t forget, as a superintendent, that neither you, nor the architect are doing renovations for your own accolades. “It’s not our course, not our baby, and we are not creating something for our legacy. We are trying to change, improve, manage, safeguard a property for the enjoyment and that will enhance the experience for our members.”

McBroom has been working with Mount Bruno’s membership for nearly two decades. The most recent work with Pilon is to rebuild, restore and reshape all of their bunkers in preparation for their 2018 centennial. It’s a huge project with nine holes scheduled to be completed this year and nine next. That’s another element about the superintendent/architect relationship shows is that if it’s a good match and the result of the product is good, it tends to be a long-term engagement.

Jason Winter, Superintendent at DeerRidge in Kitchener, Ont. has also had the pleasure to work with McBroom on some green recontour work recently. “He’s a great guy to work with, easy to get along with, and he has a great eye for design,” says Winter. “He plays the game, so he also understands everything that an architect needs to understand – not just how a course looks, but how it plays.”

At the end of the day, the key to the superintendent/architect relationship, just like any other successful partnership, is going all in.

“Rhod Whitman said to me years ago, ‘the guys with dirt under their fingernails are going to have a better chance to be the best.’” Mingay concludes. “I think that’s applicable to both architects and superintendents. If you are out there on the course jointly participating you are going to end up with the best results.”

Chambers Bay: Bucket List Worthy

In my golf-writing career, I’ve been fortunate to tee it up at some nice courses, near and far. I played TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Verda, Florida (home of The Players Championship on the PGA TOUR) by my lonesome one dewy January morning a few years back. I was the guest of the superintendent. My score did not matter. On the front nine, I saw an otter swim in the water hazard. I took more shots with my camera than with my clubs. And, when I stepped up to test myself at the famed island 17th green, par 3, I had a gaggle of birds as my gallery. I made par, even though the blue and white herons were my only witnesses.

I’ve walked the fairways of Augusta National as a patron on a Wednesday in April, eating a pimento cheese sandwich at Amen Corner. I’ve played in coffee country in Colombia with a caddy guiding me and providing camaraderie during my round. I’ve played TPC Old White, home of The Greenbrier, on the PGA TOUR. I’ve played historic Oak Hill Country Club in Pittsford, New York, host most recently of the 2013 PGA Championship won by Jason Dufner.

Besides these memorable experiences, I’ve met many unforgettable people through my years writing about golf. As a junior, I watched Canadian Golf Hall of Famer Moe Norman bounce balls off of his putter in the pro shop of my childhood course, Westmount Golf & Country Club in Kitchener, Ont. Another time, for a feature for this magazine, I golfed a few holes with Jaime Farr (Klinger on M*A*S*H). From early morning rounds alone with my thoughts (golf is better than any therapist), to days spent with my dad – and with new and old friends – the sport, to me, is much more than a good walk. I feel spoiled I get to experience all of these opportunities.

Last summer, yet another Bucket List golf invite came my way: the chance to play Chambers Bay – host of the 2015 U.S. Open. Saying no was not an option. I boarded a plane at YYZ in the early morning bound for Seattle. On the descent, I glimpsed stunning views of Washington States’ highest peak – the glacier-capped Mount Rainer.

Upon landing, I met the rest of my party and we drove south for an hour, through Tacoma, to reach Pierce County and Chambers Bay — the links-like course designed by Robert Trent Jones II, sculpted on the site of a former sand and gravel mine. Water abounds everywhere the eye can see, but your ball won’t get wet on the course that is all grass, dunes, and bunkers that are deep and plentiful.

During the U.S. Open in June 2015 (won by Jordan Spieth), the major championship came to the Pacific Northwest for the first time. In its 114-year history prior to the 2015 event, the U.S. Open Championship — an event held in New York State and Pennsylvania 18 times each — never made it to Washington State. It was worth the wait for the PGA TOUR pros and it was definitely worth the cross-country trip for me to reach this special piece of property marked by a lone pine tree on the property, phenomenal water views and fescue grass.

Pre or post-round, start your golf experience at the Chambers Bay Grill. Sit on the patio and soak in the panoramic views of Puget Sound and the natural beauty of this Pacific Northwest locale while enjoying a cup of clam chowder, a cheeseburger and a micro brew. If you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a pod of whales dancing in the tranquil blue waters below.

Chambers Bay is a walking-only course; a caddy is recommended. Cost is $50, plus gratuity. I chose to carry my bag, but our group had a pair of caddies, each carrying two bags. Who says golf is not exercise? An 18-hole round here is a 10-mile walk with so many elevation changes of the dunes that you climb up — and walk down — more than 600 feet. This walk is not for the faint of heart, but it’s all part of what makes this golf experience so unforgettable.

While waiting to hit your tee shot on several holes, pause to watch as a Southern Pacific train roars down the tracks that border the golf holes. Ancient “ruins”—from the site’s mining era—are also visible from a number of holes. Like true links golf, Chambers Bay’s rollicking fairways allow you to get creative. Have some fun. One of my most memorable shots was putting the ball 50 yards out from the green!

The extraordinary views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains provide a backdrop that is visual stunning, all complemented by world-class golf. Add Chambers Bay to your golf bucket list today. It’s worth the flight to Seattle. Just make sure your glutes are in shape for all the climbs.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Gets Back to its Roots

The age-old adage that says, “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” could easily apply to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s new recording, “Welcome to Woody Creek,” by making a few substitutions – the word ‘heart’ with ‘music,’ and ‘fonder’ with ‘better.’ The ‘absence’ in this case was John McEuen, who left the band in 1987 to pursue some solo projects, but rejoined his perennial pickers in 2001.

According to guitarist/vocalist Jeff Hanna, McEuen’s return rejuvenated the group. Essentially, it was the first step towards creating Welcome to Woody Creek.

“John returning coincided with us doing the 30th anniversary reissue of the first ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken’ album,” he explains. “We had a little bit of a chance to work together outside of the studio, and he joined up in the summer of 2001, and we starting touring again, which was great… Then, Capitol Records Nashville asked us if we wanted to do a Circle III album because we had done the second album back in ’89, and we said ‘sure that would be fun, especially with John back playing with us.”

“We did that, which was a special project, not just a Dirt Band album because (of) various other pickers and singers joining us,” he continues. “But, having done that record, which was a return to our roots as it were, inspired us to make a record that was just us, but to do it in a looser fashion.”

With the five veteran Dirt Band members together again, “Welcome to Woody Creek” (Dualtone) represents the band’s first full-length studio effort since 1998.

“We had a nice backlog of songs because we hadn’t been in the studio to make a new record since 1998 and hadn’t done one with John since 1987,” says Hanna. “We had a bunch of tunes that just kind of fell out of the sky. We had piles of these songs, and the ones that sounded the best with us playing and singing are the ones we recorded.”

Before The Eagles, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band blazed musical trails with their hook-heavy melodies and harmony rich country-rock. Joining Hanna and McEuen in NGDB are multi-instrumentalists Jimmy Ibbotson, Bob Carpenter and Jimmie Fadden.

The band’s sound has constantly evolved with each decade. From psychedelic rock in the late ’60s to their first Top Ten pop hit, “Mr. Bojangles” in the ’70s to the middle-of-the road country throughout the ’80s, with number 1 singles on the country music charts such as “Fishin’ in the Dark” and “Long Hard Road (The Sharecropper’s Dream),” there’s little that the NGDB haven’t accomplished in a recording career that spans almost 5 decades and more than 30 albums.

Twenty years ago, they even made headlines as the first American rock band to tour the Soviet Union.

The acoustic-driven “Welcome to Woody Creek” marks a return to the band’s roots. Upon a first listen, the masterful musicianship and the tender three-part harmonies that NGDB fans have come to appreciate throughout the years spills from the speakers in a joyous exclamation to produce one the year’s most honest, heartfelt discs.

So, how does a group that has been playing together for 38 years keep things fresh?

Hanna believes it comes down to the fact that when he and his four musical hombres get together to make music, something magical happens.

“There is an intuitive thing that happens with us when we play together,” he says. “Somebody pointed out that the five of us make a noise together that nobody else does…It’s a simple way to look at it, but it works for me.”

That said, there were times when Hanna and his mates were ready to call it quits, but the allure of rediscovering this unique ‘noise’ has always kept them together.

“It’s a lot easier to break up then stay together,” Hanna says. “It’s weird. There have been times when we felt like throwing in the towel, and then something good would come into our lives, and it would change our minds. I think also that the loyalty of our fans has kept us on the road and in the studio all these year…we enjoy playing together. The touring gets a little old at times, but I shouldn’t whine. It beats the heck out of a real job.”

To record their latest disc, which Hanna describes as “light-hearted and breezy” the band of musical brothers returned to a familiar place – Ibbotson’s mountainside retreat – in Woody Creek, Col.

“Ibby,” as the band members affectionately call him, calls his home studio Unami, after a tribe of peace loving Lenape Indians, Utes and Eastern Arapahoe that used to spend summers in the area.

The band describes the charm of this area in the album’s liner notes: “Woody Creek runs into the roaring fork of the Colorado eight miles down from Aspen. It’s more like Aspen was in our early days…Aspen is a playground. Woody Creek is where the old timers drink and eat and live. Because of the hospitality of Woody Creek citizens, it still feels like home to us.”

Recording in this peaceful, rural retreat inspired these ‘old timers’ to record a pleasing record of down home, country-roots music. “We were shooting for that…trying to get something that kind of harkened back to the music that we made in the seventies when we first started playing country rock,” Hanna says. “When there was a little more spontaneity in our approach and a little less profession involved.”

Jon Brooks: Folk for Folk’s Sake

Just like the late nineteenth century aesthetes who believed in “art for art’s sake,” Toronto-based folk singer Jon Brooks believes in folk for folk’s sake. The passionate artist – who quotes everyone from Jesuit priests and seventeenth century philosophers to Pablo Picasso – speaks more like an academic than like an artist.

I meet up with the truth-seeking songwriter and self-professed idealist following his short set at Toronto’s Winter Folk in mid February. Dressed in a black hat and denim and armed with only his words and trusty Taylor 615 acoustic guitar, Brooks played with several other song slingers as part of the Protest Songs session. Buffy Sainte-Marie’s timeless anti-war song, “Universal Soldier,” sung by Brooks was one of the highlights of the songwriters’ set.

After he packed up his gear, we grab a pint of Guinness and head to the backroom at the Irish pub across the street. With a band playing out front, we engage in a discourse on Brook’s folk thesis. With each answer, Brooks pensively strokes his grey goatee, laying out the astute arguments of his oral essay.

“For my money, the folk song is the only thing violent and brutal and loving and tough and brave enough to get inside people,” he says. “I see it every night, whether it is my own songs or the Buffy Sainte-Marie song I sing, you make an effect on people and they’re forever changed.”

Brooks feels Canada has always struggled to classify its art and there is a certain inherent insecurity with the celebration of these home-grown forms of expression. He says the music industry today is so glutted that pop singers are getting invited to folk festivals; it frustrates the songwriter that no one really knows how to define folk music since, for him, there is but one definition.

“Folk music is the intent to arrest in song the truth about a particular people at a particular time and place … that is folk,” he explains. “All the great rap records of the late 80s and 90s had their roots in folk. “All the great punk rock of the 70s had their roots in folk. Of course Guthrie is the obvious example, but folk is an artistic decision. The artist looks at his or her world and decides to show it to others in the hopes of showing it we stand some chance at improving it … that’s folk to me. All the rest is pop music.

“Folk music is that opposing blend of opposites,” he adds. “You have lyrics, which are rational poetry, but then the music comes along and mixes with it and the way it works on it is more irrational … you mix those two things together and you’ve got a very violent instrument of change.”

The 2007 Ontario Council of Folk Festival’s “Songs from the Heart” winner is in the midst of writing a folk trilogy that he hopes taken together can be used as an instrument for change in what he deems “dangerous and diseased times.”

Brook’s debut No Mean City (2005) chronicled the underbelly of his hometown Toronto while exploring the metaphorical homelessness of the modern soul. This was followed by his latest Ours and The Shepherds, which is a disc of Canadian war stories inspired by heroes from history – from John McRae (the author of the famed poem “In Flanders Fields”) to Senator Romeo Dallaire and James Loney. The title of this sophomore effort was taken from a Dorothy Day quote: “Whose fault is it? Ours and the Shepherds.” Brooks describes the record as an attempt to tell the truth about Canadian soldiering in the midst of the present malaise of what is going on.

“When I sing in the first person in the voice of a war widow from 1917 Cape Breton, people have no connection to that world, but if the song works on them they are there and through the power of empathy we have connected,” he explains. “I feel disappointed that so many people I thought were card carrying folk community members in Canada were slightly miffed as why someone who introduces themselves as a folk singer would do an entire record of war songs. To me, that’s absurd.

“A folk singer has to be singing about that. They need to sing about what is broken to make people want to fix it. This is the role of the artist in general. If people don’t have an opinion, the state throughout history has been more than willing to make an opinion on their behalf and that is what is happening today.”
Brooks says that as a songwriter though it’s not his role either to make up someone else’s mind. “I want to tell them and let them decide,” he says. “You have the power as a songwriter to make people not only think rationally, but to feel emotionally about a subject that they otherwise wouldn’t be privy to.

“A great quote I love, that I’ve been using on stage recently, is by the Scottish Renaissance philosopher David Hume who said: If you want to know about a culture or society or a people don’t ask who writes the laws, ask who writes the songs.”

Brooks hopes to release the final instalment in his folk trilogy, titled Moth Nor Rust, sometime in 2008.

“I feel a real urgency to get this CD out because the rest of Canada doesn’t know I had a first album since it’s out of print and it was Toronto-centric,” he says. “I fear that some people think I’m just some dude who goes around writing about war stories, but no that’s just the middle section of the three CDs.”

As our candid conversation comes to a close and the last sips of our pint are drunk, Brooks leaves me with his final thesis on folk and how it differs from pop music.

“Folk music deals with the we and the us while pop deals with the I and the me,” he says. “The last thing the world needs right now is another pop song. What the world needs more than anything is somebody to come along and give us a true folk song.”