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Huntsville Festival of the Arts

The northern jazz scene is alive and well, Molly Johnson performs to a near capacity audience, as witnessed by me while on holiday in cottage country this past week. Having missed Molly Johnson's recent performance in Toronto, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to check out her performance in support of her new CD, Messin' Around.

Another good reason that motivated me was the idea of a new theatre, checking out the Algonquin Theatre going into its third season of existence, officially opening May 2005 was an exciting prospect, not to mention, I hadn't been to Huntsville for about ten years and it would be interesting to explore the town.

The theatre located right in the heart of Huntsville, on the main street and sharing the main municipal building, is nothing spectacular to look at, the architecture is very plain, lots of windows and an outdoor balcony overlooking the front garden. A full size statue of group of seven artist Tom Thompson sits out front near the garden, inviting the patrons to enjoy the arts.

Once inside the theatre you are drawn to the lobby bar and surrounding salon with framed photos of all the acts that have graced the stage. In the short period of time the theatre has been in existence they have managed to cover one wall, names like Holly Cole, Nexus, The Nylons, Oliver Jones and quite a few other name acts have appeared at the theatre.

Settled in about thirty feet above stage level, the left balcony to be exact, I could easily view the stage, there is another balcony below, referred to as orchestra seating and the main floor seating, total just over 400 seats. The theatre is rectangular, the stage area is ample, the ceiling height is four stories, the mechanical workings of the theatre are exposed below the roof deck, partially covered with acoustic panels.

The opening act, of which I had no idea there would be one, as the advertisement only mentioned Molly Johnson was Micah Barnes. Mr. Barnes took a seat at the concert grand piano located centre stage and proceeded to smoothly romp through five of his original tunes from his self titled CD released in 2006 and one popular hit tune "Up On The Roof." Mr. Barnes sings with a pleasing sounding voice, as smooth as northern moss and fully able to reach a wide range from tenor to soprano with soothing tones of passion humour and non-stop rhythm.

Mr. Barnes finished his set and graciously made way for Molly Johnson, confiding in us that it had just been announced that Ms. Johnson had been awarded The Order of Canada. Molly Johnson was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in May of 2007, this is the highest civilian honour recognizing a lifetime of achievement and merit of a high degree, especially in service to Canada or to humanity at large, Ms Johnson is a most deserving candidate, bravo.

The main act arrived after a brief intermission, Mike Downes, Mark Mclean, Rob Piltch and lastly Molly Johnson took to the stage. The trio was in full flight, a full sound with rhythm guitar driving home full-bodied chords, the immaculate drumming accompaniment to Mr. Piltch by Mark Mclean and solid foundational double bass playing by Mike Downes round out the audio backdrop and fill the theatre with the most pleasing sounds to introduce the vocal piece de resistance of Molly Johnson.

The theatre is intimate, the performer even more intimate, with personality that enchants. From the first flip of her hair, to the twirl of her skirt, with funny, quirky comments and loose, free and easy mannerisms, this is one of the finest charmers in the world; she had the audience in the palm of her hand and could do no wrong, no matter how she tried.

Ms. Johnson's vocal instrument was in fine form, as was everything else about her, looking fit and toned, rested and relaxed, she was in summer holiday mode as well, having recently been relaxing at a friends cottage. Occasionally scratching her ankle, which had been victimized by a Muskoka Mosquito. Ms. Johnson performed most of the songs from the new album Messin' Around. The modified Molly Johnson band handled the songs with ease; the lack of piano and reeds was noticed but of no effect, as the trio played to perfection behind Johnson. The title track "Messin' Around" sounded great, it has all the nuances of a hit tune, excellent vocals with lyrics to match, catchy melody, a short but very sweet song.

The band played other tunes from the new CD, "Rain," "Sunday," "Tangerine," "Tonight," "Tristes Souveniers," "But Not For Me" and "Lets Waste Some Time." They played some classics like "Diamond In The Rough" and a beautiful rendition of "Summertime" with drum and bass accompaniment. Every time I see Molly Johnson, no matter the line up of sidemen or women, I always come away with a positive, joyous feeling and a desire to hear her incredible voice one more time. If you can't get out to hear her live, pick up her new CD, or do both - as many at the Algonquin Theatre did.

Report by Paul J. Youngman- KJA Jazz Advocate

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Molly Johnson
  • Concert Date: 8/4/2007
  • Subtitle: Molly Johnson Serenades The North
  • Venue: Algonquin Theatre
  • City State Country: Huntsville, Ontario, Canada
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