Jiggin’ around town with singer/songwriter John Connolly
By Meredith Morrison
Photography by Stephen Harris
If there is such a thing as “Island charm”, John Connolly has it by the truckload.
The Island-born talent is as engaging as he is talented, making him the perfect fit as musical director, performer and co-host of the Charlottetown Festival’s newest show Come All Ye – a uniquely PEI showcase of Island entertainment at its finest running June 29 to August 27 at The Mack in downtown Charlottetown.
Needless to say, he’s pretty busy these days but that didn’t stop him from meeting up for an interview and photo shoot on a sunny Friday afternoon in Charlottetown. Getting to know John Connolly is a lot like catching up with an old friend; I guess you could say it’s all part of his Island charm.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I think I knew pretty early on that I wanted to be on stage. I’ve just always felt right at home and the more experience I get the more at home I feel. It just always felt natural.
What was your first job?
I started a lawn cutting business when I was thirteen and I got pretty serious about it. I guess my first “real” job was at the Charlottetown Yacht Club as a tender operator, driving people out to their boats on moorings. I was 16 and it was lovely.
Describe your defining moment as a musician.
I think my first defining moment was growing up and having family parties where everyone would be around the piano and there would be four-part harmony and all of these beautiful songs; this whole foundation was laid. Beyond that, I continue to have these moments where I’d realize so much more is possible just by someone else showing me; they didn’t necessarily have to tell me what they did, it was that intuitive thing where you just kind of realize hey, there’s another threshold here. It seems to happen to me all the time.
What’s the best thing about being an Island musician?
Just being part of a community and watching everyone develop. As Chas Guay put it so well, “little city on an Island, little Island on the sea”. We’re isolated. So when I go to places like Toronto, New York or Vancouver and see these different scenes, there’s so much more there and there’s so many more layers to it. What’s happening here is we’re all kind of growing together and it’s moving really quickly; the bar is getting raised all the time. To be part of something like that, the genesis of something that I think is going to be really special, it’s pretty neat.
American Idol or The Voice?
I’m going to say The Voice because it’s purely based on the purity of the sound. I saw one of the contestants, Frenchie Davis, on broadway in Rent a few years ago. I was in the second row and she hit that second note in Seasons of Love and I just in awe. It was so pure and it was so rooted, so for me, I guess that’s more where I come from, so I’ll go with The Voice.
Connollyy outside of The Mack, where Come All Ye is currently playing until August 27
If you weren’t in the music business what would you be doing?
I’m really not that good at anything else. When I was a boy, I thought it would be great to be a pilot. Really, I think I’m doing what I’m meant to do.
What were the best and worst moments of being on tour promoting your latest album “The Wind”?
There are so many! One of the best moments was after being alone in my Toyota Corolla for the better part of a month and playing right across the country, I met Catherine MacLellan in Armstrong, BC and we played together. It was a sold-out show and we had such a fun time. It was so great being all the way across the country and after a month on the road, to be able to meet up with a friend and play a show – we laughed our heads off!
The worst was in Nelson, BC. I was booked to play during one of these in-between nights. I went out and played a bunch of house concerts, which are wonderful, but you’ve got to pad out the good gigs with some not-so-good gigs. I was booked to play at this café; I pulled up and it was a Tuesday night and there were two cars in the parking lot. I went in and there was no poster, there’s a woman at the counter and a couple watching TV. That’s it. The woman at the counter had no idea I was supposed to play that night, but she said would feed me and I could play if I wanted to. So she fed me dinner then I set up and this couple was still there, so I thought I’m going to go for it and I started to play. They were watching the Discovery Channel in high back chairs and their backs were to me. Two minutes into the song, one of them turns around in their chair and peered to look at me to see what was going on and I’m just giving them the nod like yeah, I’m over here – I’m singing. They’d applaud but they were finishing up just as I was starting, so they walked out and there was no one. I played a few songs for the woman behind the counter. I made no money that night, packed up my stuff and left.
I think the thing about being on the road is it’s very dramatic. The highs are high and the lows are low. You get those times when the hits just keep on coming and maybe the next show sucks; you can feel very isolated. That being said, it’s not all that bad to be out on the road seeing the country, meeting people, getting to play for new people. That’s really amazing because everyone plays around here but once you get out on the road, the reaction is so different; every town has their own character. The next time you go back, more people come. If they had a good time, they’ll come back and maybe bring somebody. Just to see that build, it’s just wonderful.
What celebrity do you most get mistaken for?
A few years ago, I had long hair and I was a cook at a bed & breakfast. People used to ask me if I was Chef Michael Smith.
Who would you most like to tour with?
Absolutely Neil Young. But I could put a list together; there are so many people on the East Coast. Ron Hines would be amazing, such an influence. Gordon Lightfoot – that would be amazing. There are a lot of Island acts, too. There are so many great acts on the road, I could go on and on but if you put me on a bill with Neil Young, I wouldn’t fight it.
Best/ most used Island turn of phrase?
It’s something my grandfather often used to say that I find myself saying a lot. When guests stopped over or if somebody unexpectedly dropped in, he’d ask them if they wanted a cup of tea or something to drink. And it was never just tea or a drink – that also included all of the fixings, too. If they would protest, he would say, “We don’t want you going away giving the place a bad name”. I definitely use that.
Who would play you in a movie?
Michael Therriault. He’s a Canadian, he’s a star of the stage mostly but he’s doing a lot of movie work now. I just worked with him in Toronto; we did a workshop for this Terry Fox show I’m working on. Everything he touches is gold. He’s a very thoughtful, brilliant actor and a good friend so I would love to see Michael play me.
My Martin D-28. It’s so hard to find left-handed guitars so I’m going to go with that.
Words to live by?
Just be there. Just be in the moment. Scrap all the other stuff that’s going on and just be there.
Your latest musical endeavor is the upcoming show Come All Ye – what’s with the name?
It’s from the Dictionary of Prince Edward Island English by T.K. Pratt. It’s an old Island term used for a very informal gathering where there’s no invitation required. Liquor may flow freely and there would probably be some carrying on and music and merriment. Pretty much what’s going to go on at The Mack.
Settle the pronunciation debate once and for all: How do you pronounce “Come All Ye”?
It will never be settled! [Laughs] Come All Ye (pronounced come-all-ya) but it’s spelled come-all-ye. I do it all the time.
What’s it about?
The show is taking all of the greatest songs ever written with a PEI connection – songs from Gene MacLellan up to Catherine MacLellan and more. Taking all of these great songs – and it’s astonishing how good they are – and then taking performers with an authentic Island perspective, the consistency and quality is blowing me away.
People like Mark Haines – Mark’s been playing folk festivals for the last 30 years. He’s such a pro. Carolyn Bernard – she comes right out of the core, the heart of French PEI and her mother was a songwriter. She grew up around music – there’s no forcing it. Ashley Condon – an incredible songwriter from Murray Harbour. Her mom was a fisherwoman; she was the only woman fishing in Murray Harbour and she’s got a story about that about the men proposing to her. And myself, I grew up with this melting pot of influences here. We just want to present this fantastic material in the most organic way possible and we’re really building the show from that standpoint. Add to that Patrick Ledwell and his unique perspective on Island life – he’s brilliant. What’s brewing is something I’m really excited about. It’s an authentic presentation of the Island canon of music.
Is it like a ceilidh or a musical revue?
It’s something completely different. It’s going to be informal – there’s probably going to be a fair bit of ad-libbing and every night will be different. But the show exists, there’s a whole series of landmarks that we have to hit every night because we’ve tested them and they work. It’s kind of going to exist in this netherworld – a little bit of magic, a little bit of theatre, a little bit of music. It’s hard to say, really. It’s kind of in between all those things.
What will draw Islanders to the show?
The fact that it’s based around the kitchen party and that idea of how informal it is, how things seem to just bubble up. One thing leads to the next and it’s a party but it’s performance and I think we’ve all been to those and they’re wonderful. There’s that aspect to it but we’re bringing it to a new level.
It has to be great. Good isn’t going to get people in the door. People have to be on the street saying “I saw Come All Ye last night and it was great! You should go see it!” That’s where we’re working from.
Is dancing during the show acceptable?
Oh please – come and get on up! Absolutely! Any time anybody gets up to dance, I’m always over the moon and that’s absolutely what it’s all about.
If I brought a jug and a pair of spoons to the show, could I be in the show?
Well, you would definitely be in The Mack with a jug and a pair of spoons. I don’t know how long you would last. I guess it depends on how good of a jug and spoons player you are.
Jiggin’ around town with singer/songwriter John Connolly By Meredith Morrison Photography by Stephen Harris If there is such a thing as “Island charm”, John Connolly has it by the truckload. The Island-born talent is as engaging as he is talented, making him the perfect fit as musical director, performer and co-host of the Charlottetown […]
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Splurge like a celebrity right here in PEI
The Great George, located in downtown Charlottetown, offers visitors from near and far a get away from the everyday.
By Meredith Morrison
If there is one thing we can learn from celebrities, it’s how to vacation in style. Sure, we may not have their bank accounts (who does?) but that doesn’t mean we’re not entitled to a splurge now and then. When was the last time you treated yourself – and I mean, really treated yourself – to a night of pure indulgence? Budgets, schedules and responsibilities aside, we all deserve a little R & R celebrity-style. Lucky for us, we don’t have to go very far to get it.
Celebrities aren’t much different than you or I. They work hard – we work hard. They like nice things – we like nice things. And when they get away, they want luxury, privacy and relaxation. Who doesn’t want those things? I know I sure do.
The fact is we don’t have to sacrifice a year’s salary to get a taste of the celebrity lifestyle; it’s right here on PEI.
Our Island is home to some of the most luxurious hotels, inns and resorts in the world, yet because we live here, we never think to experience them for ourselves. As a premiere tourist destination, we tend to let our visitors have all the fun. But what about us, the hard-working folks who live here? Shouldn’t we get a taste of the good life?
Splurge on a Romantic Hideaway Suite for the full effect. King bed, whirlpool tub for two, spacious accommodations – can you say luxury?
Island hoteliers are equal opportunists – they love their native Islanders as much as they love globetrotting tourists. So much so, in fact, some even go so far as to offer special packages designed for Islanders looking for a luxury getaway minus the travel expenses. No gas, bridge, ferry or toll expenses to pay? Now this is a getaway I can get on board with.
One hotel that offers Islanders an experience all their own is The Great George in downtown Charlottetown. This is the hotel where Regis and Kelly stayed last summer, where George Wendt called home when he wasn’t playing Edna in Hairspray, and where many celebrities stay while visiting PEI. Visitors from around the world stay at The Great George for its history, central location to local sights and attractions and its first class service and accommodations. This isn’t just a hotel to rest your weary head at the end of a long day – it’s an experience you want to get lost in.
Their “Experience Home” Escape package is specifically designed for Islanders to discover the wonderment of Historic Charlottetown through the eyes of a visitor – an experience we so often take for granted. But more than that, it’s an opportunity to get away for the night and relax; The Great George takes care of all the details, and then some.
In addition to an elegant room (which you’ll spend years trying to recreate in your own home), guests receive wine upon arrival as well as a $50 gift card to any one of the Murphy Group of Restaurants, most of which are within walking distance of the hotel. Some might say that in itself would make for a great night, but they take things to an even more luxurious level. The package also includes evening turndown service, complete with chocolates on the pillows; breakfast in bed and an extended checkout so guests can leave at their leisure.
Add in bathrobes to lounge around in, free parking, an on-site Guest Services Manager who will help you customize your Island experience and an endless supply of their famous chocolate chip cookies and you have yourself an unforgettable experience to tell your friends about. Best of all, it’s in your own backyard.
The “Experience Home” Escape is available June through September, making it an ideal summer getaway option for busy Islanders looking for some much needed R & R.
Who says you can’t vacation like the stars do? Everything you need for a celebrity-style getaway is literally just minutes away from where you live. Go find your slice of paradise.
Photos appear courtesy of The Great George.
Splurge like a celebrity right here in PEI By Meredith Morrison If there is one thing we can learn from celebrities, it’s how to vacation in style. Sure, we may not have their bank accounts (who does?) but that doesn’t mean we’re not entitled to a splurge now and then. When was the last time […]
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Style tips for the outdoor concert-goer
Photography and story by Kimberly Rashed
You don’t have to be a country music fan to appreciate the big names coming to PEI this summer. Any gal can appreciate a man in a nicely fitted pair of jeans – am I right, ladies? What if, by chance, you were to meet one of these toned and tanned stars in the flesh? All I can say is, you had better look the part.
Hotdogs and beer, elbow-to-elbow sweat and Porta Potties don’t exactly scream glamour but when the stars roll into town, a girl will do what she has to. Outdoor venues can be tricky and we all know the weather can change at the drop of a hat, so what’s a girl have to do to stay comfortable without sacrificing her love of fashion?
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Keep your make-up au naturel. When it’s hot, it’s hot and when it rains, it usually pours. Who wants a stream of war paint running down their face? Unless you’re attending a Kiss concert this summer, this look just doesn’t make sense. Keep make-up to a minimum, paying special attention to your key features.
Footwear is key. Open-toed anything can be iffy. Sneakers, while functional, are not always a stylish option. If you have a trusty pair of reliable, functional boots that can be paired with just about anything, then you’re golden. Every gal needs a pair of go-to-boots that will work with anything from shorts to skirts to pants. If the forecast is calling for showers, opt for a pair of rain boots; there are lots of stylish options available in fun and funky designs.
A free-flowing sundress is not only a great option on a sunny day, but it also fits the bill of a country concert; a cool and comfortable option that can be paired with your go-to boots.
To cowboy hat or not to cowboy hat? That is the question. I don’t know about you, but I know I don’t wake up to perfectly coifed locks. A long day in the heat and humidity doesn’t help, either. That cowboy hat may just be your saving grace from a bad hair day. If it fits and flatters your face shape then by all means, rock on, cowgirl!
Daisy Dukes (or cut-off denim shorts) are back in a big way – country or not. A relaxed fitting pair with a rock-inspired top will play up your inner wild child.
Show your love and support with a band tee. There’s nothing wrong with publicly displaying your love of the band however, be careful not to cross the line. A great band tee makes a statement but there’s no need to make it a head-to-toe look. Avoid the stalker look by leaving the hoodie, buttons, bandanas, beer cozy and that jacket you bedazzled yourself at home. The T-shirt says enough.
If – heaven forbid – you are forced into wearing the dreaded poncho, you’d better hope you chose cute footwear. It’s the only thing that might save you.
(Photo caption: Miss Globe 2011 winner and Panache model Bonnie Frizzell is concert-ready no matter the weather. Male model: Brodie Gallant. Clothing by Lou Lou Clothing and Accessories. Make-up by Savannah Belsher-MacLean.)
Writing, fashion, photography, modelling and motherhood…Kimberly Rashed does it all in a pair of five-inch heels. Except when she’s at an outdoor concert. You can find Kimberly each month in G! Magazine talking about life, relationships and how to look great through all of it.
Style tips for the outdoor concert-goer Photography and story by Kimberly Rashed You don’t have to be a country music fan to appreciate the big names coming to PEI this summer. Any gal can appreciate a man in a nicely fitted pair of jeans – am I right, ladies? What if, by chance, you […]
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